Dr. Jimmie Flores

Month: December 2014 Page 2 of 4

Stop the Small Talk! The Meeting is Over!

Kool Derby

Last week, I attended a business meeting scheduled for 90 minutes. In the past, this strategic meeting usually consumed all the allowed time. However, on this day, the discussion moved quickly and we were done in a speedy 60 minutes.

This was great! We covered the important work, and the action items were assigned. The meeting coordinator said: “I can’t believe it! We moved fast today. We know the requirements for the next meeting, so we can adjourn.”

I started gathering my stuff and was ready to stand up, when the coordinator asked the following: “Before we go, does anyone have any questions?” No way! This is a lethal question, and one that should be avoided. There is always someone in the room who doesn’t have anything going on, and lives for meetings. This person will invariably have a series of questions.

Nonsensical Questions

Sure enough, one person asked: “Can you go over what the requirements are for the next meeting?” The problem I have with this question is that the requirements were provided in the handout to participants. This is an unnecessary question, and it required about five minutes of discussion.

Soon after, another person decided to ask, “How many of these meetings are we supposed to make? I have a wedding to attend in January, and I might have to miss any meeting that falls during that week.” Again, all the meetings were specifically noted in an email sent to committee members. There was no reason for this question.

No Sense of Urgency

What disturbed me the most from this meeting was that there was no sense of urgency. It appeared that no one else had any pressing work. From my experience working in the corporate world, I know that everyone wants to keep meetings tight. Once the agenda items are addressed, and the action points assigned, you can disband and get back to work. In other words, you don’t have to use all the allotted time.

However, in this particular meeting, everyone was content to sit there until the last minute. One person did break out her laptop. I’m unsure if she was reviewing her email account or checking her Facebook page. Regardless, her mind drifted far away from the meeting. I noticed a slight smile on her face, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with our meeting proceedings.

Time to Go!

I waited another 10 minutes, and the discussion transitioned from asking questions to small talk. One guy was laughing far too loud for my liking. There was nothing funny about this meeting. It was time for me to go. I stood up, thanked everyone for a “wonderful” meeting, and made a beeline for the door.

Before long, I was in my car and heading back to work. I thought about whether I was becoming impatient, or if this meeting was really dragging too long. I suppose the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Regardless, I am confident that most leaders today are focused on productivity, and small talk during meetings falls short of getting things done.

The 3 Things You Must Avoid Saying in a Meeting 

Kool Derby

Aren’t you tired of meetings? Why do most people attending meetings look like they would rather be somewhere else? Why do Mondays have to begin with a meeting? Isn’t it best to schedule them on Tuesday morning, after you’ve had a chance to review your calendar?

When possible, I avoid meetings. I understand that some get-togethers are important but, for the most part, many meetings can be ignored or shortened. I have yet to understand why people default to one-hour meetings. What’s wrong with meetings lasting a quarter- or half-hour? If you are prepared, you can get the same results with quick meetings and waste less time from your valuable resources.

To make meetings successful, you must be prepared. Over the years, I learned strategies from professional meeting attendees. These individuals have a proactive approach to meeting management. They focus on getting to the main points, discussing them, and assigning action items. Staying on point makes a difference.

#1: Avoid saying you are unprepared for the meeting.

Meetings have agendas. If you are assigned a topic, make sure to be prepared. Stay up late, or get up early to be ready for your part. If you are not prepared, it might be best to reschedule the meeting.

You should refrain from making excuses regarding why you failed to do the pre-work. The fact is that everyone else is just as busy as you, if not busier. You didn’t get it done, and that’s the bottom line. Get ready for the next meeting, and hit it out of the ballpark.

#2: Avoid participating in a discussion in which you lack knowledge.

I recently attended a meeting that lasted about 30 minutes longer than expected. There were two attendees who consistently commented about topics outside their domain. Most of us walked out of that meeting even more confused than when we entered.

The lesson here: be quiet! Wait until your time to participate. You will get your chance to share your remarkable words of wisdom.

#3: Avoid embarrassing anyone, for any reason.

When in a public setting, be careful about what you say and how you say it. You want to refrain from these types of comments:

  • “You know … Julie was tasked with that requirement. I guess we can ask her now why she hasn’t delivered.”
  • “The sales team is doing its part. We are opening new accounts left and right. It’s time for our admin staff to follow-through with the paperwork. Let’s see how that goes!”
  • “The problem here is leadership. We need people who can take us in the right direction. We have done everything humanly possible to make this company a success. It’s out of our hands!”

While these comments might have merit, a meeting is an inappropriate time to point fingers. The purpose of a meeting is to identify a problem, review alternatives, and find the right resource to resolve it. Of course, these activities should be done in a professional and cordial manner.

Make sure that meetings have a purpose. If you are calling the get-together, send an agenda with discussion points assigned to particular people. As an attendee, it’s your responsibility to be a meaningful participant. Finally, at no time should you use a meeting to make others look bad. You must focus on creating a positive discussion environment, which allows the expedient resolution of agenda items. By taking that approach, the meetings are productive and … shorter!

He Stated: “I Found Your Big, Fat Wallet!”

A week or so ago, I bought fresh shrimp from Costco Wholesale here in San Antonio.

We like having it at home because it’s easy to serve, and it holds everyone over until dinner is ready. Of course, I often make my guacamole recipe, which complements the rest of the menu.

Keys to Identifying Fraud in Your Organization

A recent report by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) determined that the cost of fraud and abuse was $652 billion. In total, fraud was attributed to 5% of total revenue, and in 42% of the cases, nothing was recovered. If a business is losing 5% of total revenue, imagine the impact on the bottom line. The costs of doing business are constantly increasing, which means you need every single penny to meet your financial obligations.

The Best Way to Solve Problems is to Confront Them

Kool Derby

As we grow up, our parents teach us to take the “high road” and skirt problems. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says the best way to solve problems is to avoid them. The advice from our parents and Carnegie are well-taken, but this approach might hinder you in your path to becoming a proficient project manager.

Learn to Identify the Problem

Before resolving any problem, you must know what it is. I was speaking with a colleague recently about why his company is experiencing low morale. He told me that employees were concerned about the stability of their jobs, or a steady paycheck. In essence, though, the instability of jobs is a symptom of the problem. After asking probing questions regarding his company, I learned that a couple major contracts were lost because work was outsourced to other countries.

Therefore, the root causes of the problem can be tough economic times or even poor strategic planning. If you target only the symptoms of the problem, you will fail to fix it. In fact, many managers and company leaders take the short-term approach of finding a quick fix or workaround, knowing fully well that it will re-surface in the future. By that time, they hope to be in a different department or organization.

Project Management Means Confronting Problems

Excellent project managers understand the importance of taking action once the problem is identified. For example, when you sense conflict among the team members, you take the time to understand what is causing the conflict. A rift between two team members might exist because each desires to have more control over project objectives. Once the PM understands what is causing the divide, he can implement a strategy to fix it, such as providing a clear definition regarding expectations. The mere fact of addressing the problem can lead to its resolution.

Avoid Taking Sides

Excellent project managers are focused on the objectives of the assignment. You can expect team members to exert pressure on your decision-making, hoping you will see things from their standpoint. You must avoid this pressure, and take a macro perspective to every problem.

Avoid making hasty decisions. This does not mean you should take weeks to decide. Instead, be willing to discuss your problems with colleagues or mentors. You might not get the perfect response, but more information allows you to consider factors that might be overlooked when under pressure.

Dale Carnegie wrote: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.” As a project manager, you must avoid the temptation to involve personal emotion in matters involving conflict. A professional and proactive approach will help you from acting like a fool.

The Yawner Who Forgot My Name

Kool Derby

I was invited to a planning meeting as a subject matter expert (SME). For this particular session, there were only three meeting attendees. I arrived about five minutes early, and proceeded to the assigned conference room. Mike, the meeting coordinator, arrived shortly thereafter. The other SME was running late, which gave Mike and I a chance to chat.

Although Mike called the meeting, he didn’t remember my name. It was also unusual that he would lean back in his chair, stretch demonstratively, and yawn uncontrollably. This was an afternoon meeting, so he should be wide-awake by now.

I get a weird feeling about people who are too relaxed during a meeting. What are they trying to show? Why do they lack the initiative and smartness to conduct themselves in a professional manner? I suppose he felt superior to me, which gave him the privilege to feel like he was lying down in his living room couch.

While we waited, we had a short conversation:

Mike:  So … what’s your background?


[Mind you … he invited me because I am a subject matter expert in planning global projects. Yet, he wasn’t sure about my credentials. Weird!]


Me: For the past decade or so, I’ve worked on global IT projects. My expertise is coordinating the efforts of global talent to create custom solutions for clients in the United States.


Mike: I see. How long have you done this kind of work?


[I did just say a decade, which usually translates to 10 years or so. I guess he wasn’t listening.]


Me: This type of work has kept me busy since around 2002. Once I have a clear idea regarding requirements, I look for the right resources to get it done. Technology has made it possible for people from around the world to collaborate and work on projects.


[Finally, at 2:10 p.m., the other SME (Dave) walked in, and the meeting formally began.]


Mike: Dave, I was talking to, uh, uh …


[Mike looked at me … not remembering my name.]


Me: Jimmie.


Mike: Yes. Jimmie and I were talking, and here is what we would like to do.


Although it took two weeks to coordinate our schedules for this meeting, the session required only 20 minutes. In fact, a phone call would have done the trick. There was no reason for Dave and me to drive more than 30 minutes for a meeting that was completed so quickly.

I was unimpressed with Mike because I felt that he was “big-timing” me. In other words, he gave the feeling that he was far too important, and that he was doing us a favor by meeting with us. The yawning and forgetting my name was unprofessional.

What is the point? When you ask others to invest their time on a project or other work effort, you need to value their contributions. As a meeting coordinator, you must be prepared for the agenda items, and look interested. The yawning and lackadaisical attitude must go. There is no place for it in a professional environment.

At minimum, you should make sure and remember the names of people that you invite to your meetings.

Three Considerations When Launching a Project

Kool Derby

Organizational leaders must have a reason to launch projects. The Standish Group conducted a survey of IT companies, and the results concluded that only 34% of all projects are completed. In my consulting work, I’ve learned that most organizations are often well below that mark regarding their project success.

My experience suggests that projects fail mostly because of the following:

(a) no business justification and mission alignment,

(b) lack of leadership funding and support, and

(c) lack of attention to a project management body of knowledge.

In other words, you must have a definable reason to launch a project, the leaders must provide the resources, and a plan is essential.

#1: Know Who You Are

Avoid trying to be everything to everyone. Those who have studied business understand the importance of sticking to your knitting. I remember learning that concept while taking General Business at Montezuma High School in Southwest Kansas. Even then, it made sense to me. You should focus on what you do well. To do that, you must conduct a strategic plan to know your core competencies. All projects that you launch must leverage your skills, assets, knowledge, and competitive edge. For example, Apple is committed to innovation, and Disney World wants to make people happy. Before you launch a project, have the end result in mind.

#2: Know Your Resources

Do you have the people, capital, and knowledge to launch the project? American mechanical engineer, Henry Gantt, created the Gantt Chart, which project managers use today as a graphic schedule to plan and control work. In essence, the chart is a tool for resource optimization. You must make sure you are assigning the right person to do the right job at the right time. To make those assignments, you must have the people in place, and they must have the time and skills to do the work. If they don’t, the project is destined to fail.

#3: Know Your Customer

Many projects are launched to improve organizational efficiencies and to generate revenue, and these projects are often internal in nature. In other words, the customer is the organization itself. If that is the case, you must understand the culture, and determine how it will help or hinder the success of the project. If the customer is external to the organization, it is critical that you leverage your communications plan. As the project manger, you must get sign-offs from the customer to ensure you are on the right track.

Project management is not for everyone. It is not enough to say that you have project management experience. You must have leadership skills to understand why the project is important, and how it will create value to the customer. In other words, project managers must have vision. Failing to have a plan will increase the likelihood of becoming part of the 34% group.

Traits of a Great Team Member

Kool Derby

Project managers are constantly on the lookout for excellent team members. When work needs to get done, it’s important that you have energized, optimistic, hard-working, and committed individuals on the team. Of course, these individuals are difficult to find, and even harder to secure for our project activity.

From my experience leading projects, here are skills that I find important for project team members:

Know the Expectations

Before any work can take place, you need to be clear regarding what is expected. If you don’t know, it’s erroneous to assume. For example, if an activity for the project requires scheduling air travel for key stakeholders, you need to confirm the airport preferences. You cannot assume that New York LaGuardia is best for someone from NYC.

Great team members are those who ask plenty of questions at the beginning of the project, such as the following:

  • “Jack, I want to make sure I’m clear regarding my work. Do you want me to work with Helen on the marketing campaign? How do you want progress reported?”
  • “Laura, it’s great to be on this project, and I’m excited that it will make our company better. From my understanding, we will need three resources from IT. Have we contacted their manager to gain approval for the number of hours we need for our project? I just want to make sure we have the people available for the database work effort.”
  • “Roberto, I agree that we need to build the product as soon as possible. However, I think we should contact Legal about the potential intellectual property issues now. We know that some competitors are doing similar work, and this is a base that we need to cover. Would you like me to set up the meeting with Stella in Legal?”

Focus on Execution

There is a tendency to over plan, which means that work becomes too complicated. The successful team member understands that working in chunks or manageable pieces is preferred. A personal example is cleaning your garage. One Saturday, you can remove the trash and other items that will be tossed. The next Saturday, you can purchase and install storage units. On the last Saturday, you can give the garage a good cleaning. In total, you worked 15 hours, but it was done over three weekends. By breaking the project into pieces, you have a better understanding of the work, and you avoid committing all your free time to the project.

The bottom line is that excellent team members will put their heads down and get to work. Once they know what needs to get done, they focus on execution. The ability to stick with one task until it is done separates the average team member from the superstars.

One final point is that excellent team members are optimistic and willing to accept new challenges. You can expect problems along the way, and it’s important to find a solution. The more problems you can solve, the more valuable you are to the team and the organization.

Using Project Management to Grow Your Business

Kool Derby

As a business owner for more than 20 years, I realized that my IT business was going to be mediocre if I failed to find new ways to generate income. Every entrepreneur knows that sales is the lifeblood of a startup. My mindset quickly changed to finding new clients who needed help with their businesses, and to increase the work we were doing for our current clients. That combination alone resulted in our business expanding by 500% in the first year.

The point here is that you should consider project management to make your business a success. A project is defined as a temporary endeavor designed to either generate revenue or create efficiencies. The project must have a start and end date, and it must generate a unique product, service, or result. One more thing: it must be unique and not routine work, such as processing payroll or managing customer service calls.

The fact is that there are a ton of potential projects in every business. For example, one project might be to improve the level of customer service provided to your current clients. You can conduct a quick survey to see what is important to them, allowing you to focus on the key result areas. This project on its own will make your clients feel like you care, and you will learn about other products and services you can provide them.

My recommendation is that you spend a little time with the definition of a project. You should call a meeting with the key stakeholders in your company and brainstorm the top three projects that can make an immediate difference for your company. Once those projects are defined, get started with the first one.

Keep the process simple, and start working on that main project. Remember that it must have a start and end date. Therefore, ensure that the project’s scope is well-defined, and that everyone is clear on what needs to be done. Your role as the project manager is to provide guidance, funding, support, and to remove any obstacles that might interfere with the success of the project.

Once you complete Project #1, get to Project #2, and then on to Project #3. This commitment alone will transform your business, and much faster than you think.

When You Aren’t Wanted on Any Team

Kool Derby

As a university instructor and corporate trainer, I often ask students to form small teams when working on course projects. For the most part, this is an easy process, especially because students will already know each other. Even when they lack acquaintance, they gravitate to people with similar interests.

Darla Was Left Hanging

In Week 1 of a recent face-to-face class, Darla was unable to attend. I remind my students that missing the first week of any class will make it difficult to do well. There is so much that takes place, such as forming teams, discussing course requirements, and communicating expectations.

During the class, I mentioned to the students that Darla needed to be placed on a team, and here are the responses I received:

  • “We don’t want her on our team. She’s a pain!”
  • “She was on our team in the last class, and she hardly ever showed up to our meetings. We definitely don’t want her on our team.”
  • “She is a trouble-maker. At the beginning, she tells you that she will do her part, but pretty much disappears.”
  • “Darla is weird! I don’t know how she stays employed. I guess she works somewhere, but I’m not sure how she made it through the hiring process.”

Moving Forward

Given the feedback provided in Week 1, I decided to speak to Darla separately. I didn’t wait too long because Darla emailed me the day after class asking about her team assignment. I informed her that because she missed the class, we needed to wait for the next session to discuss her team situation.

I could tell by our email communication that she knew something was out of the ordinary. She was aware that other classmates were unwilling to accept her as a teammate. However, my job as the instructor is to find a place for her, and to monitor the performance of each team member. Given that Darla lacked the support of classmates, I had an uphill challenge.

During Week 2, I approached the members of a small team who could benefit by adding another member. They were less than enthusiastic about having Darla on their team, but the participants acquiesced, and she joined their group. I did make it clear that all students needed to meet the requirements, and that I would keep a close on their individual performance.

The Lesson

Much of the work in today’s organizations requires working in teams. In some cases, you are assigned to a project, and it’s imperative that you contribute based on the expectations. If you fall short, the performance of the team suffers.

As much as possible, avoid developing a “poor performance” reputation. In the example used here, Darla will have a difficult time acclimating with the team. She should first try to focus on the work at hand. By doing a good job with her requirements, the team will gain respect for her. Once the team trusts her, she begins the process of rebuilding her reputation. This same advice holds true in work-related projects.

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