Microsoft Project…Oh how I missed you

Working from home can be a lonely experience at times, the lack of human interaction, no water cooler chats, just endless conference calls.  And more than once my wife has accused me of acting like an excited puppy welcoming its owner when she walks through the front door, at last a human being!

The other downside to working from home is the increased time it takes to get an IT issue resolved.  Recently, my laptop died, and if you predominantly work from home this can be a problem.  Thankfully, the IT service desk could send me a back up pc until a replacement could be organised, the one downside being that the temporary pc would not have MS Project on it.

Now for a confession, I like MS Project…I really like MS project, I have found a lot of PMs dont and by dont I mean they actively dislike it.  All too often I have been in meetings when a PM is making updates to the plan and a task does something they dont expect and increases the overall project duration and you hear them muttering under their breath “I hate project, it is crap, give me Excel anytime”.  But, what I have come to realise is that what they are saying is a combination of the following:

  • I have never been formally trained in MS project
  • I have never spent time to familiarise myself with MS project
  • In my project planning I dont following some of the basic project management behaviours

If you know MS Project you have:

  • a project,/program road map
  • a Project plan a task list
  • crucially, all the tasks are dynamically linked, you can see the impact of changes to the plan if an individual task changes
  • Best of all you can add fields and create custom fields to give you very detailed information whether dates, text or numbers.

So imagine my frustration at not having the software, but instead having to use MS Excel as a project management tool.  Excel was ok, it let me track the basics, tasks, resource allocation, duration, start dates, finish dates, I even set up a mini gantt chart in the spreadsheet using conditional formatting so gantt bars appeared next to the associated activitiy.  But as we know project plans are never static (even if we wish they were), it reminds me of a particular time a Project lead was telling me about the difficulty in scheduling his teams holidays with the plan when it is slipping, he said “the one date you know you are safe to book vacation on is the go live dat of the first draft of the project plan”.  Plans are fluid and tasks change, but in Excel all the tasks are stand alone, you never really are able to have the related tasks…well, related.  When a task takes longer than is planned and slips, the actual succeeding tasks are not automatically updated, so you end up communicating incorrect updates in the project and steering committee meetings and doubling the amount of admin time you wold normally take trying to validate the plan, and you end up not leading the team but managing a spreadsheet.

Then finally you PC arrives, with MS Project installed, you copy the key fields from the excel plan into the project file, link the tasks, then sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and start acting like a proper project manager.

Hello my old friend

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MSP course review

I have passed my MSP foundation and practitioner course, originally booked with http://www.teampm.co.uk/ although I opted to change to the knowledge academy http://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/ as the earlier company kept rescheduling the course due to a lack of enrolled delegates.  I thought I would share some of my thoughts and feelings about the MSP course for those not familiar with the topic

So what is MSP?

PRINCE2 defines a project as “…a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case”. 

In a project portfolio there may be the situation of having multiple projects being  delivered to a customer or business area  that are linked or interdependent on one or more projects/services, it may make sense to group those projects into a programme.

On a simple level, the project manager is mainly concerned with the process of delivering a project (work packages, resource management, project risk and issues and meeting milestones on time and budget) which will result in a product or output.  Whereas a Programme manager is less concerned about the day to day running of individual projects (that’s the PMs job) but is looking at the portfolio from a holistic level, and risks and issues affecting the program and project interdependencies. 

One of the key differences between the PM and Programme manager is how the end product is seen.  As mentioned earlier the PM is striving to deliver the customer  requirements that will result in a product/output, but the programme manager sees it differently, they look at it as projects deliver outputs that provide an outcome that will deliver benefits aligned to a corporate strategy.

Or in the words of http://www.msp-officialsite.com/

 “In MSP, a programme is defined as a temporary, flexible organization created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organizations strategic objectives.  A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.

The MSP syllabus is divided into 3 areas

Programme management principles

One of the balancing acts with governance is that fine line between to controlling of the project management process too much to eliminate any individual project management flair/creativity, versus giving a free reign to every project manager and thus having no clear and accurate progress reporting and assurance checks.  The MSP addresses this problem by referring to 7 programme management principles that are not prescriptive but are clear as to their intent and if followed will increase the likelihood of achieving the programme objectives

  • Remaining aligned with corporate strategy
  • Leading change
  • Envisioning and communicating a better future
  • Focusing on the benefits and threats
  • Adding value
  • Designing and delivering a coherent capability
  • Learning from Experience

Governance themes

There are 9 themes that are used as a framework to ensure there is open and clear governance to allow the programme change objectives to be met whilst demonstrating the appropriate level of corporate visibility and control

  • Programme organization
  • Vision
  • Leadership and stakeholders
  • Benefits management
  • Blueprint design and delivery
  • Planning and control
  • The business case
  • Risk and issue management
  • Quality and assurance management

Transformation flow

With the programme principles in place supported by appropriate governance then you are left with the actual execution of the Programme following this end to end iterative lifecycle programme

  • Identifying a Programme
  • Defining a Programme
  • Managing the Tranches
  • Delivering the Capability
  • Realizing the Benefits
  • Closing a programme

Accreditation levels

At the time I took the course there were 2 levels of MSP accreditation:

  • MSP foundation (3 day course)
  • MSP practitioner (2 day course)
  • But recently an MSP advanced practitioner was added

If you prefer instructor led training you can either opt to do each course separately over several weeks or in the more intensive 1 week slot.

Foundation and practitioner course spread out courses vs the intensive course, which course approach to do?

2 courses spread over several weeks:

Advantages

  • The material is not difficult to learn but there is a lot of it, so spreading the courses out over several weeks spreads the learning out into more manageable chunks
  • You can learn at your own pace
  • Less time pressure if you fail one of the exams
  • Over the extended period of time, work is likely to get in the way of learning time
  • If left too long you may find it difficult to remember all the material
  • The materials learned in the foundation course will still be fresh in your mind for the practitioner
  • Less likely to have external influences like work affecting your learning over the short period of time
  • It is an intense timeline that you are working to, with new processes, themes to absorb into your thinking in such a short period of time
  • There is a really big time commitment required in terms of pre-reading and nightly homework that needs to be carried out each night of the course in readiness for both exams
  • If you do not pass the foundation on day 3 then you need to complete the re-sit during the week course, taking the test again is not a disadvantage but psychologically the extra pressure on you can affect you for the rest of the course

Disadvantages

The intensive 1 week course

Advantages

Disadvantages

I opted for the 1 week intensive course which covered both the foundation and practitioner elements.

The MSP Foundation

The MSP Foundation course focuses on teaching the MSP principles and terminology but in the 3 days that the course spans the focus is more on getting you in a position to pass the exam rather than applying the material to real life programme scenarios.  The exam itself:

  • Multiple choice
  • 75 questions per paper with 1 mark available per question
  • 5 questions to be trial and not counted in scores
  • 35 marks required to pass (out of 70 available) – 50%
  • 60 minutes duration
  • Closed book.

The MSP Practitioner

The MSP Practitioner course focuses on teaching the delegates to apply MSP to the running and managing of a programme. During the 2 days the course ran the majority of the time was spent completing previous exam papers and discussing the answers.  The exam itself:

  • Objective testing
  • 8 questions per paper
  • 40 marks required to pass (out of 80 available) – 50%
  • Two-and-a-half hours duration
  • Open-book (only the MSP Guide is allowed).

The course itself

On the course I attended there were 6 people in total from varying backgrounds, not everyone was currently working on a programme, and the delegates ranged from both public and private sector employees

My observations were that the delegates with a programme management background did not have an advantage on the course as the programmes they were currently working on were not aligned with the MSP best practice approach.

  • Foundation course – all 5 delegates passed 1st time, 1 delegate had to take the test again and passed 2nd time
  • Practitioner course – only 3 out of 6 delegates passed

I really enjoyed this course, there was a good mix of people to network with, but it also gave me ‘food for thought’ about how to view the deliverables of projects and programmes with a greater vision and business focus in mind.  It left me eager to get back to the programme I was working on to implement some of the best practices I had learnt.

Tips

  • First and foremost shop around for a good deal, the later you leave enrolling on a course the cheaper the advertised price (but there is less time to do the pre-course work)
  • When phoning a training company start with “What is the best price you can do me for the MSP course?” , a delegate on my course did this several weeks before the course (and before I enrolled) and he was given a price with a massive reduction (he even paid less than I did booking last minute)
  • The 1 week course is intense and draining, so pick a training location that is close (no more than 1 hr commuting time)
  • Consider staying in a hotel or b&b during the course to avoid ‘domestic distractions’
  • Actually do the course pre-reading (around 15hrs work)
  • Actually do the daily homework (2 hrs work per night) as it will show you the areas  you need to focus on in your revision
  • If you are an experienced PM, don’t get bogged down in the terms that may be different to the ones you currently use and don’t challenge the material if you think the ‘real world’ is different to the course material, REMEMBER the exams are on the material and not how it is done in the company you work for
  • Don’t expect the material to sink in if you passively read a chapter a few times, you have to really get engaged in the ‘what’ and ‘why’ the processes and themes are designed how they are
  • You are a customer on this course, it is in your interest to speak up if there are elements of the topics that you don’t understand
  • Have fun on the course and use it to increase your professional network
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The 12 days of Christmas PM remix

So it has come to that time of year, budgets so carefully preserved for 11 months are being spent in a frivolous nature so they are not being cut from next years pot. Status meetings are being attended by people that would fail sobriety tests thanks to the previous nights free bar at the office christmas party. And project managers are trying to put on a brave face as they try to get team members to focus on the remaining tasks that need to be completed before the office closes for the Christmas break…good luck with that!

With all that said and done, and partly inspired by a tweet asking what christmas song best applies to project management, I have penned:

The 12 days of christmas (project manager remix).

On the 12th day of Christmas my project gave to me
12 days till go live
11 minor defects
10 open issues
9 risks impending
8 key stakeholders
7 team resources
6 schedule conflicts
5 CHANGE REQUESTS
4 conference calls
3 progress reports
2 milestones met
And 1 happy project sponsor

Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy new year. I hope 2012 gives you everything you wish for and more

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Book review – Bid Writing for Project Managers

A guest book review I wrote for Arras people

Author: David Cleden
Publisher: Gower
Size: 240 pages
Reviewed by Andy Budkiewicz

In the interests of transparency, I must admit that I have never been involved directly in commercial bidding for contracts. However, I have sat on the ‘other side of the table’ as a client project manager, assessing bids from a range of IT service providers. As such, this book review represented an excellent learning opportunity, enabling me to better understand the bid-writing process and how to respond robustly and effectively to client requirements. This is Cleden’s second book after Managing Project Uncertainty and he clearly draws upon his 25 years of working in public sector IT to provide this must read guide to conducting successful commercial bids.
The book begins with an excellent preface, which helps to set the tone and the style of writing, as well as the author’s own recommendations on how to get the most from the text. Written in the style of the internal dialogue that most people have when reading books on a niche subject matter, there is an engaging monologue of Q&A, helping to orientate the reader with the book’s key objectives and intended audience.
“So: Another book on project management?”

“Not really, Although this book is aimed at managers, particularly those with some experience of commercial projects…”

Whilst the content of the text is certainly comprehensive, the author also recognizes that busy project managers may want to dip into the book for specific guidance on aspects of the bid writing process. Indeed, the author recommends that those readers who are already engaged in bid writing can head straight to Chapter 4, which contains lots of practical tips and information to improve their bid.
Do I like this refreshing approach to text navigation? Yes, absolutely. It’s a great way to assist busy project management professionals as they cope with the many demands on their time.
By the way, I’m not simply advocating that you ignore the rest of the book, and simply head for Chapter 4. In fact, if you decide to read the book from cover to cover, you will be furnished with a sensible, comprehensive framework for the process of bid writing. The author (thankfully) does not focus on winning a bid for the sake of winning, but instead encourages bid-writers to follow a conceptual structure which focuses on the client’s needs, and considers how best to respond in a feasible and credible way. The intention is to construct a high quality, robust project framework which is realistic, and can be delivered effectively within agreed budgets and timescales. And we all know that this is the way to a satisfied customer’s heart.
For the £65 RRP (yes £65!) you get a book that recognizes and balances the art of bid writing with the science of bid writing. By the ‘art of bid writing,’ I mean the bid-writer’s ability to get under the skin of the client’s needs – what problem needs solving, and how can the bid and project proposals respond intelligently to those requirements? The ‘science of bid writing’ incorporates the tools and techniques that a bid team use to produce that winning bid – and this book provides many good examples. In particular, Chapter 4, Analysing the Requirements in Depth, should be required reading for all staff involved in project teams, not just bid writers, as it focuses on how best to dissect key themes to provide a comprehensive listing of implications, benefits to the client, assumptions, dependencies and the tangible evidence backing up the assertion. Likewise, the section on discriminators (elements of the bid unique to your organization) and differentiators (aspects of your bid which makes your bid stand out from competitors) are designed to give any bid that winning edge.
What’s particularly interesting to me is that whilst bid-writers are clearly the core, intended audience of Cleden’s work, and the content would certainly support existing bid-writing professionals or teams to re-think or improve their approach, it seems to me that this text is equally relevant to project management professionals who regularly undertake procurement exercises for such services. Cleden’s work enables professionals working on both sides of the fence to better understand what constitutes a quality bid.
This book is a standout example promoting best practice in the bid proposal process. Reflecting on some of the bids I have received from prospective vendors, it’s clear to me that if more commercial companies started using some of the approaches advocated by this book, then we would avoid a situation where vendors over-promise and woefully under-deliver. And, gone too would be the vendor approach of bidding low to win the contract and then relying on change control to charge for ‘new requirements’ or ‘scope creep,’ resulting in final projects costs which far exceed those proposed by other vendors with more comprehensive bids.
In future editions of this book, it would be helpful for the author to focus on some of the emerging trends in commercial service offerings such as Software as a Service (SaaS) which will affect the bid-writing approach. There is a growing trend for service providers to offer standard platforms to companies with minimal or no customizations allowed – an approach which needs to be handled carefully, so that the benefits – as opposed to the limitations – are effectively communicated and understood by the client
The title of the text certainly does what it says on the tin, and whilst the book’s design does little to attract a readership, it is clear that the content is underpinned by the author’s extensive knowledge and experience in effective bid writing. And in my book, substance always wins over style. In summary, this book is a vital resource for serious bid-writers which is likely to make a significant impact on the overall quality of any future bid writing ventures.

This book is available from the Gower website at a discount to Arras People/Camel/Tipoffs readers.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Andy Budkiewicz is a PMP and PRINCE2 certified project manager with a decade of project management experience in a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company Global IT PMO, delivering application and Infrastructure projects. Follow him on Twitter @Andybud; or LinkedIn; or visit his blog ‘The Project Manager’s Guide To The Universe’

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Optical illusion – The devil is in the detail

Look at this picture what do you see?
Spirals?
How many different coloured spirals? Make a note of that and read on.

 

I would like to associate that spiral picture to a common theme I have observed when it comes to decision making or even managing a project, I asked you, what seemed on the face of it a simple question, with no consequence.  What if there was something riding on that response, a vendor contract, £1m project, a must hit milestone date.  Would your answer still be the same?
 
I routinely attend meetings both organisational and project status related, more often than not decisions are made in those meetings from high level discussions, but you can often wonder how informed of the situation were the people making the decisions was the issue given enough attention?  As a critical thinker (and Skeptic) I like my position on topics to be based on reasoning and logic.  I am happy to alter my position, if my original premise was flawed.  But often as a project manager you are pressured by a stakeholder to make a particular decision or our action before all the facts are in.  What doesn’t help is that a lot of people either through lack of knowledge in that area or not aware of the size of the problem will often say “Lets keep this high level” or “ Lets not get bogged down in details”.  Well there is an expression that comes to mind ‘The devil is in the detail’, as a PM there are times when you do need to look at the detail, you do need to spend more than 15 mins on a topic before moving on, you do need to stand your ground and speak up, be that lone voice in the crowd….why because you are ultimately accountable for the project and you will find that those people that wanted to move on quickly to the next topic will now be saying “How could you let this happen?” or “Why did you let this happen?”.  Welcome to project management!
 
So back to the original question, How many spirals did you count?  3 colours? Green, pinkish orange and blue?
 
Ok, what would you say if I told you that there are actually only 2 spiral colours?  Well it is true! The green spiral and blue spiral are the same colour.  Luckily there was no consequence…….this time!

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Poetry in business – ‘A doodle at the edge’ by William Ayot

Another meeting, another agenda,
another list of buzz-words, initials and initiatives
PSU is entering Phase Three
While the CDR wants G2 to go to Level Five

If we go the full nine yards on this one; If we get pro-ative, get out of the box; Get our teams together and on the same hymn sheet; if we hit the ground running,  if we downsize HR, if we get the money on board, and our asses into gear; then we can change something, make a difference, change what the other guys changed last week.

Meanwhile the God has left the garden
The muse lies minimised in the corner of our screens
Not dead, not buried, but ignored and unseen,
Lika a doodle at the edge of an action plan

Me? I say make a sacrifice to doodle;
Pick some flowers, speak a poem, feed the tiny muse.
Draw, paint, sing or dance, and you’ll bring the gods
Back into the board room; the laughing, smiling, weeping gods of the night-time and the wild.

William Ayot

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Poetry in business – ‘I have arrived’ by Natasha Josefowitz

I have not seen the plays in town
          Only the computer printouts
I have not read the latest books
          Only the wall street journal
I have not heard the birds sing this year
          Only the ringing of phones
I have not taken a walk anywhere
          But from the parking lot to my office
I have not shared a feeling in years
          But my thoughts are known to all
I have not listened to my own needs
          But what I want I get
I have not shed a tear in ages
I have arrived
Is this where I was going?

Natasha Josefowitz

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virtual teams (when being a host is not enough)

Have you ever found yourself in this situation…

You are all set up in a meeting, you need to give an important update on a project, and gather some important feedback from the stakeholders in the room, you know the update could be a little controversial but that is why you organised the meeting, to get everyone’s full attention and buy in.  You start to address the attendees, but a few minutes into the update:

  • Bill from accounts gets his laptop out and starts typing an email
  • Sarah from Legal gets a call on her blackberry and picks up and answers the call
  • John from the project teams attention is distracted by a colleague at the meeting room window trying to get his attention, the colleague mouths “Are you in a meeting?”, John nods and but the colleague walks into the meeting and starts talking about another project.
  • Alison from HR pops out to the vending machine to get a drink
  • Tim from the project team starts to read an article from a recent Lilly newsletter
  • Jason the project sponsor sits at the end of the table with a poker face hiding his nonalignment with the update
  • Someone walks into the meeting room their face obscured, does not say anything and sits at the back of the room
  • Matt from the project team starts to breath really heavily which is drowning out your update
  • And Tracey from the project team starts to play the piano
  • All the while you blindly carry on with your update

So I ask again have you ever been in a similar situation?…No?…Welcome to the world of virtual teams

That scenario is unlikely to happen in a face to face meeting, with face to face meeting etiquette, most people don’t do other work in a meeting, most people don’t pick up another call, most won’t hold another meeting in a meeting, and most would not walk out to get a drink, or read a document not related to the meeting.  Likewise, if someone is not happy or clear with what you have said then you can often judge by their body language there is a problem, most people’s breathing (when a phone headset is to close to the persons mouth) does not dominate a meeting discussion and music (when a person on a call does on another phone line) is very unlikely to interrupt a meeting.

But in virtual meetings (conference calls) normal meeting conventions do not apply and do require a different behaviour from the Host.

  • On a virtual call as the host you need to act not so much as a meeting host, but more as a radio presenter.  By this I mean that you need to connect with the audience (participants) to get the most from them, you need to be leading the discussions and inviting people to speak ie “Andy, what is your opinion on…” you are actively trying to encourage engagement from the participants before the temptation of other work distracts them.
  • And most importantly because you cannot see the participant’s reactions to topics being discussed, you need to summarise more and ask clarifying questions ie “Are we in alignment with…”, “Are there any points people are not clear on?” or “Andy, do you understand your next actions?”
  • More often than not people on a virtual team may be from another country and so language becomes a big barrier you will need to deal with, this makes the earlier 2 points even more crucial
  • If your meeting has some people in the meeting room and some dialling in, then you must remember to not just focus on the people in the room.  I have seen many examples over the years where the people in a room just talk with each other, the pace of the discussions picks up, people don’t talk into the meeting microphones (so you can’t hear parts of the discussion ) and the callers get left out.  This problem is made worse if the caller is not a native speaker of the language the meeting is being held in.

A face to face meeting is the preferred method for project meetings, you generally get peoples full attention during that time, they are audibly and visually engaged in the discussion, in virtual teams on a call a person is generally only engaged with their ears and not their eyes which opens the doors to them being distracted and increases the likelihood of…multitasking.

My next post will look at some of the options that you have as a virtual team host to get better engagement form the virtual team using tools that you have been using for a long time but were not aware of some of their functionality.

Watch this space!…

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‘Poetry in Business’ course review

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind.  All I know is what I have words for.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Well I promised to mention how this course went, I must admit that I was a little sceptical when I first read the course overview, and talking to some other people they also were put off from signing up.  I mean how can I justify going on a poetry course in work hours? And what possible application to business can it have?

So my overall impression of the course…..WOW!, it was very eye opening and very relevant to business.  The theme of the series of courses in the UK was Innovation.  Innovation is borne of creativity, creativity emerges from expressing thoughts and feelings and not inhibiting any ideas.  In some instances corporate life inadvertently discourages creativity due to various pressures for example, fear of speaking up in case it limits your career, not wanting to appear to rock the boat, not wanting to be seen to disagree with management decisions, people and cultures are not always embracing of change.

Corporate life discourages true communication.  Now you may be thinking that you spend most of your work life communicating, if it isn’t face to face meetings it is conference calls, but I would argue that most of that communication is limited to corporate speak, updates, metrics and compliance.  Although they have their place in business they are just the bones or skeletal structure, it is the creativity, the thoughts, the feelings, the ideas that are the flesh on the bones.

During the course we were read two poems that illustrate this point,

‘I have arrived ‘ and ‘A Doodle at the Edge’

One surprising outcome from the course was that I wrote my first poem since I left school, once you free your mind it was both liberating and surprising easy. 

We were asked to:

  • write down a situation of a work or personal matter in its present reality
  • write down a future reality for that situation
  • make a note of a single inhibiting word that is preventing this future reality from occurring. 

That word was then added to the first line of the poem that was given to us ‘I want to write about …..

Here is my poem, I hope you like it….and no it doesn’t rhyme :o)

Comfort by Andrew Budkiewicz

I want to write about comfort
A warm word
A safe word
A secret prison
The floor is your possessions
The ceiling is your commitments
The bars, each one representing every time you were too scared to do something
You are your own Jailor
How do you break out of you own self imposed confinement? 

Overall, what I took from the course was that to truly be an innovative organisation we need to actively encourage, freedom of expression, feelings, thoughts and ideas in our everyday dealings with each other whether face to face, conference calls, emails or general communications, but a corporation cant wave a magic wand for this to happen, the employees must demand it and lead this mind set change by example.  As strange as it may sound Web 2.0 and the various social networking tools are a good place to start this revolution of thinking.

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Expectations of thinking different

 you can’t solve a problem using the same kind of thinking that created it

Albert Einstein

 I recently attended a training course entitled “Poetry In Business” which formed part of a series of courses offered by the company I worked for as an initiative to promote innovation.  That’s right, I said poetry in business.  I was intrigued by the title and after a little investigation found out that the course is more about creative thinking in the workplace, or as the training company’s website puts it:

 “Why Poetry?  Because poetry uniquely combines structured thinking with creativity, and it is this combination that elevates senior executives to high-achieving, high-performance teams

 As part of the course information they supplied a poem that formed part of Apple Computers 1997 advertising campaign ‘Think different’

 Think different

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dX9GTUMh490

“Here’s to the crazy ones
The misfits
The rebels
The troublemakers
The round pegs in the square holes
The ones who see things differently
They’re not fond of rules
and they have no respect for the status quo
You can quote them
disagree with them
glorify and vilify them
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them
because they change things
They push the human race forward
And while some may see them as crazy
we see genius
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world
are the ones who do”

I think this type of course is very useful in a project setting as a Project Manager is often required to show creativity in successfully delivering a project.

Over the next couple of posts I will provide a review of the training course and share a couple of the business related poems that I liked

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