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When I was a Project Manager with UNOCAL 76 Products Company in southern California in the mid-1990s, one of my roles was to manage the build-out and opening of Convenience Stores (C-stores) according to our UNOCAL Fastbreak Program. Convenience stores were added to some existing 76 Products fueling sites and C-stores were also introduced at new sites.  Typical sizes for these C-stores was 1500, 2000 or 2500 square feet interior space.

The C-store employees who operated and maintained the facilities attended a training program at the Marketing Training Facility in Pasadena, California prior to the opening of a new C-store. I had the opportunity to attend one of the training programs for new employees.

One of the presenters at the training program was a Category Management Manager who was in charge of working with suppliers to acquire sales products for the C-stores and manage the initial layout of products and floor space. Following the opening of the C-stores, the Category Manager would assist the store manager in evaluating the best-selling products for the store and makimg changes in layout as necessary.

I expected the Category Manager to explain the initial store stocking rationale and to discuss how his team would work with the store manager and his employees to optimize the ongoing stocking for the store.

But as the presentation unfolded, the Category Manager first emphasized how hard his staff had been working to determining initial store stocking and layouts. He then turned to the suppliers and told how much his staff had negotiated with the suppliers to make sure the “best” products were identified and stocked. He then turned to some stories about mistakes in initial stocking that had been made and how his staff had coped with those mistakes. He concluded with a “challenge” to the store employees and managers that they were the “front line” and would be evaluated as such.

As I left this presentation, I thought that, perhaps I could have been mistaken, but it seemed to me that the Category Manager had missed his “opportunity” to “train.” The feedback I received from some of the store managers was that employees were left in the dark about stocking, layout, and subsequent “change” process for products.

Of course, there was enough feedback that the Category Management Staff reoriented the presentation to provide the “training” it had intended to deliver.

But this story raised the question in my mind–How often do we intend to deliver a message to our project teams and it is really the wrong message?

The key here is to understand the “motivation” in the communication. If we focus on our own efforts, and not what the team needs, we often miss the point. “Learning” and “training” are very general terms, but they must be tailored to the exact message you want to deliver.

So, project managers, be certain of your communications to your project teams before you deliver the message. Understand your motivations. Understand what outcomes and results you want.   Make sure of your “audience.” Put yourself in the place of the recipient. As such, do you know what to do with the message delivered?

Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, and a noted leadership mentor, introduced “Situational Leadership” many years ago to assist managers to adjust their leadership styles to the situation at hand. The communication that goes along with situational leadership is so important to managers. Evaluating the situation is crucial, but delivering the communication which adds value and makes it “actionable” is the key.

It’s part of the project manager role. Embrace it. Your words to your project team will live on long after you have moved on.

     As I work with project managers in many fields, it is becoming more apparent every day that, in the future, new technology development will play a greater role in delivering “value” from project management. Of course, new technology development has been a major part of many projects. Witness the development of electrical components and controls systems in the Panama Canal project from the early 20th century, as I discussed in my Lessons Learned book. Today, we only have to look at the technology and new business fields, and such sources as CNBC TV and CNN, to hear about new “apps” and new technologies that are adding new, or replacing old, functionality in products and services.

     Look no further than Wal-Mart’s growth into e-commerce, and Amazon’s growth into more brick-and-mortar solutions to find that new technologies are at the heart of business and consumer demands.

     So. companies are struggling with the question “Do I grow this new technology by acquisition or by internal development of the skills, talents and structure to compete in the future?” The answer to this question lies in another question:

“How do I develop the ’capability’ that will enable me to deliver my desired end value?”

     This was much the same question many years ago when organizations began to concentrate their project management skills, practices, and methodologies into an internal group that became known as the “Program Management Office (PMO).” The PMO quickly became a standard and “best practice” for delivering consistency and repeatability of project results. The PMO is often referred to as a “capability based” organization because it was constructed to DELIVER projects successfully.

     CAPABILITY is the combination of people (resources, talents, leadership); processes; technologies; and organization (structure, networks), which allows an individual or organization to deliver its intended objectives. The blueprint covers all those components, but not separately. It covers how they will fit together. There is also an accompanying plan that specifies the people who will build pieces of the capability, the targets and incentives that govern their actions, and a timetable for the implementation.

     Recent studies by Booz and Company consultants have focused on “capability building” as the key to closing what they refer to as the “strategy-to-execution” gap that has plagued companies for many years. Many times in the past, a great strategy never seemed to materialize into actionable results. This was termed the “strategy-to-execution gap.” Their analysis has been documented in a 2016 book Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi, with Art Kleiner. Their process for building new capability focuses on answering the following questions:

  1. What is the capability?
  2. Why is it valuable?
  3. How would it be different from what we have today?
  4. Describe a day-in-the-life of this capability; what does it look like?
  5. What is required to make it work?
  6. For the “capabilities system,” what does the business case look like?
  7. How does this capability fit with others in the capability system?

The focus of this analysis was to build meaningful and lasting capabilities and to foster cross-functional relationships between corporate competencies that complement each other. In short, their theme was “build capabilities before seeking results.”

     To summarize, PMOs in the future will need to develop new technology capabilities systems which will add to their project delivery capabilities. Of course, specialized PMOs in companies such as biopharmaceuticals or information systems will need to consider industry specific technologies to insure their “table -stakes” status. This new reality may require a “maturity curve” approach in implementation to be successful in the long term.

Millions of people are engaged in “research” today. Some of them just want to satisfy a “curiosity” they have about a question or problem. Many are seeking to satisfy a need of society.   Many are digging into a new technology solution which will add functionality to new or existing product or system.

Research may often involve looking at old problems from new perspectives.

Albert Einstein said:

“The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and makes real advances in science.”

RESEARCH is a fundamental and basic need to meet the demands of modern life. And often research is a key to new “innovation” which drives our society forward and enables our ability to satisfy our collective needs.

To many who have employed RESEARCH for a time, they have learned that there is a “research process” that derives from their interests and their approach to the questions at hand. But the basic question they face is how to turn their “research strategy” into actionable results and solutions. That is where “project management” comes into play.

To convert a “research question or problem” to a project with a fixed start and end date and to devote or dedicated resources and effort to accomplish the tasks and activities that lead to tangible results is the “essence” of project management. And don’t forget a Risk Analysis to identify potential events that may doom your project to failure.

Any researcher can develop their project management skills to meet the needs of their RESEARCH. A resource I would highly recommend is a 2016 CRC text Project Management for Research: A Guide for Graduate Students by Badiru, Rusnock and Valencia. I have conducted many research projects in my career and directed current research students in many fields.

RESEARCH will be our guide to the future. Embrace it and all its potential for our society.

As active project managers and PMO leaders, we need to look beyond just “linear thinking” and explore some other ways of examining situations, gathering information, and making decisions.  “Nonlinear thinking” “systems thinking,” and “integrative thinking” are just a few variations we need to be aware of and use occasionally.  This blog post is about “linear” versus “nonlinear” thinking.

Linear thinking is the usual “cause and effect” thinking that we have all grown up with.  It seeks to relate an action with a result and jump to a “cause and effect” solution.  For example, we see a broom fall from its resting place on a wall and make a loud noise at it hits the floor.  We associate the falling broom with the loud noise in a “cause and effect” relationship.  Or if we take some initiative to put something in motion and we see the end result that someone else takes action as a result of our initiative, we associate a “cause and effect” or linear thinking relationship.  But not all actions and results we see are the result of something we put into motion.  There can be “nonlinear” relationships between what we see and what actually happened that are very important in our understanding of the world and our surroundings.

Elsewhere in my blog I related this story but I have a different purpose for retelling it at this time.  When I was about ten years old, every Saturday I would watch the Baseball Game of the Week on TV at 1 PM.  Usually I would prepare a sandwich and sit in front of the TV at noon to give myself plenty of time to eat the sandwich.  CBS was the channel for the Game of the Week and the New York Yankees were usually the tam of choice by the network from Yankee Stadium in New York.

As I ate my sandwich, the network played a half hour program at noon or 12:30 each Saturday known as “Industry on Parade.”  “Industry on Parade” was a program produced by the National Association of Manufactures (NAM) extolling the new industries created after WW II and the “processes” they employed.  I found this program to be so fascinating because it detailed the “process” employed in each industry and showed assembly lines and other examples of the processes in place.

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate training in science and engineering, I often recalled the “Industry on Parade” program as the best tutorial on “PROCESS” I was ever exposed to.  That included some very formal courses in systems theory and networks.

Now, it might seems a stretch to you to say that the New York Yankees influenced my career choice of process and process improvement but the nonlinearity of such relationships is very much at work today in our businesses and social life.

The fact that I was poised to watch the Baseball Game of the Week meant that i was exposed to an environment that had TV programs available for my viewing.

There was once a college senior majoring in Physics in the late 1940’s who was undecided about his career after graduation.  He was a lab instructor and well thought of by the faculty.  One day the Director of the Physics School asked him what his plans were after graduation.  He said he was undecided but thought he would take a job.  The Director said he was being too short sighted and gave him a list of graduate physics programs to which he should apply.  Because the Director was a precise person, he alphabetized the list with “Chicago” being first on the list and his school “Yale” last on the list.  The Director told him to write a letter to each of the programs expressing interest.  With coursework and labs, the student only wrote to The University of Chicago.   When he arrived on campus to begin his graduate program, he was amazed to find many Nobel Laureates and advanced students who had worked on the Manhattan Project.  Chicago was, after all, the location for the first sustained nuclear reaction in a pile configuration.  Consequently, he received a top notch graduate experience, all because the Director had been careful to alphabetize the list.  How nonlinear can an outcome be? Very!

The next time one of your project team members seems to behave in a fashion that might be detrimental to the project outcomes or makes a decision that you think should have been reviewed by others, don’t automatically assume that the team member is being influenced completely by his project environment.  Consider that something else may be going on in his personal life of in his relationships with others.  Think nonlinearly.

As a project manager, it is easy to look close to the source for solutions.  Sometimes solutions are farther from the source and need insight and investigation.  Think nonlinearly.

 

I have received a number of comments from readers of my blog MEL BOST PMO EXPERT that make the observation that applying the Framework I have stressed in my book, Lessons Learned: Taking Project Management to a New Level, must mean that you have a large business process that needs improvement.

However, consider the fact that lessons learned are all around us in everyday life.  How we choose to capitalize on their usefulness is our own choice.  A quote that I often hear is “If we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.”  How true this statement is!!!!

Every process, large and small, can benefit from a logical, rational approach to identifying the lessons from the situation and then finding the appropriate place to improve the process with the lessons.  In your own life, look for instances where what was expected differs from what actually happened.

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I am sure that most of my readership is familiar with the Billy Joel song “New York State of Mind.”  Those of you around New York will recognize in this song some familiar landmarks and favorite places which he says creates a “New York State of Mind.”  His longing for the old familiar of New York and its surroundings is particularly appealing in this song, which has become one of my favorites.

Jose Eduardo Deboni (c)

Jose Eduardo Deboni (c)

I would like to use Billy Joel’s theme to introduce my readers and friends to a concept I call “a Process State of Mind.”

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As most of my readers know, for the past twenty years I have been actively involved in defining project practices and in leading project teams to successful completion of projects.  I have learned a great deal through direct experience, feedback from other project managers, and from benchmarking my own organization’s practices versus those of others.

freedigitalphotos.net

by kongsky–freedigitalphotos.net

But I never cease to be amazed at the sensitivities that are inherent in the project process, and the insights that can be gained by listening to the feedback of experienced, in the trenches, project managers.

This post is about one of those rare sensitivities that can really “leverage” your energy and activity of your project team at critical times in your project.

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Those of you who saw the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers footballand the Seattle Seahawks yesterday are certainly asking yourselves the question about how a team can appear to play so poorly for 55 minutes of the game and then win the game to go to the Super Bowl in two weeks.  The Seattle Seahawks are certainly an excellent team and certainly a well coached team but needless penalties as well as a sluggish offense gave the Packers opportunities to build a 19-7 lead late into the fourth quarter.  The Packers certainly capitalized on every opportunity they saw to build a lead that looked insurmountable with five minutes to play in the regulation game.  But Seattle continued to play “their game,” insisting on using the strengths in their tool kit that had taken them to the NFC Championship game.

Finally, with great effort and agility, they took the lead 22-19.  A last second field goal by Green Bay sent the game into overtime.  After winning the coin toss, Seattle moved down the field to score the winning touchdown and the game 28-22.

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It’s funny how the brain and your mind work together–even when you are not engaged consciously in an activity.

Take for example one of the Lou Tice principles I have often referred to in this blog.

Lou Tice often said that managers should not wait until they have assembled all their resources to make bold plans.

Instead, managers should focus their attention and vision on bold plans first.  Then the mind and bring will use their “energy” to find the solutions for the bold plans in both conscious and unconscious undertakings.  The power of the Mind and brain combination is truly remarkable.

Now what does this have to do with the process of “osmosis” and project manager performance?

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As project managers, we have all participated in Project Reviews and Project Closeout Sessions that looked and felt more like “inquisitions” than positive, healthy, and constructive reviews. “What went wrong? Who is to blame? Who was responsible for these outcomes and results? These actual results were not expected and we are going to get to the bottom of the story.”

There is a certain “mood” created by reviews such as these that perpetuates similar behavior in subsequent reviews. They take on a “habitual characteristic.” How does this happen and how might we as project management practitioners change these practices to improve our project management processes in a positive, sustainable and constructive way?

Each of us has often found ourselves “whistling” or “humming” a tune which has stuck in our heads. You could be walking through a department or grocery store with some background music softly playing and suddenly you are humming or whistling it too. Or you could see a musical performance that really struck a “resonance” in your heart or mind.

We often say that this music sets the “mood” or “tone” for our behavior and actions. For example, I can recall as a young child hearing my mother softly singing…

O what a beautiful morning,
O what a beautiful day.
O what a beautiful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

I didn’t think much about it at the time but, as I grew older, I began to recognize that what she was singing actually represented her philosophy or attitude and approach to life. The more she carried this tune with her throughout the day and week, the more her behavior and actions and those of people around her mirrored that tone.

I would say that there is something “infectious” about the mood music you have in your head, So much so that I want to challenge each of you to find that “mood” music that improves your performance and that of your projects in every area.

Once you do that, you will realize that you personally can change the mood and tone of your Project Reviews and Closeouts to reflect your own philosophy of what a successful project should look and feel like.

For project managers who are familiar with the older ways of conducing project reviews, there exists an opportunity to change completely the “mood music” of these reviews. YOU CAN BREAK THE HABIT. Focusing on project lessons learned in a positive manner would establish a “mood” or “tone” for all project managers in an organization or group which they could “whistle” or “hum” as they go about their daily project manager tasks.

Is this thinking too radical for the project community to embrace and use as a new standard for conducting “actionable” project reviews? I really think not. We have all been impacted by “mood music” in all facets of our lives and this is just another application of that concept.

You as an active project manager in your organization can help ingrain this thinking and approach in your project practices. You can forge a new philosophy and approach to your project management career going forward by embracing these ideas.

In a recent June 2014 issue of Scientific American is an article “The Neuroscience of Habits.” One of the major findings recently is that short terms decisions and judgments are often directed by “habit” than by rational and reasoned study of all the issues. “Mood music” works the same as habits. So if we can get project managers to embrace project lessons learned as the most up to date “mood music” they will begin to use it in their habitual thinking going forward.

Before his death, noted leadership development teacher Louis Tice of The Pacific Institute often stated that “People act in accordance with the truth as they perceive it to be.” What if that TRUTH were guided by mood music which valued lessons learned as a contributor to advancement of process and procedures? When I was a project coordinator with ConocoPhillips, we initiated some Project Lessons Learned Reviews to give our project managers some experience at identifying, capturing and sharing lessons learned from projects. We established a Microsoft Sharepoint database for storing these lessons learned for future reference. In doing so, I would like to think that we started the “mood music” for project managers to follow going forward which focused less on who was to blame for project shortfalls and more on the improvement of the project process going forward for the entire organization.

So, what is the bottom line here? If you ensure that your project environment is providing the right background and mood music to your project managers, you can cement the habitual reactions that will lead to identifying, capturing and sharing project lessons learned for continuous improvement to your business.

So, come on Maestro…..a little mood music if you please!!!

Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand, and with a lever I will move the whole world.”

As a project manager, you have probably used the term “lever” in the engineering or physics context to describe a device that can be used to gain a “mechanical advantage” in a given scenario.  It means that you can apply force, in varying amounts, to perform useful work.

Likewise, “leverage,” a commonly used word derived from the word “lever,” means the application of any number of concepts to achieve some advantage in a given scenario for the person or group that is skilled in the application of the concept.

Some forms of leverage might be an individual or group’s position in an organization, a specialized knowledge, a unique piece of information, or a robust technology, etc.

A good example of technology as a “leveraging” variable arose a few weeks back in a New York Yankees baseball game with the Detroit Tigers.  With Yankee Mark Teixeira on third base, the batter hit a ground ball to the infield that resulted in a throw from first base to home to stop a run from scoring.  Teixeira slid into home plate and touched the base with his left hand while the Detroit catcher was almost simultaneously taking the throw from first base and applying the tag to Teixeira.

The home plate umpire called Teixeira out, but Yankees Manager Joe Girardi disagreed.  He challenged the call while his Yankee bench coach called the press box to get some other camera views of the play.  Under challenge, the home plate umpire and umpiring crew chief consulted with the instant replay staff, whose use of camera technology has become an accepted practice in Major League Baseball.

The challenge by Girardi was upheld, and the home plate umpire’s call was reversed.

Girardi had used technology to leverage the situation.

Prior to instant replay technology and challenge, the play would have resulted in an out for the Yankees, and no run scored.

Think of areas in your project management experience where you or a project team member, stakeholder ,or third party has used position, knowledge, information, or technology to “leverage” a situation.  How might you have prepared yourself or your team to “leverage” your outcomes and your project objectives?

Those of you who are familiar with my recent book, Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, know that I have also applied “leverage” in an organizational dynamics connotation to describe how project lessons learned can be derived from seeing single projects as “events,” but recognizing that a more “leveraging” connotation for project groups can be identified. This can help you make lasting changes in project or business processes by identifying “patterns of behavior” among a group of projects subject to the same project environment.

“Leverage,” in this case, is insight about how project teams behave, how they organize themselves, what management principles and objectives they choose to follow, and what they value as being the “truth” for their direction.

If you as a project manager have not considered “leverage” in your day-to-day work process, give this some thought.

You might turn out to be the “lever” that Archimedes referred to who can move the whole world.

Thanks for reading my 100th Blog Post!

A great deal has been written during this golfing season on the abilities of many young golfers such as Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, and Rory McIlroy on the PGA tour and the international golf circuit.  By winning The Open Championship at Liverpool this past month (and maintaining his number one rank since then), Rory McIlroy has positioned himself to become one of a few select golfers to win Four Major Championships in professional golf.

This caused my thoughts to turn to a golfer who accomplished more than anyone else has accomplished in golf at so young an age…Robert Tyre Jones Jr….better known as Bobby Jones.

Bobby Jones was the only golfer in history to win the Grand Slam of golf which, in 1930, consisted of The U.S. Open, The British Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the British Amateur in the same season.  He accomplished this at age 28.  He was revered by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews because he won so many British Open titles.  And St. Andrews is, by all accounts, considered to be the birthplace and origin of golf.

The movie Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius was released a few years ago as a tribute to Bobby Jones’s life and his work in establishing Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters Golf Tournament, a Major on the PGA Tour.  The movie does a great job detailing his life in golfing, his love for and devotion to his wife Mary (which caused him to give up tournament golf), his chaotic relationship with professional golfer Walter Hagen, his friendship with Atlanta Journal sports writer O. B. Keeler, and his desire to remain an amateur in the face of intense pressure to become a professional golfer.

What does all of this have to do with project management, you ask?  Well, bear with me.  There are two points to be made here…both extremely relevant to you as a project manager.

In an early scene in the movie when Bobby Jones is being “thrashed” by the deep bunkers and the high winds of the old course at St. Andrews, Bobby Jones turns to his caddy and says “I hate this course.  Who designed this course?”

“A glacier 15,000 years ago,” remarked his caddy.  “The winds are so strong today even the crows are walking.”

In a scene late in the movie, after Jones has tamed the St. Andrews course many time, he tees off for yet another tournament at the old course and says “I love this course.”  What was different?  Same deep bunkers, same windy conditions.

Learning.  Learning how to deal with the elements and the layout of the course and the context of your game is essential to mastering a discipline, whether it is project management or golf. 

When I worked for ConocoPhillips, there was a well-told story that never got old.  In ConocoPhillips’s attempts to drill for and produce oil in the North Sea, the weather condition were often so bad, with extremely heavy wind and rain, that many experienced engineers often said that condition were too bad to work.

Undaunted by the challenge, Phillips Petroleum CEO C. J. (“Pete”) Silas was quoted as saying “We can’t stop now.  We have to learn to work in the rain.”

Similarly, in another scene from the movie, Jones and Keeler are waiting in a train station for a train back to Atlanta after Jones had been narrowly defeated in a major golf tournament.  Although dejected by this loss, Jones realizes that even the loss is valuable, remarking to Keeler that “I just realized that I never really learned anything from those tournaments I won.

Sometimes we are so busy focusing on what went wrong, we don’t see the opportunity in what went right.  This applies to golf as well as to project management.

So, what does this all mean to you as a project manager?  It means that, from this day forward, you have an opportunity to learn and get better at your chosen discipline.  You might be the Bobby Jones of your discipline or you might aspire to be like Bobby Jones.

Every new “golf course” and every past experience is an OPPORTUNITY to grow and learn and share and prosper.

Good golfing!!!!!

 

 

 

Readers of my new book Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework will know that I present a Framework for identifying, capturing, documenting, and sharing “actionable” project lessons learned with the organization, and incorporating them in the project process.

Along with this Framework, I have presented a number of courses on this subject through ProjectManagement.com, CMCS (Collaboration Management and Control Solutions) in Dubai, and through my own consulting firm, MBPE LLC.Walk on the wild side
Creative Commons License photo credit: Maëlle Caborderie

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In my new book Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, I discuss identifying, capturing, documenting, and sharing project lessons learned, and feeding them back to improve the project and business processes through a Continuous Process Improvement Framework.

Many readers have asked me about Continuous Process Improvement, and my response has always been to emphasize that “Continuous Process Improvement” is really a state of mind, an aspect of maturity.  It is not just another project “activity” that the project group should pursue.

There are many underlying facets of Continuous Process Improvement as well.

First, “do it right the first time” if your organization has a methodology or a practice that they follow consistently.  Eliminating rework and redo will go a long way toward improving overall group and individual performance.

Second, approach everything as if you wanted to find a Best Practice for your organization that could SUSTAIN performance by relying on successful processes that are proven to work in your business context.

Third, continuously look at feedback from stakeholders, customers, clients, auditors, and internal project groups that advocate changing some part of your internal business processes.

Fourth, understand and apply good sound business and project practices as the underlying foundation for your organization’s project processes.  You may recall that I covered this topic in a recent blog.

Fifth, benchmark your tools and your practices versus others in your industry and in your field of discipline.  You will be surprised at how many “new” ways of looking at the same thing there are in action.

An excellent reference in the area of project workflow is a new book by Daniel Epstein and Rich Maltzman entitled Project Workflow Management:  A Business Process Approach.

Continuous Process Improvement is a state of maturity that pervades every facet of your business.  Embrace it and you will find true rewards in the process improvements and resulting performance you will see.

Don’t just take my word for it….be creative in your approaches to everything.

In my new book, Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, I talk at great length about the role that organizational dynamics plays in driving the behaviors and ultimately the performance of groups like PMOs or Project Offices.ford-mondeo-05

Some people have asked me to elaborate more on this subject, so I want to provide a real life example that vividly shows the relationship between mental models in groups/individual behavior.

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