Zombie Leadership

I just had an hour long conversation with a colleague about leadership.  We both agreed when you're working under the authority of a good or bad leader, you know it.  We also agreed that we would rather deal with a bad leader with a mission than have a complete absence of leadership. If you are working toward a goal, and you realize (on your own or from the assistance of others) that you're going in the wrong direction, you make a correction and get back on track.  You rely on leadership to guide you in the right direction.  Even leaders who are the worst of egoists have a vision and turn that into a mission. Unfortunately, that vision and mission may include throwing you under a bus along the way.

If you read my post on servant-leadership, you saw the I represented leadership on a grid.  On the far left, we had egoism.  On the far right, we had altruism.  If we added zombieism to the group, you would see it off to the left of the chart.  Zombieism shouldn't really be on the chart because it is that absence of leadership.  But, we still need to put it into context.

Zombieism: When a zombie acts solely to feed itself.  You can find zombies exhibiting this orientation at every level of an organization.  The zombie thinks that it is a leader of a hoard but is a destructive force because it makes no leadership decisions, good or bad.  It merely feeds.  It mere exists.

Next we have different styles of leadership

7 Traditional Leadership Styles

  1. Autocratic - To make a decision without input from others.
  2. Coaching – To provide instruction to others.
  3. Consensus – To problem solve by a group as a whole.
  4. Consultative – To invite others to provide ideas.
  5. Directing – To give authoritative instructions to.
  6. Facilitating – To coordinate or expedite.
  7. Supporting – To provide assistance during the process.

7 Zombie Leadership Styles

  1. Anti-Autocratic - To not make a decision without input from others.
  2. Anti-Coaching – To not provide instruction to others.
  3. Anti-Consensus – To not problem solve by a group as a whole.
  4. Anti-Consultative – To not invite others to provide ideas.
  5. Anti-Directing – To not give authoritative instructions to.
  6. Anti-Facilitating – To not coordinate or expedite.
  7. Anti-Supporting – To not provide assistance during the process.

If you look at your boss, your boss's boss, or your boss's boss's boss, and they delegate ALL of their authority to others, it does not make them a good leader!  It makes them a zombie leader.

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Project Management Theater

After hearing public outcry over all of the "junk" grabbing going on at Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoints, I heard the resurfacing of the term "Security Theater".  I'm not certain if TSA "gets it".  If you are going to take true action to help fix issues, you need to treat the cause and not a symptom.  Have a shoe bomber?  Make everyone take off their shoes.  Have someone wearing baggy clothes wear a bomb onto a plane, spend millions of dollars to see beyond the baggy clothes.  Without telling you what I did, I bypassed both the new full-body scanners and the TSA pat down in two major airports within the last few weeks.  Certainly, I didn't want to deal with either so I was happy.  The problem I have, as a stakeholder, is a lot of money has been spent and the issue still exists.

Imagine if that happened on your project?

I see Lessons Learned meetings or a Retrospectives as opportunities to help you refine your processes.  You see what works and doesn't work.  You find out the root causes and then you make changes.  You refine.

Today I witnessed what I call Project Management Theater.  The vendor loves to use Gantt charts.    On a program level, both the customer and vendor follow a more traditional waterfall process.  At last count (5 minutes ago) the "integrated" schedule had 5,954 lines.  (Internally, I use a backlog and Kanban) Within seconds of reviewing this monster schedule, I could point out improper work decomposition, improper work package mapping, description inconsistencies, improper use of preprocessors or successors and the list goes on.  If your customer prefers the use of Gantt charts over Burndown charts, I'm not going to argue with them.  Whatever the culture will demand, you have to work with it.  But, the problem here is these are just charts.  They are only as good as the data driving them.  When the customer asked me today what I thought of the split view the vendor provided (WBS/Gantt chart), I was blunt.  I hate it. I added, everything that needed to be reviewed at the meeting could have been presented either as a milestone report or backlog.  Instead, we spent most of our time trying to locate activities and get statuses on each.  On top of that, the schedule provided had not been updated in two weeks.  Therefore, we had to ask over and over again if certain activities had been completed.

If you're going to commit time and money for a support activity, please make sure the resulting "thing" has some value.  At the next meeting, I expect the Gantt chart to go the way of the dinosaur.  I'm advising the customer to request a milestone report from the vendor (instead of the WBS/Gantt Chart).  In the end, I want to ensure the vendor is reaching agreed upon milestones.  Currently, the customer is so distracted by all of the inaccurate details of the schedule, they forget to ask the hard questions about the milestones.

Eliminating the Gantt chart is not going to solve the problem.  Next week, I'm going to show the executive team a Kanban of the milestones.  Let's see if they find more value in that.

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One of My Resolutions

When PM Bistro asked if I would write a blog post for them, I was happy to oblige.  You can read the original post here.  For a little background, I was asked to write about a particular work-related goal I have for 2011.  I actually have several (goal) resolutions for 2011.  I keep them on my Personal Kanban so I can be reminded of them daily.  Because they are so big, I consider them Epics.  I then break them down into "actionable" stories.  Anyway, here is the blog post.  I hope you enjoy.

When asked to think about a particular work-related goal I made for 2011, I knew it would be easy to list but harder to explain. It’s common to say “how” or “what” you’re going to do. It’s a whole other thing to say “why” you’re doing it.

The goal I have is: To articulate the values, principles, and methods of the agile community to the traditional project management community.

Why: I’ve been working in the Industry for some 15 years. I’ve seen and been involved in the best of projects and the worst of projects. Over time, I’ve seen more and more methods defined and practiced. I’ve seen people in our profession leverage these methods in the hopes their projects would be successful. It is my fundamental belief that all project managers and leaders should know all of the options available to increase the probability of project success.

How: About 5 years ago, I read the Agile Manifesto. Though it was written for software development, I discovered I could leverage some of the principles it defined in other areas. I then discovered the agile community. These progressive thinkers spoke less of maintaining the status quo and more of introducing new ways of doing things or refinement of the old. Though there are “agile” processes to follow and disciplines to uphold, many in the traditional project management community seem to be unaware of them.Some still think agile lacks both process or discipline. I hope to change that. I plan to tweet, blog, publish, speak, and mentor at every opportunity.

What: I had the pleasure of attending the PMI North American Congress in Washington DC this last year. Though I saw a very strong visual representation from the Agile Community of Practice, when I spoke to the random attendee, they had no idea what Agile was about. As I interact with both new and seasoned professionals of our Industry, I want them to know how agile can work in concert with their traditional methods. I want to see more projects succeed.

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I have a very distinct leadership style.  Those who I work for will attest to this.  I'm not talking about superiors.  I'm talking about subordinates.   In order to help build a culture I am proud of, I uphold altruistic principles.  I am a servant-leader.

Servant-leadership is a philosophy and practice of leadership, coined and defined by Robert Greenleaf. Upon doing my research, I read that Greenleaf felt a growing suspicion that the power-centered authoritarian leadership style so prominent in U.S. institutions (of the time) was not working. In 1964, he took an early retirement from IBM to founded the Center for Applied Ethics. Yes, 1964!

When representing ethical leadership on a grid (see above), the graphic should help put into perspective who leaders are and what leaders do. Egoism: When a person acts to create the greatest good for himself or herself.  You can find people exhibiting this orientation at every level of an organization.   When the organization and its employees make decisions merely to achieve individual goals (at the expense of others), they lose sight of a larger goal.

Utilitarianism: The idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility or minimizing negative utility.  The focus is to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock says "logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

Altruism: The opposite of egoism, a person's primary purpose is to promote the best interests of others.   From this perspective, a leader may be called on to act in the interests of others, even when it runs contrary to his or her own self-interests. In Start Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk says altruistically,   "Because the needs of the one... outweigh the needs of the many."

Larry Spears, the head of the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership for 17 years, identified ten characteristics of servant-leaders in his 2004 article Practicing Servant-Leadership. The ten characteristics are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.

Unlike leadership approaches with a top-down hierarchical style, servant leadership instead spawns collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. At heart, the leader is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better serve others, not to increase their own power.

The objective is to enhance the growth of individuals in the organization and increase teamwork and personal involvement.  Exhibiting servant-leader qualities tends to give a leader authority versus power.

Are you a servant-leader?

Procurement Zombies

I just finished reviewing a 42 page Statement of Work (SOW), which at some point will become the basis of dozens of (if not more) proposals, which will result in the award of a contract.  If there was ever a time I would want to guard myself against zombie infiltration, the procurement cycle would be it.  But at some point, zombies will get involved. In an attempt to be thorough (yet entertaining and brief) let's focus on the Project Procurement Management processes: Planning, Conducting, Administering, and Closing.


The process of documenting project purchasing decisions, specifying the approach, and identifying potential sellers.


The process of obtaining seller responses, selecting a seller, and awarding a contract


The process of managing procurement relationships, monitoring contract performance, and making changes or corrections as needed.


The process of completing each project procurement.

I pulled these from Chapter 12, Page 313 of the PMBOK Guide 4th Edition

For the sake of brevity,  I am not going to tell you the right or wrong way to manage procurements.  I'm not a procurement specialist.  So instead, since it's Festivus, I'm going to air grievances.

Procurements involve currency.  That means that if it is your money being spent, you want to get as much value for your money as possible.  It also means that if it is not your money being spent, zombies seem to be drawn to procurements more than brains.  Don't ask me to provide a metric for this.  Just trust me.

In 15 years, I can not say I've witnessed any zombie activity at the planning stage.  Then again, I've never seen a unicorn either but I'm not saying they don't exist.  Perhaps the zombies defer to the humans at this early stage.   But the further along in the process, the more zombies seem to appear.  If you really want to see a zombie swarm, add a purchasing card into the mix.  Somehow, purchasing card usage can actually accelerate human-zombies transformations.

Opportunistic Procurement Zombie

Let's say a zombie needs a new computer because its current one died.  I know, ironic.  The undead having something die.  Anyway, it gets on the phone with someone willing to sell a new shiny computer.  If the boss fails to establish a budget or specific specifications for the replacement device, there's a pretty good chance the zombie is going to order much more than really needed.  Good planning in this case, can cut down on zombie purchasing.

Entitled Procurement Zombie

Back in the day, working as a hardware consultant for a few federal programs, I witnessed a strange sense of entitlement. When it comes to zombie to human ratios, I've seen way more zombies on September 30th of each year than on any Halloween.   These zombies, to ensure their program budgets will be equal or greater than the year before, go on a wild spending spree every September 30th (end of the fiscal year).  I knew a colleague who worked for a zombie on a federal program.  He was given a purchase card and instructed to contact Dell and order as many laptops as possible until he had spent "X" dollars.  He was they instructed to ask them to not ship the laptops because the program had no need for them and nowhere to store them.

If you enjoyed the post great!  If not, I will challenge you to a feat of strength.

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