That one with a project management symposium

Taking the time to engage in professional development is critical to growing and developing. You have to be actively engaged in things that help you gain experience. Seek out those type of opportunities. However, being actively engaged in things can quickly consume all of your available time. Great contributors stay busy and tend to continue receiving more and more tasking. That is why it is so important to make sure that your professional routine includes reflection, education, and development. That call to action is much easier to write about than to achieve. Friday was one of those professional development days on my calendar. It is one of those rare days that my efforts and energy were devoted to focusing on nothing short of improving and getting better. It was also nice to have a three day weekend.

This morning after dropping off John Paul it was time to head downtown to the Denver Convention Center. The schedule showed the event running from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I know that is a large block of time to spend focusing on project management. I was ready to attend the 17th Annual Rocky Mountain Project Management Symposium. The 45 minute drive to the Denver Convention Center was worth it. I knew it was worth it before I even got into the car. Today I had the distinct privilege of listening to Jim Collins talk for 2 hours about project management and leadership. About 1,600 project management industry professionals have made the choice to attend the symposium. Jim is a pretty powerful and engaging speaker. 1,600 people within a large convention hall were all very focused on the presentation. The presentation seems to be focused on delivering stories related to “Jim’s 12 Questions” article.[i]

I was surprised that the majority of people in the room stopped working on other things and focused on the presentation. They were really locked into the presentation. The room was full of people sitting at 10-12 person tables. Everyone could have had a laptop out and been working, but I could only see 3 laptops out and within my line of sight in a room full of 1,600 people. More people had tablets or actual lined paper notepads that they seemed to be taking notes on. About 25% of the people in the room were just messing around with smartphones. I would say roughly 1% of people were using laptops, 10% were using tablets, 10% were writing on a notepad, and 25% were messing around with smartphones. That means that about 54% of the people in the room were doing nothing but paying attention to Jim Collins talk. In a room full of professional multitasking professionals that is a powerful testament to Jim Collins as a speaker. Jim talked for 2 hours and the time seemed to go by quickly without any real slow spots or pauses. Both the content and the delivery of the content were very appropriate for the audience.

I’m not sure why Jim Collins spent so much time talking about climbing during the presentation. Beyond the stories about climbing Jim shared a story about visiting West Point that was printed in Inc Magazine that turned out to be a pretty interesting read.[ii] The audience probably would have been pretty happy to just sit around and listen to a series of stories or factoids. The entire presentation really did seem to be anchored by the 12 questions. They stories were just abstract enough for people to process them vs. their current situations.

During the course of listening to Jim Collins talk, I started to think about what 2 hour presentation I would be able to deliver to a room full of people. My stock presentation on allowing leaders to lead, managers to manage, and employees to succeed takes about 20 minutes. That presentation is pretty well defined and rehearsed at this point. I normally follow that up with my 10 minute diatribe on openness and transparency in the workplace. That means that I have about 30 minutes of reasonably well prepared content to present at my disposal. At this point, the things I would want to say to that room would not cover a 2 hour lecture. A secondary question exists related to if the content would be meaningful enough to hold the attention of the room for 2 hours. Beyond just holding the rooms attention it would be a real challenge to get 54% of the room to focus without any multitasking. My Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) would be to get to a point in my career where I would be able to deliver a 2 hour speech on leadership to a room of 1,500 plus people. I’m not overly sold on how using the BHAG concept could drive things forward, but I’m trying to give it some serious consideration.

I’m working on putting some of my thoughts from the presentation together. For better or worse my thoughts are still in a very raw bullet point format. They need to be flushed out, but that is not happening today. It might be something worth focusing on later this week.

  • One of the items that I plan on researching later on is why it would be dangerous to aggressively study success. That is a take away that I want to spend some more time trying to better understand. The audience seemed to accept that argument, but it seemed like something that deserves to be questioned. Maybe it was something that seemed out of place due to the context.
  • I found it really interesting to hear Jim talk about finding historical matched pairs that have dramatically different outcomes. It was really interesting to think about the possibility of zeroing out circumstances and figuring out what other factors make a difference. A large amount of literature within the management and leadership space should be devoted to the idea, “Never confuse urgency with crisis.” Working with a sense of urgency is an interesting topic to think about. Some people seem to always be more motivated. They approach things with a sense of urgency that can be overwhelming to some coworkers.
  • It was informative to hear somebody talk about what it means to build a great enterprise. You do not often hear somebody openly declare that greatness is not a function of circumstance it is a function of conscious choice and discipline.
  • I thought the following observation about project managers was interesting. Jim said that the one thing about being project driven is that it suspends all existential angst. Everything you do is certain and wrapped around the project.
  • The following quote was brought up at one point. It was noted that Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” That quote seemed to stand out from the rest of the content.
  • I really want to spend time focusing on understanding how to put all the brutal facts related to a situation on the table. I’m going to make sure to read the parts of the Good to Great (2011) book that talk about confronting brutal facts.
  • How do you develop a business practice that includes postmortems without blame? People have to be able to explore root causes for issues without making the exploration overly personal.
  • I’m not overly sold on the whole BHAG idea. It seems like an interesting idea, but it seems like something that might evolve via iteration at some point.
  • It was argued that not only should anyone who has a “to do list” also have a “stop doing list”, but also that “to do list” needs to be treated like a balance sheet. Somebody asked Jim during the Q&A about important items from “stop doing lists”. Jim responding by talking about, “Stop hitting send and start hitting save” and something about “stop dwelling on past mistakes.”
  • I’m going to spend some time reading about Peter Drucker.
  • I need to spend some time thinking about how failure is accounted for in projects and what efforts have to be made to manage failure.
  • Every single time somebody asked Jim Collins a question during the Q&A period Jim would take a few moments and think before speaking. A number of the responses seemed to have been repeated from other things. A number of the responses included one to three responses.

At some point this weekend, I’m planning on acquiring a copy of Good to Great (2011). I want to get an actual copy of the book. The other take away item I have from the presentation today was how to use the following item in my everyday routine. I really enjoyed hearing Jim Collins talk about keeping track of how many creative hours a person logs each day. It sounded like Jim really did keep some type of productive hour spreadsheet. That seemed like an interesting thing to keep. It made me ask the question, “How do you hit a goal of logging 1,000 creative hours in a year?” That type of creativity is worth exploring, but it is also somewhat daunting. The real question would be about how that type of productivity translates to work product. 1,000 productive hours could translate to a variety of different things.

[i] Article on “Jim’s 12 Questions” is free in PDF form here http://www.jimcollins.com/tools/TwelveQuestions.pdf

[ii] Jim referenced this article http://www.inc.com/magazine/201310/bo-bulinghamo-burl/jim-collins-re-learns-leadership-at-west-point.html

Denver Convention Center Bear
Denver Convention Center Bear

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