Book Review: The Lazy Project Manager

“There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” Some attribute the axiom to Frank Lloyd Wright but others are adamant that he’s not the origin of it. Whoever said it had a somewhat elitist or cynical perspective about the general population.

At times, however, the saying has proven itself to be true. That’s why sometimes it’s best to state the obvious, rather than taking it for granted.

In his book “The Lazy Project Manager“, Peter Taylor doesn’t tackle the basics of Project Management as a profession. Do don’t buy the book as a Project Management how-to guide; it’s not intended to be that. Taylor rightly observes that much has already been written on the topic. He even provides list of resources that he’s found helpful in the back of “The Lazy Project Manager”.

Instead Taylor attempts to supplement the purely academic studies of Project Management with practical and actionable approaches.

A Common Sense Approach

“The Lazy Project Manager” focuses on the subtle nuances of how to shepherd a project from its initial phase through to its completion. Taylor concentrates on working with your team to move the project toward success. He advocates using humor to diffuse a situation, evaluating the team personnel, and remembering that communications is more than just the message.

Much of what he shares should be considered common sense, especially to a seasoned professional. However, the advice proffered will likely be helpful to many who are new to the project manager role.

This short book is replete with anecdotes from Taylor’s experiences. He shares some of his successes as well as his miscues over the years. He recounts his missteps and what he’d do differently now that he’s on the other side of the mishaps.

Proper Planning

Despite the intentionally eye-catching title, the book’s premise can be distilled down to the old adage of the 7 P’s: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance.

Taylor contends that most projects require an awful lot of work up front and if done well, the long middle part of the project goes very smoothly. Eventually every project wraps up with a flurry of concluding activities at the end.

The book models this as well. The first portion of the book sets the stage. Then Taylor offers to let the reader skip the middle section and just right to the end of the book where the final two chapters summarize everything that you may have skipped.

Overall

I suspect many who buy the book can easily skip to end without missing anything; I certainly felt as though I could have. Others may find the middle, though it sometimes wanders a bit, to be helpful.

The eight reviewers on Amazon give the book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I think that’s a bit on the high side. I’d give it a 3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars. But then, I’ve been self-employed 15+ years and I’ve managed hundreds if not thousands of projects.

Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it. – Walter Chrysler

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Book Review: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” Abraham Lincoln was reported to have said once when accused of playing both sides of an issue. It’s good to see a politician with a self deprecating since of humor.

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame and the writers of The Office have some hysterical views on corporate politics. They poke fun at the corporate incompetence and the silly politics to which many in the business world can relate.

Et tu, Brute?

Unfortunately there’s very little funny that’s to those who find themselves in a back-stabbing, alliance-building, sell-your-own-mother-if-it-wins-points-with-the-boss world of office politics.

As a consultant, I’ve worked with thousands of people at all levels of an organization and across most every industry. I’ve seen corporate politics in action. I’ve witnessed some of its brutality and the carnage it leaves in its wake. It’s painful to watch someone trample another as he protects his own little fiefdom.

Fortunately as an “outsider”, I’m seldom the target of such attacks. Nevertheless, I thought it would be good to do a bit of research into the topic. So, I turned to the grand daddy of all books on politics: Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Applying Princely Advice To Office Politics

Much like Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War, The Prince is considered by many to be a timeless classic that’s as applicable today in business as it was to governance in the period that it was originally written. When read with a discerning eye, it’s chock full of savvy advice for leaders.

For example, when you notice a subtle, slowly escalating issue, Machiavelli advocates confronting the issue sooner rather than later. There’s no sense in ignoring the issue and allowing it to gain momentum.

Therefore, the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head…

Likewise, Machiavelli proposes that the wise Prince will seek counsel from those around him albeit under very restricted conditions.

The only way for a prince to guard himself from flattering adulation is to make it understood that he will not be offended if he is told the truth.

and,

…this is an axiom which never fails: that a prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice…

A warning against complacency is also made.

Princes who give more thought to luxury than to arms often lose their principality.  In fact, the quickest way to lose a principality is to neglect the art of war, and the best way of acquiring one is to be a master in this art.

Take Some Advice With A Grain Of Salt

Not all advice proffered by Machiavelli is beneficial in my opinion and it should be measured against your own moral compass.

At times, Machiavelli’s advice can be calculating and callous. He seems to be of the opinion that the ends justifies the means no matter the cost. For example, when assuming power over a principality,

Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.

Additionally according to The Prince, we should not grow colleagues and direct reports.

From this a general rule is drawn which never or rarely fails: that he who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.

In Summary

I’m glad to have read The Prince. It’s a classic in every sense of the word. I must say, though, that it’s not an easy read. The sentence structures used can be rather complex at times even though the tone is fairly conversational.

Even some 500 years after its writing, it has some good insights into politics. Just being aware of these issues is good, even if you choose not to follow them.

Book Review: The Truth About Negotiations

How should you reply to the “What’s your rate?” question? Should you answer immediately? Or try to discover their expectations? When all it’s all said and done, should you just “split the difference?”

The answer to those questions and many similar ones are what Leigh Thompson, the author of The Truth About Negotiations, sets out to provide in this short, easy to read book.

In the introduction, Thompson states that she wants to do three things with the book. First, she strives to outline a game plan that will work in any negotiation. Whether your are negotiating a raise at work or attempting to overcome a difference with your neighbor, the basic premises of negotiations are the same.

Don’t underestimate how important opening offers are. Indeed negotiators’ first offers can generally predict the outcome of a negotiation….For these reasons your ideal offer should be close to the party’s barely-acceptable terms.

Second, she focuses on what she terms the “win-win goldmine”. It’s a simple concept that we’ve all known since kindergarten: it’s best when both parties walk away happy. Thompson provides techniques for asking questions that help you to get to the underlying interests of the other person so you can hopefully strike a deal you’ll both like.

Third she discusses how to handle less-than-ideal negotiation scenarios. Sometimes you must work with people you don’t trust, or who don’t trust you. That’s tough, but Thompson provides some key insight into ways to approach it.

While this isn’t a really deep dissertation on the subject, the 53 truths that Thompson shares provide a good overview to negotiations. I enjoyed reading the book and will hang on to it for future reference.

I’m Choosing To Cheat

I’m cheating. And I bet that you are, too. In fact, most us of cheat at one time or another.

That’s the premise of Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley. In it, Stanley contends that we are all far too busy. We have too many commitments at work and at home; we’re stretched too thin, being pulled in every direction. There’s no way we’ll accomplish everything. Sound familiar?

So Many Things, So Little Time

So what do we do? We try as hard as we can. We spend a few extra hours at work to try to get caught up, cheating our family of that time. We take a long lunch or call in sick to get some personal things done, cheating work.

But we still come up short. No matter how hard we try, some things will be left undone. There’s just too much to do. We can’t do it all. We will miss some commitments that we’ve made. The only question is which ones.

Who Are Cheating?

For many of us, the two largest sources of commitments come from work and family. Think about those for a moment.

At work, you are replaceable. As good as you may be at your job, you’re still replaceable. If you quit, they will find another person to do your job. If you do your job poorly, they’ll fire you. If business becomes slow, they’ll lay you off. The company has very little, if any, loyalty to you as an individual. Yet many of us have great loyalty to our work. We work long hours, often burning the midnight oil, in the hopes of getting caught up or being recognized for a promotion.

Conversely at home, no one else can fill your shoes. You are the only husband or wife that your spouse has. Only you can be the mother or father to your kids. No one else can fill your role. And your family has nearly unlimited loyalty to you.

Yet when push comes to shove, many of us choose to cheat our family rather than work. We choose to devote extra time to the entity that has zero loyalty to us while robbing those that have nearly unlimited loyalty to us. We focus on areas where we are replaceable at the expense of areas where we’re irreplaceable. We choose to spend our time doing things that will be obsolete in five short years while cheating in areas where our impact may be felt for a lifetime or even longer.

Why? And what could we, should we do about it?

Making A Conscious Choice

In Choosing To Cheat, Stanley tackles this problem. He doesn’t pretend to have easy answers. But he does call your attention to the problem and offer some creative ways to approach your work and home life. I definitely learned a lot from the book.

It’s a short, easy read. You can easily finish it in one sitting or on a short flight. But it can be life changing if read with an openness and taken to heart. I have a good friend who would say that it literally helped to saved his marriage.

So, if you’re cheating, are you choosing wisely?

A Book Review of Tribes by Seth Godin

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Tanning beds, video rentals, and tax preparation seemingly have little in common. Yet many businesses in the great state that I call home have all three of these under one roof. Stop by, get your taxes done while you soak in some artificial rays, and go home with the latest Reese Witherspoon movie. Is that convenient or what?

Unfortunately, many technical communities operate in much the same way. They try to be everything to everyone instead of focusing on the core group of people that are passionate about the focus of the community

In his book, Tribes, Seth Godin takes a fresh look at the importance and dynamics of community, or as he calls it “a tribe”. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

Although this book isn’t written specifically for nor about the SQL Server community, there is much we can learn from his perspectives.

A Call to Action

Much of the book is a “call to action”. Godin believes that there are lots of people out there looking for a good community to join. He also points out that those same people are very tired of the status quo. They have grown weary of large sluggish communities that seem content to just survive. They want something new, something fresh, something empowering.

He encourages everyone, regardless of their current position within an organization or community to start acting boldly and to challenge the status quo. He proposes that we should all begin thinking like what he has termed a heretic. He believes that to continue going along in the same manner is to accept a slow and certain demise. People are looking for new and better, not more of the same.

He recognizes that it takes courage to step out and be willing to try something new, to think differently.

At the same time, Godin states that “the largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a ‘no.’ It’s a ‘not yet.’ ‘Not yet’ is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. ‘Not yet’ gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put off the inevitable for just a little while longer. Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”

Leading a Community

51AaZmgbjLL._SL160_.jpgIn Godin’s eyes, leadership of a community is rather straightforward. As he puts it: “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”

That, of course, must be balanced with sound decisions and a demonstrated love for the community. Otherwise “people won’t follow you if they don’t believe you can get to where you say you’re going.”

Further he believes that leaders of a community must be transparent, completely transparent, because tribe members are savvy and know when something is amiss.

People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves. What leaders do: they give people stories that they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.

Growing the Community

Godin challenges many of the traditional ideas that have underpinned much of the thoughts around building and sustaining a community over the years. He pointedly asserts that a growth strategy for the sake of growth is short-sighted and leads to a community with little passion and endurance.

Instead he contends that community leaders should “focus on the tribe and only on the tribe”. When you focus on growth, you neglect the existing community.

He purports that a true leaders provide the community with a platform for spreading good ideas. Leaders exist to enable the tribe. When you are doing the right things, when you are focusing on the tribe, you’ll create an active and engaging community. And those kinds of communities grow naturally. “Tribes grow when people recruit other people.”

It’s tempting to make the tribe bigger, to get more members, to spread the word. This pales, however, when juxtaposed with the effects of a tighter tribe. A tribe that communicates more quickly, with alacrity and emotion, is a tribe that thrives.

In Conclusion, My Fellow Community Members

If you are a member of the SQL Server community, and you are if you know that you use SQL Server, reading this book will serve you well. I’m not suggesting that you’ll agree with it all or that something on every page will jump out at you and make you scream “Well, yeah!”

But a vibrant community is in all of our best interests. And this book will help spur ideas for running better user groups, SQLSaturdays, and even PASS.

Book Review: Crush It!


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Not long ago, I read a review of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Crush It! The reviewer, Michael Hyatt (Twitter | Blog), liked the book so much that after listening to the audio version, he bought the printed version so he could read it and make notes. This is significant because Michael Hyatt knows a good book when he reads it. He’s the CEO of Thomas Nelson and this is not one of Thomas Nelson’s books. As a regular reader of Michael Hyatt’s blog I thought “If he likes it, I’ll probably like it.” So I bought the book.

As I began reading the book, my expectations were high. In addition to Hyatt’s glowing recommendation, the subject of the book is right up my alley, so to speak. Although I had initially resisted getting involved with social networking sites such as FaceBook and Twitter, over the past couple of years I’ve come to embrace the concept.

We Need to Talk

One of the first things many people tend to think of when asked about social media is the amount of time you can easily spend just idly chatting away with friends from around the world. And that’s certainly true. You can waste a lot of time doing that if you are not careful. But in moderation, a bit of water cooler type conversation can be healthy, particularly for those of us who regularly work from a home office.

But despite the potential time sink that these social networking sites can become, I believe that they can be of great benefit when used properly.

On many occasions, I’ve used Twitter to help SQL Server professionals from around the world who have reached out to the SQL community 140 characters at a time. I’ve even hooked up a PowerPoint slide deck to my Twitter account to have it automatically tweet key points during presentations I’ve delivered at conferences and user groups.

And it’s a two-way street; I’ve learned a ton from following Twitter conversations from the likes of Paul Randal (@PaulRandal), Buck Woody (@BuckWoody), Brent Ozar (@BrentO), Jonathan Kehayias (@SQLSarg), and Aaron Bertrand(@AaronBertrand) to name but a few.

It’s Social Networking with a Purpose

And that is Gary Vaynerchuk’s point. When used with intention and focus, social networking sites can be used to find and generate interest about most anything your passionate about.

In Crush It!, he proposes that anyone with “hustle” can take something they are passionate about and turn that into a revenue generating business using social networking sites and blogs. He outlines a pretty straightforward approach. In short (and I’m doing a bit of a disservice by distilling the book down to just these five points):

  1. Find something you are passionate about.
  2. Create a blog about it (audio podcasts, videos, or the written word.)
  3. Generate good content daily.
  4. Promote it by participating in the social networks.
  5. And finally monetize your blog through advertizing.

He doesn’t suggest that this is easy. In fact he repeatedly writes that this will be a lot of hard work and long hours.

A Good Primer

Gary Vaynerchuk comes across as a very dynamic individual with a big personality. He shares some of his background and how he created a very popular wine tasting site with lots and lots of visits each day.

The book starts out by outlining how social networking has changed the way business is done, how it levels the playing field for small businesses with limited promotional budgets.

He then lays out the five points that I’ve already mentioned, encouraging the reader with each step.

The book also provides some specifics about which online services will help you to more easily spread your reach. For instance, Ping.fm, will automatically distribute your status updates to a multitude of different social networking sites, eliminating the need to update each one individually. The same exists for video blogs as well.

Parting Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it. It was a short and easy read and really reinforced some of the concepts I had already learned from other sources on the internet. If you’re just getting started with social networks or you have a penchant for starting an online business, this book is well work its cost.

But to provide an honest and complete review, I’ll share a few minor negatives I had with the book.

Unfortunately in my case, my prior experience with social networks combined with my high expectations for the book left me wanting more. The book was very much premised on how Gary Vaynerchuk built his successful wine tasting site and didn’t explore other related topics.

For example the book did not touch on how to balance being personable in your online approach with staying focused and on subject. It also didn’t consider ways to monetizing your social networking without advertising. And finally I didn’t discuss how and when to create multiple online accounts for specific purposes.

At times during the book Gary Vaynerchuk came across like many of the late night paid advertising shows. “Using my system, you too can make $218,000 a month and live the life you deserve.” (That’s not an actual quote from the book by the way.)

Now some questions for you:

  • Have you read the book? If so, what are your impressions?
  • What other social networking resources have your found worthwhile?

Book Review – Learning SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services


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I recently received a copy of “Learning SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services” by Jayaram Krishnaswamy published by Packt Publishing.

If you are relatively new to SQL Server Reporting Services and you’re a Tactile/Kinesthetic learner (one that learns best by doing rather than listening or reading), this may be the book to help you to quickly get up to speed on Reporting Services.

The author teaches by example throughout most of the book, using the Hands-On exercises to deliver much of the book’s content. I’d dare say that 70% to 80% of the book is in the form of Hands-On exercises.

The book is replete with screen shots to help those less familiar with Reporting Services follow along. For example, Hands-On Exercise 1.1 guides you through installing SQL Server 2008. The author goes to great lengths to ensure each step of the process is clear and unambiguous, using screen shots and commentary to guide the reader through each step. Exercise 1.1 is 25 pages.

If you are already well steeped in the SSRS, this book may be a bit on the remedial side for your tastes, though I suspect you’ll be able to glean some useful tidbits of information about the differences from prior version of the product.

The publisher has made a chapter of the book available for download if you’d like to take a peek before making your buying decision. EDIT: The link seemed to be for a limited time only so I’ve removed it from the blog post to eliminate confusion.

If you read this book, I’d love to hear you thoughts in the comments section below.

Cheers!

Joe

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