Category Archives: cultural diversity

The Most Critical Skills in the 21st Century - are they Hard or Soft?

The past few months I’ve found myself instructing a series of Leadership and Communication workshops for adult professionals across the United States, together with delivering a series of Keynote Conference addresses in Europe on similar topics.

At one particular address in Dublin, Ireland, I emphasized that the beauty of modern software development approaches (such as Kanban) is that the development team can lay bare their work pipeline and ultimately collaborate (through effective leadership and communication skills) with the business. After a series of illustrative exercises (yes, at a keynote address!), attendees by and large embraced the principles of collaboration along with the concept that we need to refrain from treating each other as “machines” at work (formulated along the lines of Margaret Wheatley‘s ideas.) By treating each other as human beings from the kickoff meeting (at least), projects can achieve resounding levels of success.

One particular conference on Quality Assurance and Testing featured not only my keynote (A Soft Skills Toolkit for Testers!) on Leadership and Communication,  but at least three others of similar slant: presentations that emphasized teamwork, respect, and collaboration.  I believe that these are essential components to the success of any project!

One key point I bring home in all of my training and keynotes is that as engineers and computer scientists, we tend to minimize the emerging importance of soft skills such as leadership and communication (I have an entire 16-piece toolkit for this) as “fluff” in favor of what we often see as superior technical “hard skills”.  As an engineer myself, I see the pitfalls of a technically competent workforce that cannot talk outside of its own niche – and many others agreed.

But, it came to fully illustration the evening after one keynote.  A group of us had gathered at a local pub to sample the local beverages when the wife of a conference chair (a science based PhD herself) approached me to comment on what she had heard about my morning keynote:

“Carol, I heard that you gave an entertaining keynote presentation today, “

she started,

“…but it was “entirely without substance.”

What she was in fact saying was that my keynote, in her and her husband’s opinion, had some redeeming entertainment value, but the lack of research-data based charts and advanced equations, rendered it “entirely without substance.”

I did suppress my inclination to applaud and say “thank you for illustrating my point so eloquently” when she said this because I realized it might be a futile discussion.  Instead, I simply smiled, thanked her for her comment, and turned back to the business and beverage at hand.

Now that I am contemplating a series of workshops for future conferences (technical software engineering and quality conferences) to continue the discussions on Leadership and Communication, it occurs to me that calling these skills “soft” may actually diminish their importance – regardless of proof that Leadership, Communication and Collaboration are some of the most important and hardest skills to teach our industry leaders in the 21st century.

What do YOU think?  Are Leadership skills (such as managing to relationships, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, diversity, and working with teams and people) considered more as Soft Skills or as Hard Skills (akin to programming in dot net or Java) or a mix of both?

As a technical professional – how important do you think are Leadership and Communication skills to the success of your projects?

I will be awaiting your comments!

Happy holidays!

Carol

p.s., Send me an email if you’d like to see more about the Soft Skills Toolkit for Testers presentation I did in October. I would love feedback and recommendations.

ABZ's of Communication for PM's and Techies...R: it's all about Relationships and Rework

As we talk in the grander scheme of overall corporate communications, it all comes down to

R: RELATIONSHIPS and REWORK.

Two different concepts but related as we’ll go into later.  Let’s start with RELATIONSHIPS.  If someone likes you and respects you, they will listen to what you have to say. If they don’t for whatever reason (that may or may not have anything to do with you!) – then getting them to listen to you will be an uphill battle.

Beca Lewis said:

“Yearn to understand first and to be understood second.”

This ties into a recent blog posting I discovered called “3 Deadly Sins of Business Relationships” by Diane Helbig.  The highlights of the post were that so many people go to networking events with an end goal in mind and in the process discard the importance of building the relationship first.  I know many of these goal-driven people (they are colleagues who brush past me on their way to the “kill” or prospects!) – they go to an event to get a preset number of qualified leads and work their way around the gathering like a fox on a hunt.  They are interesting to watch as they scope out their prey, approach the prospect, exchange their card, make their pitch and within 1.5 minutes move on to the next potential buyer in the room.  Often these “movers and shakers” end up leaving the meeting with what they consider to be a treasure cache of business cards – and think their time was well spent.

I’ve always approached networking functions with a different and likely less overall successful strategy – I simply like to meet new people.  People like me,  people who are different, people who have problems and opportunities and challenges and who are simply out to meet others.  At the end of the evening, it is as likely as not that I will have met a few new acquaintances and exchanged information.  Often it is simply a pleasant exchange whereby I’ve given them some information or a new idea that might further their business.  In the big karma bank of life, I might be truly naive in thinking that goodness given is repaid somewhere somehow when I need to make a withdrawal from the karma bank.  Certainly this is not a sales-focused approach, nor has it gained me any direct business ever!

I find the same situation arises when I attend or speak at major industry conferences. Perhaps I should have mined the lists of attendees, scoped out prospects and gone in for the leads, but that’s just never been my style.  Over the years, many colleagues have asked me why I bother to talk to people who won’t give me business – and my answer has always been that I genuinely like to meet like-minded people and that is satisfaction enough.  I believe that many of the contracts that I’ve gotten through word-of-mouth have come to me simply because I did not pursue people for their buying ability – and instead talk to them as people.

Read the 3 Deadly Sins of Building Business Relationships and let me know if you like it as much as I do!

Next posting – Rework and how much effort (and waste) it takes in communication.  Just this week alone, I’m quite certain that 1/3 of my time was spent on emailing people, following up when they didn’t answer, emailing yet again, calling and leaving voice mails and then still doing more.  What a total waste of time and energy chasing rainbows and promises that don’t deliver in the end!

Wishing you great relationships in all aspects of your life – and the communication success that comes from putting relationships before leads!

Carol
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The ABZ's of Communication for Technical Professionals... C: Clarity and Consistency, and Confidence

This is the 3rd posting of my new 26 part (A through Z) blog series with Tips on Communication for Project Managers and Technical Professionals! With communication accounting for over 80% of a project manager’s time, the importance of GOOD communication cannot be overlooked.  Good projects begin with good communication!

C= Clarity and Consistency, and Confidence

Clarity and Consistency

It is common to assume that our words convey the message we intend to deliver, but that is often not the case.  The following communication model highlights how what we say is not necessarily what is heard.   Because of the “noise” that can interfere with all communication, it is critical that we speak with clarity (see the earlier post B: Brevity) and consistency:

Communication model One way to think of how noise obscures message clarity is with an analogy:  consider how glass block (or a shower door after a shower) distorts clear vision.  “Feedback” permits us to see and hear how the message we sent may not be the same as the message that was received, and gives us the chance to resend it to improve clarity.

Selecting words that appeal to all 3 learning styles: visual, audio and kinesthetic (more on this in an upcoming segment) can improve the CLARITY of our message and increase the effectiveness of communication.

Consistency is a concept in its own right (think of how inconsistency in corporate communication creates confusion!), but also tied to clarity.  A key goal of a communication plan (communication management is one of the nine knowledge areas of the Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge® (PMBOK) Version 4) should be consistency of messages throughout the project. Consistency is key!

Confidence

The key to confidence is knowing what you are talking about and having a practiced delivery.  Audiences respond to the mood projected by the presenter – if the mood is one of confidence, the audience responds with receptivity and comfort; if nervousness and agitation prevails, it will take over the room. Audiences are incredibly forgiving – it is better to relax than to pretend, and your audience will relax with you.  Believe in your message and so to will your audience!  Confidence, like enthusiasm, is contagious.

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Helsinki and other locations in 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

The ABZ's of Communication for Technical Professionals... A: Always be Authentic

This is the 1st of my new 26 part (A through Z) blog series with Tips on Communication for Project Managers and Technical Professionals! With communication accounting for over 80% of a project manager’s time, the importance of GOOD communication cannot be overlooked.  Good projects begin with good communication!

Let’s get started:

A = Always be Authentic!

One of the biggest mistakes we make with a communications course is to blindly adopt practices and change ourselves  to fit “the mold” of a good communicator.  While there are best practices and lots of tips and techniques, the idea of one best way is pure rubbish… Think about it — you already have good communication skills that you use in other parts of your life.  New ideas and models can help hone your skills for use in your workplace.  One of the most important lessons we can learn is to always be authentic!

Choose those tips and techniques that will work for you, and tailor best practices so that they are in keeping with who you are.

Just as you can always spot a phony, so can others.  So be cautious before you adopt communication styles or techniques that don’t fit with who you are because they won’t give you the results you want!

For example, one technique that sometimes works for me (and is recommended by networking maven Susan RoAne) is to go into a mixer or networking gathering and act as if you are the host.  While this does work wonderfully in certain situations, there are group settings where I’d make a fool of myself if I attempted this. It’s all a matter of appropriateness with my personality and the situation. I encourage you to adopt new ideas that will work for you, in the situations they will work, and have the wherewithal to know when they won’t.

Always be authentic!

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Helsinki and other locations in 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.
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=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

Top 7 Communication Skills for PM's and Technical Professionals

I’ll bet that you didn’t take up your technical profession because you were a good communicator right?  Most engineers, technical professionals, and project managers started out the same way I did – in an engineering, computer science, math or other science based curriculum to which communication skills were an add-on.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a technically trained professional who got a minor in communication!

BUT, communication accounts for over 80% of our professional jobs as project managers (PM’s) and technical professionals – especially once we start managing people and working with stakeholders to get projects done.  And, if you are like most managers who started out in a technical position, it’s likely that you’ve never stopped to think about the top 7 communication skills that can make or break your career today.

So, as a refresher to those whose training includes communication and as guidelines for the rest, I present the Top 7 Communication Skills for PM’s (project managers) and technical professionals in the 21st Century: (that is, if you want to convey professionalism)

#7 Email etiquette:

One might argue that body language and tone do not translate well in e-mail communication, however, the use of “all capital letters” conveys yelling, as does the use of red type font.  Ensure that all email is written with the same level of professionalism used for formal memos including a formal opening (Dear xxx) and closing (Respectfully, Carol) with proper paragraph spacing. Spell checking is a must, and shortcut texting and emoticons do not belong in office emails.  Don’t email anything without reading it through at least twice before hitting send.

#6 Good meeting manners:

So much of our working life is spent “meeting” and while meetings can and do offer opportunities for effective problem-solving, too often they evolve into dysfunctional wastes of time. Be aware and respectful of attendees’ time by providing agendas (with topic items that include subject, person responsible for the item, outcome (decision, discussion, for information only, etc.), and time allotment) and follow-up with meeting minutes within 24 hours.  It is also a good idea to summarize action items in the last 10-15 minutes of a meeting to make sure that those who took on assignments understand the actions they committed to do. An effective and humorous video outlining good meeting plans and featuring John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) is available in many corporate libraries (google: Meetings Bloody Meetings video).

#5 Public speaking skills:

Whether a presentation is an informal 10 minutes during a staff meeting or a formal town hall address to the corporation, nothing says professional better than a practiced presenter.  If the thought of formal presentations scares you, find a local toastmaster group in your neighborhood and overcome the “Um’s” and “Ah’s” that cripple technical mobility.  It’s a common fact that public speaking ranks in the top five of worldwide fears (just below fear of death) so you’re among millions (if not billions) if public speaking is not one of your skills.  And, toastmaster’s is for people just like you who want to get better at speaking in public settings.

#4 Presentation prowess:

“Death by PowerPoint” is one of the worst conference situations – especially when a technical or project management professional addresses an audience and reads their slides.  Powerpoint should never be a crutch for your presentation – rather use it as your backdrop to reinforce important keywords and concepts.  Find a good presenter (and a good website) and emulate their style and soon you’ll be presenting with prowess.  As in all new skills, practice makes perfect – so make sure that your presentation is practiced, timed, and moves well.

#3. Avoid TLA’s and FLA’s:

(TLAs are Three Letter Acronyms and FLAs are Four Letter Acronyms). It is said that English is a common language that separates us – and it is even more true when acronyms are used.  I don’t know of a quicker way to alienate an audience than to throw around a few TLAs or FLAs – especially when the same letters are used to mean different things in different subject areas (think “AMA” – it means American Medical Association and many, many other variations).

#2. Respect that English happens to be THE language of business – worldwide!

As such, if English is your first language it is important to recognize that many worldwide citizens speak English as their second (or third or fourth) language.  It is common courtesy and respect for Americans to speak English so that it can be understood by non-native speakers.  This includes curbing our use of slang, colloquialisms, idioms, and other local nuances of American, British, Australian, Canadian, and other English variations. We don’t have to avoid these localizations, just be aware that they are not easily understood by those who are not native English speakers.  Speak slowly and enunciate – your listener will appreciate it.

#1. Networking savvy:

Far too often, technical professionals forget that the outside world often sees you as the face of your company at networking events.  When out in public – especially when wearing corporate logo apparel, realize that you are showing your brand to the world.  It’s always best at networking functions or other meet-and-greet events to stay professional in both conduct and communication.  While it’s acceptable to have a drink with peers at an after hours mixer, imbibing too many and making a fool of oneself is better left to the suburbs on weekends far away from maddening crowds (and the ears and eyes of other professionals). There’s a skill to effective networking (complete with how-to meet the right people, measuring success, ways to break the ice cleanly with both genders, and keys to success).  “Walking into a room full of strangers” joins public speaking as one of the biggest fears today (according to Networking Guru Susan RoAne), so you’re in good company if you need to learn this skill.

As a seasoned presenter who has spoken internationally to audiences spanning 25 countries on a myriad of topics, I’m considering offering communication workshops for PM’s and technical professionals.  We’ll focus on these top 7 skills among others. Do you think this is a good idea and needed?  And, would you or your colleagues be interested in this type of training in a city near you (or at your site)?  Let me know your thoughts (please!)

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Helsinki and other locations in 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.
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=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

The more things change... the more they stay the same

As I was perusing through about a year’s worth of industry journals accumulating as they do in a pile in the corner of my office, I was hit with a flash of deja vu. Some of the journals hidden in the corners had actually been there for more than 24 months, and I was amazed to discover that this depression/recession/financial crisis we are in is not new. In fact, for the majority of years in this new millenium – we’ve been in a downturn!

This continuing trend – Information Week headlines from 2003 declared job hunting woes were in full swing back then – has been going on for years – albeit not in as dramatic as today – but the situation is not strikingly new. It’s just taken us the aggregation of a pile of small things (and big things such as the Wall Street collapse) to realize the full gravity of the situation.

Having said this, there are two major thoughts that come to mind when we apply this same trend to software development:

1. This too will pass (it always does); and
2. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Let me explain:

“This too will pass” – in the heat of our current crisis where software development budgets, projects, contracts, have been curtailed and layoffs announced, companies have reacted in the typical cocooning mode by burying their heads and cutting out any “superfluous spending” such as training, travel, conferences, process improvement and measurement. Yet, again and again, we know in our hearts and minds that this current crisis will pass and that this is the IDEAL TIME to invest (wisely) in just that very training to upgrade our workforces, exchanging information at conferences with best-in-class organizations, and investing strategically in process improvement and sustainable measurement initiatives so that we are ready, lean, and mean when the current situation passes (as it will). Corporations simply do not seem to learn, and instead of truly relying on the ingenuity and innovativeness of the America we know and love, they fall back on the scrimping and saving mode (like hiding money between mattresses) that worked for our forefathers but which has been proven to worsen (not improve) the competitiveness of a corporation when we come out of the current temporary crisis.

2. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

What I mean by this is that the more an industry finally embraces a particular concept, methodology, or newfangled approach, the more that nothing really changes. For example, take the current case of the adoption of agile methods of software development. While the proponents tout statistics based mostly on intuition and gut feel (proclamations such as agile is the only way to develop software today, bar none), the contrarians proclaim that the approach does not progress the industry but rather takes us back a step. They profess that agile is imperfect for all applications, do not provide a trail of quantifiable measurements, do not provide adequate documentation or commented code, and do not provide a solid system architecture to sustain the functionality into the future.

So what happens next? Following in the historical cycle, the current agile methods will begin to crumble (and be torn apart by some of the early adopters who now see the folly in some of the less disciplined aspects of the methodology), a “new and improved and evolutionary” approach will be devised and introduced, and the masses will go back to the tried and true (waterfall methodology) that does not work when agile is needed – and a new convincing and influencing cycle will start to convince the software development industry to try the new and improved “whatever approach”.

So the more that things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Interesting culture of change n’est-ce pas?

This week I am facilitating a different set of workshops on Global Projects with Cultural Diversity and the question arose about the changing of a country’s culture (such as India or China) based on the amount of outsourcing that is happening. While the pace of technology change can be rapid and pervasive, the change of a culture is extremely slow – proving again that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Stay warm this February wherever you are (or cool if you are in Australia facing this month’s record high temperatures of +40C!) – and have a good week.

I’ll be back next week with more of the same – and a little bit of different! Happy development.

p.s., Here’s a humorous photo from the icy streets of Santa Fe, NM during New Year’s week this year. The Danger sign was missing a few letters…. Enjoy!


Regards,
Carol Dekkers

Carol Dekkers email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/
http://www.caroldekkers.com/

Contact Carol for your keynote and speaking needs – she translates technical subjects into easily digestible soundbites – in a humorous and forthright manner. See http://www.caroldekkers.com/ for details of topics and opportunities.

View also Carol Dekkers’ general blog at http://caroldekkers.wordpress.com/

============Copyright 2009, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =============