Making a difference: Let me count the ways

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Staying with this years conference theme, I'd though I have a go at ways we can make a difference in our lives and profession. This is my list of things that I have done at different times - and am mostly still doing. What's on your list?

Caveat emptor - I have a very distinct bias towards agility and adaptability so my comments are tilted in that direction.


The most obvious way to make a difference is by doing. If you are a Project Manager, Portfolio Manager, etc. or a team member working in active projects you have an opportunity to make a huge difference by helping everyone develop and shared understanding of WHY a project is being done before jumping into WHAT, HOW, WHO, WHEN and WHERE.

Knowing WHY matters because it means everyone can have a much better foundation for making all of the choices that have to made during a project. For example, is that new feature really necessary for the WHY? Does the WHY need to be adjusted based on what we now know that we did not know previously?

Depending on the organization you are in, asking the WHY questions may be not be popular. Why? (see what I did there..) Well, some projects, especially software development ones, have as their goal to replace existing things with newer technologies or a newer platform. As a result, there is a tendency to assume that the reasons for the original software are still valid. But are they? I mean what could possibly have changed in the 10 years since we originally built the software we are replacing? 

When we ask the WHY questions we are driving to "why does it matter and to whom does it matter?" See some earlier articles I write related to that question:

  1. Start at the end or the beginning? Perspective Counts!
  2. Outcomes Focused-Agility: Experience Report
  3. What? You don't know why you are doing your project?
  4. Value-centered Decision-Making
  5. Project Management is an upside-down concept

When we know WHY we can make better choices of WHAT to do, and HOW to do things, on WHO we need to do them for, and WHEN should they be done (sequence) as well as WHERE they could be done.


As a PMP you have a Code of Ethics that covers fairness, honesty, and respect. Making a difference can mean being willing to call out or address circumstances where those values are not being followed.

Creating a safe environment for the team is everyone's responsibility. Being willing to speak out for those who are vulnerable, such as new people on the team who may feel uncomfortable speaking, or who feel their jobs may be at stake if they say anything, is a PMP's duty.

We need to lead by our example. By leading to our code of ethics you will make a difference.


This is an interesting one to me as I think there are many more opportunities for coaching/mentoring that many of us may realize. When we use the terms coach or mentor, the first instinct most of us have is that this is an exalted role to which only the most experienced among us can aspire.

So let me dispel that a bit. I'll use my son again (see my previous article). He's 15. He's in high school. When he started high school he was assigned a mentor - she was 16. Outside of school he has volunteered the past three years to coach hockey players aged 5-10 during the off season. The first two years he and his buddy ran the entire thing on their own - developing the drill plans and running the ice times. They were 13 at the time.

My point is simply this - it's not an age thing. It's a "do you have something to offer to someone else from your experience that they may find useful" question. Yes? Then you can be a coach/mentor. Maybe it's someone new to your team and organization and you can pair up with them to help them navigate things. Maybe they want to learn why you passed your PMP on the first try with the highest score ever. Maybe you are that experienced person and you want to start giving back to the profession. 

Maybe you have expertise beyond the PM role that can be shared with the team. It's not like we woke up one morning and we were PMs - we did other things before that that we were good at. Well, OK, I already confessed I was a lousy developer and switched over to managing/ PM because of it, but you on the other hand are not me - because you were good at something else before doing this, right? Well then, share that to make a difference.

Maybe you're into agile in a big way and want to help others understand it better. Maybe you want to bring agile into your organization by convincing them to let you run a project with it and develop the experience necessary in your group to do all your projects that way.

Coaching and mentoring can be a real joy and the more you do the better you get at it.

I have been fortunate enough to get to do this as part of my daily work for the past number of years.


Your local PMI Chapter as well as many other local organizations can use your help as a volunteer.

Maybe, because you, like me, are fortunate to make a decent living doing what they feel they waited all their lives to be able to do, you are doing well enough to share some of that good fortune with others less fortunate than you. For me it's my local food bank. Amazingly, they are able to turn every $1 I give them into $5 worth of food. Two thirds of the cost of what I used to spend on buying lunch every day is now making a difference in the lives of numerous families every month. I feel privileged and honored that I am able to do that.

Maybe for you it's the victims of recent catastrophic storms or earthquakes. Or it's your neighbor who has lost their job. 

Making a difference doesn't have to be entirely about work. It can simply be about being a good human.


Who knew that one would be on my list? The first time I was published was over twenty years ago because someone asked me to write two chapters for a book - you know the hard cover things that used to take two years+ to get into print. I had never written for publication before. So it was scary and exciting all at once. I actually thought I  did a pretty good job for a first effort (thought it was mostly technical so that did make it easier). I'd be happy to bring the book to Chicago for you to see :). I'm sure it didn't sell millions, but I'm sure (hope?) it was useful to someone.

These days literally anyone can write - blogs are everywhere. The neat thing about blogs is that they don't have to be profound, or be the next Great Gatsby (and no I was not around when that was written!). It can be about things you find useful in your work - a technique or practice. Or some idea you have been kicking around and you'd like to get the input of others.

Did you know that most authors these days started out by blogging first? I went from author to blogger and now to author/blogger. My first full book on my own was the result of writing it in blogs first. 

It can be addictive and fun once you get over the initial fright of thinking you have nothing to say. 

I am happy if I get one comment per post where someone found what I wrote useful - I have a low threshold on what makes me feel like I am making a difference. Which makes it easy to feel my writing makes a difference.

To find out about how I go about The Agility Series of books I am facilitating, head on over to here. It's not the typical book writing exercise. There are many different ways and forums available for writing to make a difference.


One of my pals on the Experts team, Karen Chovan, is speaking at the Congress on the 29th at 4:45.

Guess how I got my start speaking? By volunteering to speak at a local PMI chapter luncheon, and then putting in a proposal for the local symposium the following fall. 

Speaking is another way to make a difference. You can also combine your speaking with your writing by writing first and then creating a talk about what you wrote. A double hit on making a difference. I've done that a few times and you get to reuse content - which is kind of nice.

Speaking engagements can be live or through webinars. They can also be paid engagements which is an added bonus. I've actually managed to be paid for a couple of mine - so all goodness.

Most of us aren't very good at anything the first time. Some of the greatest speakers in recent history weren't very good when they got started either. Steve Jobs, the master of "and one more thing", even at the height of his speaking ability, practiced for days in the lead up to those events - as good as he was by then.

Most of us aren't Steve Jobs or TED speakers (certainly not me) - nor are most of the people who speak at events. So what have you got to loose? The second time will be better - it always is. Oh, and most people are pretty understanding when you are starting out.

So what haven't you done yet to make a difference that you'd like to try?

If you’d like to talk strategic intent, adaptive strategy, back-casting over forecasting, outcomes over outputs, any of the agilities, or pretty much anything you think I may be able to help you with in making a difference in your world, here is my availability during the conference:

  • Saturday the 28th from 1:30 to 4:30
  • Sunday the 29th from 3:00 to 5:00
  • Monday the 30th from 9:00 to 12:00



Posted by Lawrence Cooper on: September 13, 2017 09:01 AM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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I totally agree about people's readiness to be a mentor or coach. I remember at a Toastmasters Club, a new member asked me what role should they try next. Given that they had already given three prepared speeches, I suggested they should try speech evaluator. Not only did that person take my advice, but he went on to become a great evaluator.

Absolutely...and I'm happy to say that I do all of these things, and I enjoy every single one of them...sometimes I wonder where I find the time to fit "real work" know, the type you get paid for? Seriously, though, I encourage anyone to follow Larry's advice and try at least one of these things - dip your toe in the water!

Thanks for guideline and informative article.

Great points! I truly enjoyed the point you made about starting each project from a place of why. "Why does it matter? To whom does it matter?" These questions, once answered, provide me with a new lens in which to filter my decisions through, on a project.

I also liked all of the suggestions for making a difference. I am going to take the idea of starting with why it matters to develop a list of possibilities for making a difference. Furthermore, by defining the audience I would like to help or make a difference for. After starting with my why, my purpose and the people I hope to reach, then I can define the whats, wheres, and hows.

Karen - thanks!

Devin - glad you picked up on the WHY. Honestly, I think not having sorted out the answers to the WHY questions THE leading cause of failure in the majority of cases. It usually means solving the wrong problem and starting the wrong place.

I also liked how you extended that concept into figuring out how to make a difference. I'd love to hear how it goes.

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"Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not easy."

- Aristotle