Hello, this is your Gall bladder calling

My father was and continues to be a significant influence in my personal and professional life. He was the most impressive individual that I’ve known, and continues to be the yardstick by which I measure my success in being a good friend, spouse and parent. I’ve referred to some of the conversations that he and I have had as “nuggets”, and had elaborated on one of those early conversations in a previous post.

My father was well aware of my passion for my work, had seen the hours that I had been keeping, and seized the opportunity to speak with me. Nearing the end of our conversation, he asked, “On your deathbed, what would your single biggest regret be? Could it be that you didn’t achieve a certain salary or job title? Could it be that you didn’t work hard enough for your employers? Or could it be that you did not spend enough time with your family?”

The importance of the advice that he had shared with me oh so long ago was lost until life intervened (as it often does), and helped reinforce dad’s wisdom.

Many years ago, my son was 10 months old, and my wife was pregnant with our second and third children – twin girls. At the time, I was working at an assembly plant that produced the flagship vehicles for my employer. We were in the midst of launching a new vehicle; A vehicle that was the toast of the North American auto show. The press was in love with the vehicle, dealerships were counting the days until their units arrived, and thousands of customers had placed deposits on vehicles that they had never seen.


The process of bringing a new vehicle to market is akin to herding cats (an overused analogy, I know). The culmination of two years of vehicle development is the coordination of 100 different suppliers to complete their activities and deliver their contribution to the vehicle at the exact same moment. The task of starting production of the Prowler, was compounded by the fact that we were installing a new assembly line from scratch. As you can imagine, the entire team experienced were exhausting days for the entire team.

After a successful production launch, work continued at the manufacturing plant to stabilize the daily build. I had noticed that I had not been feeling “right” for 3 or 4  consecutive weeks… I was experiencing pain in my abdomen that I attributed to an ulcer because of the stress at work. My personal diagnosis was rejected by the doctor early one morning in the emergency room – my gall bladder was hemorrhaging and required immediate surgery. The result was an eight inch scar where the doctors had opened me up and removed the unruly organ.

Recovery was estimated at four weeks and was accompanied by instructions to lift no more than 15 pounds during the first two weeks. For the first week, I was able to do little more than sit in the recliner and hold my infant son. Immediately, it became clear that the boy was not comfortable when I was holding him… My body and they way that I held him did not feel the same as his mother. He was not happy, and did not relate to me at all… My own child did not know who I was and freely (and loudly) voiced his objections. My father’s question repeated over and over in my head.

This was one of the few times that in my life that I can remember that moment of realization to change. And thanks to a nugget, it would be the catalyst that would re-define my future relationships. Eighteen years later, I can confirm that the boy did become accustomed to (and still enjoys) being held by his father.

Thanks dad.

Go and be intentional.

Posted in Family, Friendship, Parenting | 1 Comment

A guy walks into the Doctors office…

For a very long time – admittedly all of my adult life, I’ve entertained a lifestyle that was consistent with my personal mind set – do nothing half way – all in – full throttle. My diet consisted of eating and drinking whatever I wanted… in quantities that I wanted… and whenever I wanted. And physical exertion was limited to less strenuous activities such as golf. I did not subscribe to Harvey Penick’s thoughts on “knowing the course”, so when I golfed it was nearly always with the use of a cart. Slogging 18 with a bag over my shoulder was definitely out of the question.

In 2002, my weight had risen to over 270 pounds, and I came to the conclusion that the doctor may be right. Something had to change… So I half-heartedly attempted to rein in some of my behavior, and managed during the next decade to get my weight down to the 250 pound range. A move in the right direction, but as my blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose readings would attest, it was not enough.

In the Spring of 2013, the conversation with my doctor during my annual physical went something like this…

Me: How’s it going Doc?
Doctor: Well… You’re ugly, grossly over-weight, and if you don’t make serious changes in your diet and exercise I’m going to have to cut off your feet because of diabetes, but not before you go blind. Oh yeah, you’re setting yourself up for a stroke.
Me: hmmmm
Doctor: And all of this is going to happen much sooner than you think… You are killing yourself… The clock is ticking.

I left the doctors office, went immediately to a local pub, and consumed my fill of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Chili Dogs and Chili Cheese Fries. Call me a slow learner.

Fast forward six months to Thanksgiving 2013. I’ve talked with people who are able to identify the exact moment that they had the “Aha!” moment which caused them to make a significant personal decision. I, however, have no personal recollection of what finally “clicked” in my head and got me motivated to change my behavior. At some point, I began paying attention to what I was eating and showed a bit more restraint. By Christmas, I had trimmed another 10 pounds. As I began the new year, I was spending a great deal more effort paying attention to what I was eating, and by February what I was eating and its impact on my weight was a high priority.

In March 2014, I added daily exercise to my regimen, and the lifestyle transformation was in full swing. I should be clear about my approach to this “change”… I am not one to weigh my food or count down to the single calorie. Whatever I was going to adopt had to be something that I could sustain indefinitely – this was not a diet, but a lifestyle change that would be my path into the future. Quite honestly, there are things that I am not willing to go without, such as an evening treat of two fingers of Glenfidditch or the occasional slice of pizza. Adhering to this new lifestyle simply meant that I could still enjoy the occasional treat, and that when I did, I would need to make accomodations elsewhere if I was going to be successful.

There are three essential items that I have used each and every day to keep me moving towards my goals:

  1. My iPhone which collects and summarizes two critical applications that I use to track what my intake is and my level of activity.
  2. Lose It - An application for the IPhone or Android phones, LoseIt tracks what I eat. As I eat and snack during the day, I take five seconds to input what I’ve consumed, and the app does the rest. LoseIt aligns everthing to  the goals that I’ve set and gives me a clear status report at any point during the day. LoseIt also has a nice website interface that provides additional information and weekly reports chocked full of data.
  3. The Fitbit Flex is a bit of electronic bling that I wear on my wrist. I set targets for levels of activity, and the Flex and it’s iPhone App keep me informed of how I’m doing each day in reaching my activity goals for total steps, minutes of significant activity, miles walked, and sleep. Fitbit also offers a pretty nifty web interface as well.


So how is this working out? I continue to pay close attention to my diet and I’m exercising on average five days a week. In May 2014 I returned to the doctor for my annual physical weighing in at 210 pounds – 40 pounds from a year earlier. My bloodwork showed significant improvements in all of the areas that had concerned my doctor a year earlier. “You’re still ugly“, the doctor told me, “But you’re heading in the right direction”.

Go and be intentional…

Posted in Family, Health, Motivation | Leave a comment

So you’re a Manager… Shame on You!

From personal experience, I have found that leadership and management are two notions that are often used interchangeably. I’ve always thought of these two concepts as being quite different and a recent discussion wth a collegue got me thinking that the vast majority of those charged with the responsibility for running organizations and developing their talent really don’t have a clue. They are managers.

How it works: A company’s management team generally consists of people who are experienced in their field, and who have worked their way up through the ranks of the company. A manager knows how each layer of the system works and generally possesses a solid technical knowledge. These people have been assigned titles like Senior Manager, Director, Chief, or Vice President. Organizationally, there is a structured hierachy with nested levels of people given a measure of authority within the organization commensurate with their title and position. Of course there are rogue groups out there who buck convention, but nearly all of the organizations that I’ve been part of during my career have followed this tried and true business template.

The ability to lead is just one of the many assets of a truly successful manager. But the converse is not true… An example: Have you met (or heaven help you, worked for) somebody who was a brilliant engineer, and as a result was promoted to manage the group that they once were a member? Over time, it becomes clear that despite their technical prowess, they are a horrible manager. Nobody disputes the fact that this person knows the product and process, but their ability to gain support from and to motivate their team is lacking. The fault isn’t necessarily with the individual who has been promoted, but with the senior management who has made the decision… Those individuals are not equipped to discern whether their choice for that new manager position is going to be a good leader. They are following the process that those who came before them used.

And this is why I will suggest that care must be taken in distinguishing between a leader and a manager. Pure and simple, the main aim of a manager is to maximize the output of the organization through administrative implementation. If that is the mind-set that you are aligned to, then you’ll ue that as a goal when hiring your next manager. Again, from my experience, I’ve found that within organizations, it is not the always the manager who emerges as the leader, rather a subordinate member with specific talents who takes the group in a certain direction. Teams are more likely to extend themselves on the behalf of a these leaders as opposed to the manager.

So, be honest with yourself: If you were stripped of your title and authority, would people still be engaged in supporting the direction that you are charting? The short of this week’s post is that we manage things… cost, time, risk. But we lead people.

Scott Williams is one of us that gets it:

For now, go and be intentional…

Posted in Career, Leadership, Management | 1 Comment

What i’m listening to

A good friend and skilled writer, Marc Reichardt regularly shares his thoughts and opinion over at Dichotomous Purity. One of my favorite topics that Marc covers is an in-depth review and analysis of each episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones. Additionally, Marc shares from time to time what music he is listening to, and that got me thinking.

So much of the punk scene in Detroit is of the goth genre, so it is refreshing to hear a local band churning out garage-band inspired punk. I guess that you’d call Protomartyr’s music post-punk, but I’ve been a fan since first getting turned on to the band in 2012. Most recently, I’ve been reading a growing number of positive reviews as a result of their appearance at SXSW. Their most recent releases are available on iTunes.

A co-worker turned me on to Death (yes, that’s the name of the band) in January of this year. The band was formed in 1971 by the Hackney brothers. After hearing the story of how their music had been discarded in the 70’s and was re-discovered 30 years later in the attic of an old home in the city of Detroit captured my attention. The two of us immediately downloaded the documentary “A Band Called Death” and watched it during lunch – it remains one of the best movies that I’ve seen in the past year. If you haven’t seen it, then go download it on Amazon and watch it immediately.  The music has been on constant rotation in my car since… I cannot get enough!

Graves provided the vocals for the 1997 release American Psycho and 1999’s Famous Monsters for The Misfits. In 2013, he released a re-visioning of much of this music on The Lost Skeleton Returns, and then followed up with a release of an acoustic version of the entire album. Although the Danzig led music will always be my favorite Misfits fare, it’s a return to a chapter in the Misfits story that is very much worth the time and energy.

That’s it for this time around… go and be intentional.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Really Effective Meetings

When it comes to “how to” posts that proliferate the inter webs,  recommendations for running effective meetings is all too common. Unfortunately, too much of what I’ve read is utter collaborative bullshit that does nothing to help me really organize effective meetings… and when I say effective meetings, I mean the kind of discussions that people are eager to support. Anything that is worthwhile just doesn’t happen, it takes hard work. So if you’re expecting this week’s entry to involve us holding hands and singing Kumbayah in a circle, then I’m afraid that I will sadly disappoint you this week… it’s time for you to move on.

So here it is. If your meetings or meetings that you attend are not efficient and are not an absolutely “value add” to your day, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  “But it’s not my meeting”, you’re probably muttering under your breath right about now. And I repeat… during any meeting that you host or attend you have a responsibility to drive everybody involved to an efficient discussion. If you truly believe that your time is valuable, and if you really value how you allocate your time, then you need to fight to protect how every singe second of that time during your work day is spent.

So, now that we’ve established the attitude with which we will approach our meetings, let’s get on to Demon’s 6 Meeting Rules.

  1. Who: Okay, this makes common sense, (but i guarantee that we’ve all broken this rule) to only invite those that really need to be part of the discussion. How often have you invited somebody, or copied them on an invite out of courtesy, or because they were the boss, or because it was the “right thing to do”? Often, we are afraid of upsetting someone, but let’s go back to the value proposition… If your time is valuable, then assume that the time of others is as well, and don’t waste it! In the event that you must schedule a meeting without ample notice, make certain that you contact each invitee directly to ensure that they are aware that they are a critical part of the conversation – do not rely on e-mail notifications to do this… if it is key for them to be present, then do them the courtesy of a direct contact.
  2. What: Ensure that attendees understand that they are to come to the meeting prepared. Clearly communicate what is needed prior to the meeting. Hold attendees accountable when they do not and reinforce this behavior consistently… and doing this in the presence of the rest of the group sends a clear message that you’re serious. See Donaldson’s Second Law for a refresher.
  3. Why: Publish an agenda and include it in the meeting invitation. You’ll want to remain flexible enough to allow new items to come into the conversation, but recognize when a discussion heads off target or carries on too long and table the discussion. Make a note and commit to following up later – and ensure that you do follow up later… be consistent in this behavior so that people don’t feel that they are being pushed aside. But first and foremost, drive the meeting to stay to your agenda so that each item receives the coverage that you have intended. If this is your meeting, get done what you need – collaboration is one thing, but if I’m setting the agenda then there are topics that I know I want to get done. These are the priority… period.
  4. When: Start the meeting exactly on time and finish the meeting on time – this is a no brainer, and I see it in every single “best practices” presentation. But far too often, people are wishy washy in how they apply this discipline. If I’m hosting the meeting, and somebody walks in the door 1 minute late and the discussion is in full swing, I will make a point to stop the meeting to ensure that the invidual understands that they are late, and that they are now impacting everybody else in the room. And how do we handle a situation where we are attending a meeting that is long and begins to run into the next scheduled discussion? Quite simply, we stand up and politely excuse ourselves from the meeting, and move on…
  5. Attendance: I’m sure that you take attendance for your meetings, but what do you do with the information that you collect? If you’re going to take the time to do something, then there has to be some payoff at the end… Why else would you be doing it? I suspect that your answer has something to do with documenting who was there and who wasn’t so you can cover your ass later when an exec asks why something was not completed. If this is a recurring meeting, then you should be compiling the attendance and publishing a regular summary to the invitees and their managers as a means of communicating from whom you are regularly receiving support. At mid-point and end of the year this information should factor into the 360 performance reviews that you supply to your fellow managers. If it’s a one time meeting, then attach it to your meeting summary, which brings us to…
  6. Publish: If you do not, then you need to use a note taking software ( I and my staff currently use Microsoft One Note which is shared on a powerpoint server ). During the meeting, use the software to take notes and identify assignments as the discussion occurs. Again, this all comes back to clearly establishing expectations. Share the meetings minutes online so that people can go back and reference previous discussions. This way, there are no excuses for attendees or those who missed the meeting to not be aware of what occurred and what assignments were handed out. If you’re not sharing the minutes in a central location, then ensure that minutes are e-mailed to everybody who was invited. In addition to taking accurate notes, the key item here is ensuring that the nobody has to go hunting for information.

The six rules that we’ve covered here apply to meetings that we host, as well as those that we attend. When you experience a bad meeting, the only way to change that behavior is to share this with others and ask them to be more intentional in how they run their meetings. The risk is that you will continue to stand up and leave their meetings when they run long, and that the organization as a whole will suffer from poor meetings and lack of proper documentation. The benefit is that others will agree with you and begin to modify their behavior – and that others will adopt the behavior.

As always, be intentional…

Posted in Career, Leadership, Time Management | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Do you have what it takes?

This week, we’re going to talk about project management. In any complex series of applications, you’re going to find project managers behind the scenes ensuring that tasks get done on time and on budget. You’ll find them in architectural projects, health care, automotive engineering, medicine and consumer electronics.Like any profession, you’ll find project managers that possess a great amount of skill as well as those who seem to simply warm a chair.  If you’ve had to interface with a project manager, then I’m certain that you have encountered good and bad and as a result have established your own opinion on the value that they have brought to the team. Despite  very clear criteria for what a project manager does, the title has been bastardized and mis-used so often, that people (in general) don’t appreciate the value of an effective project manager. I can’t say that I blame them.

My expectations for organizational leaders are:

  • they embrace the responsibility of being CEO of their project; comfortable with leading and communicating with their team, the customer, and senior management
  • they are adept at managing the complete financial status of the program, a complex and diverse timeline for the entire organization, and handling quality related issues from a number of different sources
  • they have vision to lead a team and have the ability to identify risks to the program success long before others

A significant part of what I do each day is developing effective teams – interviewing & selecting members, defining and refining tools, fostering an effective culture. During the short time that I afford myself to evaluate whether this person is going to be capable and a good fit for the company, I have a list of questions that I tailor to the individual based on their resume, and which is later refined as the interview proceeds.

Take a look at the video provided by Jennifer Witt at projectmanager.com. Afterwards, we’ll discuss each of the points that Jennifer makes during her presentation and see how they align to my personal expectations.
Okay, let’s get to it.
    1. Professional Development / Credentials: I’m less impressed with PMP (and other professional certifications) as I’ve run into far too many accredited PM’s that couldn’t manage themselves out of a parking lot, let alone the twists and turns that a $500M program is going to throw at them. I will agree on the topic of constant learning and self improvement. The best professionals never stop striving to make themselves better, and this should be some thing that comes through loud and clear during an interview.
    2. Conscious and Aware: Awareness of self and others is something that I would agree with. The ability to honestly understand what motivates your self and others will allow you to effectively manage the team.
    3. Mentorship: I’ve had some pretty phenomenal mentors during my career, and they have had a profound impact in who I am. The fact that somebody recognizes the importance of reaching out to others regularly is a good sign. That they now are taking on the responsibility to mentor others is a step towards being the leader that you’ll need them to be.
    4. Relationships: Witt goes on concerning the ability to build and maintain relationships. From a management perspective, you’re going to rely on others each and every day to reach your goals. Finding, cultivating, and supporting those relationships is central to your own future success, not to mention the success of the organization.
    5. Social – Interaction with others, both online and offline – blah, blah, blah. Either you have it or you don’t. We don’t need to waste any more time here.
    6. Mobility – In this age of phone & e-mail, I shouldn’t be surprised that I encounter so many executives who feel that they can manage from behind a desk. During an interview, I’ll ask what the candidates preferred means of communication is (e-mail or phone)… if they don’t correct me that there is a third option (face to face) then it’s a big strike against them and they’ll quickly be walking out the door. Get off your ass and engage people face to face!
    7. Available / Responsive – Being available is not as difficult as the being responsive portion of this item. During an interview, I’ll focus on specific examples of how the candidate is responsive to others… What I’m looking for is that the individual is able to establish boundaries, displays a penchant for accountability, and helps others to gain the answers that they need as opposed to solving the problem themselves.
    8. Collaborative – I agree with Witt that understanding the perspectives of others is a desirable skill. As a leader, what I’m looking for is an ability for building consensus amongst a diverse group, and an ability to be the catalyst that helps move things “off center” when the team hits a roadblock. This goes hand in hand with the next item.
    9. Decisiveness - Ultimately, I’m not just looking for the ability to make a decision, but to ensure that all factors have been considered and that the team has made a decision. More importantly, the PM should be driving the team towards implementation of the solution. Far too often, people will re-think the decision or be hesitant to pull the trigger on the solution to a tough problem… The successful leader is the person that can instill confidence in the team that the correct decision has been made and implement the solution immediately without dissension.
    10. Resolute – I’m not sure if I understand where Witt is heading with this item. And based on that, I would disagree somewhat. Certainly, the leader should be expecting that the decision has been made and is final, but not at the expense of the team feeling that a decision will not be reversed if data comes to light that could impact the success of the program.
    11. Communicate effectively – Again, I would not put this item on the list as I expect that this is the cost of entry for the position.
    12. Delegate – Again, the successful leader will know when and how to do this effectively or they they will either a). Burn Out, or (more likely) b). lose support of their team. See last week’s blog concerning setting expectations, and then drive the team to deliver on the tasks that are specific to them.
    13. Lead Teams / Manage Projects – The question that I normally ask a candidate is to define the tools that they use to manage projects. I’ve met my fair share of people that are able to bullshit their way through the standard “give me an example” type of question. In the end, I’m looking for details of how they manage cost,quality & time, and how they lead people. It’s easy to expect this item from any leader, but far more difficult to discern from a resume and short discussion.


Food for thought – go be intentional!

Posted in Career, Leadership, Program Management | Leave a comment

The Three Laws

When you enter my office, one of the first things that you’ll see are each of “Donaldson’s Laws” hanging on the wall. The laws are three simple edicts that I share often with my workmates and that I repeat regularly. So, why three laws? Honestly, the laws developed over time, and I’ve found that I do not need any more than these. Three is an easy number to remember, and people that work with me know exactly what I’m saying when I reply, “You know that you’re breaking law number two”.

When I started my first job as an engineer, my boss provided me with a list of requirements that was no less than 25 guidelines, many of which (to me) were simple common sense. Even at that point in my career, I remember wondering how many of the items on the list I could remember. Ultimately, a few of the items on the long list resonated with me, and those became the handful that were committed to memory.

So, what’s the impact of the three laws? I believe in each law, and they are at the core of how I’ve functioned as a professional. They transcend professions and have been applicable at every stage of my career. I’ve found that if I am obedient to the laws, and really embrace their intent, then the majority of the everyday problems that I encounter are mitigated.

Law 1: Expectation Drives Behavior – How often have you been disappointed by a deliverable or the behavior of one of your team members? Time and time again, my experiences have driven home the point that people mis-understood or mis-interpreted what was expected. “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you meant”, or “I thought that I understood the deliverables” was a common response that I’ve heard more than once. Whether it applies to annual goals or regular assignments, the answer is to over-communicate what your expectations are and be clear and deliberate in ensuring that your team or organization understands. Quantify your expectations, put them in writing, and make them measurable. You’re not going to hurt anybody’s feelings; quite the opposite… your team will respect you more for providing necessary vision and direction from the start. Communicate your expectations and check for confirmation.
Law 2: Don’t feed the Stray Cat – When I was a child, a random cat showed up on our family’s doorstep one afternoon. The thing was friendly and a bit mis-kept as should be expected. My brothers and I gave the cat a name, played with it for a short while, and then (as kids have been known to do) brought it food and drink. When the summer sun dipped below the horizon, we picked up our baseball gear and headed inside. And the next day when we came out to play baseball in the yard, who would you imagine was there to greet us? A week later, the cat moved into the garage.
In the workplace, that same stray shows up every day. That situation where you take on a task when the responsible party has not done it?… Hello, you’ve just fed the stray cat. The meeting where you accept the customer’s excuses for not providing necessary requirements?… Yup, you’ve done it again. When you reluctantly follow the out-dated company process and do nothing to make it better?… You guessed it. The problem is that when you’re feeding the stray cat, it feels like the right thing to do, or should I say that it feels like what is required. If Joe doesn’t get this done, then the whole team will look bad, so I better do it for him. It isn’t until that cat moves into the garage, that you realize the implications. What happens the next time that Joe gets a critical assignment? Joe has no ownership of the task at hand because he knows that you’ll feed the cat.
The solution is to deal with the stray cat when it first shows up by taking the heel of your boot and bringing it down on the creature’s head with bone crushing force… repeatedly if necessary, until you are certain that it is dead.
Law 3: Alert the Tower at 10,000 Feet – Let’s think of our program or company as a commercial air liner and the leadership as the pilots. Healthy organizations empower competent professionals (insert engineer, sales, manager) that display a healthy confidence in themselves and their teams. This is exactly what you want in your company, but how do we deal with overconfidence?
So here we are in our jet traveling to our destination. Lights begin to flash in the cockpit at 20,000 feet and the team calmly goes into action to fix the problem. The problem persists and the pilot and flight crew continue their efforts to identify the root cause while the plane. Unable to maintain altitude, the plane descends to 10,000 feet. At this point, the situation may get some additional visibility within the organization (The Flight Tower), but the pilot reassures the tower that the flight crew has things under control, and they will right the situation.
As the plane falls below 1,000 feet, the pilot realizes that the ground is approaching quickly and contacts the tower to communicate the seriousness of the problem. The flight crew needs help. By the time the tower gathers the appropriate resources, the plane reaches the 100 foot mark, and the pilot is doing everything possible to avoid impact. I think that you know what happens next.
Our story highlights the importance of communicating to the tower. This comes in steps that escalate the issue, first on the plane and then to the tower.
  1. Issue Identificaiton: All hands on deck within the project team – identify the root cause, action plan and expected completion
  2. 20,000 feet: “Houston, we have a problem”… Management visibility: here’s what the issue is, what we are doing, and when it will be resolved.
  3. 10,000 feet: There are hurdles preventing the team from resolving the issue. Immediate management involvement is required to address the problem. (with adequate time to affect a proper solution)
Escalation is viewed as a weakness or failure by many organizations which is disappointing. The challenge is to encourage the team to share the information amongst themselves, and then with each successive level of management. Unfortunately, the confident leader is thinking that they will be able to fix the problem as the plane gets ever closer to the ground, and in many cases, asks for help when very little can be done to avoid the collision. Escalating from visibility to support and then holding management accountable for delivering on their commitment of support will in time change the culture of the organization.

These are my three laws… I’d encourage you to identify yours and be intentional in how you apply them.

Posted in Career, Leadership, Management | Tagged , | Leave a comment