Friday, September 10, 2010

Learning from examples

...Or lessons learned
I was recently at a high school event that had the purpose of giving recognition to the students who got the best marks. Many of the people present there kept talking from start to end. The school's Principal decided to take action at one point and so she stopped talking to the person next to her, took the microphone, made a loud shhh while a student was playing violin for the audience and then continued to talk to the same person again.
I was astonished with the all thing but to everyone there it seemed normal, just business as usual. What kind of an example were those people giving to the students? Students that age are very active learners and they learn a lot by example, by looking up to parents and teachers and act like they do.
Pretty much everything was wrong from the very beginning of the event and the all thing, including the lack of leadership skills of the school's Principal, really bothered me. And they do several events per year that must go as bad as that one did. What was wrong there? Why can't they learn? So I decided to write about it here for 2 different reasons:
  1. What happened in that school is something that can happen in many project management situations, at the very least you can learn from that.
  2. Hope is the last thing to die. Who knows? Maybe some of those people, the Principal included, will read this post and decide to do things differently next time.

The beginning

Surprisingly for me, the event started just 3 minutes late. And I was impressed. That was something positive.
But people were talking and they never stopped, not even when the Principal started a small speech. She really was able to look cool and relaxed talking to a large audience where most people was talking to someone else and so they weren't paying any attention. One thing she could have done was to politely ask for silence so the event could start - and wait until there was silence. Or just saying "Welcome!" really loud and make a pause waiting for silence. Or whatever. As long as she didn't start the thing without anyone paying any attention... This I found odd because it's a standard that is difficult to break afterwords. Then I wondered if she taught any classes and if she behaved the same way on her classes. Scary thought...

Same mistake again

A government official followed with another short speech and the exact same thing happened. He talked while everyone in the audience was talking and making so much noise that it was really hard to listen to him. The fact is that he really didn't have anything interesting to say, not to the students neither to their parents. The same advice as before goes to him...

Is there an agenda?
Then one student went on stage to play saxophone. Cool. He played one tune. Then another. Then another. He played 5 tunes altogether. More than 30 minutes passed and no certificate was given - and that was the reason for the event. I started to worry. How long would this take?
They could have handed a program for the event. Or say what was going to happen. Or at what time the events would take place. Or something. But no, we were just there waiting for things to happen, not knowing what exactly was going on.

What about organization?
Finally the Principal announced they would be giving 140 certificates. And she started calling the students, one by one, starting from the senior classes. This was really time consuming and for no reason. If they just called all senior classes the students would get up, go on stage, get their certificate and the whole process would be a lot faster. It would also be faster to take the photos of all the students instead of one by one. Again, a lot of time was spent. And in "non-project related tasks" because the objective of this event was to give the certificates to the students. Sounds a bit like gold plating, doesn't it?

The story of the violin and the shhh I told at the beginning of this post took place immediately after the seniors got their certificates. In order to do worst then this you'd really have to put an extra effort. Let's look at what went wrong:
  • The Principal was talking to the person next to her while a student was performing to the audience
  • She interrupted the student's performance
  • And she continued her conversation
How could she have handled the situation assuming she started the event with everyone in silence? And assuming she wasn't talking also? She could have gestured for those who were seeing her and she could have walked discretely asking for silence for those who weren't paying attention to her. Anything would be better than the 3 things she did...

Few resisted till the very end
As the event took so long, people started to leave as they received their certificates. Both students and parents. And teachers too! When their students got all their certificates most teachers left too! I must say that I also wanted to leave but was persuaded to stay. And I'm glad it was so. Even if the event didn't have any more interest for me I was with students and I should set an example. And I did.

The link to Project Management
I think it was Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, that said something like: "Do everything like you would if someone was watching you" (I'm sorry I don't know the exact quote - I looked for it but couldn't find it). This is a simple but very powerful piece of advice. All your actions should set an example so other people can admire you and look up to you. The problem is, what do you have to admire? What do you want others to admire in you? Do you want others to admire something that you don't have (another scary thought...)? These are some tough questions you probably should try to answer.

And this is the same for whatever you do, if you're a teacher, a politician, a parent or a project manager. For instance, the way you conduct meetings is decisive: if you interrupt someone on a meeting to say something you can be sure you are passing a message that probably is not a very positive one. The way you present stuff to others, the way you respect what others say and do. If you have this kind of attitude, others will respect you and eventually they will have the same attitude. And if you spread good values like that...
Then you can be a better Project Manager!

Images taken from Wikipedia

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