Closing a Chapter
My intent with this blog was to share new learning resources and ideas with project managers. It started to focus more though on learning resources and when Degreed, published this,
I realized I did not need to blog about new learning resources, all you need to do is read the Degreed blog and use their platform. There are of course other resources out there but I have found Degreed to be the best.
I want to close a chapter on this blog and go back to the drawing board. When I am back up and running, I will be sure to let you know.
Do you mind if I share some of my current struggles and tribulations? Growing up, one of my dreams was to attend a liberal arts university, walk to class in my Birkenstock sandals with my canvas messenger bag, and study the great physicists and philosophers who walked the Earth before me. Instead I attended a military academy and became a project manager floating from one cubicle to the next. I am proud of my service in the military and I have enjoyed working for some amazing clients but there is a part of me that still wonders what would have happen if I had traded in my uniform for shorts and sandals.
Besides dreaming about the grass beneath the trees on the Oxford campus, my long-term professional goal has always been to become a teacher. On the surface a project manager is not usually described as a teacher but when you sit back and think about it, teachers and project managers have a lot in common. What drew me to the career was the simple idea of getting the job done. Both my parents were teachers and the joy I saw in their faces when they shared a story about one of their students connecting the dots and taking a huge step forward was the same joy I feel when I help a colleague or client experience that breakthrough moment and deliver a solution they are proud of.
Nowadays though, a project manager can be synonymous with producers, product managers, designers, and developers. More and more jobs require the skills of a project manager to be successful. So just studying the PMBoK is not going to guarantee success. We also must understand the language of every industry and market we work in which of course is why PMI is asking their members to categorize our professional development into the buckets of leadership, strategic business, and technical project management. PMI is asking project managers to stretch ourselves and go beyond conventional thinking.
At the moment my interests are philosophy, literature, design, and computer programming. I feel in order to succeed and grow, I have to become what I am describing as a “full stack project manager.” Just like a computer programmer, if I can understand the entire landscape from the backend database to the front end user experience, I will be better for it. Building upon a base of project management, I also must possess a technical trade like computer programming coupled with a more artistic thought process based in design principles. All of these are expanded throughout the philosophy and literature I am trying to read which I hope will help build my confidence and cultural awareness.
I believe it was Friday when I came across a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, The College of Chinese Wisdom, written by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh. In it they try to apply the teachings of Confucius and other Chinese thinkers who lived over 2,000 years ago to the modern struggles of college students struggling with their own self-discovery. Some of the quotes I thought applied quite well to my struggles and perhaps others of us who are on their own learning journey. Here are a few to give you an idea of what I am talking about.
“Concrete, defined plans for life are abstract because they are made for a self who is abstract: a future self that you imagine based on a snapshot of yourself now. You are confined to what is in the best interests of the person you happen to be right now—not of the person you will become.”
“Train your mind to be open”
“Zhuangzi embraced “trained spontaneity.” When you train yourself to play the piano or learn tennis, trying to reach a joyful place where you can play a Mozart sonata or gracefully arc a lob, you are following his advice. You are putting effort into reaching a moment when your mind does not get in the way. You are training yourself not to fall into the trap of seeing yourself through one fixed perspective. You are training yourself to spot the shifts that make for an expansive life.”
“Xunzi argues that we should not think of the self as something to be accepted—gifts, flaws and all. He would argue instead that we should think of the self as a project. Through experiences, we can train ourselves to construct a self utterly different from—and better than—whatever self we thought we were.”
“The only thing you really need to be good at is the ability to train yourself to get better.”
“…the goal is simply to break from what they think they know about themselves.”
“So if you want not only to be successful but also to live a good life, consider these subversive lessons of Chinese philosophy: Don’t try to discover your authentic self; don’t be confined by what you are good at or what you love. And do a lot of pretending. We could all benefit from a little more insincerity.”
I read through this article while flying back home from a long week of working with my client and a calmness started to comfort me. The concept of application and measurement of my learning constantly occupies my thinking but last week I wrote about embracing the process and not worrying about the outcome, so perhaps I should borrow some of that advice.
Please read through this WSJ article and let me know what you think. Too often, I believe we as project managers become consumed with the outcome and how to measure the results that we don’t even try out new ideas because we train ourselves to be scared of risks and new ideas. I like the quote where it is recommended to think of ourselves as a project and through experiences we train ourselves to train a new self that yields new possibilities.
So taking a step back, instead of being frustrated by the struggles and tribulations I am going through with my own learning, perhaps I should focus on the excitement and joy brought on by a new MOOC I try out or a new book I read. Perhaps the application of learning is measured in the intangibles created from a new idea or concept.
Isn’t a wonderful feeling when you complete a new book or when you crack the code on why math tells you one thing but your instincts expected a different outcome? Perhaps at this stage, my struggles are a sign I am on the right track and I need to find a place to rest, warm up a pot of tea, enjoy the sunset, and look forward to another day of discovery and wonder.
Thank you for helping me and sharing another moment.
Hello, I would like to re-introduce myself. My name is Kevin and it has been almost one month since my last post. The reason for my absence has been my struggle with the scope of this blog. Since the Open Learning Workshop I lead with the fantastic folks at the PMI Mike Hi Chapter, I have struggled with where I want to take this blog and I am asking for your help.
The original goal was to share learning resources and tools that I think would help project managers expand their professional development. After the workshop, I began to wonder if I should create a learning guide project managers could use to help them but if you spend a couple minutes online, you realize there are a bunch of different learning guides and resources. So I don’t want to re-invent the wheel again. If you ask me, my favorite learning management tool is still Degreed. Yesterday though, I was listening to the Tim Ferris Podcast and enjoyed a fantastic conversation between Mr. Ferris and Josh Waitzkin, who was the inspiration for the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. He has written a book, The Art of Learning, which has moved to the top of my reading list backlog. Josh made me realize there are a lot of smart people, much smarter than me, who are in the middle of this learning conversation, so why not use their ideas to help us expand our professional development.
Instead of worrying about how I can help you learn, what I can promise is to share with you my learning story. In the podcast conversation, Mr. Waitzkin reminds us to focus on the process, not the outcome. As project managers, that is very difficult. We constantly are questioning how we are going to apply what we learn and how we want to measure our progress. Metrics are important because they help us visualize our progress. For this blog, I have been worrying about what value I am delivering you and the project management community.
My interests and goals have always been most comfortable in the world of learning and education. As a project manager, it is my job to create a space where my team and clients are able to explore the possibilities and design their own unique outcomes and solutions. So how can I do that with this blog?
Perhaps it is really that simple. Everyone possesses unique qualities that make us who we are. Mr. Waitzkin shared a great phrase he uses quite often. I don’t remember it exactly but the essence is, we have to fall in love with our funk. We have to fall in love with who we are and embrace our uniqueness, even if it doesn’t fall in line with everyone else.
So my funk is I am a project manager who was raised in the beautiful horse country of Wyoming thanks to my beautiful parents who taught elementary and high school students for over 80 years combined. So I am a project manager who loves to learn, there you have it.
My goal from the very beginning with this blog has been to share with you what I find and hope that it helps you in your professional development journey. How you apply your learning is entirely up to you, I just hope it is accompanied with a smile :)
Thank you as always for sharing this moment.
A couple weeks ago at an Open Learning workshop I facilitated for the PMI Mile Hi Chapter, we discussed how to apply all of the knowledge and skills learned from open learning resources. Most of what I have been preaching is about learning and sharing but application, especially for project managers, is hugely important.
So I went home to try and brainstorm how to apply what we learn. While looking through my PMI-ACP study materials, I began to wonder if we could apply the concept of user stories and personas to our learning goals. Would those answer the application question?
In software development projects, the team defines user requirements in the form of personas and user stories. Personas capture the traits and personality of each unique user who will enjoy the solution. The user stories are short simple descriptions of features told from the perspective of the users who will enjoy the solution. A simple format for user stories is, as a (user title), I want to (goal of feature) so that (benefit and value of feature).
What if we flipped it around for our own learning and place ourselves in the shoes of the teams or organizations who will benefit from our newfound knowledge and skills? For our learning goals, what if we write them in the form of personas that we want to inhabit once we have reached a level of competency and mastery where we feel comfortable describing ourselves as that new persona. This could be validated by demonstrating our new skills to our teams or organizations or by the fact we are hired for that new job we have been dreaming about.
We can then take it a little further and describe the experience or feelings we create for others in the form of a story. It could take the same shape as a user story and be adapted to our situation: As a (persona title), I will provide (experience enjoyed by the team or organization) so that (benefit and value of the experience).
This conversation reminds me of Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If we want to apply our learning and make it matter, we have to begin by visualizing how we want to make people feel. A recent article I came across on LinkedIn pointed out that people judge you on 2 basic criteria, warmth and confidence. So that should be the measurement of your learning. If you are able to prove your competency and project an aura of warmth because of your learning, then you are applying your newfound knowledge and skills and making this world a better place.
Writing your goals in terms of personas and user stories can help you create a good “definition of done.” This provides you a better idea of how to apply your learning and figure out when you have mastered a skill and are ready to move on to the next learning goal.
The ultimate expression of a successful student is when she can walk out the front the door and bring a smile to someone’s face walking down the street. So when you are writing about the new persona you want to become and what kind of experience you want to create for your team or organization, measure your success and “definition of done” in the numbers of smiles you create and laughter you generate.
Thank you for sharing this moment.
Yesterday I had the great privilege of leading a workshop for the Project Management Institute Mile Hi Chapter in Denver, Colorado on Open Learning. Humbled is the first word that comes to mind. Over 90 folks (80 in person and 14 online) attended the workshop at Regis University, a Jesuit University northwest of downtown Denver. I found it wonderfully ironic that we held this 3 ½ hour conversation at a Jesuit University when it was the Jesuits who founded some of the oldest schools, colleges, and universities in the world.
Before I go any further, I must first pay my respects to the amazing volunteers in the Mile Hi Chapter who are in charge of their Saturday workshops. Tyler Pollesch is the man! He provided the vision of what the Saturday workshops try to provide and worked hand-in-hand with me throughout the entire process leading up to and during the workshop. Thank you Tyler and thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make the workshop a success. Remember to always give a volunteer a hug.
The goal for this workshop was to share open learning resources I have discovered and discuss how they can be applied to our professional development and personal learning journeys. If you want a copy of the slide deck, click on this link, PMI Mile Hi Open Learning Workshop Slide Deck.
Most of the resources revolved around Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), Open Courseware, Open Education Resources, and online learning communities like Lynda.com. One of my favorite learning resources online is Degreed and as expected, they became one of my favorite topics to talk about. If you haven’t discovered them yet, I highly encourage you to check them out and create your free profile. Degreed is awesome!
We started out talking about professional development and how it is spread across testing our new skills and knowledge on the job, to working with a mentor, and curling up with a new book or YouTube video while we continue to try and perfect our craft. Then we stepped through a lot of resources available online which I admitted only scratched the service of what is out there. Hopefully though they provided a good starting point for everyone. Then I tried to show everyone an example of how I helped a friend and his small business create a performance management and training program. Using a simple goals and objectives process, we created a measurable and fair performance management framework. Where we identified gaps and opportunities for improvements, we tried to figure out how to use open learning resources to provide on-demand training for his employees, at a very affordable price.
In the end, I like to think it was a successful workshop but I have yet to receive the results of the surveys so I am keeping my fingers crossed. What I enjoyed most was the conversation. Project managers are some of the most curious folks in our workforce. Of course I am little bias but it makes sense. We are asked to walk into any situation and get it done, no matter what, no excuses. So we have to be ready to quickly pick up the language and culture of the environment, prioritize what is important, and immediately start delivering value. Being a lifelong learner is absolutely critical if we want to continue to succeed. Possessing strong leadership, strategic business, and technical skills are necessary but what are also expected are the unseen skills; curiosity, diligence, creativity.
I have been reading Don Quixote for quite a while a now and am almost done, yeah! A quote that sticks out from the book is, “Diligence is the mother of good fortune.” Apply that to our journeys of being lifelong learners and we begin to appreciate the qualities of patience, hard work, and curiosity. The more we practice our craft and learn everything we can get our hands on, the more we grow and succeed.
Thank you again to the PMI Mile Hi Chapter Saturday Workshop Team and everyone who attended for a wonderful Saturday morning in the Rocky Mountains. I hope you all were able to walk away with a new perspective or new idea that will help you in your professional and personal journeys.