MEMBER LOGIN    

Facebook Twitter ACE on LinkedIn ACE on LinkedIn

ACE Blog


Because the mission of ACE is to foster 'Success through Collaboration', the Membership is resolved to promote internal communication and to enable interchange. One effective means to accomplish these objectives is through Blog activity to broaden the audience for thoughts, activities, and successes. 

This forum enables the members to share expertise and learning regarding topics of interest to the consultant community or to call attention to key work and current activities. However, areas of focus and expertise are better displayed in the Member Directory.

  • May 24, 2014 12:56 PM | Anonymous
    http://www.fastcompany.com/3030939/4-pillars-consultants-need-to-effectively-communicate-with-clients

    Here's a link to an article I wrote for Fast Company. It's about a new communication tool I'll be presenting at the July ACE Roundtable. This tool is versatile and straightforward. I use it to:
    • Guide leadership communication
    • Focus professional development conversations
    • Structure difficult conversations
    • Plan communication strategies
    • Diagnose communication breakdowns

  • March 28, 2014 9:50 AM | James Casey
    A series of cartoons on consultant is running. This is one of them.


    http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2014-03-28/
  • December 13, 2013 2:20 PM | James Milliken

         We’ve talked and thought – a lot -- about what makes a good project manager. It’s all in what that person does, and I’m now down to three Ps in describing it: preparation, persistence and perspective.


         Preparation. How many project problems, hassles and stunning bad surprises can be traced back to sloppy and/or incomplete work at the outset?

         Do we, are we allowed to, invest adequate attention up front in gathering, organizing and analyzing enough information so we are confident we have the right problem definition, a sound situation analysis and a clear purpose statement?

         Are we empowered? Has our organization’s leadership delegated to us sufficient authority – and made it fully known down the hierarchy – that we carry full authority to ask for support and resources adequate for the needs of the project?

         Is the team up to the challenge? Do we have enough team members, and do they have the right skills and intentions, to do what it will take?

        

         Persistence. How can you be sure you are you sticking with a tough challenge through thick and thin, a rare and noble thing? When are you just being stubborn, refusing to see the obvious that everyone else sees in a losing proposition?

         How can you know the difference, and how can you tell when the prospects switch from favorable to hopeless – or in the other direction, from lost cause to golden opportunity?

         Answer: You can never know, you can never be sure.

         One certainty, though, is that worthwhile opportunity, really worthwhile opportunity, always comes with risk. Generally speaking, the higher the potential payoff, the greater the risk in pursuing it.

         All you can do is stack the prospects in your favor as much as possible (see preparation, above). 


         Perspective. This is an operating function of wisdom. It is a clear view of the ongoing balance of the odds in this dicey operation we call project management.

         As project decisions, efforts and investments produce results, there is constant realignment among the three competing imperatives: cost, schedule and quality. By the time there is much evidence of the direction of the project, it may be too late. A clear perspective is an outcome, not a working tool.

         Perspective is essential to the project manager, and it requires confidence in one’s judgment arising from competence in the first two Ps. You know when the project meter ticks into the red zone because your accumulated experience alerts you to it.

         For the professional project manager, preparation is pretty much a continuous thing. You don’t just live in the moment, and you have little use for unreliable human memory. 

         While you’re continuously alert to every part of your project, you ensure that all meaningful facts about its functioning are captured, in real time, in a permanent record. Understanding the meaning of that record contributes to fine tuning of managerial judgment.

         The project manager gets better and better at knowing just when to introduce change. When any part of the project has been squeezed for every bit of value, the leader pulls the plug. Not a moment too early or too late.

         We’ve all admired people who stuck with some worthwhile endeavor long after we suspect we would have packed it in. And they pulled it off.

         We’ve also seen people too stubborn to admit defeat, who forced their team and their organization into a lost and senseless grind. And, conversely, those who just gave up.

         When to quit. Part of knowing how to succeed.

  • August 19, 2013 6:32 PM | Tove Rasmussen
    Competitive advantage comes from many places beyond simply the product and/or service.  So below I have outlined 14 possibilities for advantage. They are supported by considerable data, research and experience - with the sources noted in a bibliography. Sources of competitive advantage lie all along the value chain..
    Click here to continue reading: http://www.partnerscreatingwealth.com/14-sources-of-competitive-advantage/

    By Tove Rasmussen, Business Growth Advisor & President, Partners Creating Wealth
    1-207-409-7576
    www.PartnersCreatingWealth.com
  • June 10, 2013 1:59 PM | James Milliken

    People who hate mistakes are dangerous people.


    They rarely come right out and say they hate mistakes, but the markers for the attitude are obvious anyway. If you’re a manager, you can’t afford to ignore them.


    When mistakes happen – as they inevitably do – the most devoted mistake-haters tend to react ferociously. Not only do they strongly, instantly distance themselves from any association with the problem, but they come down hard on the designated perp. That person can expect blunt and unforgiving condemnation.


    It’s an entirely different matter when the mistake is made by this hater himself/herself. If it can’t be ignored or dismissed, there will be a vigorous, campaign to evade the blame. Someone else really is the one who did it, or did something that is the real cause. Or the person who revealed the problem is a bad person, for whatever reason the hater can drag in or manufacture.


    This mistake-hating syndrome is not always so open and obvious. Haters sometimes limit themselves to chilly disapproval or simple withdrawal. But, if they really have the conviction, the silent ones are just as immovable as the others.


    Whatever the personal style, this person who truly hates mistakes is not capable of understanding or helping a colleague who has made a mistake, or of owning his or her own.


    What Are We Talking About?


    Let’s be frank about mistakes. They are actions, decisions, words, whatever that turn out to produce undesirable, often unpleasant, results. Mistakes are viewed in endlessly different ways, but the concept always includes the element of responsibility. Somebody did it.


    Sometimes mistakes pop like quick little whiplashes that generate momentary discomfort and embarrassment, then subside into the wash of ongoing experience.


    Other times they arise massively, unexpectedly. Through some unnoticed, untended accumulating series of factors, they burst upon you with paralyzing force. Back in the day, I suffered loss of executive support on occasion through my inattention. I didn’t notice the judgments that were building up in higher places because of my thoughtless, inappropriate actions and comments.


    And there are situations in which you see it coming, as a developing relationship or circumstance is shadowed by threatening clouds. It's surprising how often we don't take this seriously. Take it seriously. Fix it. You don't need unforced errors.


    We all make mistakes. We all will continue to make mistakes. We hope they won’t happen, maybe are tempted to scramble away when they do, deny their occurrence or downplay their effects. All of those are transparent and self-defeating. Dumb.


    Let’s instead acknowledge we’re human, take the hit and get on with it. Avoidance and evasion are exhausting and demeaning. You don’t fool anyone, and you damage your standing with the people who see you doing it.


    There is no way to avoid making mistakes. If you try to avoid mistakes by doing nothing – that’s a mistake. Or would be, if it were possible.


    You Can’t Ignore It


    As a manager, you have to engage the problem. One mistake-hater can kill a workplace. In the presence of such a person, co-workers find that caution is ever-necessary. It is less dangerous than creativity and innovation.


    When you try something new, you’d better be very careful to make sure it will work, or that it isn’t too different from what we’re doing already.


    There is a predator on the prowl, and the effect is chilling.


    Your personal attitude becomes more inhibited and less enthusiastic. It’s better to just keep your head down. Commitment and contribution tail off as people avoid possible embarrassment and nurse their suppressed anger. Some join in a growing culture of attack and counterattack, sarcasm and negativism.


    The instigators are dangerous because this visceral revulsion of theirs doesn’t stop mistakes. It doesn’t even stop the very mistake-hating persons from making mistakes, and it doesn’t cause them to help their co-workers and organizations conduct mistake-free business.


    Nor does it necessarily mean they try particularly hard to avoid mistakes. It just means they hate mistakes. Too often, this attitude is a marker for a whole nest of submerged problems.


    Your response as a manager is to make sure you detect the phenomenon at its start,

    separating it from the healthy give-and-take of organizational discussion and decision-making.


    What Do You Do?


    If you ascribe overmuch to the open-management concept of free idea exchange, you may miss it. Occasionally, someone will say, “I hate mistakes.” That’s a red flag that cannot be ignored, but it’s rare. Behavior can be seriously destructive without being that obvious.


    It is an essential management skill to determine when a staff member’s behavior calls for intervention. Good managers are very sensitive to the difference between respecting individuality and permitting destructive practices.


    There are shades of difference in the attitude, short of the true mistake-hatred practitioner. Some people are as demanding of themselves as they are of others, and as publicly critical of themselves. Some are motivated by a fierce devotion to the organization. Some of just really short on relationship skills. No matter what shade it is, it still damages productivity and job satisfaction.


    My conviction is that the manager should get involved long before negativism has a chance to infect the group’s collaboration and creativity. In fact, it is your business to devote yourself to getting to know each of your people from the moment you meet him or her. Workstyle problems need to be nipped in the bud.


    Those you work with need to know the values that underly your leadership. Relationships must be open and honest. Avoidance is unacceptable, and so is a destructive attitude. The manager understands a person’s tendencies, and provides the right guidance and discipline to direct each contributor toward building and maintaining productive relationships.


    Shaw Had It Right


    Successful organizations understand that growth means integrating innovation into regular performance – accepting and managing an error rate as high as 40 percent in truly advanced groups.


    They know mistakes are inherent in the pursuit of continuous improvement. They learn how to make them with minimal damage to the operation – and maximum payoff in organizational growth and staff development.


    Individuals, in their own context, should be encouraged to function in a similar way.

    Playwright George Bernard Shaw had a crisp way of putting it: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful, than a life doing nothing.”

  • May 05, 2013 4:37 PM | James Milliken

    The project manager is the designated expediter of unrealistic expectations. 

    That calls for superb political skills, and an extra gear for creativity.


    If this thing is a real project, the stakeholders with the hammer – the ones high in the sponsoring organization – are sure there’s a pot of gold somewhere in that fog of uncertainty, and they’re often impatient for the project manager to deliver it to them.


    They are both the investors and the customers of the project. You can’t expect them to pour unlimited resources into the effort, and it’s not their job to figure out how to get the desired result. But they sure do want that payoff.

    Elsewhere in the project, there are numerous dependencies – required supporters -- without whose vigorous participation the outcome cannot be achieved. Few of them have reason for spontaneous enthusiasm about the relationship.   


    There are managers whose staff members, materials and facilities must be withdrawn from their functional operations to support this project of yours. Those resources were there in the first place because the operating managers needed them to meet their own performance requirements. Now the resources must be surrendered, and there is not a commensurate return for the functional manager.


    And then there are the working people at all levels of the operation, often the most busy and burdened, who are chosen to add a new set of tasks – quite frequently tasks that are demanding and disruptive.


    Project Manager – the catbird seat in all this -- is not a job for those who prize routine. The Project Manager must be effective at organizing disparate parties and unlike activities that often defy coordination. Those process skills must be integrated with high-level communication and persuasion. And more.


    This issue of a wildly jumbled challenge often is obscured in the midst of daily worklife. Projects, real projects run with true Project Managementaren’t as frequent as we might have thought. Many people designated as Project Managers, and seen as being so, don’t have the problem. They actually are managing processes, not Projects.


    Process is orderly – the more orderly the better. Process rewards careful, unchanging repetition. The more closely one’s actions adhere to the previously identified center line, the better the process meets its requirements. That’s efficiency, and it’s a good thing. It achieves the predetermined outcome with the least possible deviation from the predetermined process.


    If it weren’t for defined, disciplined processes, the toilets wouldn’t flush, paychecks would not arrive. Things wouldn’t work. Process is absolutely, fundamentally necessary. The problem occurs when we embark on a nonroutine Project armed only with the measured practices of conventional management, plus fond hope that they will somehow do the job in this unique, complex new circumstance.


    The genius of the Project Manager is in understanding when and how to depart from firm management control and engage situations never seen before, or maybe just never engaged before.


    Such engagement is most successfully handled by people who can keep a varying number of unlike moving objects aligned through an unhelpful landscape. Time does not stand still or slow down. The skill set is characterized by some management specialists as being significantly different from that of competent general management.


    Project Management, managing real Projects, can’t be done on autopilot. The overall progress of a Project is not orderly. It has significant elements – sometimes dominant ones – that require innovation, invention and trial and error. Yet, it has chunks of routine embedded in its shifting flows of unpredictable challenge. It is easy to select those familiar pieces and overstate their importance in the whole.


    The current narrative among the nation’s intellectual leadership doesn’t help. The perceived shortfall in American education must be overcome, we are told, by a crash program in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).


    We in Project Management say, “Wait a minute: Don’t all these highly skilled STEM people have to come up with ideas, collaborate in problem solving with others? Let’s have some realistic balance here.”


    We have seen, especially in Project Management, how brilliantly skilled people can be severely handicapped by inability to function in group and organized settings.


    A couple of interesting insights showed up recently in support of organized creativity as an important but undervalued workplace factor.


    Here’s one, from Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of GWI of Maine, a telephone/Internet company that has been one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the United States for two years running. In comments to a legislative committee about the most important skills for workers of the future, Kittredge said:


    “Start out with an arts degree.  Being able to be creative, to interact with people, is more likely to be important for someone’s career. . . . A lot of what we think of as STEM – that’s out of date. . . . Machines are getting smarter and smarter. What computers won’t be good at is judgment, reasoning. That’s where getting a liberal arts degree comes in handy. It teaches you to think.” (Portland Press Herald)


    Economist Chuck Lawton sounded a similar theme in a Maine Sunday Telegram column summarizing the skills required in the successive eras of Maine’s economic history. Looking to the future, he concluded: “The central skill is creativity – making connections and seeing the unknown, the perplexing, the out of order, the unexpected as challenging and fun.”


    That reads like Project Management, with the possible occasional exception of the fun part. Achieving general satisfaction among all those competing Project stakeholders is a political challenge of the highest order. Sound management is essential but never enough. You have to see possibilities no one else sees . . . and make them come true.


    That’s politics.

  • April 24, 2013 8:00 AM | Anonymous

    A good manager has intelligence, is efficient; a strong leader has intellect; is effective.

    A good manager continually demonstrates the ability to grasp and complete those tasks that are within a limited, predictable framework, and clearly stated goals. A good manager is practical; re-orders, re-adjusts, and filters away information that does not seem important in completing the task. We admire those who through their intelligence get things done, they are efficient.

    A strong leader is one who with intelligence as a foundation; examines, theorizes, contemplates the meanings of situations as a whole. A strong leader sees the big picture, understands the impact downstream, connects the dots; all terms used to identify intellect. We admire those who through their intelligence get things done, and through their intellect insure the results have a more far-reaching affect than the specific task at hand; they are effective.

    How Does One Become Effective?

    It begins with involving others, by building a strong team, having the confidence and a sense of appreciative attachment to depend on them. Many have tried; none have succeeded in knowing everything about their area of responsibility, it is impossible. Those who claim to be fully conversant, talking endlessly without assistance, involvement from others are using their bravado and actions as a wall to hide a lack of confidence. These actions generate long-term negative impact on team morale resulting in decreased long-term team productivity; far outweighing benefits of any completed task.

    A strong leader demonstrates confidence in their position through collaborative decision making; where with a good decision, everyone shares in the recognition; a bad decision, responsibility rests fully with the leader to correct, and working with the team demonstrate how a future reoccurrence will be prevented. A strong leader when needed or helpful will interact as a peer, available as a sounding board, devil’s advocate, with one’s team or with others.

    Next carving out time for reflection is essential. President Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University in his 2008 Commencement Address states “The battle over beliefs is increasingly dominating and threatens the possibilities for a reflective mind. Busyness is the first problem. Multi-tasking is the arch-enemy of reflection. Technology gives us too much information too much of the time.” (Emphasis mine)

    A leader’s strength is not demonstrated by being continuously over-scheduled, over-worked, beyond exhaustion. If you have no time to think, if you do not seek opportunities to clear your head (a walk, lunch with a friend from outside of work, a trip to the gym); then how will you set your team’s direction, if not you then who?

    Strong leaders look for what others have done well, and seek to build on that success. Rather than focusing on what has gone wrong, strong leaders expect competence creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of team success which becomes the norm. Celebrating success is required; recognizing and firmly correcting failure and incompetence is critical.

  • April 19, 2013 11:30 AM | James Milliken

    The very idea of conflict is awful. It causes discomfort, sometimes pretty intense discomfort.


    If I give in to a contentious person, or back off because I don’t want to get into an argument, I feel like dirt afterward – the doormat syndrome. Anyone who witnessed the attack and defeat/retreat may well sympathize, but they often lose respect for me anyway.


    If I fight back, I join in the ill-tempered exchange, maybe descending into loud, personal and petty insult. I say things I may be sorry for later, and I deepen whatever antagonism caused the situation to start with. Maybe I trigger antagonism where there actually had been just thoughtlessness or impatience. And anyone within earshot will have an even lower opinion than if I had just stayed silent.


    Conflict can be awful. That’s why it actually happens so infrequently – most people avoid it at all costs. The few people who live life in the attack mode frequently get away with it because of people’s acquiescence. Most of those around them see no way to win, and/or just flee the tension.


    We’d all be better off if there were more conflict.


    Not the poisonous conflict of the failed situations just described, but constructive disagreement in which competing good ideas contest in an open forum. Failing that, we need to get competent in squelching the ugly ones.


    Mature people should feel free to say what they think, and should in turn be fully open to hearing ideas they don’t agree with. They commit to participating seriously in the development of consensus outcomes. Creative progress and problem solving make for a healthy organization, and the more free participation there is, the better.


    There will be disagreement in such a place, and it can become heated. Bruce Tuckman’s famous formula for development of high-performance teams (Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing) tells us that conflict is essential to getting full benefit of the talents and knowledge of the members of a group.


    For the individual, conflict management is a matter of specific behaviors driven by forethought and discipline, the same personal virtues that we should try to cultivate as a general philosophy of our worklife.


    Start with the thinking: Get rid of any hope or expectation that conflict avoidance is possible, or even desirable. Not that you should go looking for fights. You should, though, go assertively into situations that show promise in the matters you care about. Focus on the idea, and follow a constructive, collaborative process toward it.


    At the same time, study and practice the skills of relationship management. Be prepared for what other people may say or do, and for the constant possibility of unpredictable objections and misunderstandings. Remind yourself that some people are going to erupt in emotional reactions, often at unexpected times in surprising ways. Try never to get caught off guard.


    Once there is human engagement, the prime demand is for listening. The universal solvent of human barriers is active listening, the continuous focus of the mind on the other person. What is really meant, whatever the visible manner and stream of words? Where is the ground, however narrow, that provides a base of common interest and potential agreement?


    My body language is a top communication tool in any personal exchange, and most definitely is important in conflict situations. Visualize a person standing in the face of a tirade, looking calmly, steadily at the attacker, speaking soothing words you can’t even hear.


    I am alert and respectful. I am not uptight or threatening, nor am I worried or fearful. I’m not going to preach or lecture about behavior – I am persistent in encouraging constructive movement toward a mutually useful outcome.


    If things get to the point where nothing good can be accomplished, I have prepared myself with the words and actions to suspend the exchange with a plan to resume after a suitable period for cooling off, reflection and maybe some homework or consultation. I am neither insulting nor patronizing to the offending party. I act almost as if nothing untoward had happened.


    I try to make sure, as we part company, that I have planted a useful thought or two about what we might talk about when we meet tomorrow afternoon.


    Knowledgeable preparation and competent engagement. So much better than avoidance and discomfort.


    The full spectrum of management challenges and skills is explored in dozens of posts at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com.


All Materials © 2018 Association for Consulting Expertise | Click to Email

 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software