Category Archives: emotional intelligence

Tea and a Bacon Sandwich: What Really Makes Projects Work

From time to time I receive an engaging email from someone sharing “Project Whisperer” experiences. This note from Jon Aikman rings so true, especially the part about sitting down “over tea and a bacon sandwich.” Jon graciously allowed the re-printing of his note. Enjoy! – Pam

Project management

What Really Works

“I have worked in managing building projects for more than 20 years and in the early days I was deeply interested in learning about different planning and scheduling techniques and other project management tools. My experience showed me that they were useless on their own and what got things moving smoothly was sitting down over tea and a bacon sandwich with a subcontractor listening to his issues about cash flow, lead time for deliveries, access to the site and how he struggles to pay his mortgage. Much more productive than shouting about how he is behind programme and needs to catch up by next week or he’s not being paid.

I also lived and worked in Indonesia for 6 years where the total difference in culture, economy, expectations and technology forced me to break my project management skills to basics and develop a PM approach that fitted the framework I was working in. Nothing to do with scheduling techniques or Gantt charts.

My approach to construction projects is that all buildings are imagined, designed and built by people for people to use and they only get built by everyone co-operating and working towards a common goal. Nothing has changed really since the pyramids were built except we can now build more complex structures, faster and more safely.

I recently became accredited as a mediator and I’m working on a business concept providing project team support – establishing project teams, providing ways to help the team to work smoothly together and helping building industry clients organise their internal decision making processes so that they can be very clear about what they need to achieve from a building projects. All the things I used to do as a project manager but hopefully being able to achieve better results by not being in that PM seat with its other burdens.”

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Jon Aikman

Jon Aikman, Ashburnham Project Management

ABOUT JON: Jon Aikman has a degree in Civil Engineering and an MSc in Construction Management. From 1987 to 1994 he was with Balfour Beatty Construction learning how to manage construction projects, where he learned the power of building a rapport with project team members (He says that eating together is a great rapport builder and UK construction sites collapse when no tea is available!).

Jon  left the contracting business to join a construction consultancy in London for a short time before going to Indonesia in 1995. He was a project manager for a property developer in Jakarta until returning  to UK in 2001. Since then he has been self employed at Ashburnham Project Management . Earlier this year he trained as a mediator with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

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The Impossible Dream: When Vision Kills Execution

Vision Overload Can Kill Execution

Some of my best leadership insights come not from the moments when I’m the leader, but from those when I’m being led. And I’m not talking about those fleeting inspirational hot-flashes that come when witnessing a moving speaker at a big conference. What’s more, when I’m being led well, I may not even notice… but when I’m being led astray, that’s when I really learn. I suppose living it is learning it, so long as you take time to stop and smell the dog poop.

And what “I now know for sure” (to co-opt Oprah Winfrey’s line) is that good leadership is sometimes about what NOT to do— a YinYang balance of push and restraint. Continue reading

The Courage of Your Convictions

I’ve just crossed the one-year mark of my post-corporate journey– one that started with a decision to STOP doing something, without fully mapping out what I would START. It was a profound personal epiphany, and it also left me jobless.

I was burned out, for sure, but mostly frustrated by the desire to contribute in a larger way. My demons of self-doubt had finally given way to new voices in my head:

"Hear Me Now and Believe Me Later!"

“I actually know what I’m talking about. My approach delivers successful initiatives. You might not want to listen, but… (now in Hans & Franz voice): Hear me now and believe me later!”

But how to position myself to be able to do my thing? Continue reading

Dashboards and Pumpkin Muffins: A Confession

Meaningful dashboard metrics

Wake Up And Smell The Metrics!

I have a confession to make.  It’s from the days when I was still working for a large corporation and leading part of an enterprise-wide strategic IT change initiative. It was huge and encompassed dozens of programs and sub-projects, all aimed at transforming the global IT organization. It was driven top-down and had strict reporting requirements including a mega-metric that tracked who didn’t submit their weekly report. That particular metric got a lot of attention from the Steering Committee of VPs, who were being held accountable by the CIO to submit a consolidated dashboard.

Every week, I dutifully, painfully, and manually composed the required PowerPoint dashboard slide, doing my best to force-fit my program status into the pre-ordained format—which didn’t really work. I had to choose one color—Red, Yellow, or Green, to characterize the current status of my entire program, which was global and massive in itself. I had already been warned by my leadership that there were no “Reds” allowed, and no getting creative with “Oranges” as some do… so my choices were Green or Yellow. There was a tiny box for a 6 pt. font paragraph commentary on that status, which made me feel a bit better, since I could at least qualify the color rating.

Well, feeling rushed and cranky one November Friday, I decided to try a little experiment. Continue reading

Get The Towel First: How Our Brains Trick Us into Indifference

I’m about to share one of my top process efficiency discoveries of all time. Well, OK, I don’t want to oversell this… but it’s something that both amazes and amuses me, many times a week.

Before we continue, however, a bit of context is required.  Female readers will resonate with this immediately. And for the men—well, you’re about to get a peek into that mysterious enclave known as—The Ladies Room (and yes, we persist in calling it that, despite the more P.C. signage of “WOMEN” on the door.)

Emotional Intelligence and Public restrooms

What Causes The Mess?

So Ladies: I think that you’ll agree that large public restrooms can be pretty messy. There’s almost always soapy water pooled on the counters and floors. Paper towels fallen from overstuffed trash bins lay half-soaked, and sometimes there’s even a muddy path leading to the stalls.  Leaning over to reach the wall-mounted soap dispenser results in a wet jacket hemline. Ugh.

What’s up with this? It doesn’t happen at home (exception noted for any family with 2+ young children.)  Is it the sheer volume of usage that causes  this mess? Or is it… something more subtle?

Continue reading

What is Emotional Intelligence?

We hear the term “Emotional Intelligence” a lot in workplaces. We get told that great leaders have it. Our performance reviews tell us to increase it. But what is it? Here’s my own definition:

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to consciously align your behaviors to a desired outcome.

It may sound simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That’s because behaviors are influenced by emotions, and emotions are influenced by a variety of things like personal needs, values, past experience, and instinct. The raw input of our environment passes through these filters, and our brain delivers a verdict in the form of an interpretation. And that, in turn, produces a behavior.

How The Brain "Channels & Chooses"

Basically, it’s “Channel and Choose.” Your brain receives stimulus, channels it through your own personal filters, and then chooses an action.

One of the wondrous and amazing things about the human brain is that it can operate at a meta level of consciousness, above these routine brain processes. We can become aware of our own needs and values that trigger particular emotions. We can process those emotions and then evaluate potential responses. We can learn to recognize situations that create an “emotional-hijack” and produce ineffective (or even destructive) behaviors—and change that course.

Continue reading

Projects Are About People: Using Your Emotional Intelligence

Managing emotions is key to managing projects

You are a Project Manager. You may not realize it, and you may have some other title engraved on your business card, but believe me—you are. Envision a Saturday morning. Paint brush in hand, in-laws arriving tomorrow, and you angry at the realization that there’s not enough paint to finish the guest room. Your spouse is standing by, volunteering well-intentioned guidance “Don’t fall off that ladder!”

At this very moment, you are a Project Manager, trust me.
What’s more, I can predict the outcome of this project based in large part on the very next thing you do. It’s not whether you actually fall off that ladder, or whether you’re able to get more of the custom-colored paint. Sure, you’ll need to address those things… but the real predictor of how your day’s going to unfold is what you say next to your spouse:

(read the rest of my guest post at Tom’s Planner.com)