The Clueless Project Manager is a humor book on project management written for project managers, managers and anyone interested in getting a chuckle out of the work environment. It emphasizes the many trials and dilemma of a project manager as he tries to deal with problems on all fronts: his boss, the customer, the people who work under him, the suppliers and the entire world that surrounds him. The hero of the book "B.S." is a goofball with no understanding of the formal techniques of project management but outshines his "guru" by presenting him with thoughts that can only come from true understanding of human interactions. The book is written with the intent of sharing some of the best practices of project management as defined and perceived by different individuals. The book is also a reminder that most projects fail not due to a lack of understanding of the technical subject matter as they due to the lack of dealing with people. Lack of humor in the workplace can be the biggest hindrance to a successful and "high blood pressure free" environment.
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The Clueless Project ManagerA Case Of Project Management Reality
By Abhay V. Trivedi
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Abhay V. Trivedi, Ph. D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Setup
The intra terminal shuttle at the world's busiest airport was on strike. It was the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend and the airport was chaos. I was running as fast as I could to catch the last flight to Los Angeles. It was not a smart move. I took a tumble. Overweight and out of shape I could barely walk let alone do an end run through the crowd. As I lay flat, watching the beautiful ceiling of the airport, a sign flashed by my eyes—"last call to Los Angeles." I thanked my lucky stars. It could have been worse. All those people in a hurry could have trampled me. I had recently read that the airport was the place to vent and there were plenty of frustrated people around.
My whole life was a total mess, but Fridays were generally good to me, signaling the end of the work week and unwinding at the local watering hole. I had disciplined myself to absolute abstinence from any intelligent activity on Fridays. This Friday however was shaping up to be different. Instead of my regular "night at the bar" my boss had me flying to meet him in Los Angeles for an important Saturday meeting.
The thought of spending an entire weekend with a sixty year old recently divorced and pretty much arrogant and selfish man was not exciting. The thought of missing the flight was even worse.
Robert Frost III was my boss. He also owned the company. As far as I knew he was the baddest man in the whole darn South. The last time I had missed a meeting Mr. Frost had me assigned to Crexton, Ohio, a place so depressing even the mayor had to be motivated to stay in town.
The Fit-Food company had been my humble abode for the past many years. Our mission at Fit-Food was to maximize profits by minimizing quality. When you make food for the obese you needn't worry about quality. This demographic is happy to oblige at the sight of any food in front of them.
There were some definite perks working for the Fit-Food company. One of them was meeting celebrities who regularly advertised our diet products. The celebrities who advertised for Fit-Food, however, were known only in the South, where anyone with a full set of teeth is generally considered a celebrity. Most of our celebrities worked for NASCAR as tire changers. In this neck of the woods most would recognize NASCAR tire changers but not the Governor. You can't blame the people, though; most of our governors have a branch office in South America or Europe where they conduct most of their affairs anyway.
The Fit-Food company was in the right place at the right time. The demand for diet food had skyrocketed in the past decade. Fit-Food was flourishing. Mr. Frost, as he liked to be called by all of his employees, was the sole owner of Fit-Food. He had inherited the company from his father, who killed himself in fear of seeing his only son destroy his legacy.
Mr. Frost had no clue how to run the weight loss business; he didn't have to. As long as there were Waffle Houses in the South the business was recession-proof or idiot-proof. The weight loss business was like the computer industry of the eighties; a lot of hype and a lot of mediocrity, however, both made you money.
The Fit-Food brand was recognized as one of the most powerful names in the South. The "Fit-Food" name was recognized by more people in the South than the "Swoosh" in Beaverton, Oregon. In fact, the "Swoosh" in the South was referred to as a carbonated drink. It doesn't take much of a genius to recognize why the South had lost the war
The Fit-Food company employed over a thousand employees, mostly in a volunteer capacity. They worked over sixty hours a week, but got paid as volunteers. They were promised excellent benefits after they served the company for twenty years. The hope was that after twenty years of hard labor they would not need any benefits. No wonder Mr. Frost's reading list only consisted of Mao Tse Tung's Philosophies on Humanity.
Some of us at Fit-Food fell in the category of project managers. A project manager at Fit-Food was defined as someone with a whole lot of responsibility and a much greater probability of getting fired with every project. Mr. Frost had read somewhere that anyone who had read "The Seven Habits of Smart People" was a certified project manager. I was one of the first project managers Mr. Frost had hired. I had the book in my hand during the interview. Mr. Frost believed in hiring the least qualified person at the lowest salary.
The first question Mr. Frost always asked his interviewees was, "What is the lowest salary you would accept?"
No wonder we had the most unqualified workforce in the entire South. Most of them I believe were ex-Waffle House employees or their cousins. I realized living in the South, the word cousin referred to everyone. Everyone was somehow related.
Recently Fit-Food had embarked upon a revolutionary idea of selling diet food. Mr. Frost had created a new line of "green" diet products, targeted at the new generation of "politically correct" obese people. The sight of politically correct obese people scared the daylights out of me, but it worked. The politically correct psychos had concluded that a cow packed in a green box made it holy and healthy to eat.
As the project manager for the "green" product lines, I was well aware of the requirements capture process from the stakeholders. In Fit-Food's case we had only one real stakeholder Mr. Frost. In a requirements gathering interview session he had commanded that the "green" line had to have all products packed in a green carton. The inside didn't matter. Mr. Frost had figured that the best way to fool the already food deprived customer was to color all the food cartons green. If the customer got too hungry he would eat the carton considering it to be another vegetable.
My years with the Fit-Food company and Mr. Frost had convinced me that America did not need innovators to succeed. It needed employers who could get the most out of any employee under any given situation. For the number of hours that Mr. Frost made me work I was making less money per hour than the Chinese worker in Shanghai or Kim Jong's barber.
My seniority at the Fit-Food company had earned me the respect of fellow project managers. I was also the only one with a full set of teeth. None of the project managers at Fit-Food had any clue on running projects. Some did have significant skills in running from the law.
At Fit-Food there were twenty designated project managers. Of those twenty project managers none had a technical degree. I was the closest to a technical genius with a degree in History. I was trained in the art of war. My buddies Timmy and Marcus had degrees in Physical Education and we were still waiting for the transcripts of Jay, Suzy and Denny for the past five years to confirm if they ever graduated from high school let alone college.
At Fit-Food we did not have a PMO. In fact we did not have an office. All project managers sat in the warehouse area with the forklifts zipping by at around 40 miles an hour. No wonder most NASCAR drivers came from the South. I was glad at Fit-Food we did not have the "bring your child to work day." The only time we were allowed to sit in an office was during the safety inspections.
The safety inspectors were generally bribed and they drove through the facility in Mr. Frost's ATV.
As a reward of my complete loyalty to Mr. Frost, I was also the head of the project manager's group (PMG) at Fit-Food. I created this title to impress my parents of the fact that I was a bit smarter than their border collie. My job as head of the project manager's group was to provide Mr. Frost with a daily dose of gossip on all the project managers. Unfortunately, most of the managers had no life. I had to spend almost an hour reading People magazine to make up stories about the project managers cross linked with Brad Pitt or Britney Spears. Story telling was my forte and I could put a Harvard MBA to shame in that area.
Life was not bad at Fit-Food; we were a group of ignorant and lazy people spreading cheer throughout the obese world. While the Einstein's of the world were without a job we all had jobs for life. The diet food industry was growing at an alarming rate. We had a positive correlation going on with the rate of unemployment, recession, frustration and everything else. We did not have an issue with the FDA either. They never dared taste our food for fear of poisoning. We were not far from the Waste Management facility.
Ever since I was a child, I had made a habit of dreaming things that were achievable within the next twenty four hours. Fit-Food was about to take care of my one long term dream, owning a Waffle House. If Bill Gates were born in the South, he would have the same dream. Just like the dream of every Indian on the planet of owning a Dunkin Donut was turning out to be true, the dream of every person living in the South of owning a Waffle House was going to come true. Life was just beginning to reap rewards.
I am a big fan of the airlines. Not any particular one but all of them. The airlines truly understand the term "customer service" better than anyone else. Imagine dealing with the "shouting voice of the customer (SVOC)" at all times. I have yet to see a single customer behave decently at any airport. I had once read in the in-flight magazine that flight delay was the number one cause of depression in this country. Being Gold or a Platinum member and not being upgraded to First Class was number two. Poor airlines have to deal with the largest number of snobs who feel they are at the top of the world simply due to the accumulation of frequent flier miles.
At Fit-Food all employee airline miles went to Mr. Frost. He personally accompanied each one of us to the airport to collect the miles before we flew.
As I got up from my short nap on the airport floor I realized I still had to reach the gate for my Los Angeles flight. I was texting God as fast as I could not to ruin this one day of the week for me. Friday had to be nice. Struggling through the crowd I finally reached gate D31. "Please hurry," a sweet voice was guiding me, "the plane is about to leave."
It was a different experience holding a First Class ticket in my hand. The airline had been kind to me. For the numerous praise worthy letters that I had written to Customer Service they had sent me over ten guaranteed upgrade certificates. I was shocked. It was like they wanted to honor me as the only person who "cared." I was getting excited at the thought of unlimited free drinks and peanuts without fighting the flight attendant.
"Sir, may I take your coat", the pleasing sound of the flight attendant once again surprised me.
I just wished that someday all the coach seat dwellers would experience the same courteous voice. The text that I had sent to God had been answered. The First Class cabin was wonderful. My Friday was not going to be ruined after all. Instead of shoving my coat underneath the seat I was asked if my coat could be hanged. What could be better?
"Thanks as long as long as you return it at the end of the flight," Memories of college were hard to forget.
It had been a long time since I had sat in the First Class cabin and almost forgot how comfortable it was. The main advantage was that I did not have to occupy half of my neighbor's territory. You also didn't have to walk a mile getting to the bathroom bypassing the forty rows of passengers staring at you like, "Where are you going man?"
The passengers in the First Class cabin all looked fresh and had a glow on their faces. All of a sudden the flight to Los Angeles was not going to be torture after all. I was just hoping that the seat next to me not be occupied by a traveling salesman trying to sell me a time share. I was already in the business of selling snake oil to the world.
Mr. Frost had been in a slump lately. His wife of thirty years had decided to divorce him. She had literally taken a chapter out of Desperate Housewives and decided to elope with her thirty year old gardener. Mr. Frost was not worried about her leaving; he was not worried about anyone leaving. He was only worried about the departure of his wealth. The Fit-Food company had only two board members Mr. and Mrs. Frost and now Mr. Frost was worried about the gardener being the third board member.
Besides tackling Mrs. Frost problems, there was another problem brewing up at Fit-Food. One of Mr. Frost's key customer Renaissance Grocers had decided to file for bankruptcy. Renaissance Grocers was one of the bright spots in the food industry growing at a rate of over 30% a year every year. However, they didn't achieve this the old fashioned way. They did not earn it. Renaissance violated every moral, ethics and legal clause applicable to business and humanity.
I still remember the interview Renaissance CEO Herb Maddoff gave after his arrest. "We did nothing different than anyone else, we just got caught, and we were stupid. We should have never printed the pyramid picture in our internal memos." Renaissance filed for bankruptcy.
Mr. Frost was stuck with a big loss from Renaissance. Just like every Renaissance customer we were holding "IOUs" instead of cash and these IOUs were definitely not backed by the United States government. Mr. Frost had advised me to go to each one of the 300 Renaissance stores and pack up our stuff that was not paid for.
At Fit-Food we were also trained in the art of harassing customers who didn't pay on time let alone file for bankruptcy. Unlike most project managers I was a real Black Belt with over a 1000 hours watching UFC.
For all the troubles brewing at Fit-Food I was confident about the success of the company. It had the meanest CEO on the planet and that was good news. I also was optimistic for the simple reason that except for Fit-Food I would not be accepted as a project manager anywhere else on the planet. I was a History major, a complete idiot. This was mediocrity heaven and I loved it.
Mr. Frost was banking on new business with Thomson-Mills, a growing super grocer on the west coast. I knew if we lost this contract, I would be back living with my parents in Minnesota. I was cautiously optimistic knowing well that Mr. Frost always fired someone after a failure of any kind. The only hope was the gardener's position was opening up at Mr. Frost's estate and it did have some perks.
As I was adjusting to my new First Class seat my eyes fell on something I had just placed in the front pocket of the seat— "An idiot's guide to passing the project management certification exam." Mr. Frost had decided that amongst all his project managers the only one who could pass any kind of certification had to be me. His logic was simple. Since, I originated from India I had to be good at math, and if I was good at math I could pass any certification. Going to a training class was out of the question so he had presented me with the guide and warned me to pass or else. It was going to be difficult.
I knew I had enough knowledge about project management to recognize a project from an encounter but not enough to pass any certification exam. Just filling out the application for the certification exam had taken me almost six months. I still remember the sixty days it had taken my project management buddies at Fit-Food to create three different versions of my resume that would add up to 4,000 hours of work experience.
Unfortunately, they had to assume that a week's worth of work was 160 hours instead of 40.
Just as I was about to open my "idiot's guide" I was shocked to see the person occupying the seat next to me. It was Henry Prescott, management consulting guru, the arrogant but highly successful author of at least thirty books on project management. I would not have recognized Henry Prescott in a million years except for his recent pictures everywhere on newspapers and magazine touting him to be next Secretary of Commerce. There is very little that you can't discover about the rich world if you are a People magazine subscriber. Prescott was also a member on the President's council on Business and Finance. The Prescott family was one of the wealthiest in the U.S. amassing immense wealth from their real estate holdings in New York.
I thought by know Prescott should have amassed enough wealth to be on a Gulf Stream but I guess he probably was the black sheep of the family. I couldn't believe my eyes; I was sitting next to a legend. I wish it was Clint Eastwood but Prescott was alright. I quickly hid my "idiot's guide" before he could realize any special trait in my behavior.
"Hello, I am Henry," the great Prescott introduced himself.
Excerpted from The Clueless Project Manager by Abhay V. Trivedi Copyright © 2011 by Abhay V. Trivedi, Ph. D.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The word is Perception....................23
Learning to Pay Attention....................35
Back to Process....................41
Baselines are Only a Guideline....................47
Motivation does not need a Reason....................53
Managing a Rural Team....................59
Success is not so Successful....................63
The "Why Bother?" Generation....................71
The Idea Factory....................79
The Softer Side of Estimation....................85
Over Optimism=Under Performance....................93
Big "E"—The happening Formulae....................101
Failure is not all that Bad....................107
Change Management is for Consultants....................115
Risk Owners are Idiots....................121
Did Quality Kill the Japanese?....................129
The Customer is either a King or an Idiot....................135
Outsourcing is not a Fad....................143
How Critical is the Path?....................149
The Closing Thought....................155
The Job Offer....................161