TED Talks With Banjos!

TED has great musicians on their stage, and these are my favorite talks the feature the banjo.

“…we’re three brothers from New Jersey — you know, the bluegrass capital of the world.”

Bluegrass Virtuosity from New JerseySleepy Man Banjo Boys

These kids are awesome, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video. Their name inspired me to try Jonny’s method of banjo practicing. I’ve learned that when playing the banjo you’re supposed to look at your left hand on the neck not your right had picking at the strings. It’s been hard for me to look away from my right hand when practicing my rolls, but laying down and closing my eyes totally helped!

“Be good to your friends. Why, without them, you’d be a total stranger.”

The Joyful Tradition of Mountain MusicDavid Holt

Holt’s TED Talk showcases the music and songs that I associate with the banjo. It’s twangy and fun and you can’t help but join in. I’m learning bluegrass banjo so it was interesting to see the clawhammer style. Maybe I’ll try that next!

“The light that shown off of her eyes was a place I could have stayed forever.”

Building US-China Relations… by BanjoAbagail Washburn

Washburn’s earnest talk about finding and sharing her musical talent made me tear up a little bit. Music is a fantastic way to connect with our fellow humans. She will be on tour this fall and I would love to see her Chinese banjo music in person!

There seems to be a TED Talk on just about any topic, and it is a great way to get a new perspective on your interests. They have other banjo videos, but I liked these 3 the best.

Are you a fan of TED’s music? Please share your favorite video in the comments.

Strummin’ Saturday – The Start

I posted a teaser picture about this habit in January, and I’m finally ready to start building my BANJO! habit. I’ve wanted to learn to play the banjo for.ev.er and was ecstatic when Clayton bought me one for Christmas.

Habit: Practice my banjo for at least 15 minutes every day for 66 days

Start Date: Saturday, 08/05/2017

Projected End Date: Tuesday, 10/10/2017

Action Plan:

  • Take 5 banjo lessons
  • Watch 3 TED Talks about learning a musical instrument
  • Learn pro-tips for practicing
  • Create a Pinterest inspiration board
  • Post weekly on Saturdays about my progress

Incentive: 10 additional banjo lessons

Lofty Goal: Finding my passion!

I’ve hardly touched a musical instrument so I knew I would need help getting started. I found a teacher on TakeLessons, and had a great first lesson. I thought it would be good to set a baseline so here is a short video of how little experience I have.

It’s going to take a lot of practice, but I can’t wait to go fast!

If you have any helpful tips about learning and instrument please share them in the comments!

Planned Preoccupation Check In

Happy New Year!

The new year is always a time for reflection, so let’s have a check in. I started this blog in the summer of 2015 and have cultivated 6 new habits and achieved 2 specific goals.

Writing

I have not been as strict about daily writing as I was with my initial habit. There was a point where the weekly posts were starting to cause me some anxiety so I took a few breaks over the course of the year. I want my energy focused on the habits themselves, not on this blog which should support the habits.

Meditation

Even though I don’t sit and meditate intentionally everyday this habit has helped me to manage my stress more effectively. I often focus on my breathing and clear my mind before I go into a meeting, or respond to a contentious email.

I have also completed 2 Headspace packs since I started this habit, and have the Motivation pack teed up as we dive into 2017!

Smoothies

I’ve got a freezer full of smoothie packs. It’s difficult to start the morning with a frozen drink when it is below freezing outside, but it’s still our quickest breakfast option. I also learned that if I freeze my ingredients on a baking sheet before I put them in the freezer bags they don’t turn into a big hunk of ice and are much easier to blend. So I’ve got that going for me.

8WW Meals

I have not kept up with this habit very well at all. I am often reminded of the Sharma quote, “knowing what to do and not doing it is the same as not knowing what to do.” Here’s to better food choices in 2017!

Spanish

This was the only habit I failed at during the initial 66 days, but it is the one I have kept up with the best since then. My mom started using Duolingo to learn Italian, and it is fun to check in with each other on our progress. I also have so many friends who try to engage my new found Spanish skills that I feel compelled to keep going!

Random Acts of Kindness

A great thing that came from this habit was learning about the generosity of my friends and family. Once I started talking more about philanthropy more people started sharing their good deeds with me. It has been a wonderful learning experience.

The structure this blog provides also helped me to organize our move to Red Wing and to get my Project Management Professional certification. Action planning focused my efforts and I was able to achieve my goals.

The support, suggestions, and encouragement you have provided in the comments have been invaluable! I am excited to continue on this journey of personal development, and know that 2017 will bring great things.

Here is a sneak peak of my next habit…

guessagain

Care to hazard a guess?!

Project Management Monday Check In

I lost touch with reality in the month of August while preparing to take the PMP exam, but it was worth the effort because I passed with flying colors!

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Completed the Agile PMP training seminar
  • DONE – Read Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt
  • DONE – Completed the RMC PMP Exam Prep course
  • DONE – Read the PMP Handbook
  • DONE – Completed the PMP application
  • DONE – Passed the PMP exam

The Agile PMP

The Agile PMP course was a part of the Project Management Institute’s SeminarsWorld event. Karl Muenchow led us through 2-days of great content. His presentations have helped me to reconcile the gap between old-world-PMP and new-world-agile frameworks. They are not as far apart as some would have you believe, and this new perspective has helped me a lot at work.

Book Breakdown

    • Title: Critical Chain
    • Author: Eliyahu Goldratt
    • Genre: Non-fiction, Business
    • Grade: C

This book was recommended to me by a colleague. It is supposed to do for project management what The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement did for production. I don’t think it is as good as The Goal. The sections about how padding estimates creates more problems than it solves was very well done, and it has helped to solidify my understanding of estimating. I would recommend this book as light reading for project managers.

PMP Exam

The rest of my action plan was geared toward the PMP exam. Submitting the application was a stressful process, but most exam prep classes give you some tips and tools related to completing the application. I also attended a PMI workshop that walked me through the process. I probably could have figured it out on my own, but was glad for the extra support.

I do not think I could have passed the test without taking a prep class. RMC Learning Solutions came highly recommended and I took their 2-Day PMP Exam Prep Course. It is an intense course that comes complete with homework! :/ They helped me to identify the gaps in my knowledge base and tailor a study plan for my needs. In the 2.5 weeks between the course and my exam date I studied for 37 hours and took 2 practice exams. And when I was done I saw the most beautiful email header I have ever seen…

Congrats PMP

And with that I have achieved my project management goals for the year! Now I am going to focus on other areas of personal development.

Please share any goals you have achieved this year in the comments below. We should all take time to celebrate the wins!

via GIPHY
via GIPHY

Writing Wednesday Check In

I am happy to report that I have kept up with my writing habit over the last 6 months. As always I’ll start with my stats.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Improved my blogging stats
  • DONE – 4/4 habits developed and blogged
  • DONE – 1/1 book on writing read

Blogging Stats:

  • 62 posts (↑ from 22 posts)
  • 34 followers (↑ from 16)
  • 547 visitors (↑ from 126)
  • 818 views (↑ from 249)
  • 179 likes (↑ from 72)
  • 39 comments (↑ from 12)

Completed Habits:

  1. Smoothie Sunday – Drink a green smoothie everyday
  2. Tidy Travels – Implement the KonMari method
  3. Food Friday – Eat an 8 Weeks to Wellness approved meal everyday
  4. Project Management Monday – Read the Project Management Body of Knowledge

Book Breakdown:

“Write what you like.”

The On Writing section is the heart of the book and I came away with a lot of great tips:

  • Master the fundamentals: vocabulary, grammar, and the elements of style
  • Read and write a lot
  • 1st drafts shouldn’t take more than a season (3 months)
  • Give your writing life by adding your knowledge of life (especially work)
  • Situation comes first then plot and characters
  • Begin with the story and progress to the theme
  • 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%
  • Writers Market

“Door Shut, Door Open”

King shares an unedited fictional piece, and then a mark up of the same work. This is exactly what I have been looking for in these writing books. King’s work as a teacher gives weight to the lessons in this book.

It’s a popular book for good reason, and I recommend it to anyone looking to improve their writing.

6 Month Goals:

  • Improve my blogging stats
  • Blog about 4 new habits (one in each category)
  • Read a book to help improve my writing
  • Watch a documentary on writing/writers

Accomplishments abound with this blog. My closet is clean, I drink smoothies, eat veggies, lost 10 pounds, and manage projects better than ever. The best part is I’m still doing all of my favorite things like watching movies, reading books, and trying new things; just in a more focused manner. Here’s to leveraging your strengths!

Keep an eye out for my next habit!

Project Management Monday – The End

I finished reading the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)! Now to review my action plan progress.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Read the PMBOK
  • DONE – Found a study buddy at work
  • DONE – Watched 6/6 PMI webinars
  • DONE – Attended 2/1 PMI-Minnesota Chapter meetings
  • DONE – Posted weekly progress updates on improving my PM skills

Grade: A

Incentive: This week I am attending the Agile PMP seminar!

Lessons Learned: I had tried to read the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge (BABOK) 2 years ago with poor results, and I really think this blog helped me to cross the finish line on the PMBOK. Breaking this into a daily reading habit helped me to hone in on each section. I absorbed a lot of information and dove into work breakdown structures, earned value calculations, and risk management.

My favorite part of the action plan was trying to form a study group. I met with all the PMs in my office and solicited a lot of feedback on the best way to approach the certification. I found another person interested in going through the certification process with me, and she has been a tremendous help. We’ve both signed up for an exam prep course and are hoping to sit for the exam at the end of the summer.

6 Month Goals:

  • Complete the Agile PMP training seminar
  • Complete the RMC PMP Exam Prep course
  • Read the PMP Handbook
  • Complete the PMP application
  • Take the PMP exam
  • Read Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt

This habit has kick started my career development this year. Getting through the PMBOK has given me the confidence to tackle all sorts of goals over the summer.

Any suggestions for a new habit? I’ve got a couple ideas brewing, but would love to get some feedback in the comments!

Webinar Wrap-up

The second round of webinars were much more engaging than the first. They are listed below in order of preference.

RiskReadyCreating “Risk-Ready” Project Schedules

  • Wesley Gillette
  • Rated: 5.77/7
  • Duration: 56:03

Gillette focused on how constraints, lags, and schedule logic can be hidden in the project plan and cause false results in your risk analysis. He explained that we need to challenge the way our schedules. We need clear assumptions and risks should be called out properly. This was the best webinar that I’ve seen on the Project Management site. There was an excellent balance between explaining new concepts and examples.

5 Essential Insights for Maximizing your Limited Resources

  • Jerry Manas & Maureen Carlson
  • Rated: 5.43/7
  • Duration: 61:10

I am a fan of big data and this presentation was centered on the 2014 State of Resource Management and Capacity Planning Report conducted by Appleseed Partners. They honed in on the idea that top performing companies had a holistic view of their demand pipeline and resource capacity by utilizing Project Portfolio Management software. Manas and Carlson did a great job co-presenting and it was obvious they had practiced.

RookiePMMistakes4 Common Rookie PM Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

  • Dana Brownlee
  • Rated: 6.34/7
  • Duration: 59:22

She spent a lot of time on anecdotes, but it was an interesting and engaging presentation. Her tips to address the “slacker” on the team were practical. Those interaction are never easy so I appreciated her insights on creating a culture of accountability. Brownlee’s 3 magic questions for clarifying task assignments are:

  1. What is your understanding of the task?
  2. What will the deliverable look like?
  3. What are the 1st 3 steps you’ll take to begin working on this?

I would highly recommend this presentation to any PM or manager.

Avoid the Three Major Mistakes of Organization Wide Change

  • Barbara Trautlein
  • Rated: 6.18/7
  • Duration: 45:46

This was a great topic for change management. My primary project is going to have a significant amount of process changes. Knowing that we have a blend of heart and hand change leadership styles will help me to leverage our strengths and avoid common pitfalls. I found Trautlein engaging, but this presentation was repetitive and oddly paced.

This was four hours well spent. I’ve come away with a wealth of resources and some great tips for keeping my projects on track.

Do you have a favorite webinar or instructional video? Please share the link in the comments.

Crash Course on the PMP Application

The PMI-MN dinner this month offered a PMP Application Writing workshop. Excellent timing since I just signed up for an exam prep course. This my take on the evening.

PMP Application Writing

I’ve been told that the PMP application process is difficult. This workshop was helpful because the presentation was short and practical which left plenty of time for questions and specific scenarios. These were my key takeaways:

  • “There is no cum laude on the PMP exam”
  • Professional Development Units (PDUs) and PM Education are not always the same thing
  • Only enter the number of hours they request under experience, there is no extra credit for more experience
  • List projects in order of size, not by date
  • The more detail you provide on your application the better and you’ll be less likely to get audited
  • Study to get 80% on the exam

Three Critical Success Factors for Project Managers

The main presentation wasn’t bad, but I was not a huge fan of Bill Johnson’s style. He told us early on that he ascribes to the “Socratean style of teaching”, and I should have left then. I spent most of my time taking notes on his style and the other people in the room than I did on his content. It was fun to practice Gutkind’s immersion technique.

His presentation revolved around the idea that if we took the time to align our projects to the company/leadership’s strategic vision; understood our own leadership style better; and increased our knowledge in the project management methodology we would have more successful projects. A good message, but one that could have been much more direct. I heard one person in the audience speak almost as much as Bill.

Overall, I would say this was an evening well spent. I got exactly what I was hoping for out of the workshop, more confidence in pursuing my PMP!

Project Management Monday – The Middle

I’ve finally reached the half way point of this habit, and I’m 59% thru the book! Here are the rest of the stats.

Action Plan Progress:

  • 352/589 pages read in the PMBOK
  • Start a study group at work with others interested in getting their PMP
  • 2/6 PMI webinars watched
  • DONE – Attended a PMI-Minnesota Chapter meeting
  • 5/10 weekly progress updates posted about improving my PM skills

Grade: A

Lessons Learned: 8 pages a day is very doable. It makes it easy to stay on track, and I think I am absorbing more of the material as well. There are some days that I want to push myself to read more, but if I were to read ahead it would make it easier to take advantage of it on the other side and let the pages slide when I don’t feel like reading. Consistency is key!

Finishing the PMBOK is just the start of my career development plan this year, and I am excited to finish this milestone.

What career milestones do you want to hit this year? Please share your goals in the comments!

PM Movies in SPACE!

NASA was an early adopter of modern project management methodologies, so it stands to reason that movies based on their organization would illustrate key principles of the discipline. Watching The Martian I had a lot of empathy for Teddy. He’s the director of NASA and pseudo project manager of the effort to bring Mark home. This thought prompted me to analyze other NASA movies that also demonstrate the fundamental aspects of project management.

SPOILER ALERT: I will not tell you who lives or dies, but I will be reviewing critical plot points of recent blockbuster films.

Image Source: IMDB
Image Source: IMDB

“…get a viable amount of human life off the planet.”
Interstellar

• Scope: Fixed
• Schedule: Variable
• Cost: Variable

Interstellar is the convoluted tale of saving the human race from an inhospitable earth. The schedule is variable because there isn’t a specific time table, and we’re just told at some point in the future the blight will destroy all the crops. The cost is never discussed in the movie. NASA has become a sort of shadow agency and appears to have unlimited resources. This leaves the scope of perpetuating the human race as the fixed constraint. They have multiple plans to achieve this goal, but never stray from that objective.

Image Source: IMDB
Image Source: IMDB

“I’ll start starving on SOL 584.”
The Martian

• Scope: Variable
• Schedule: Fixed
• Cost: Variable

In the Martian, NASA’s objective is to help Mark stay alive until he can be rescued. The schedule is fixed because Mark’s rations will last for a limited amount of time and there is an optimum launch window to send him more supplies. The schedule is so critical that they cut every ancillary step in the plan and add more people to the team to ensure they launch the resupply on time. There is an excellent scene on their risk analysis of shortening the timeline that I am sure left every Quality Assurance Analyst in the audience cringing.

Scope is a variable constraint because it changes throughout the movie. The initial scope is to get Mark a new supply of rations and equipment to keep him alive until the next planned mission to Mars. Eventually it changes all together as they analyze contingency plans. Cost is also variable because it is of no concern in the movie. Because the entire world is captivated by Mark’s struggle they have global resources available to them.

Image Source: IMDB
Image Source: IMDB

“Houston, in the blind…”
Gravity

• Scope: Variable
• Schedule: Variable
• Cost: Fixed

Gravity starts with 5 astronauts upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope. Implementation of the project work was originally scheduled to take a week, but minutes into the movie the mission is aborted and the new objective is survival. Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone’s objectives change a number of times as she is reacting to a series unplanned issues which is why the scope as variable.

The movie covers approximately 3.5 hours of Ryan’s life, and while there are 2 very specific milestones the schedule is variable in relation to the objective of survival. That leaves cost as the fixed constraint. Once communication is lost with Houston and her crew Ryan’s resources are limited to her own capacity and the resources within her reach.

The projects I work on do not have life and death consequences, but these extreme examples show how even when everything seems critical it is essential to identify and manage the primary constraint. This will help to focus and prioritize your work efforts and ensure you meet your objective. It also makes for a compelling story!

What other professions crop up in certain movie genres? Please share your thoughts in the comments!