A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Twenty-One – Your Door and Mind Open Wide

I close every single keynote, presentation and class with the same invitation.  I am the cheapest resource that you’ve ever found.  I’m the cost of an e-mail.  I can’t begin to say how many times I’ve used that phrase.  Over and over again.  I taught a class in the J.J.Pickle Center at UT-Austin with over 400 participants.  Total e-mails from that class asking for help?  3.  And two of them were from the same individual.  I get those e-mails, and I’m thrilled.  It puts me on a quest.  It drives me to investigate concepts I might otherwise overlook and encourages me to keep my skills sharp.   If you’re going to be a professional, you need to be constantly adding to your tool kit.  Helping others solve their concerns works unswervingly in that direction. 

I’m writing this on a Thursday.  Thursday is the perfect day to fine-tune your skills.  (Just a note: If I were writing this on a Monday, I’d have said Monday is the perfect day to fine-tune your skills).  The inverse is actually more to the point.  There’s no bad day to fine-tune your skills, and it’s something that we should be looking to do every day.

These don’t have to be big things.  Living on top of a rocky mountain (lower case) in the Appalachian chain, I am fine-tuning my grass-growing skills.  It takes a lot to get basic grass to grow when the primary substructure is rock.  I’ve gone through about five different approaches to get to where it’s finally taking hold.  But now I’m there.

Carl, that’s not exactly a “skill” I want to fine-tune.

I don’t care.  It’s a skill I wanted to fine-tune.  And I’ve read way too many articles and gathered too much data and finally think I have a winning approach.  I won’t have a full-fledged lawn for another year, but I’m getting there, one day at a time. 

When I started, the entire yard (including the lush green stuff in the back) looked like the foreground in the picture.  Hardscrabble.  Densely packed moss and rock over a foundation of rock.  As my one neighbor, Charlie, suggested, The first thing you have to do is get rid of the rocks. Slowly but surely, about 50 square feet a day, I’ve been digging out the rocks by hand, then tilling, then seeding, then working the seed in, then covering it with mushroom compost, and then watering regularly.  For the longest time, I didn’t realize there was a specific sequence and process to all of this.  NOW I have it.  And in a year or so, it will be done.  I’ve gone from being a yard rescue newbie to a veteran fescue grower. 

I didn’t originally set out to garner that new set of skills.  But the situation presented itself, and when that happens, I’ve learned to seize the opportunity.

Lesson Learned: A client in Atlanta enjoyed their basic project management training and called me to find out if they could do something more in-depth.  Their suggestion?  Earned Value.  I explained that my understanding of earned value was wafer-thin, and they might be better off with another training organization.  They replied that they wanted me because “you’re funny.”  (FYI, this is not the best criterion for selecting training organizations, but it’s a reasonable one).  I explained that I could put together a one-day training on the basics of earned value, but really didn’t have the depth to go beyond that point. 

The training happened, and as I was packing to leave, my host approached me and asked if we could talk for a moment.  “That was great,” she said. “How soon can we do the advanced class?”  I quickly reaffirmed that she had gotten the full breadth of all that I knew about earned value management, and that my brain was now an empty vessel on the topic.  “Sure, sure,” she replied. “How soon can we do the advanced class?”  I explained that it would take me about six weeks to get up to speed on the more expansive areas of earned value, but that I could make it happen.  The next training was scheduled.  And in the years that followed, earned value practice became enough of my capability that I went through the rigors of earning the Earned Value Professional certification from the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International (aacei.org). 

I had no plans on becoming an Earned Value Professional.  I had no plans to figure out how to make grass grow on a mountaintop.  I didn’t set out to write three textbooks on risk management.  I didn’t plan to become part of the Project Management Institute’s elite cadre of top-flight trainers and professionals.  In each case, the situation presents itself.  Carpe diem. 

Most folks don’t know the Latin roots of the common phrase, Carpe diem.  It goes beyond just “Seize the day.”  The original application of the phrase was rooted in the vineyards.  Carpe was not just about seizing the grapes.  It was about seizing the grapes when they were ripe.  Thus, carpe diem is more accurately translated as seize the day, when it is ripe.  Take a moment of introspection.  Think about the amazing opportunities life has offered you.  And then think about today. 

Got to run an errand?  Check out that shop you’ve always wondered about as you’ve driven by.  It may be a waste of time.  But it also may be an opportunity to carpe diem.  Got a virtual meeting?  Try out some new technology that you might be able to leverage into the future.   Have a nagging idea that you can’t get out of your head?  Write a blog about it and post it on your favorite social media. 

Will any of these lead to life-changing accomplishments or directions?  Probably not.  But you never know.  Look at the laundry list of things you’ve done in your life that you likely didn’t plan on from the start.  They make for an amazing story. 

It’s a story you should be willing to share.  A big part of the open-door, open-mind philosophy is that information flows in TWO directions.  If someone asks your guidance and support on something you know well, give freely!  Don’t worry that they’re going to somehow “steal” your ideas.  They’ll never implement your thinking the same way you would.  You make your approaches special.  And if you’ve chosen your allies wisely, they’ll be all too ready to give you credit.

Lesson Learned: The universe has a remarkable way of making sure what goes around comes around.  I had a book idea I shared with a peer who proceeded to pilfer it as his own.  It was published, but never got off the ground, and served as an indicator it may not have been such a great idea in the first place.  Another peer asked if I had any thoughts on where she might go with her doctoral dissertation in project management.  She used my suggestions and is now an esteemed DPM (Doctor of Project Management).  For better or worse, giving people your thoughts is rarely a bad idea.  No thought is truly proprietary.  And the more you share, the more you become the foundation for a better world. As Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Allowing others into your space (physical and mental) grants them the opportunity to build on your good ideas and good works.  And if someone opens the door for you to build on their ideas and works, if the moment is ripe, seize it. 

Up next?  Certified, certifiable, or just good at your job? 

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog

If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.