Author Archives: Jimmie Flores

These 3 Credentials Can Ignite Your Career

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As a corporate trainer, I spend many days teaching students how to prepare for certification exams. These individuals are fortunate because the companies that hire me pay for the entire training, including all the materials. I enjoy doing this type of work because the students are motivated to earning a professional credential. It’s great when I receive an email from a student who has just passed an exam. This is what makes my work gratifying.

Here are the professional certifications that I recommend to my students: Project Management Professional (PMP)®, ITIL Foundations v3, and Agile Scrum. In fact, I refer to these three as the Iron Triangle. The advantage of these credentials is that they are industry agnostic. In other words, they will benefit you regardless of the industry where you work.

Project Management Professional (PMP)®

The PMP® is considered the Gold Standard in the project management industry, and it doesn’t matter where you live because the Project Management Institute (PMI) is an international organization. To qualify, candidates with a 4-year degree must have 4,500 hours of leading and directing projects; those without a 4-year degree must show 7,5000 of leading and directing projects. The exam is 4 hours in length and consists of 200 questions. The test is difficult, and I recommend taking a prep course so that you’re well prepared. The average salary in the United States for a PMP is $109,000. There’s no doubt that you will have more opportunities after earning this in-demand project management credential.

ITIL Foundations v3

ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and we are currently teaching Version 3. While this is a technology-related credential, even non-techies should consider it. In fact, I teach this course to account managers, marketing analysts, budget coordinators, event planners, and so on. In a nutshell, ITIL pertains to IT Service Management, and focuses on how Business and IT can work together to provide value to the customer. The candidates are allowed 1-hour to take a 40-question exam, and the passing score is 65% or 26 questions correct. ITIL-certified individuals can expect to earn roughly $75,000 annually.

Agile Scrum

Agile Scrum has taken off in recent years. Agile is the preferred approach for IT-related projects because flexibility is required. For example, software projects are unpredictable, and change is necessary. The Scrum team must embrace changes, which means the customer is not charged for these updates. In fact, the work is completed in two-week sprints. The core Scrum team includes the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team. This group delivers business value after each sprint, and provides a demo to the key stakeholders. Based on this feedback, the next sprint is planned. I recommend taking a Scrum Master 2-day course that includes the certification exam. The Scrum Master credential can earn more than $70,000 in the market.

With good planning, these three certifications can be earned in one year. Make sure to find out if this training is offered in your organization. If not, you can find the classes in the open market, both face-to-face and online delivery. Even if your company fails to reimburse for the class and exam, I recommend that you pursue them. Remember that this is an investment in your future, and you will reap the benefits.

Keys to Outsourcing Work

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In my work managing projects, I spend significant time collaborating with vendors. As a small IT company with fewer than 50 employees, it’s necessary to outsource work. Whether good or bad, it’s impossible for our company to have all the skills and knowledge necessary to complete our work. For example, we recently launched a project to create a mobile app, and we lacked the internal resources to get this done. Thus, we had to find an external company to take on this project.

Get to Know the Vendor

The big mistakes we’ve made during the procurement process is moving too fast. In one case, we hired a graphics designer stationed in Europe who claimed she could create marketing materials to help build our corporate brand. She asked for an upfront payment, which we made promptly. Once the requirements were provided, it took her about a week to respond. After a week, she had failed to do any work. Instead, she had more questions about the requirements, and she mentioned that it was our job to tell her exactly what was needed. While I agree that we must have clear specifications, we also expect contractors to have the expertise in their field. After a month or so of poor performance, we decided to cut ties with this individual. She responded several weeks later asking for more money, and even threated a lawsuit.

Assign Project Manager to Handle Oversight Responsibilities

While the work is done by an external company, the buyer must ensure that someone is managing the contract. I recommend that a project manager keeps a close eye on the work. This individual will ensure the requirements are clear. Further, it’s essential to track work performance data related to budget, schedule, and scope. The project manager reviews the progress, and provides guidance when necessary. Given that the vendor is external to the company, it’s easy to forget about the work they are doing. If communication is inadequate, the outsourced company might stop doing work. They will get the impression that the project is not urgent.

Seek Milestone Presentations

To ensure that work is progressing according to the plan, the company should seek frequent updates. For example, I usually ask for a demo after a milestone is reached. This allows me as the customer to provide feedback along the way. By taking this approach, the final product, service, or result is more likely to meet expectations. These meetings can be held virtually by using Adobe Connect, Skype, WebEx, and so on. I also urge my team to have frequent meetings to discuss problems and opportunities. These get-togethers can be 15 minutes or so. The idea here is to stay engaged.

The other key point is to have a contract in place for the work that is outsourced. By having a legally binding agreement, the vendor is more likely to do the work as prescribed. The contract should include how changes are handled, the process of transferring the product or service to the customer, and the agreed payment structure. While contracts can spike the cost of running a project, they serve the purpose of making sure the parties meet their respective obligations.

3 Must-Have Abilities of Project Managers

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Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with many top-notch project managers. These men and women do what is necessary to meet the objectives of the project. They encounter obstacles along the way, including spending more than budgeted, and falling behind schedule. However, they quickly identify the problem, and take corrective action to keep pressing ahead.

 

Ability #1: Can Work Under Pressure

For more than 25 years, I officiated Div. I men’s collegiate basketball. Of all the work I’ve done in my lifetime, serving as a referee at this level is the toughest. The players are fast and strong, and we have a split-second to render the right decision. A missed call late in the game allows the referee to become the scapegoat. The pressure to get every call right is bigger today because of the internet. A blown call travels fast via social media, which can negatively affect one’s career, especially an arbiter wishing to climb the ladder.

 

Like a referee, project managers work in a stress-filled environment. Differently, though, they have the option to think over a problem, and to run it by associates. Unfortunately, many project managers feel they can handle all situations, and may even feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. An excellent trait for those managing projects is to stay calm and cool when working under tight deadlines. It’s imperative to keep an open line of communication with the customer and sponsor, as this will reduce the chances of surprises.

 

Ability #2: Adaptability

By reading the PMBOK Guide, one learns the importance of following the process groups: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. One knows that all the plans must be created before the work is executed. The management plan become the guiding light. Through the planning process, the cost, schedule, and scope baselines are created, and deviation should be avoided.

 

What happens if the quality level we expected is not being met? How do we handle the situation where a key team member leaves the project? At this point, the project manager should adapt to the situation. The hope is that a contingency plan is in place, but if one lacking, a workaround is implemented. The approach described here is that of an effective project manager.

 

Ability #3: Communication

It’s tough to write an article about essential abilities of a project manager without including communication. Communication can take place formally or informally. Formal includes a presentation to the stakeholders, and an executive summary update to the sponsor. The type that is used is based on the needs of the project.

 

I’ve had success using informal communication, such as coaching a team member regarding a situation. I also take the opportunity to offer specific praise when work is done right. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. The point here is to acknowledge good work immediately. This type of communication is effective when sincere.

 

Other abilities of excellent project managers include decision-making, time management, and leadership. To successfully lead a project, one must be committed from beginning-to-end. Just as important, it’s necessary to ensure the team members are aware of how the project will benefit the organization. When buy-in takes place, the chances for success skyrocket.

How to Tell the Customer He is Wrong

How to tell the customer he is wrong
As a business owner, I do whatever possible to make my customers happy. When they ask for a new feature, I get to work on the proposal right away, and will have it to them ASAP. If they wish to negotiate the price, I set up a meeting to discuss the requirements. When I’m convinced the price is too high, I revise it. If the customer asks for rush delivery, I will do what I can to meet the deadline.

As you can see, I’m committed to making my customers happy.

What if They are Wrong?

We had a customer (i.e., Steve) from North Carolina that was a toughie. Even when things were going well, he came up with something that he didn’t like. “Jimmie, you guys need to be a better job! I will not tolerate any more mistakes!” After reviewing these situations with the team, we often determined the issue was on their side, and not because of something we failed to do.

For example, Steve’s company asked us to develop a database to collect information throughout the year. Our team worked on the feature, and had it ready within a week. We provided a demo to the client via WebEx, and they were happy. At the end of the year, however, Steve called me upset that the report was “not running right.” After a quick review, I realized they had not populated any of the data for the entire year. Of course, he blamed us for failing to remind his team that they needed to update the records.

How to Take Care of It

I suppose that I could call Steve and tell him that he and his team are incompetent. They should know that the data must be entered by them, and that we have nothing to do with this part of the work. As you know, this approach is going to cause more problems, so here’s how I handled it.

Steve, I wanted to follow-up with you regarding the database issue. After thinking about it, I realized that I should have informed your team that you were to update the database throughout the year. My apologies for failing to communicate this expectation. However, we have a team ready to help you get the work done. I know you need the report by this Friday, so please give me a call to get going. Thank you.

After sharing this story with colleagues, some tell me that I should put Steve in his place. I should let him know that he is wrong for expecting us to do their work. I see the point shared by business associates, but I’m confident that teaching Steve a lesson will do little good in the long run. The next year Steve was just as difficult on us as before, but this was a major contract for our company. Thankfully, he was up for retirement, and a new point-of-contact was assigned. This person was nice, professional, and reasonable.

There are times when we need to take a tough stance with customers. In some cases, we can tell them that we’re no longer interested in doing business with them. However, my experience has shown that taking the high-road will work most of the time.

Having a Plan is Essential to Passing the PMP Exam

Having a Plan is Essential to Passing the PMP exam

There are far too many people preparing for the PMP® exam who lack a plan. If you ask them how many hours they are going to study, they might respond as follows: “I guess I’ll know it when I’m ready.” This means they could literally study 200 or more!

The 1,000 Hour Study Plan

Not long ago I heard that a PMP® trainer was promoting a 1,000-hour plan to prepare for the exam. If you do the math, 1,000 hours translates to 25 weeks of study time. Heck … you might be able to earn all the PMI certifications by putting in this amount of time. If the PMP® were so hard that one needed to invest half a year to prepare, I doubt that many people would take it. Thus, you can see that I’m not a fan of this study approach.

Time to Get Serious

Before you decide to prepare for the PMP® exam, it’s critical that you are serious about going through the process. I remember teaching a PMP® prep course to a group of 10 employees. The business owner told me that she was paying for the training, and that the attendees were planning to take the exam shortly after the session. The students were eager during the class, and I felt that with a concerted study effort most of them could pass the PMP®.

Here’s where it gets interesting … a month after the training, one person contacted me and asked if I could remind him of the key areas he should study. He also mentioned the following: “I’m pretty sure that none of us has opened the books since the training.” From my experience, people are far less likely to submit the application, sit down and study, and take the exam, when someone else pays for the workshop. Because it’s other people’s money (OPM), the pain of losing an investment is of little importance.

The 30-Day Plan

The point I’m making is that before engaging in any study plan it’s imperative that you’re ready to make the commitment. Once you’re set, I recommend a 30-day plan where you commit about 10 hours per week. Let’s say that you study an hour per day during the week, and another 5 hours on the weekends. By taking this approach, you can complete about 40 hours over a month.

Of course, make sure that you’ve taken a PMP® prep course. The information shared in these workshops is invaluable. For example, I spend about 30% of my time teaching test-taking skills. While knowing the concepts matters, one must also know the steps necessary to pick the BEST answer. The exam writers are taught to make questions hard and tricky. By doing so, they maintain the rigor that PMI wants to see.

How to Select the “Best” Answer on the PMP® Exam

 

How to select the best answer on the PMP Exam

I remember the day I took the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam. It was a hot Friday afternoon in San Antonio, Texas, when I walked into the Prometric testing center. My study plan was 30 days, and I hit the books every day leading up to the exam. Even though I committed more than 200 hours to prepare, I still felt there were many gaps that could be exposed on the exam. I was right!

Studying Too Much is a Problem

As a PMP® test prep trainer, I inform my students that 60-to-80 hours is more than sufficient to get ready for the exam. My take is that people who spend more than 100 hours are wasting their time. The point here is that if one uses the right material to prepare, and learns test-taking skills, they can do well with a condensed study schedule.

I also made the huge mistake of taking 200 sample questions on the morning of the exam. I thought this was going to be a smart move because I could review questions and concepts that might arise on the exam. The problem with this approach is that I was wiped out by the time my 12:30 p.m. exam started. It felt like taking two major exams in one day. Today, I recommend that students avoid taking any practice exams 24 hours prior to their test. Instead, this time should be used to ensure one knows the major concepts, such as the 5 process groups, 10 knowledge areas, and 47 processes.

The Exam

The key to doing well on the PMP® requires that you have excellent test-taking skills. You are asked to pick the best answer, and not the right answer. There’s a notable difference between the two.

Here’s an example:

The following is responsible for collecting lessons learned:

  1. Project manager
  2. Stakeholder
  3. Vendor
  4. Team member

Here are the right answers: (1) Project manager, (3) Vendor, and (4) Team member. However, the best answer is (2) Stakeholders. Why? Stakeholders includes the rest of the roles noted here. To get this question right, you must know the concepts and terminology in the PMBOK® Guide. The more you are familiar with how PMI words questions, the easier time you will have selecting the correct answer.

Think Before Answering

There are many test-takers who fall in love with an answer before thinking through the remaining options. It’s imperative that you read all the possible answers to determine which ones can be eliminated. The exam writers purposely include at least one item known as the distractor. This is the option that is absolutely wrong, but it might look good. The art of eliminating an option can make a huge difference on your overall score. From my experience, there are generally two answers that you can discard. Make sure to take your team before making the final selection.

Takeaway

The people who pass the PMP® exam know that preparation is mandatory. You cannot walk off the street and do well on this test. I know some people who say the following: “I’ve managed projects for 30 years, so this exam will not be a problem for me.” By engaging in this lackadaisical and overconfident attitude, these folks will fail. The PMP® is a standardized exam, which means that we must take a methodological and procedural approach to every question. The technique is easy to learn, but it requires significant practice.

About the Author

Dr. Jimmie Flores is the CEO of Kool Derby Academy. We are committed to helping individuals earn their PMP® credential. For information about our program, please visit us here: http://www.koolderby.com/pmp-pass-suite/

Project Leadership 101

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To guarantee the success of a project, whether you are using Agile or Waterfall, it’s essential that everyone involved — from the development team to the customer, and everyone in between — is in the loop at all times. All stakeholders should receive regular updates with accurate information about how the project is progressing. In fact, the leadership team should be transparent about nearly all aspects of the project.

The truth helps

As a product owner, I spend many hours working directly with customers, and many of these visits are face-to-face. This type of interaction is beneficial because I can observe their nonverbal communications. I know if they are happy or upset with our service, and I get a real-time sense of their reactions.

After each meeting, I create a summary and send it to the whole team. I’m straightforward about what occurred during the customer meeting. I want my team to know exactly how the customer feels, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.

Here are some examples:

  • Customer A: “We’re concerned that the quiz feature doesn’t work with Firefox. It’s important that you take care of this issue.”
  • Customer B: “Wow! The simulator you built is excellent! It’s a great way to visualize the operation from start to finish. Good job!”

Given that I take notes immediately after customer meetings, the comments I provide are exact. When a point needs to be resolved immediately, we schedule a meeting to work on it before it becomes a problem.

Avoid keeping secrets

Historically, only the top brass was aware of the company’s performance. That’s nonsense! Everyone in the organization must understand how his or her work affects the bottom line.

If the company is doing well, share that information. You don’t have to post every financial detail, but you can say something like: “We increased sales by 14 percent in the last quarter, and most of that success is because Project Delta was a hit! You know that Maureen is leading that division, and we’re going to work with her to see how we can apply that knowledge in other departments. Awesome, team!”

Avoid the blame game

Smart leaders know that everyone is accountable. While a person, team, or department may have made a mistake to cause a problem, the buck stops with the leadership team. In many cases, poor communication led to the mishap.

Even when the mistake is attributable to someone else, the issue is still leadership-related. The point here is to think about the customer. Regardless of who is to blame, take action to get the situation resolved. Just as important, immediately follow up with a root cause analysis to prevent future problems.

For example, a team member once erroneously responded to a customer when the email was intended for another a person in our organization. The email started something like this: “Wow! This customer sure is stupid! We’ve explained the situation to him several times, but he doesn’t get it!” From a leadership perspective, I discussed the situation with the customer and apologized for the unprofessional email. To my surprise, the customer found the situation somewhat humorous, and he and I joked about it several weeks later during a business dinner.

However, all kidding aside, this was a serious mistake by the team member. We immediately made changes to prevent this from happening again. Now, no one in our organization, including the leadership team, forwards emails. Instead, everyone is instructed to copy the relevant content into another email and send it to the appropriate party. This change was instituted several years ago, and we haven’t had any mishaps since then.

The point here is that, while the team member was at fault for making an unprofessional comment about a valued customer, the leadership team was committed to identifying the underlying cause that led to the unfortunate situation. Simple processes lead to effective results, and the top management team must drive them. The end result is that the customer is still with us today, and so is the team member. Just as important, our company was able to take a negative situation and convert it into a learning experience that has since led to other process-oriented improvements.

Takeaway

“Drowning them in transparency” means sharing the truth with everyone in the organization. Doing so creates a culture of accountability. People are more interested in the company where they work, and in the work that they do, when they understand how their work effort affects the direction of the greater organization. They feel empowered knowing that their work, their presence, matters in the big picture.

Even when sharing bad news, the leadership team must keep a positive outlook. Doing so teaches team members to look for ways to solve problems. Most issues can be solved with a professional and proactive approach. Remember that keeping the customer in the loop is a key aspect of transparency.

He Runs with the American Flag

dr. jimmie flores American Flag

In the past few months, I’ve noticed a man who runs holding the American flag. I found the sight somewhat unusual when I first saw him. However, it was near Independence Day, so I suppose it did make some sense. Over the course of the next month, and even after July 4th, he was still running with the flag.

Hard to Do

Like any other American, I’m proud of anything red-white-and-blue. The symbolism that it represents is undeniable. We know the many lives that were lost to allow us this freedom. We’re so fortunate.

With that said, I find that jogging in the hot sun is tough enough without having to carry anything, especially a pole with a flag on it. It would seem to me that he could wear a shirt or shorts that had the American symbol on it.

I know that I don’t know the entire story. Carrying the flag during his daily run represents something meaningful to him. There’s no doubt that he has a strong motivation, and he doesn’t care what other people think. I’m sure he knows that people are giving him a double- or triple-take. In my case, I made a U-turn to come back and snap some pictures. You have to admit, the sight is a bit unusual.

Do What Feels Right to You

The more I pondered the flag-running man, the more I realized that there is an important lesson here. There are times when we’re told that we shouldn’t do this or that because it doesn’t look right. In other words, other people are often dictating what we should do and think.

For example, you might have an interest in learning how to play the piano, but a friend tells you that you don’t have the ear for music or that you’re too old to consider this opportunity. Before long, you start believing what others say and decide he or she is right. This example shows why many people get stuck in a rut, and never find their way out of it.

Looking Awkward is Okay

When you try something new, you’re bound to look a bit awkward, and perhaps even foolish. It’s okay! It takes time to learn the steps to a new dance or to feel comfortable giving a speech to a large audience. After a few tries, however, you will become a better dancer and an effective orator. The awkwardness will also go away.

My guess is that I will not be running with the American flag anytime soon. However, the runner taught me that he doesn’t care what I think. He overcame the fear of what others might say, and he just did it. I’m sure that he’s proud of who he is and what the flag represents.  Isn’t that what really matters?

The next time someone attempts to squash one of your ideas, think about the jogger with the USA flag. If the idea really means something to you, run with it. The other option is to stand still and watch people pass you by. Of the two options, I would rather take my chances and get in the race.

He Said: “I Wish I Had a Meaningful Job!”

 

While serving my church as an usher on Christmas Eve, I had a conversation with an acquaintance. I arrived early to mass, which gave us a chance to chat. Sam is a jovial man who makes it a habit to strike up a conversation with anyone. While I have not seen him sing in the church choir, he does have a great voice.

Our Conversation

ME: Hi, Sam!

SAM: Hey, Jimmie! How are you doing this fine holiday season?

ME: All seems to be going well. Health is good, and the family is doing well. I know we are fortunate.

SAM: That’s great to hear. In my case, I spend time with the grandkids. You know … they are a handful, but Joyce and I love having them around. My kids drop them off when they can, and we spoil them to death. I’m sure their parents aren’t too happy about that, but so it goes.

ME: I guess it’s only a matter of time before we all become grandparents. Life does seem to move way too fast. It’s good to appreciate every minute we have on this earth.

SAM: You’re right about that! Hey … listen, I didn’t see you usher the 9:15 am mass last week. I was worried about you.

ME: I attended a business conference, so I was out of San Antonio that weekend. I tried to make it back on time, but it just didn’t work out.

SAM: What kind of conference did you attend?

ME: I’m looking to improve my IT change management skills. This is an area of big interest for me. I like learning more about how leaders implement change, particularly at the enterprise-level. There are so many factors to consider, such as technology, budget, and people. I think you know that some people are resistant to change.

SAM: I do know that! Heck … I have to drive the same way to work or I get confused.

ME: I guess we all get in our comfort zone.

SAM: Jimmie, I really wish I had a meaningful job. I’ve been in the mortgage brokerage business for 30+ years, and I’m fed up! I’m almost 60-years-old. You would think I would’ve found something better along the way. Do you know that I had to work until 3 pm today? Remember … this is the day before Christmas!

ME: That’s a non-starter! Crazy!

SAM: The fact is that I don’t know anything else but the mortgage business. I spend all of my time foreclosing on people. How can that be any fun?

ME: I agree, Sam! Listen … mass is about to start. Let’s talk more here soon!

SAM: Sure thing, Jimmie! It’s great seeing you!

Sam has been in an industry for more than 30 years, and I could tell that he wasn’t happy. His job is nothing more than a place where he performs activities that yield a steady paycheck. The problem with this approach is that life can pass you by, and you’re quite unhappy with your accomplishments when it’s time to walk away.

It’s far better to identify the work that makes you happy. By doing so, your earning power will increase, and you will make sure that our contributions are meaningful.

Cop Affirmed I Would Get a Speeding Citation

 

On a recent trip to Houston, I innocently violated the speed limit by 6 mph. From San Antonio to Houston, I take Interstate 10, and traffic moves at a good clip. The upper limit is 75 mph, and at some point, my foot pressed a bit too hard on the accelerator and, unfortunately, a Texas highway patrolman was vigilant when I made it over the hill.

Here is the conversation with the officer after I pulled over to the shoulder:

OFFICER: Sir, I pulled you over because you were going 81 in a 75.

ME: I was driving the speed limit for most of this drive because I had it on cruise control, but I guess I lost track of how fast I was going.

OFFICER: Will you please step out of the car?

ME: Sure. I can do that.

[It was a chilly morning, so getting out of the car was no fun, but I didn’t have much of a choice.]

OFFICER: Stand right here, and let me process your driver’s license and insurance information.

ME: Okay.

[During my 5-minute wait, I hoped we would have a chance to discuss the matter before he issued the speeding citation. Just in case, though, I was thinking of the defensive driving option.]

OFFICER: Mr. Flores, what do you do for a living?

ME: I’m a professor.

OFFICER: What do you teach?

ME: I teach business and IT courses.

OFFICER: I will need to issue you a citation for speeding.

ME: Officer, is it possible for you to cut me some slack? If you look at my record, you’ll notice that I have zero moving violations. The fact is that I generally do a good job of obeying the traffic signs.

[He pondered my request for a bit.]

OFFICER: Do your sunglasses have a prescription?

ME: Yes. Of course!

OFFICER: I will need to issue you a citation for violating the speed limit. I will be right back.

[The highway patrolman walked to his car, and returned in a few minutes.]

OFFICER: You know it’s important that you drive the speed limit out here. If an animal jumps out in front of you, you won’t have time to slow down.

ME: I understand. I will do my best in the future to heed that advice.

OFFICER: Mr. Flores, I need your signature right here. I am going to give you a warning this time, but know that obeying the speed limit is important for many reasons.

ME: Wow! I thought you said that I would get a citation.

OFFICER: Yeah. I changed my mind. Have a good day.

Before learning that I would get a warning, I was in no mood for him to lecture about the speeding. He was, after all, going to cite me. I kept my cool, and that helped. I remember thinking about the paperwork that was ahead of me, and wasn’t too happy about that.

The rest of my trip to Houston was uneventful, and largely because I kept to the speed limit.