This is the year of the Monkey on the Chinese calendar.

Sun Wukong, the Monkey King! I am a big fan, and he is a star in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, published in the 16th century. But I knew him best watching the TV production while living in China in the late 80’s. My wife was also born in the year of the Monkey! We’re aiming for a good year – Hope you are too.

Sun Wukong Battles Jade Rabbit (1889) by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Art: Sun Wukong Battles Jade Rabbit (1889) by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.

Copyright Trustees of the British Museum


This is important to remember, and critical to success in business and life – I believe this. And I’ll take this validation from founder of Walmart:

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.

Sam Walton

Really, it is such an easy concept — But inevitably, lack of clarity remains one of the most prevalent obstacles to project, goal, and team success. Here are some general clarity obstacles I see time and time again:

  • Lack of clarity around ownership
  • Lack of clarity around the review process + who has final say
  • Lack of clarity around who to go to when there is a question
  • Lack of clarity + understanding of dependencies
  • Lack of immediate (or asap) communication when there is a doubt around any of these

But let’s spin it positively!! Want success with your goals, your project, your team? Bring this on:

  • Clarity around ownership
  • Clarity around the review process + who has final say
  • Clarity around who to go to when there is a question
  • Clarity + understanding of dependencies
  • Immediate (or asap) communication when there is a doubt around any of these

Want me to share/explain more about this? Reach out —

So, I have to confess that I am both behind on and yet a little ahead on my stated goal, 0.1 to Python in Three Months? I’m behind because I’m just not as far along in learning to write code as I had hoped — But I am a little ahead because I actually got the job which had inspired me to learn Python in the first place! I now serve in the role of Technical Project Manager for the Center for Open Science – great mission, great place, good people, and good opportunity for me to continue to learn. Entering now into 2015, I will continue to commit to learning to code in Python, and I’m grateful for the access to learning I now have : )

This is a great article and a cool company …. I’ll just share this paragraph and leave it at that!

Today’s fastest growing, most profoundly impactful companies are using a completely different operating model. These companies are lean, mean, learning machines. They have an intense bias to action and a tolerance for risk, expressed through frequent experimentation and relentless product iteration. They hack together products and services, test them, and improve them, while their legacy competition edits PowerPoint. They are obsessed with company culture and top tier talent, with an emphasis on employees that can imagine, build, and test their own ideas. They are maniacally focused on customers. They are hypersensitive to friction – in their daily operations and their user experience. They are open, connected, and build with and for their community of users and co-conspirators. They are comfortable with the unknown – business models and customer value are revealed over time. They are driven by a purpose greater than profit; each has its own aspirational “dent in the universe.” We may simply refer to them as the first generation of truly responsive organizations.

Speaking of trust: I wonder … Does it translate to the workplace as well?

A prediction by some social scientists that the trauma of September 11, 2001, would usher in an era of greater cooperativeness among Americans appears to have been incorrect, according to a team led by Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University. The team’s study of 37,000 people shows that trust in others, as well as in institutions such as health organizations, government, and the media, fell to a historic low in 2012, the last year for which data was available. The decline in trust may be attributable to the widening gap between rich and poor in the U.S., the researchers say.

SOURCE: Declines in Trust in Others and Confidence in Institutions Among American Adults and Late Adolescents, 1972–2012

In leading a team, and inspiring creativity, in motivating people and co-workers, trust is critical. Trust is an important value in SCRUM. I was once being interviewed for a new position in a company. The interviewer was complaining about the work of one of their graphic designers. He hadn’t hit a critical deadline. They have daily stand ups, where obstacles are meant to be shared, but he hadn’t indicated any troubles. She didn’t understand why. So, I asked, “How is the trust?” She answered, “Well, there’s none now — he basically just screwed it up!” — She didn’t get it. I was asking, “How is the trust from you, in your communication and a staff member’s ability to speak of obstacles, or failures, without blame?” Not likely very high.

Roderick Kramer has a good article in Stanford Business on how trustworthy leaders behave. I suggest it as a good, and brief, read — But here are some bullet points:

  • They project confidence, competence, and benevolence.
  • They say — and show — that trust is an important company value.
  • They establish clear roles and systems to speed trust.
  • They share the credit, and they take the blame.
  • They don’t mask a crisis.

Great points, great insight!

Why not?

A realization came to me — an inkling of insight and inspiration of which I do not want to let go. It was spurred by a set of questions I was asked to answer recently, related to work/a job. The question, “How technical does a technical project manager need to be?” discussed in my previous post was one of them.

Here’s the deal, I should have done it 5 years ago, should have done it 20 years ago, but the best time to start something you haven’t started is … today. I am learning to code and I am starting with Python.

Motivation? A few things I know about what I want:

  • I thrive/work best, enjoy most a small, tight, collaborative, and trusting team — working on/producing something good — something that makes a difference.
  • I have been working as an application development manager for the past eight+ years, so I understand the language of software, and the process of development, and I have experience from years past with writing code — Thus my 0.1 starting point.
  • If flow/focus/lost track of time is an indicator of personal work enjoyment, as it is often said, then — though I have felt such in the graphic production of newspapers, I have felt it most, many, many years ago, in the writing and analysis of code.
  • I want work/a job/a means of revenue allowing a “walk-about” life-style. i.e. I don’t want to necessarily work in an office, I want to work wherever I want; I don’t want to work ‘for’ but rather ‘with;’ I want to serve / to assist in solving someone/some people’s problem.
  • In a word, I want “freedom”– and fulfillment … I guess that’s two words, but you get the picture!

I think I’ll write code.

And damn, did you know that Python is named after Monty Python? How can you argue with that??

How technical does a technical project manager need to be?

I was asked this question recently. Below is my unedited response — What do you think? Do you agree? Did I miss the mark? Feedback on this is welcome!

The skills that make a project manager good, in my opinion, are listening; an ability to connect and interact collaboratively with others; an ability to understand issues & situations quickly; the ability to clarify, to get to the simplest level possible on an issue; the ability to prioritize — or facilitate prioritizing — to communicate those priorities both to business and to your team; the willingness to reach out for knowledge or help; the willingness to look to and depend upon the expertise of your team; the awareness required to know, or know when to ask, when a team member needs help or learning; the wherewithal to find resources in support of the needs of your team; and the ability to make a decision and defend it when required. My experience says possessing those skills can allow an individual to manage a technical project, a production project, even a construction project.

There is depth of knowledge and complexity within any project or industry — I would argue that it is definitely an advantage, as a Technical Project Manager, to be technically adept, to have experience working with, understanding, and learning the processes and tools of the technology, in this case, application development. But lack of these need not be an obstacle to a well-skilled and experienced project manager, as listening, learning, and individual interactions are, in my opinion, the primary requirements for success.

For my part, I happen to have the technical acumen and experience. But I have been willing, and successful, in coaching the non-technical in project facilitation around technical projects, for instance, online course development. My Project Facilitators have no idea how the technical work gets done in the development of an online course, but they are very good at working with the team on goals, impediments, and moving the project forward. I don’t think their being experienced in the intricacies of instructional technology would mark any improvement in their performance. Likely, it could be an obstacle, as they might spend more time debating approach then facilitating solutions for those who are experienced in the technology!

The Great Abyss from The Music Bed on Vimeo.

“When you make something, you wonder: Will it stay at the top? Will it speak to people? Will it lose its relevance? But you can’t worry about those things. You have to create things that are truthful to yourself.”

“Every artist has some form of insecurity about what they create.”

“Creativity is not for yourself. It’s to serve others.”

Reference kudos: The Art of Non-Conformity — Chris Guillebeau, author, world-traveler, revolutionary + inspiring thinker.