Friday, May 29, 2009

What Jazz Taught Me About Project Management

I might just be the only former jazz vocalist turned PMP (#126709!), but it makes me different, and I am thankful that I learned how through jazz.

When I started out in jazz, I never expected to be there for 7 years – but it got me hooked somehow. I’m not sure if it was the music, or that I loved managing each project – every performance was a project with its own business need, and it was not always the same team on the job. I loved the differentness of it, every time – constantly changing, musicians, venues even the songs as part of customized packages. The tunes would always be played fresh - based on our mood, whether it be tempo, or just really cool chord substitutions – we got the job done – on time, on budget, and without that pesky scope creep.

Just like PMs need to constantly educate themselves, as a professional, I always strived to be at the top of my game. A natural born “learner,” I brushed up on skills I needed… for music and the business of it – I could be the best musician, but if no one hears me, what’s the point?

“How do you know when there’s a chick singer at the door?”
She can’t find the key and she doesn’t know when to come in.

A musician joke I heard all too often. Speak the language and talk the talk by enhancing skills and learning new ones:

So I brushed up on music theory – I needed to be able to speak the same technical language as the musicians I was working with, and could talk to each other in and know how to jam together on a song they had never played before. All behind me at the mike, they had their own little thing going on, and I wanted to very much be a part of that. So, I learned technical skills to be part of the game.

I took up violin again (but my fingers didn’t work the same as they did in junior high, so THAT was quickly out), piano and jazz improvisation, percussion, and I soon found that I was jumping through hoops to make the customer happy, when I didn’t really have to – I’d never be good enough to go solo on a gig and accompany myself, what would my ROI be? I found that I was losing precious time when my talents could better serve as a resource for something else on the work breakdown structure.

So I was building the musician chops, but needed to fill my business tool bag, too. I tossed around the idea of going back to school for a full-fledged MBA, or a more specialized degree in Arts Management. I chose the second Masters Degree option, with a specialization in Marketing. For the next two years, I would commit myself full-time to learning the skills I needed to better manage my projects – focusing on the arts, where I was. My MBA classes were PACKED, while the arts classes were sometimes 6 to a class. I thought I was on the right track after all, when I just GOT it.

And my Master’s Degree was a project in itself, because the arts classes were on the critical path, often only offered once a year. I had to coordinate all my classes over 2 years or I would miss a grad requirement!

So if you think that there are never any conflicts among a group of emotionally charged, right-brained, creative people, good luck with that – hope it works out. For the most part, my guys were good buddies, but when it came to coming together on the same page over what chords should be substituted, or what tempo the song should be in, I had to step in to help resolve the issue. I pretty much could force the choice, but instead I let my musicians make the choice, by reminding them that the audience was not that discerning – often times, it was not a true “jazz head” audience, so they were delaying the process for no good reason – often they wanted to show off to themselves, not to the audience anyway. Always let your team make the choice, without forcing them make yours happen.

Jam sessions really strengthened my skills in working with different teams, who had never worked together before, and listening to them. That’s when I had the opportunity to see what should *not* be done - a really great jazz bassoonist…(I mean who had ever heard of that? ) would play – chops and all…chorus after chorus (or head after head in jazz terms), never opening his eyes, lost in the moment. And the other players were get agitated, and look at each other, like “when is this guy ever gonna quit and give us our turn.” This is a great example that jazz teaches us in project management, that you have to listen, and with both eyes open, to be an effective player that people want to work with.

One thing I had on my side was a background in marketing, and skills as an executive assistant for many years – I knew how to put together a great one sheet, with a call to action and make good use of white space to get my point across with eye catching visuals, but I also knew how to use Microsoft Office to make it look like it was professionally produced (like my cds, also self-produced). Always make eye-catching, easy to understand communication materials for your stakeholders, in this case, the venues who would commission my projects.

I also needed to communicate with my musicians, up on stage with me, and give them easy to understand charts, that were of course, in synch with each other (the same chords from the same song needed to be on all the parts, right?) – so I learned how to use Finale, and charted the scores myself digitally. Boy, did I learn about what made music tick getting down to every dotted quarter note. I even transcribed Ellington’s Cottontail.

And last but not least…the audience!!! The packages I put together (and customized each project!) had to speak to the audience – whether it be an audience in a performing arts center, acute care nursing facility, or a college audience…The same music had to be part of a message I was communicating. The story was always different – I think the most amazing performances I had were in the Veterans Memorial Home in Edison, on a patriotic holiday, and having residents stand up from their wheelchairs, take their caps off and put them over their hearts, and sing along with me – God Bless America, or Star Spangled Banner – the need was to provide entertainment for seniors – and is a young whippersnapper going to come in and educate this audience? I think not – they already lived it – maybe some trivia thrown in to get them to think back a bit. It didn’t matter, that experience meant something to them that it could never mean to a college audience…

A lot of times my shows were booked because there was some kind of educational component included in the mix, so it would justify the budget. That was the need. However, I was often times entertaining on a lunch break. I remember one particular gig at Seton Hall University, where I found out that the students all get laptops as part of their undergraduate enrollment. How did I find that out? When students were just involved in their own conversations and not really listening, still singing with my wireless mike, I left my band on stage and went to investigate. If you want to be heard, you needed to have a message that was worth listening to. So, I had to kick it up a notch and uptempo it – A few rounds of “It Don’t Mean a Thing, if it Ain’t Got That Swing,” did the trick. But, I would still manage to fill the business need and throw in a few interesting facts, and the patter I crafted wove a story, but next time, I would know it would have to be pretty uptempo for a college audience. (At my Stockton College gig for a high school audience they brought in, my drummer broke out in a rock pattern – and why? ‘Cause he knew that’s what he needed to pull out of his tool kit to communicate with his audience. That’s a team member.)

One thing integral to jazz is the freedom to improvise, but to stay within the lines. That’s what I loved most – I could pretty much sing something the way I wanted to (as opposed to the classical training I had as a foundation), and I knew it would make sense. The creative freedom, but staying within the framework, with something new to look forward to with each new project, was something that kept me going. When I took music theory and really understood how a melodic framework is built underneath the melody line, it raised me above the level of a “chick singer,” and really taught me about jazz.

So jazz really tied it all together for me as a band leader/business owner - running the show, getting the gigs, making sure everyone was on the same page with good consistent communication, really set the framework for me as a project manager (oh yeah, and a master’s degree with MBA classes didn’t hurt either).

So jazz and project management really go hand in hand.

I highly recommend checking out Wynton Marsalis’ interview in USA Today, “Hot Corporations Know How to Swing,” for more on leadership in business & jazz.

And this great research paper Playing the Live Jazz of Project Management written for a University in Finland.

Now it’s time for my next gig! Wanna jam?


Posted via email from vickie_smith's posterous

Thursday, May 21, 2009

12 Tips and Tools to Pass the PMP Exam - A Social Media Effort

Passing PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) exam was a project in itself.  A valuable tool, I look forward to being able to apply it in the near future…once I exhale.  Here are 12 tips that I “brain- dumped” immediately after coming home from the exam and worked on today for you:

1.      Online tools - Social media and networking – There are tremendously helpful people out there who are willing to pass on the knowledge for those willing to learn…but they’re not going to come to >you<.  Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out and meet it…or tweet it!

a.      Twitter – If you’re not bitten by the twitter bug, don’t worry – you don’t have to use this step, but it >is< one way for you to find others in project management – and for me, it was those people that totally motivated me and believed in me that really encouraged me to do this, and I can’t thank them enough!  For twitter activity,  I use Tweetdeck to manage my accounts @Vickie_Smith (for social media) and @VickiePMP (that says it all)  – I have a column that filters for project management, and am able to connect with PMs all over the world, sharing info re proj mgmt.  I’ve gotten links shared with me that I share with my Linkedin group…

b.      Linkedin – If you think Linkedin just serves to another way to collect connections like an online Rolodex (here’s my profile), you are missing a great opportunity.  It is through my PMINJ group that I joined that I was able to meet other PMI members locally and have received such helpful information that I was inspired and learned things that I am not sure I would have in such a short amount of time.  It was through this group that I was introduced to PMLessonsLearned – also on yahoo groups.

2.      PMP Exam Prep book, by Rita Mulcahy, PMP.  I highly recommend this book that was highly recommended to me.  It was with the help of this book, that I really began to understand the PMBOK guide.  I read the book three times through, alongside the PMBOK guide, chapter by chapter.  It was by going through the questions at the end of each chapter, that I learned the thought process for answering them on the test.  Her explanations are just great, and will prevent you from being tripped up.  It was on my final review of the questions that I imagined Rita talking me through them!  It was awesome, and she’s got some great freebies on her site, too.  Check it out.  I did buy the book on Amazon, along with her flash cards, but I only used the flash cards at the very end, and by then, my brain was so saturated. I didn’t have any room left, so I don’t think they helped me as much as the book.

3.      Don Kim PM Cert Notes, by Don Kim, PMP.  I highly recommend visiting Don’s blog, but his notes also gave me insight into the tools and techniques a little better – it’s all there for >you< as it was for >me<.  I highly recommend checking out these valuable tools.

4.      Test UP!  With all these free tools available online, why not take advantage?  Visit my earlier post with lots of questions to train on – I never bought a single test, and found these invaluable.  Just be careful – I found one site, Oliver Lehmann, that had helpful questions, but I was frustrated when I found that some questions I couldn’t answer referred to books I had never read.  Also, one site gave only 10 questions, that were ALL tricky, so it made you feel like you needed to buy their prep course.  I had all the tools I needed online.  Practice makes perfect, and you don’t even NEED perfect, right?  Pass/Fail – don’t forget!

5.      Brain dump… Learn how to write it on one page, as if that’s all you’re going to get.  I was lucky and my testing center gave me a booklet to use.  But I’ve heard that there are testing sites that are pretty tight on resources, so make sure you practice enough before-hand so that it can just be “dumped.”

a.      Process chart, This nifty little trick really opened my eyes to the way the processes were interrelated.    I,P, E, M&C, C on top, and ISTCQHCRP on the left side – make a grid, and fill it in!  It comes from Dana Safford’s conference call on Lessons Learned

b.      Earned Value Formulas, 3 Point Estimates & Pert, and the process grid.  PM Lessons Learned Yahoo Group conference call led by Dana Safford made ALL the difference.  The technique for this brain dump is in the files section once you will be able to access once you join the group.

6.      Learning Inputs, Outputs, Tools and Techniques – For me, actually working with the individual pieces manually that sealed it all in – I guess like writing a note, rather than popping it in your blackberry – you >own< it in a whole new way.  Rita Mulcahy’s process game is similar, and I cut out squares of paper, which you will see in a previous blog post, and every time a breeze came through the window, I’d be picking them up off the floor.  Don’t get me wrong, they helped a lot, but I’m a high-tech gal, so I was able to create an Excel spread sheet for this one, which I will be presenting via conference call shortly.  (Join PMLessonslearned on yahoo groups, and you’ll be notified when that will happen!)  But if you’re scrapped for time, and are on your way to PMPness shortly, here’s the abbreviated version…Make 9 worksheets for all the knowledge areas, a header “Process  Inputs  Outputs  Tools/Techniques  Desc,” and fill in each one, filling the first output box (like Proj Charter), and it becomes the Input to the next (Develp Prel. Scope Stmnt).  You will see things really jump out like you never have, in full color, and also see how all the processes are truly integrated.  An input from one becomes the output for another on a totally separate worksheet (e.g. performance reports is an input to multiple processes, from the performance reporting process in Communication Monitor & Ctrl) – I just saw things in a whole new light, and I nailed those exam questions because of it.

7.      Mark for review technique  The exam is NOT over until you click “end exam”, so no need to worry about not being able to change or finish.  You can mark questions for review, skip them, and come back to review before you end the test.  For me, I did 75 in an hour, first, took a break, did  50, another break.   When I came back to the room for the third time, I said I would finish the exam as best as I could, and go back to missed questions and review – I finished completely satisfied I had done the best that I could, in 3:56.  Cost me about $1 a minute ($405), and I was going to use them all if I needed to!

8.      Get to the point technique  For ALL questions, I looked to see where I was headed – kind of like not driving without a GPS, right?  I would take a look at the question at the end of the narrative (often containing useless info), to see what they were asking me to do.  Then I’d drive through the question, knowing when to make a left turn.  Better than making a wrong turn!

9.      The day before…Visit your testing site  The day of the exam, I knew exactly how to get there, without a thought, reserving my brain cells for the job at hand.  I had to drive to the site, so I made sure my GPS was prepared, and I also checked it out on google maps to do a street view.  I knew once I got to the Dunkin Donuts, I was half a block away.  I also made sure I knew where parking was, and I went in the building, and saw it was the second floor.  And I decided I would choose a different way home than the day before so I clicked “shortest distance,” and I was on my way.

10.   Pack a snack attack.  I was not allowed to take any food in the room with me – in fact everytime I had to reenter the room with my license and signature, I had to invert my pockets. You get an assigned locker, so I had to keep a granola bar, a banana and a bottle of water on top of the lockers to come out to and stretch.  And be sparing with the water, unless you want to get up and leave the room again shortly thereafter.  Remember, this isn’t the Tour de France!

11.   Be smart about what you >can< wear.

a.       Sweatshirt/dress light  Note on this – I was expecting the site to be chilly for some reason, but there were about 15 people in one close room with heat-generating PCs – luckily, the proctor sat me close to a fan.  Be prepared!

b.     Ear plugs.   I was warned that the testing center would have people in the room with you taking other exams, so bring ear plugs.  Other people were typing at various speeds (I think the girl next to me was typing a thesis!), and every time I got back in the room I popped in my little orange ear plugs.  I could have used the airplane runway earphones that were left at each station, and I admit, they looked pretty useful, if I worked at JFK.  My foam ones worked just fine.

12.   Think ahead.  I kept thinking of that certificate framed on my wall, and that shiny new job that will come in the not-too-distant future to make it all worth it.  When you have the “Pass” letter in hand – you never have to take the test again!  And when you do achieve success, and you will, let those that made it possible know.  I am so thankful to those that helped me, and now I spread the wealth.  Pass it on.  J

Posted via email from vickie_smith's posterous

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Conversion Closing Rap

I was floored when I came across Chuck the "SEO Rapper." Never heard "demographic" in a rap before - real creative - check it out.

Posted via web from vickie_smith's posterous

Friday, May 15, 2009

Need some help prepping for the PMP exam? Check out these tools...

I am so glad I found this website, as I prepare for my PMP exam on the 20th...

It's for the 3rd edition, so get it while it's HOT!

Don's spreadsheets for inputs, outputs, tools and techniques put it all in such a great easy to digest format for me.

I used it to create my OWN spreadsheet, with 9 worksheets for each knowledge area,

and you can begin to really see how everything is intertwined, and one output becomes the next one's input.

The website has some great tools, including reference sheets for audits, the application process, etc.

So, voila, there you have it. Let me know what >you< think. Good luck!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Eight sites with FREE PMP Exam Study Questions

Getting closer to my exam on May 20th, I've compiled this list of sites that have free sample questions. A couple are full-blown 200 question exams. They are free to use - I hope they help you!

PMP Sample/Mock Exam List









Note: I am not affiliated with any of the above mentioned sites, and therefore cannot verify the validity of the responses. Use your best judgment. However, I found them to be VERY helpful for my own use. I hope they are for you, too. Now let’s pass that exam! J