Author Archives: Jimmie Flores

Don’t Drinks for First Class!

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On a recent flight from Houston Bush to San Antonio, I was fortunate to receive an upgrade to First Class. I know it probably sounds cool that I was bumped to the front cabin, but the reality is that the flight is only about 30 minutes long. Regardless, the seats are more comfortable, and we generally are offered a pre-flight drink, which includes any of the available cocktails.

The Flight Attendant

The flight attendant working the First Class cabin was young, definitely not 25 yet. There were only 12 passengers for her to service, so she had ample time to take the pre-flight drink orders. After jotting down what we wanted, she made her way to the galley, and we were looking forward to our drinks. Abruptly, however, she came back to the cabin and noted the following: “I will not be able to provide the drinks because we’re getting ready to taxi here in a bit. I will provide your drinks while in the air.”

Interestingly, the plane didn’t move for another 10 minutes, which means she had time to serve the beverages. I could tell that she lacked experience, but decided to stay quiet. We would, after all, get our drinks once airborne. It was a 6 pm flight, and many of us were looking forward to our cocktails.

Second Try

Shortly after getting to our cruising altitude, the flight attendant approached all the passengers again to re-take the drink orders. I suppose that most of had the same requests as when we were on the ground. I mentioned earlier that we had 12 passengers, which means four rows of three. I was in Seat 3A, which on this aircraft is the single side of the third row. The drinks were provided to the first two rows, and my row was next. It was our turn!

Not so fast!

The novice attendant came out of the galley hurriedly, and informed the First Class passengers that she needed to terminate the service because we were close to landing. Those of us in rows three and four were stunned! To make matters worse, she informed the folks in the first two rows that she needed to pick up the drinks. An older gentleman in Seat 2B had to give up his cold beer, even though the glass was more than half-full.

The Economy Cabin

The two veteran flight attendants working the Economy cabin had time to serve water to the 100+ passengers. They even made the following announcement: “For those of you in Economy and Economy Plus, please note we’re serving water. However, if you would like an alcoholic beverage, please lower your tray table, and we’ll do what we can to get it to you. We accept all major credit cards.” The flight attendants continued to work the back cabin for another 15 minutes after our attendant called it a day.

I was finally able to get in touch with one of the experienced flight attendants, and expressed our dissatisfaction. She was concerned with the situation, and had a 5-minute discussion with the young lady working our cabin. Even after this talk, she offered to get drinks for us, but we weren’t in the mood anymore. We wanted to get home!
I want you to know that I’m not upset at the young flight attendant. There’s no doubt she lacked the necessary experience to work alone. Therefore, the lesson here is to make sure our employees have the proper training to do the assigned work. It’s best to have them work with an experienced person before they go out on their own.

When I made it home, my teenage son and I went to In-N-Out Burger, and I ordered the #1 with a Diet Coke! I even went back to refill it! Good stuff!

Successful People Have Little Interest In Their Job Description

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When working as an IT Staff Analyst for a major insurance and investment company one of my duties included collecting budget data from several managers. The managers were often busy with meetings, which meant that I would approach leads to see if they could supply the information. The numbers I needed were operational in nature, which meant that most people in the department had access to them. However, when I asked the non-managers for assistance, in most cases I was told that I had to wait for the manager to provide it. They made it clear that since this item was not in their job description, they weren’t going to help me.

I understand that people are busy, and they have the right to tell me to go fly a kite. However, I know that top performers are going to do what is possible to provide the assistance that I need. In the example noted above, the information would take about 10 minutes to secure. Unfortunately, when the manager was busy, no one was available to help me.

Focus on Solving Problems

I once attended a professional development seminar, and the speaker made a comment that has stuck with me. He said, “The reason we’re hired to work in any company is to solve problems. If you want to increase the amount of money you earn, figure out a way to solve bigger problems.” While this advice is simple, it makes a ton of sense. In my first job out of college, I was hired at Shell Oil Company as a Revenue Accountant. I spent most of my data updating oil and gas lease accounts. The work was straightforward, and once I learned the process, I could do it in my sleep. Given that the problems I was solving could be handled by any other entry level worker, the pay was average.

My goal was to become a meaningful participant for the organizations where I worked. I knew that becoming a subject matter expert (SME) was going to make a big difference in the hourly rate I could charge. As I improved my skills, and solved higher level problems for my clients, the compensation improved. Of course, it’s important to know that big problems require a significant investment in time, and they carry more risk. By taking the lead in these situations, the person is going to be on the radar. It’s imperative that we find the best possible solution given the factors that are present.

Work is What Matters

I’ve had the opportunity to work with high-performers, and I find that they are focused on getting the work done. If someone approaches them for assistance, they will either take care of the request, or they will find the right person to resolve it. These individuals do not complain about the extra effort, as they know that meeting the requirements is essential, even if the issue is minor. The key point here is that company leaders know who are the take-charge people in the organization, and they will make sure to consider these individuals when advancement opportunities arise.

Make Customer Service Your Competitive Advantage

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I’m often surprised to see that very few people care about providing top-notch customer service. It seems like all the energy is put into making the sale, and little to no effort is made in helping the customer once the product or service is delivered.

The Pool Example
A few years ago, we decided to build a swimming pool for our home. Given that we live in Texas, the pool comes in handy because at least half the year we experience warm temperatures. My wife and I spent a month or so getting proposals from pool companies, and eventually settled on one that offered the best package for the features we wanted.

Setting up the appointment with the architect was fast. In fact, they called us to make sure we could make the meeting. When we arrived, they had the simulation program fired up. Once we shared the items we wanted, the program would visually display them on a large TV screen mounted on the wall. It was cool to see the result based on the requirements we provided.

The contract called for us to pay in increments based on when milestones were met, such as when the plumbing and foundation were complete. We were assigned a project manager, Miguel, and he was at the house often. When he wanted to chat with us, he would arrive at the house at 7:00 a.m. to make sure he could find us. He asked for us to text him any time during the day, including weekends. When we did text with a question, a reply usually came within minutes. He was super-interested in making us happy.

The pool was complete only a couple weeks late, and this was due to big rains we had in San Antonio. We made the final payment, and it was now time to use the pool. For the next few months, the pool worked as promised – no problems. However, in September, the weather turned a little cold (like 80 degrees, which is considered cold in Texas), and we decided to heat the pool. Unfortunately, the heater was failing to work. In fact, we noticed a gas smell when the unit was triggered.

I called the project manager and other representatives from the pool company, and getting a call-back was nearly impossible. When I did reach the intended person, I was told that the problem was likely unrelated to their work. They asked me to call a plumber, and if that didn’t solve the issue, I should contact the electrical company. In other words, I was getting the run-around. It was obvious that once they received the final payment, they moved on to other customers who were ready to cut checks.

The Lesson
I understand that there is eagerness in making the sale; the excitement is obvious. However, I also know that companies who are focused on keeping the customer happy even after the product or serviced is delivered, are more likely to dominate the market. The pool company I described here was just so-so with follow-up work, but they are still in business. I wonder how much better they might perform if they were just as good with ongoing customer support as they were when trying to make the sale.

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

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As I sit and write this blog from the comfort of my home here in San Antonio, Texas, I know that we are fortunate. Hurricane Harvey brought plenty of rain and winds to the Alamo City, but it moved northeast quickly.

Report from my Daughter

My daughter Kaitlin accepted a job at the Houston Marriott Marquis this past summer after graduating from K-State. Only a couple months on the job, she’s been exposed to crisis management. On Friday, August 25, she was among 200 employees that the Marquis management team asked to stay throughout the weekend to take care of stranded guests. Harvey was supposed to move along rapidly, but we now know that it has stalled over the fourth largest city in the nation.

Because of the significant flooding, the hotel workers and guests are staying put for the foreseeable future. I’m thankful that Kaitlin is safe at the hotel, but I know this is not the case for many Texans. The images we’re seeing are unbelievable, and the worst might still be on its way. Even the Marquis is experiencing problems, as you can see by the flooding of the in the loading dock.

Impact on Projects

Can you imagine the thousands of projects affected by hurricane? Both Houston George Bush and Hobby are closed for business. This means that project team members are unable to travel to Houston, and other impacted Texas cities. The project participants that are in these cities are unable to get any meaningful work done. While I suppose planning can take place, there’s zero execution.

From a risk management perspective, Hurricane Harvey is a Known-Unknown. In other words, the risk is known, but project planners were unsure when and if it would affect their projects. Now that the exposure has occurred, it’s time to implement the contingency plan. The project managers must do whatever possible to mitigate the damage.

There are some who might argue that the hurricane is an Unknown-Unknown. In other words, this type of risk is completely unexpected. However, given that Houston is in the line of fire for these types of weather phenomena, I believe the best risk classification is Known-Unknown.

Why does it matter how this weather risk is labeled? If we know that something might happen, we can have a contingency plan in place. This means that we have the resources needed to get back on track as quickly as possible. Given that we have a disaster recovery and business continuity plan completed, the contingency steps are known, and we can get to work. Of course, since the project management plan included this risk, the schedule had wiggle room, which means the project deliverable date is still on track.

As you read these comments, I’m sure you’re thinking that planners must be superhuman to account for this type of disaster. However, my guess is that experienced project managers included this type of weather disaster in their planning process. The problem with Harvey, though, is that the impact is turning out to be at a level similar to Katrina, which is tough to predict.

Getting back to what matters the most … that is, the people who are suffering. We have the opportunity to help these individuals in our own way, so let’s step up to the plate and do our part.

Getting Over the Fear of Failure

Getting Over the Fear of Failure

There are far too many people who are afraid they will fall short. In some cases, we avoid posting for a job because it will place us in the line of fire. I know of many situations where people stick with a profession they do not like mostly because they fear falling short of expectations. As a business owner, friends and colleagues tell me they want to someday start their own business, but they find it hard to leave the comfort of a steady paycheck.

Get a Plan

The best advice I can provide to someone who fears failure is to develop a plan. This roadmap doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should have enough details. It’s important that we know the destination. Once we have the vision in mind, we will know what it takes to get there. It’s obvious that something of value will be challenging, but it’s far easier to hit a target when we are 100% committed to realizing it.

When building the plan, it’s essential that you are prepared for something going awry. Therefore, ensure that there are contingencies in place, which means that a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D, and so on, are included. For example, when taking on a new job, I recommend that you add new skills, such as project management training. If the new position is short-lived, you now have qualifications that enhance the chances of landing an employment opportunity that is right for you.

Know When to Take a Step Back

We’ve all been in the situation where we are too close to a situation. For example, there are times when I was stuck in a rut, and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get back on track. There were countless times when I woke up in the middle of the night because the pressure wouldn’t let me sleep. I knew there was an answer to my problems, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I was confident in my skills and motivation, but I needed a breakthrough.

The advice that worked for me is to take a step back from the problem. It was necessary to disengage from the situation. I was trying to solve the problem by doing the same thing each time. I could work hard each day, but the results were going to be the same. I finally decided to get away from the situation for a few days, which allowed me time to consider other options. Interestingly, the answer to one of my key obstacles was presented to me years earlier, but I wasn’t ready to listen to the advice. With an open mind, I went back to the advice from a business associate, and gave it a try. Within a month or so, I was out of the rut, and the business began to prosper.

For some people, the answer comes easier and faster. For me, it took longer to identify. However, the many mistakes that I made along the way confirmed the approaches that wouldn’t work. Today, I still face a ton of challenges, but I’m doing a better job learning to overcome them.

My recommendation to you is to press ahead, even when the challenge seems insurmountable. There is a way to realize success, but the solution might be super-difficult. That’s fine … know that the energy used to overcome obstacles will prepare you for even tougher challenges down the road.

He Asked, “Is That Your Newspaper?”

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While waiting at the American Express Centurion Lounge in San Francisco (SFO), I observed an interesting situation that I would like to share with you. I had about 2 hours before my flight, so I had a chance to have a quick breakfast at the lounge. This Amex location is a bit small, which means that it is often crowded, and this morning was no exception.

The Situation
After waiting a few minutes, I found a small table in one of the rooms where I could sit down, check email, and enjoy my breakfast. Right next to me was a gentleman sitting on a recliner. He was busy reading messages on his iPhone, and was also having a coffee. The seat next to this traveler became open (yes, another recliner), and an older gentleman quickly made his way to it. He put his bag on the chair, and proceeded to get some breakfast.

However, before going too far, he noticed a newspaper sitting on the other man’s table, and he asked, “Sir, is that your newspaper?” In a split-second, the man tersely responded, “Yes, it is!” The older man acknowledged the response, and walked away.

My Observation
Given that I was just a few feet away, I observed the entire situation. I understand it’s probably not a big deal, but I was concerned regarding how the man with the newspaper responded to the older gentlemen. I thought it was inconsiderate.

Here are responses that would have been nicer …

“I’m almost done with the newspaper, so give me a few minutes, and you can have it.”
“I’m reading the Sports page. Would you like to read the other sections?”
“Which section would you like to read?”

I do understand that the newspaper belongs to this individual. However, I believe that we should do what is possible to show respect for others. The older gentleman probably wasn’t bothered by the response, but I thought it was less than professional.

Why Does It Matter?
I have a feeling that when we’re rude to strangers, we are probably even more rude with people that we know. The individual with the newspaper had every right to refuse sharing the item with someone else. However, there is a more tactful manner that could have been used.

There’s no doubt that I learned from watching this situation. The next time that someone approaches me about a newspaper or something of the sort, I will do my best to be nice. I will acknowledge the person, and share when possible. The point is not so much about giving up something that we own. The real takeaway here is that we take the time to listen to other people. We might not able to share something with them, but the way we respond is important.

After observing this event, I knew that I wanted to let you know about it. It’s a small thing, but one that has an important message. If you remember, Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Now that I think about it … the Golden Rule could have been the title of this blog.

Scenario on Collecting Requirements from Customer

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John (Project Manager): Hi, Mindy! How’s work coming along?

Mindy (Customer): Hey, John! The work is busy as usual. It’s good to see that your team will handle our latest project.

John: No doubt! Will you tell me more about the expectations?

Mindy: For the past 10 years, we’ve used the Blackboard learning management system (LMS) here at Beacon Intercontinental University. While we’ve had good success with this LMS, we are having a tough time justifying the expense, given that more affordable solutions are in the market. The president of the university is adamant that we move to an open-source option. In this case, Moodle.

John: We’ve worked with other clients, both universities and corporate, that like Moodle because it’s a user-friendly solution. It’s also free!

Mindy: The word “free” is liked around here (laughing).

John: Will you please let me know how many students will use the new LMS? Are they both from the undergraduate and graduate schools? What about faculty members and administrators? I also know that you guys have a law school … will they also use Moodle?

Mindy: In the first phase, this LMS will be available for undergraduate and graduate students. Therefore, the number of student users is about 3,500. For these schools, we have 350 faculty and administrators. The law school will be part of the second phase, which will take place in Q4 of this year.

John: Will the LMS be used for only students taking online courses? What about the students who are enrolled in face-to-face sessions?

Mindy: Moodle will be used for both online and face-to-face students. We also teach courses in a hybrid modality, which means that students attend half of the classes online and half in the classroom. Regardless, it’s important that every student enrolled in the university has a username and password to Moodle.

John: What type of content is posted in the classroom? Will the faculty use audio and video files?

Mindy: That’s a good question! Yes … our faculty have excellent experience adding interactive media to the online classroom. They will, however, need training on Moodle. I suspect most of them will catch-on fast, but I’m certain the leadership team wants a training program in place.

John: In the past, we’ve had a 1-day training session for other clients. We can schedule several days to run the training, as this will allow faculty and administrators to pick a date that works for them. Do you have faculty who work remotely?

Mindy: Right! About 20% of our faculty members teach only online courses. Therefore, I will ask our technology folks to allow them to video conference into the training sessions. We might also consider paying for these individuals to travel here to the university for the training component. Let me think about that one and get back with you.

John: Great! Well … we’ve covered quite a bit so far, and I know there’s much more. I will share this information with my team to see what questions they have. At our next meeting, let’s get the tech folks involved. As you know, there’s a ton of technology that is part of this project, so it’s important to get their input.

Mindy: That’s a great idea! Call me to discuss a date and time that works for you.

John: For sure, Mindy! Talk to you soon!

How to Deliver a Project on Time

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Project managers know that delivering a project late is problematic. In some cases, customers are willing to accept going over-budget, but behind schedule is tolerated much less. For example, let’s assume that our project is to prepare a venue for a global conference. We need to ensure that the meeting rooms have the proper arrangement, the audio/visual equipment is working right, the caterers are confirmed, and so on. As you can see, there’s little wiggle room here. If any part of this project is late, it will cause a cascading effect. We might be able to negotiate on the equipment and menu, but the convention is scheduled for a certain date, and all aspects that we control must be ready to go by Day 1.

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Only Accept a Schedule We Can Meet 

It’s easy to accept new work when it’s offered, especially if the price is to our liking. However, the leadership team must ensure they have the resources to meet the requirements. The possibility of taking on the work and outsourcing as necessary is an option. However, be aware that risks are incurred when work is assigned to an external company. The bottom line is that our organization is fully accountable for the deliverable, even if we hire contractors to assist with the project.

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The final decision about whether to accept any project should be made after getting feedback from project managers, departmental managers, subject matter experts (SMEs), and the people who will do the work. By getting feedback from these stakeholders, the leaders are more likely to make the right decision. The other important benefit of seeking guidance is that buy-in increases when key stakeholders participate in the decision-making process.

Create a Realistic Schedule

I was recently teaching a corporate class to a client in the financial industry, and I asked the following question: “What process do you use to create a project schedule.”  I was surprised that there were no comments by any of the participants. I asked the question again, and finally a response was provided: “We just start working on it, and deliver the work when we’re done.” From my training and consulting experience, I know that many project managers fail to create a schedule. Think about it … if we have no schedule, how do we know that the project is on track? The answer is that we don’t know, and we are merely delivering work when the customer, sponsor, executive, or manager wants to see how the project is coming along.

What process do you use to create a project schedule?

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The project manager should work closely with the customer to know the due date for the product, service, or result. Once the requirements are collected from the stakeholders, the scope is defined. The next step is to create the work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a hierarchical representation of the project’s activities. The project is decomposed to the work package level. This decomposition process (i.e., dividing and subdividing) will ensure the work is clearly defined, which means that the right person (or company) can be assigned to do the right work at the right time.

Staying on schedule is difficult. The project team must be diligent along the way. When it’s obvious that the project is falling behind, the project manager must inform the customer. Of course, it’s imperative to have a contingency plan in place to get back on schedule. Remember that delivering on time is a must.

 

 

How to Impress Your Boss

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Advancing in your career is much easier than you might think!

Sort of!

The successful people in your organization know precisely what is important to their boss. They take the time to look at work from the perspective of both the management and leadership teams. Instead of doing work merely to look busy, the top-notch employees are keenly aware of results that impact the bottom line.

Focus on What Matters the Most

If you want to know what is important to your boss, take the time to ask. While the operational or day-to-day activities matter, it’s important to consider the benefits provided by projects. That is, projects are designed to generate revenue and to create internal efficiencies. You should also be aware that project work is usually cross-functional, which means that they are visible across the entire organization, including to the people at the executive level.

Offer to Handle the Tough Work

Here are examples of easy work:

  • Checking and responding to email
  • Processing payroll
  • Informing customer that the order is on its way
  • Discussing an update to a contract with a vendor
  • Updating an MS Excel sales presentation

The items listed above are routine in nature. This type of work is tedious and redundant, and anyone can learn how to do it. In fact, most people are hired to do process-oriented activities. After a few weeks on the job, they might even be called “experts.”

To get yourself on the radar, it’s smart to ask for mission-critical work. For example, your organization might be in the process of hosting an important convention. You can ask your boss what you can do to help with this effort. You might be tasked to contact the individuals and companies that are going to attend. The more attendance that you get at the convention, the more opportunities for your company to sell its products and services. I want to stress that this work is likely not on your job description, but that doesn’t matter to you. The point here is that you’re committed to doing whatever possible to help your company do well. From my many years of business experience, I can tell you that very people take this challenge and volunteer for additional work.

Stop Making Excuses

When issues arise, the easiest thing to do is make excuses. We blame colleagues, assistants, vendors, and anyone else that is an easy target. Differently, the best employees take ownership of the problem, even when they did not create it. I appreciate working with people who know that someone else created the problem, but they’re unwilling to make the issue personal. Instead, these individuals will formulate a plan to resolve the issue, and get back on track.

I want to stress that gaining respect from your boss can take time. It takes far more than working extra hours here and there. In fact, many people who advance in their careers work a regular 40-hour week. The difference is that they focus most their time on high-value items.

Work the Plan – Always!

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The easiest thing to do when times get tough is to quit. If you think about, giving up takes no practice. All you have to do is stop trying. That’s it!

Keep Your Eyes on What You Want

I’m sure you’ve read that successful people can visualize what they want most in life. If you’re interested in doubling your income in the next 12 months, it’s imperative that you know the number. Let’s say you earn $50,000 right now. This means that $100,000 is your target. You need to do everything possible to work in an occupation that allows you to earn this kind of money. If you don’t, it’s time to make a change.

There are going to be many days when you will be tempted to take a day off from your goal. While it’s understandable that some activities will keep us busy, we must never forget that progress needs to be made each day. If you’re in sales, this might mean making at least one more call to qualified buyers. The problem with taking it easy is that it might become a habit. Even one small step toward our goal can make a huge difference down the road.

Stop Working Alone

For many years, I ran a business that went nowhere. I thought that I could do it all by myself. I was the CEO … the “Chief Everything Officer!” While my payroll stayed in check, I was not generating any momentum. The other big problem was that the business was not making any money. In fact, I was near closing the doors.

My luck changed when I realized that I needed to hire talented people. Of course, this decision required that I have sufficient operating income to make payroll. The first step was to hire part-time workers who could build the technology that I needed to service our customers. The customers were pleased with our work, so they awarded more contracts. In just a few months, we had enough money to hire full-time workers. The business is doing well today, and the credit goes to my capable team who has bought into the vision of our organization.

Act Instead of React

There are many leaders who prefer to take a reactive approach to running the business. Instead of adopting new technology, they take a wait-and-see attitude. The idea here is to let other companies test it out first. If it works, they will use it. While I understand that early adoption of anything carries risk, I also know that doing nothing is even riskier. To remain competitive in today’s dynamic market, it’s essential that we’re willing to take some chances. One way to be proactive is to speed up the planning phase. If an upside is possible, give it a try.

Working the plan each day does not guarantee success. However, failing to have a plan in place that is constantly executed will certainly lead to failure. Hard-working and diligent people might fall short here and there, but in the long run, they will undoubtedly experience success.