Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

May 3, 2013 8-48-28 PMWhen I first came to the PMI SFBAC board, we had a serious problem with continuity: The entire board was elected every year, and terms were limited to two, which meant there was little chance of any vision longer than a year being accomplished. In addition, the board was a working board, meaning each of the board members also wore an operational hat, which led to some odd silos within our volunteer organization.

Every year, we’d have an executive retreat and work on what the strategic goals of the organization should be. And the next year, a new board (often with little point of reference for the prior vision) would come in and do the same thing.

The board would try to apply PMBOK best practices to the organization, and implement things like PMO’s, only to have to end up starting afresh as we experienced another complete rebuild every couple of years.

I know we recognized continuity as a problem, and had a few things in place to help mitigate that problem, but the reality was, we had no real fix until we were introduced to Policy Governance® and combined that with another brilliant concept for our key roles: triplets.

Triplets was a concept that came out of some work we did trying to solve the problem of human capital in a volunteer organization. The issue was that we’d find a volunteer who was really good at something, and then for various reasons they’d be ready to move on. We’d scramble to find a replacement, often leaving the board member to do the work left behind for some time.

We also had this odd arrangement where the President was also the CEO and chair of the board, which meant the direction of the organization often changed completely when a new president was elected.

Because we’re a volunteer organization, accomplishments are a bit more difficult than they are in a commercial organization. Work is done on a part-time basis by people who have other more important things to do (like make sure the bills are paid). And since they work on something only occasionally, it often actually takes more person hours to accomplish (since setup tasks often have to be repeated, and simple tasks like turning on the computer are a larger percentage of time spent when you only have a couple of hours).

So the triplet idea was to assign three people to every job. This didn’t necessarily resolve the problem of losing key people, but it did at least ensure we had a candidate when one of our volunteers suddenly found  a new job and could no longer do what they’d been helping with.

Moving the operational work to the CEO, freed the board to focus on guiding the organization. It also separated the volunteers from any turnover in the board, since they no longer reported to a board member directly.

Athens KoliasAs of our last official board meeting, your PMI San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Board of Directors has a new Chief Governing Officer: Athens Kolias agreed to accept the appointment to lead your board and guide us in our journey toward leadership excellence.

When we adopted Policy Governance®, we learned that it was important to have a Chief Governance Officer to keep us on the track as we began the shift from working board to leading board, and that was the role to which I was appointed.

The CGO has two main roles: acting as the chair of the board which requires being assertive holding the rest of the board accountable to policy in order to speak with one voice, and secondly to interact with the board’s one employee (the CEO).


This video of an interview with John Carver will give you some idea of what we needed to consider in naming someone as CGO.

Please join me in congratulating the new board on a great choice for the new CGO, and congratulate Athens on showing the type of leadership that inspired her to be the clear choice.

In our first years with Policy Governance® we’ve managed to rewrite the bylaws, expand the size of the board, and create a more sustainable organization. With the help of our owners (the membership, the legal and moral owners of PMI SFBAC), we crafted our global ends statement (our guiding policy):

PMI-SFBAC members, people who live and work in Northern California, and virtual beneficiaries experience a continually improving standard of living, stability, a sense of community, self-esteem and self-actualization. These Ends will be achieved in a sustainable manner that represents value for the resources invested.

With this in mind, we’ve been able to focus on making the volunteer work more meaningful and useful in your professional life, and continue to build on sustainability. We’ve managed to increase what we are delivering, while driving down costs AND making our programs more accessible and valuable.

Thanks to the hard work of our CEO, Malika Malika, and her staff of volunteers, we have a growing volunteer operation and a sound financial statement, and solid reserves to carry us into the future.

In the coming years, we will continue the work of making sure the goals we are working toward are the right ones for the membership (you, our legal and moral owners), refine our policies, and continue to improve on what value that we can deliver together.

So here’s the board’s ask of you: take a moment to consider volunteering. We always have needs at all levels of the organization, the board is looking for people who want to learn more about servant leadership, and Malika has a variety of opportunities where you can help out and stretch your skills.





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Serenity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A project manager has to be able to be in the moment and calmly react to any situation in order for a plan to succeed. Reacting to everything that might go wrong, or things that don’t help to achieve the goals of the project doesn’t get us to the product of the project (our “ends” or project goal).


Because a project manager’s biggest job is keeping everybody communicating, it’s easy to get distracted with all the chatter and worries of everybody on the team. You have to weigh the value of the cries of the Chicken Little‘s on your team in order to figure out whether the sky is actually falling or not, and if so, what to do about that fact.


For me this is a bit like the Serenity Prayer (written by American theologist Reinhold Niebuhr):


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


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I grew up in a fairly large family: three boys, a girl and Mom and Dad. We had a gazillion aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents , relatives and friends.

Because of this, there were a LOT of communication channels, and as a natural part of her position in the family, that meant that Mom was a hub to a LOT of that communication.

So as we all grew up, and moved on with our lives, I began to see something interesting happen: because we all spoke less frequently, there would be times when we would hear about things in a very delayed fashion.

“Oh that was probably around the time that Aunt Jo died”

“Aunt Jo died?”

“Oh, I thought I told you, that was last year”

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, and see this sort of thing happen in my own life. As near as I can tell there are a few of reasons why we as humans have trouble with complex communication channels like the one I see in my family.

Reason 1 – Once we plan to communicate, we forget to do it.

Especially when we are busy, and have limited interaction with people, it is easy to plan to give a message to somebody and then get distracted with other things. In the case of the family dynamic, as we were no longer all in the same household, fewer opportunities to actually say the things that are planned to be said wer available, meaning there were more opportunities for distraction between plan and action.

Reason 2 – Once we verbalize to some people, it’s hard to remember who we talked to.

A huge survival trait we all share as humans is generalization, and our subconscious tends to exhibit this with the people we are closest with. If you’ve ever heard a parent run through all the children’s names before hitting the right one, you know what I’m talking about.

And because the subconscious doesn’t really differentiate much between planning to do something and actually doing it, the plan we made to talk to four other people, really does seem complete once we’ve talked to some portion of them, because we thought about talking to them all.

Reason 4 – Priorities change.

When we plan to communicate, we know it’s important but with limited opportunity for that communication, other things come up that mean we don’t get around to it, and it no longer seems as important. In the fictitious “Aunt Jo” example, time has passed, mourning is done, and there’s not usually a reason to remember that we never had that conversation we meant to.

Reason 5 – We remember good things better than bad.

I’m a firm believer that it’s important to give feedback immediately, especially when it’s about something bad that happened. I also believe that over time, we remember the good moments in our lives better than those that aren’t as positive. That’s why when you think about the music that was on the radio when you were in high school, all sorts of wonderful tunes pop into your head, but when they actually play the top 40 from that same year, you hear some things that make you smile and wonder why they were popular.

This is probably another survival trait: I know for me, I can remember what to avoid, but the memories for what a burn feels like, or how much it hurts to skin my knee, is not nearly as vivid as what it feels like to hug my wife, or have that wonderful feeling of contentment after a holiday meal.

So if communication about something bad gets delayed long enough, it’s human nature not to bother with it. Not only do we  want to avoid dredging up things that aren’t fun, but the value of doing so has diminished, and so we just choose to forget (and maybe can’t remember).

So my solution for the Mom Communication Event ?

It’s really the same goal with every bit of communication, test that the message you sent was the one received. I used to wonder why people used to say “Did I tell you about …”, but now I know why, they were just being human, AND being good communicators, just like my Mom.


Once upon a time, there was a kingdom of people who were busy managing projects named Pee-Em-Eye Ess-Eff-BeeA Sea. They were busy doing this work, and they found themselves wondering if there was a better way than just telling people what to do, and then scurrying off to the next project.

A small group of people in the kingdom thought that there was a better way to manage the kingdom of Pee-Em-Eye Ess-Eff-BeeA Sea. They believed they could apply some of their project management skills to help all the people in the kingdom to be more successful and happy.

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The court room quieted as Paulie C. Governance took the stand. He was sworn in on a stack of PMBOK‘s and the prosecutor was ready to begin.

The following was taken from the transcript and witness accounts:

Prosecutor: Please state your name and occupation for the court

Paulie: Paulie C. Governance, trusted advisor to the board.

Prosecutor: And you are a proposing a change to the way the board operates are you not ?

Paulie: Yes, Policy Governance®.

Prosecutor: Thank you, we have your name, I was asking you about the change you are proposing.

Paulie: Yes, that is Policy Governance® .. with a capital P and a capital G.

Prosecutor: Yes, yes, and a capital C. I was asking what, not who.

Paulie: No capital C, bu there is a registered trademark, like the PMP®

Prosecutor: You don’t capitalize the C?  That IS unusual. Why would Paulie C. Governance have a registered trademark?

Paulie: Well Policy Governance® is the child of John and Mirriam Carver, and they wanted the protection of the registered trademark.

Prosecutor: Your parents gave you a registered trademark ? I think we’re way off topic here. Please tell us: what is the name of the the system you are proposing.

Paulie: Policy Governance®

Prosecutor: So the system has your name ? Are you expecting to run the board yourself.

Paulie: No, the board will use an integrated set of concepts and principles that describes the job of any governing board.

Prosecutor: Now we’re getting somewhere: what is that system called ?

Paulie: Policy Governance@

Prosecutor (clearly frustrated): Now let me get this straight: your name is Paulie C. Governance, right?

Paulie: Yes

Prosecutor: And Mirriam Carver gave birth to Paulie C. Governance ?

Paulie: No, she only added to the theory, it was John Carver’s idea.

Prosecutor (grinning): It usually is the man’s idea. Let’s try something else: you are proposing the board use an integrated set of concepts and principles that describes the job of any governing board.

Paulie: Yes

Prosecutor: and that system is called Paulie C. Governance, but it’s not named after you?

Paulie: Yes

Prosecutor: then what is your name?

Paulie (now frustrated): Paulie C. Governance is my name, and the system is Policy Governance® which is an integrated set of concepts and principles that describes the job of any governing board.

At this point, the prosecutor tried to strangle Paulie, so court had to adjourn until a new prosecutor could be found …

I’ve been working with Office and Project for a while now, and one of the things I love about the new 2010 version is that you can save as PDf from almost any application.

So today I was saving a Project plan as a PDF, and noticed it was breaking across pages in weird ways. Since I’ve done something similar with Visio a LOT, I figured the control for page size would be in the page setup, but I couldn’t find any mention of page setup in the menus or ribbon bar …

So hunting a bit, I figured that it might be on the print preview, which I found on the “File” tab:

And that’s when I got stymied for a bit: the controls for page setup were all greyed out:


Finally it occurred to me that maybe I needed to have Print Preview working, and off to the right was a button that said “Print Preview”:

Clicking that activated all the controls, and I could see a preview of the printout, and even get to the handy dandy Page Setup (as well as the other page settings):

For this particular one, all I wanted to do was change the page size to be bigger (so I chose the 11×17 in landscape), and limit the dates to this contract year.


But clicking the “Page Setup” also lets you do things like scale the printout to fit the page, set margins, etc:


Once you have everything the way you want it on this page (IOW the image of the printout on the right looks good), you can click “Save As” and choose PDF as the format you want to save:



The newly saved document will be scaled and limited to what you chose on the File/Print/Print Preview settings !

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One of the key success factors for any project is the “vision statement“, which is the Executive Sponsor‘s opportunity to excite the team, stakeholders, and customers with their vision of where we are going and how the product of the project will improve things.

When well done, the charter can be condensed into an elevator pitch for the project, and provide a clear vision to guide the project team to a common goal.

Vision: the capacity to see into the future. It’s setting a vision that people can see where their place in that vision is, and then coming across as deeply empathetic, human and intimate. The vision has to be a generous vision, such that people not only see their path in it but is excited about it. It is not just a plan, it is an enlistment. Great leaders have to be genuine and intimate: You have to feel like they touch you, and there is empathy or humanity there.

– Keith Ferrazi

The project charter‘s vision statement can galvanize the people to achieve defined objectives, even if they are stretch objectives, provided the vision is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Timely).

In order for this vision to be effective, it needs the following five elements (condensed from The Art Of Project Management by Scott Berkun):

  1. Simplifying – The most important thing to strive for is a simplifying effect on the project. A good vision will provide answers to the core questions individuals have, and will give them a tool for making decisions in their own work.
  2. Intentional (Goal driven) – This is the first source of a project’s goals. It sets the tone for what good goals look like, how many goals there should be in the plan, and how much refinement the goals may need before they are complete. A well written goal defines a clear intention for the people on the team. One popular business acronym is SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Timely. The idea is that if a goal has all five of these attributes it is likely to be well defined enough to be useful.
  3. Consolidated – For the vision document to have power, it must consolidate ideas from many other places. It should absorb key thinking from research, analysis, strategic planning, or other efforts, and be the best representation of these ideas.
  4. Inspirational – To connect with people, there must be a clear problem in the world that needs to be solved, which the team has some interest or capacity to solve. By giving the reader a clear understanding of the opportunities that exists, and providing a solid plan for exploiting it, people who have any capacity to be inspired, will be.
  5. Memorable – Being memorable implies two things: first, that the ideas make sense or were interesting in some way; and second that they resonate with the reader and will stay with them. If the vision is too complex for anyone to understand it’s impossible to achieve this. Being memorable is best served by being direct and honest. If you can strike at the core of decisions and communicate them well – even if people don’t completely agree with those decisions – they will stay with people longer than those from a vision full of ideas they fully believe in but were buried in weak and muddy writing.

So what we want is communicate as clearly and concisely as possible in a way that helps people understand what we are doing. We want to help people visualize what they are trying to accomplish, and to give them a tool to reference when making decisions as the project proceeds.

With a well written project vision, the entire team is energized behind the goal, without it, each individual has to conceive the goal on their own.

Tonight’s the night we make history …

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This last weekend, a group of us from the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of PMI were set to attend the PMI – 2011 Region 7 Leadership Summit in Reno.  We made it to Reno and back in record time (although not in the direction one usually associates with breaking records).

It was a classic example of project management at it’s finest: we made plans, with allowances for expected risks, and the world accommodated our plans by giving us additional challenges along the way.

We had decided to try and save the chapter some money by carpooling over the mountain to Reno from the Bay Area. Knowing that there is always the possibility of snow this time of year, we made sure to rent an SUV with 4WD, and made allowances for extra time in case there was snow. I’d driven in that area in the snow quite a few times, and a couple of others in the car were OK with driving through the snow as well.

No surprise, a big storm blew in the Friday we were due to travel. There was a mixer that we were due to attend Friday evening at 7pm, so we left in the morning leaving around 10am for an anticipated 6 hour drive.

Once we got to the mountains, the snow started coming down. It wasn’t too bad and it was looking like we had left early enough to miss any problem in getting over the pass. We stopped at Ikedas market in Auburn to enjoy a nice lunch, and were on our way into the snow around noon.

The first thing I noticed as we started through the snow was that there was a low pressure notification for our right rear tire. I was hoping that it was just the cold weather (I’ve seen those sensors go off when the temperature goes down). We adjusted the plan to stop at the next gas station and check the tire pressure.

We got to about Colfax, when the traffic slowed to a crawl. This wasn’t too worrisome, as we expected it to take a few hours to get over the hill. We were still doing OK until we saw the CHP officers waving us off at the next exit and telling us to go back westward because the highway was closed.

Once again, we talked about options and decided to head back down to Auburn and wait for the highway to open in comfort. This also would give us a chance to check the tire pressure.

We drove back down to the first gas station we saw, only to find that the tire was pretty much flat. We pumped it up as much as we could, and headed out to find someplace to get the tire repaired. A helpful chain installer pointed us down the road to a tire store where we got the tire repaired.

Back down the hill, we stopped at  a Peet’s inside a really nice Raley’s market to wait out the closure and discuss options. I called my brother-in-law Myles, who works in the area to see if there might be a good alternate route with the snow coming down. His advice was to not to take an alternate route a local had suggested (he drives up there all the time, and if he wouldn’t drive it, I didn’t figure it was a good idea for me to try).

We looked at the DOT site to see whether there were any estimates on when the road would reopen, and asked others who were on the road what they knew. Eventually we heard that there had been a 40+ car pile up with at least one fatality and 20 or so injured. There had been at least two big rigs involved, so it was going to take some time to clear.

We started checking on places to stay in case it started getting too late for us to make it that night. By five or six, we’d pretty much decided it wasn’t going to open that night, and Ray Ju (our current chapter president) had spoken to his nephew who had volunteered to put us up in Roseville. The plan was adjusted again, and our new goal was to get to the conference in time to support our fellow members who were there presenting.

After arriving at Mike and Linda’s house, we got directions to a Japanese buffet called Mizu. Once again we found ourselves adjusting plans as we somehow missed the restaurant and ended up in downtown Roseville. I pulled out my iPhone and got us to where the restaurant was supposed to be, only to find it had been renamed.

By this time we’d realized that the team could respond to just about anything, and rolled with the changes. We had a great meal, returned to Mike and Linda’s and decided to roll out of the house by 5am the next morning so we could try and make Sharawn’s presentation.

Getting up early with a good night’s sleep, we sojourned forward over the pass. The snow started up just above where we’d been turned around the night before, and just kept getting heavier as we climbed. After fighting with ice fighting on the windshield (which we fought by turning the defrost up to 80°) the snow started slowing down as we approached the summit.

We arrived at the hotel at around 8am and were greeted by Alan Yue (the incoming chapter president), checked in and met our goal of being there in time to check-in, shower and support Sharawn in her efforts.

We had a great conference and watched the weather nervously for our expected trip home Sunday afternoon. The weather was supposed to be getting worse, and as time went on, it looked more and more like the pass was going to close again. By 10 or 11am, it was clear that the pass had been closed, and there wasn’t much chance that they’d be reopening before Tuesday.

San Francisco Bay Area highlighted in red on a...

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The trip home was planned with the best expert advice possible: Victor our new best friend from CalTrans, Google Maps, and some vague experiential knowledge from Rob. The word on the street was that the only remaining open pass would take at least 14 hours to get home at best (since everybody would be driving on that two lane road at 10 mph or so).

So we put on our PM hats again, huddled, considered options (including staying a day or two longer in Reno), and came up with a new plan. The lowest risk approach it appeared was to drive far south, avoiding the passes, and completely skirting the mountains. Our preliminary estimate put that drive at 10 hours or so, which was better than any of the alternatives we considered, and also would theoretically get Myles Lawless (chapter’s PMO Director) home in time to make it to his new client location the next morning.

Well of course it wouldn’t be historic if there weren’t more challenges. Driving south took much longer than what we’d anticipated, and then just as we had realigned our expectations on the arrival time, we ran into (luckily not literally) another snow storm outside Bakersfield.



We did what project managers always do, plan as well as we can with the information available, decide on a course of action, and adjust as we go along. It was  a great bonding event for all of us, and will make the year ahead even more fun as we already have a really long journey with a shared vision behind us.

I was talking to my friend George Ross the other day about the job search that we both unexpectedly find ourselves in, and it occurred to me that I haven’t been approaching my career management with the same level of commitment to planning that I have when managing projects and programs.

A while ago, I made the conscious decision to pursue program management as a way to round out my skills in heading my career into the domain of technical leadership. I’d spent most of my career as a developer with my referent power derived from keeping one step ahead on the technology curve.

In my early career, I had managers and mentors who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, which was the ability to lead. Several managers tried to push me into leadership roles, and at first I pushed back, preferring to keep my head down, and learn as much as I could about everything that I could.

Well, you do that long enough, and those opportunities stop happening, so I found myself at a new place in my career where I actually understood the value of managing others. I’d finally realized that even if I was better than the people I managed, multiple people could get more done than I could as an individual. Even if they worked half as quickly as me, as long as there were enough of them, more work would get done and more quickly.

So understanding this, and meeting a few individuals who’d managed to make that transition from technical geek to technical leader, I set my sites on that CTO sort of role.

So I had an goal, and I had an inkling of an idea of how to get there, but still no formal plan. What occurred to me last night was that like any other goal, without a plan to get there, the path wanders, and you may never get there.


That said, I was conscious enough to know I needed to round my skills, and I did set my sight on some intermediate targets. First was to get some management experience, which was what led me to PwC and managing web development there.

The truth is, that I wandered a bit more in my career, not really making direct progress toward anything like the CTO role. I gathered a bit more experience as a technical architect, expanded my skills leading small teams, and learned a lot about being a consultant and managing expectations.  Still, without a plan time marched on.

Image representing Cisco as depicted in CrunchBase

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I was exposed to solid project management at places like Cisco (which is probably the most project based organization I’ve ever worked at) and the value of true project management. It occurred to me that moving into the project management end of the process would round my skills in a way that being an architect would not. It would also round out my business and soft skills in ways that the more technical role would expose me to.

So having no idea what project management was, I talked to a few of my friends and heard about the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). From watching a few of the better PM’s that I knew go through this certification, I had no doubt that it was a challenging and as real a certification as any I’d come across.

I took a couple of PMP prep classes and studied as much as I could, in order to understand the best practices of project management. I began to understand things that I was doing right, and reasons for things I had not understood before (like what a critical path actually was).

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During the “downturn”, I became more involved with expanding my skills through volunteering and continuous learning. I helped to form a non-profit aimed at getting people jobs, and learned a great deal about interpersonal networking (both virtual and physical).

Continuing that growth in leadership, I’ve joined the board of directors of the PMI San Francisco Bay Area Chapter as Secretary and VP of Operations (officially starting on April 1st, 2011).

Now I’m feeling the skills are getting pretty rounded, and I still don’t have a real plan to get from here to there. So the first step in my plan is to write down that I need a plan. Next I think I’ll need a few good mentors to help me figure out a real plan ….

I’ve made a slight change to the way I’m doing meeting minutes for standing meetings that I find helpful.

I am using a feature of OneNote that allows me to check off attendees a bit more easily.

It’s a bit of setup in the beginning, but it really works nicely once you have it done the first time.

Step 1: launch your meeting notes as usual from Outlook (by clicking the OneNote button on the ribbon). If you’ve installed the meeting template you’ll see something like:

Step 2: Now, because we haven’t figured out how to make the fields all flow into the right place in the template, a lot of the meeting information is actually way down at the bottom of the template. So scroll down until you see the meeting information (normally I just delete that). In this example, no attendees show up (I think because it’s not my meeting):

Step 3: Insert the meeting details by choosing “Insert Outlook Meeting Details” from the menu (Do this near the existing text in the notes so that you don’t have to scroll as much):

Step 4: Choose the meeting you want the information for from the list:

Step 5: Now you have a copy of the information for the meeting, including the attendee list (in the order it is in the invite):

Step 6: Copy the list of attendees to the Attendees section of the notes:

Step 7: Highlight the names and choose the “To do” tag from the tags list on the ribbon bar (or hit ctrl-1):

Step 8: Reformat the attendee list in whatever way makes the most sense to you (for long lists I typically split it into multiple columns):

Step 9: use this as the template for your roll call, click the check box for anybody who is in attendance, uncheck if they’re not. If your attendee list doesn’t change much, you can just copy the notes from a prior meeting and go forward with that.

It’s also easier for people receiving the notes to see who was actually there.