MMP3: Project Management According to Attila the Hun

Daniel Frommelt 
Director of Applications and Development, University of Wisconsin - Platteville


The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at http://2011.highedweb.org/presentations/MMP3.mp3


Announcer: This is one in a series of podcasts from the HighEdWeb Conference in Austin, 2011.

Daniel Frommelt: I wanted to talk about project management primarily because it’s something that we all do, but a lot of us don’t realize we’re doing it. And I get tired seeing the same boring stuff over and over again and I read a couple of books about Attila the Hun, see, the show is early.

And it was really interesting because a lot of the principles that we talked about with leadership and how to win and how to attack and how to take care of things, were really same principles that we could apply to project management. So some really cool stuff that’s going on there and I wanted to share that. You guys are awesome. All right. Appreciate it.

[Applause]

Daniel Frommelt: That concludes the presentation today. Wrong one. I’ll try…there we go.

01:00

Close the door, let the show begin. So Attila the Hun. There’s a lot of things that we think of when we think of Attila and the problem is we usually think very negative things. And I’ll be truthful, he’s not exactly the best role model for a personality, but he is a really good role model when it comes to getting things done. So if you can kind of isolate the things he did great from the things that were not necessarily so pleasant, we should be OK.

So let’s look at this in a whole lot more detail. Who was Attila? Well, there’s a whole lot of things going on, first of all, Attila in his history started back in A.D. and King Mundzuk had a son, this is a nomadic tribe, this is people who lived off the land. They wandered around. They didn’t have everything in stored. There was really no culture other than the culture they carried with them.

01:59

So they carried very little, they needed very little, that was one of the fundamental principles of this approach. I don’t need a lot, I take everything with me. And in this, we talked about where he's from and when he was born I think he was like eight or nine, his father was killed off, he was the king. Well, if there is a king of a nomadic tribe, essentially the head leader of the group.

Things are kind of a little loose as far as interpretations of how they work. But this is the area that they’re in which is really kind of an interesting life area because they move all over the place. It’s kind of following the seasons, also following the patterns, they’re very aware of their nature, very aware of their surroundings.

Again, key principles for project management; pack lightly, be aware of everything that’s going on around you because usually, you get sidetracked by things that you don’t even understand at the moment. Oh, that network upgrade could break this. Oh, that might be good to know. So you need to be aware of the surroundings and what’s going on. But more importantly, you need to be aware of people like this - Uncle Rugila. He was awesome.

03:04

So Attila had a very feisty personality - I can identify with that really easily. By age 12, he was questioning his uncle’s authority. Because his father died already, his uncle had stepped in in his father’s place, kind of not rightfully, and Attila is sassy little 12-year-old, who put you in-charge? Why are you here? What’s the deal?

Pretty soon he was sent…and this is really cool - child hostage. I love this concept. I wish I was a child hostage. It would be rocking. Sent to Rome to Romanize the tribes of the other area and in exchange, they send a child from Rome back to Uncle Rugila. And so, what they do is they kind of do a cultural shift.

Well, really what has happened is the kids that were sent to Rome from all these other areas that was usually society, they didn’t have strong cultures, and what they were trying to do is Romanize their culture. So they went to take over that country. They already had people in the area who knew what to do.

4:01

Oh, no. We’ve learned in Rome you’re supposed to do this. They just give in right away. This is another good lesson. Keep in mind keeping those relationships and preparing for future battles that will be coming up. But when Attila went to Rome, he didn’t play that game. He’s like, OK, you’re trying to Romanize me, I’m a Hun. I am who I am, you’re not changing me.

So Attila also made future plans. I’m going to study how the Romans fight, how the Romans do all these stuff. They’re trying to send them off to at least swank parties and trying to keep them in the cultural part. He’s over in the military part all late at night running through pace in the building, trying to figure out how do I escape, how do I get through this stuff, what’s going on, how do I learn from this enemy that has kidnapped me and my father’s brother has taken over and he’s an evil man.

So he eventually escaped, got back to the Huns, which is really kind of interesting because when he got back, he had a nemesis. I need one of these too.

5:01

A nemesis, that’s what everybody needs. It keeps you fighting. It keeps you going. And I don’t mean necessarily a person. We need like something to fight against. Something that gets your fire moving. And so, Aetius was the kid that was switched but all the kids that were switched in this child hostage program, they were trained spies. They were family of the elite. They went there for the reason and the purpose of taking over that country.

So the kids that went to the other countries, they were trained in all the war, they were trained in their politics, they’re trained to have leadership work, they were trained all the important families, all the trade roots, all the secrets. When they switched back and went back to Rome, Rome had the keys to their kingdom.

Really simple program from a couple of kids. Amazing. They weren’t high-powered. When Attila came back, it was awesome. OK. So anyway, let’s skip that part. But Rome, kind of the center battle point. And then from here, Attila…well, this is where mythology steps in.

6:00

I don’t believe all of it so I’ll just say what they tell you. By this time, his brother Bleda was now king. We’re not exactly sure what happened to Rugila, I’m pretty sure I know what happened - horse accident, whatever.

[Laughter]

Daniel Frommelt: Attila came back, brother’s in-charge, cool. He’s getting himself back into power. This is what I learned in Rome. This is what I did here. This how I continue to learn to fight and be a Hun when I was in another country. And he was proud of who he was and he was proud of what he did.

And Bleda died in a hunting accident and then, sort of God appeared. I need one of those too. That’d be great. And the next thing you know, Attila becomes king of a royal tribe of nomads. Again, king is loosely defined here.

So the point is this is the people that we’re talking about. Very simple life, not a lot going on but the one thing they have was pride. They held it tight, they ran through it all.

6:58

So when you tie all these stuff together, you’re looking at a man who was hardened, he’s 18, 19 years old, he’s already been held as a hostage, his father had died, his uncle kicked him off to another country, he was trained to be like brainwashed in other country, trying to maintain his identity from what he remembered as a kid.

There’s a lot going on with this guy’s life that hardened him. So there’s a reason why he had bad attitude. Not excusing him for it. But I’m just telling you. Of course, you’ve got to swear to God so I guess he’s all good. Anyway.

So now, let’s switch gears. That’s Attila’s background, enough to at least get you kind of principles of what’s going on. Now let’s look at project management background. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near as exciting. There’s no sort of God.

So project management. This is Henry versus Henry because really, this is where project management starts. So in Henry versus Henry, we’ve got Henry Gantt. He was the father of the controlling techniques. You’ve heard of the Gantt chart. This is the guy who started it all.

8:06

He was kind of a visionary. He realized you could plan stuff out in the way that you can identify dependencies. You can get things all linked together. You could finally control mechanism and organize your success. It’s a huge first step. Otherwise, you’re just kind of floundering around.

Well, maybe I should do this. Maybe I should do that. There’s really no plan. This guy helped make a plan. It was really kind of interesting and that’s in 1910. Henry filled it though. He was more of a structural person. So in this regard, he identified that there are basic functions that happen in every single project that we need to make those things work.

So he was…those six management functions. How many people know what PMBK is? The Project Management Body of Knowledge. If you go to the Project Management Institute, pmi.org, I’m a member of that group, it’s really kind of fun. Well, in a work way, I supposed.

8:59

They’ve got lots of information. If you’re doing tons of projects, you’ll need that resource. Let me just put it that way. I’ll extract the word fun. But the Project Management Body of Knowledge is founded upon the management functions that were identified here plus the Gantt chart structure of making sure everything is organized to success.

So these two pieces kind of come together. And if you look at these management functions that we put together, it’s essentially the preparation. So it’s the forecasting, the planning, the organizing versus the actual doing - the commanding, coordinating and monitoring.

As soon as you - you know, there’s a famous quote, “All great plans stop the moment you take your first step”. Then you’re going to monitor control and damage control situation and say, OK, I have a great plan. And then, oh, crap. The bridge is out. OK, let’s adjust.
That’s the way life is though.

So if we move on to some of the principles though, this is where some of the differences worked in. You break those principles.

10:01

You have the basic functions but within those functions you have principles and they kind of breakdown in this regard. A lot of this, if you think back to Attila, there’s a lot of things that are going on in these principles that are also fundamentals of leadership and fundamentals of having the tenacity to do whatever it takes to get the job done, of having pride in what you’re doing and fighting forward.

So discipline; unity of command, unity of direction, subordination, remuneration, all of these stuff very easily applies to any military issue but also applies to what we’re fighting in projects. And I kind of view that as a fight because if I don’t fight for that project, it will die on its own. I am the person who’s pushing it forward. It is my command. We will push forward. We’ll get it done.

So that’s the things we were looking at. But as you look at some of these things, this is kind of process mapping here where you got your different work breakdown structure, going over your weeks and you get all your activities, this is kind of your typical Gantt stuff.

11:00

And then you can also move into a little bit more formalized structure - MS Project, all that fun stuff. But it’s when you get into this material that you start identifying where you got problems. How many people can read this? I have a couple in here. Not too many.

All right, here’s what’s going on. You get a work breakdown structure. Identify every single task you’ve got to do. You identify it with a number. You give that a duration and a priority. A duration, so T. It’s going to take three month to get issue 10 done. When 10 is done I can execute 20 and 30 but T4 takes four months to finish.

So I can’t start 20 for four months. So what I’m doing is I’m looking for the critical path. The critical path is what is the bottleneck in this thing is going to slow me down. The critical path is where I put all my emphasis until I’m darn sure that thing is locked in.

Once that critical path is knocked out, the rest of it I have a little bit of flex room. The critical path I have no flex room. So doing charts like this for a perk chart it helps me find out where I need to focus my attention because my attention’s used to be focused on the first bottleneck on the road.

12:02

And so that first bottleneck is that three months between 10 and 30 because after that, the fastest duration is five months, start to finish, where I can get to 50. So I need to work on this. I need to break it all down. I need to understand the relationships of the project created so I know where my attentions are supposed to be focused. Again, kind of like the Gantt chart, but this one is more specific about keeping things moving.

So project management really didn’t start in concept until the 1950s, which is kind of fun. That’s when the project management came in. But when it comes in really tight, the concepts are actually based upon construction industry. And this is when the time we’re starting to the big economic boom. We’re doing all these really cool stuff and we’re trying to be as efficient as possible.

This is called capitalism at its best. How can we make more money getting the job done faster plus organize better? How do we organize better? Look at these two guys, they did some stuff back in the 1900s, let’s carry that forward and see what we can do for these principles and get things to be more efficient.

13:03

So architects and engineers became the first experts to manage the projects, which is why most project management stuff is very simple and a lot of diagram stuff. There’s a lot of detail, but it’s not pages and pages of pros, we keep a short suite to get the job done. Because engineers, if you haven’t noticed, don’t type a whole lot. They do a lot of number function and they get out of the way.

So when we’re looking at this, it took about…it was in 19 years later and the PMI was formed. The Project Management Institute actually certifies project managers and they help keep things organized and if you’ve ever seen anybody and they’ve got the initials PMP, Project Management Professional Ten, they know their stuff.

Or PGMT, if they’re a program manager, that means they can manage multiple programs at the same…manage multiple projects at the same time. There’s lots of different levels here. It’s really, really interesting. If you’re managing a lot of projects, you may want to go in and investigate a little bit.

14:00

I’ve done everything except take the test for my PMP. So that’s my next phase. I’m trying to figure out when to fit that in. So anyway, this is the basics of project management. It’s where are we right now and sometimes it’s hard to do, and then where we want to go and how do I get everything back on track again.

It’s kind of like you’re on a road trip and you’re driving with a bunch of kids and you stop at the wait station, the gas station, where we at? Get a map. Look it up. This is where we’re at. Where are we going? What road do we need to get there? There’s all these different things.

It’s the same concept. So it’s not really complicated, but when you look at that for the management, for the control methods, you actually look at that one little part there was just monitoring and control. So overall, project management, when you break it down to the basic phases, the initiation, we usually have no control over. We’re usually thrown a project. Here, do X.

14:59

I don’t have control over the budget. I don’t have control over the time. I’m told what to do and when. It’s then up to me to fight to make sure I have enough resources so we can begin. Now we’re going to this planning phase and we can plan and plan and plan but as soon as you take that first step.

Then you’re taking your execution, you’re immediately monitoring and you’re going back to planning. You keep cycling there until you run out of stuff to do, then you close it out. So it’s not a complicated thing. It’s very intuitive. That’s a cool thing because most engineers put these stuff together. It’s not really complicated.

So when has Attila have to do with project management? So I’ve looked through a lot of principles that Attila has done and looked at the leadership principles and keeping in mind that I’ve extracted these personalities as much as I could of the situation when I’m looking at that, but we have specific advice for project management from Attila.

Rule number one, do not waste your energy. When he was fighting in Rome he used every single moment he had focusing on learning, trying to get out, trying to learn more about their culture and keeping things moving.

16:05

A warrior’s worst fear is that he will be assign to a task that the chieftain does not want completed successfully. If you are assigned a junk task you are good viewed as junk. If it is not a worthwhile project, do what you can to remove it. There’s no reason to fight it forward because no one cares about it. They’re just keeping you busy digging holes.

So next thing, one tribe, one mind. This essentially falls under the chain of command. A chieftain who consistently inspects the work of the warrior finds they consistently produce better results. When you’re a leader you’ve got to be down there, you’ve got to be checking with people. How are things going?

This is part of that monitoring stage. Where are we at on the map? Are we closer to our destination? Are we having any problems ? Is there a detour ahead that we need to be taking? Is the road blown up? We need to go a way around.

16:57

A chieftain ignores the top performers. If the chieftain ignores their top performers they lose their winning edge. The people who are doing a great job, don’t ignore them and shoo out the people who are doing a poor job. You’ve got to make sure those people are doing a great job or well appreciated and cared for, even if it’s just stopping in every morning and say, hey, how’re you doing? Is there anything I can do for you today? I know you’re doing a great job. I’m here just to stay out of your way, but if you need something you let me know, I’m right here for you.

It goes a really long way in keeping that rapport with the team, in keeping everybody focus on what’s ahead. If a chieftain ignores weak performers, they will never develop that winning edge. And just like I said, I come in every morning, if I have a team who’s not performing well or the guy who’s doing really good, and the next guy is not doing so good, I’m going to spend a little bit more time without being abusive in trying to get them to move it up, to step it up a little bit and give positive reinforcement. If that does not work, we do corrective actions. That’s a whole different approach.

17:58

A chieftain who critiques past battlefield performances for the warriors, increases their odds of winning future battles. In project management, this is usually a part of the close but we also do periodic stops. When I close out a section or a phase, I review that phase; what went right, what went wrong, how can we do things better?

We close out the next phase, they do it again. We close out the projects, we give a couple of days decompression time and then we sit down, we do an after-action review. It’s a traditional military technique. We go with through in detail. The brutal stuff. What went right? What went wrong? What was really good? What sucked really bad?

In fact they even do this at the committee. When we finished the conference here, we actually have an after-action review plans, we got a dinner offsite. So Wednesday night we’ll be reviewing what we did here at this conference and planning and applying those principles, things that went good, we’ll keep doing. Things that did not go good, we’ll find a way to fix it. Next year we’ll make it better. You’ve got to keep doing back in re-emphasizing this stuff, though.

Chieftains create strong, moral discipline in the tribe when they train their warriors and their Huns well. Tell them what’s expected. It’s the first key principle.

19:01

Give them the tools and the leadership to win. If you don’t provide training, your team will not win. You’re not giving them adequate tools to actually complete the job. If you don’t have money for the training, be creative. Find somebody else who’s got it who maybe can do some OJT even if it’s not at your institution. See if you can piggy back on somebody else you’ve met here.

If you can lean on somebody a little bit. Can you give a little coaching, a little guidance? We’re having trouble with this. It’s not my area of expertise. I don’t know this language. Could you help out my person? Do whatever you need to do to get the job done, but don’t have your blinders on. Think wide. There’s lots of ways to get resources. Be creative.

Next fundamental principle, dodging arrows. The best chieftains focus on dominating the Romans instead of inciting internal division in civil war. This essentially is too stop the bickering. If I have people complaining and it’s out in the hallway, I ask him to come in and see me.

20:05

I sit in my office, you can say whatever you want. You can complain all you want. You can let your hair down. You can scream and holler, jump and yell, I don’t care. When you go out in that hallway, you’ve got a smile and you’re going to put on the tin face and you’re going to move ahead. But you’re not going to bring everybody else down from your bad attitude.

So if you have a problem, you can come say it to me, that’s fine. I need to hear what you really think and if there’s a problem, we’ll fix it. But you can’t be out there bringing everybody else down. If you’re having a bad day, take a day off. It is going to really kill the morale.

So a big one, no warrior should ever be expected to take an arrow for the misdeed or mistake of a chieftain. If you screw up, own it. Own it now, own it fast. I have a principle in my office, if I screw up I march right down to the CIO immediately. I sit in his office, say, “Hey, Eric, I screwed up again.” And he always kind of laughed.

21:00

So I said, “My goal is to beat everybody else to your office telling me that I screwed up, “ because it goes much easier if I admit it. Then somebody else comes out and say, “Hey did you hear what this dork did? No. I need to be the first one there. And that also sets up a guiding principle between me and Eric. He has a rapport with me now that I walk in…he knows whatever I’m going to say is brutally honest, it’s in his face, it’s right there. The good, the bad, the ugly, it’s right there on the table, you don’t have to guess.

Everything is transparent. So do that right away. And if you screw up, don’t let your team take the fall. Don’t blame it on somebody else, just own it and be done with it. It ends a lot of the bickering. It also gives a lot of respect for the person who admits they were wrong. So keep this stuff in mind.

Acting on dumb decisions does not improve them. You may want to get that tattooed somewhere, it’s going to be great. Confident warriors avoid acting on a chieftain‘s dumb decisions and seek the right counsel to them instead.

22:02

I have done this many times as well. I get a command. I need you to do X. That’s the wrong thing to do. We shouldn’t be doing that. I told you to do X. I’m like, I’m telling you this is really, really bad. If we go down this path we’re going to fail. We cannot fail, this is a high profile project. We cannot do this. I’m telling you to do it.

I would push three times, on the third time I walk out and then find somebody else I could push on. I’ll call the CFO. Rob, I’m telling you, we go down this path, we’re going to fail. Did you talk to Eric? Yes and he will not listen to me. I’m telling you, I’m worried about this from the institution. If we go down this path, we’re going to fail. We can’t do this. He’s like, “Well, maybe the three of us should talk.” I said, “I’m telling you, he’s not listening to me now.” I said, “If you guys both tell me to do it, I’ll do it but just know that I voiced my opinion.”

And this has happened a couple of times and out of the three times, twice they both apologized to me because I was right and later beat us in the rear end.

23:01

The one time I was wrong, okay, I’m sorry. I misinterpreted the situation, my bad. But at least you’ll know what I think and where I’m saying, how I’m moving forward.

Practical dreaming, another critical function for project management. Huns readily followed chieftains who improve their quality of life. It’s a simple concept. Do something to help them. Most of us have very little budget, as I assume. If you have very little budget, what can you do to provide quality of life? We were getting ready to start a $1.5 million project, things are really hectic, all my team was freaking out.

I spent $40 bucks, I bought a whole bunch of hotdogs, I have a crackpot, got Bob chili, we had chilidogs for lunch that day. Nothing improved morale like that $40. It was amazing. It was worth it to me to get them out of that slump so they come in on day one and actually, OK, you know what, yeah, we can do this. I got them out of that negative attitude. I got them focused.

24:01

It was worth that $40. It was not a big of a deal. To them it was but I didn’t tell him. I put signs up all over the place. Hey, come for the chilidog party. It was goofy. It was silly. It was functional. It worked out great. So do things creative. Do whatever you can to improve the quality of life even if it’s adjusting their work schedule a little bit so they can work from home a little bit more or they can be flexible in hours.

Chieftains accomplish greater feats when they focus on their warrior…focus their warrior on tribal rather than individual goals. I always have a fundamental principle in the office and that is of stewardship. And stewardship works like this; I currently occupy the chair of the Director of Applications and Development. One day, I will eventually move on. That does not mean I own the chair. That’s not Dan’s office. I’m simply acting as that role. I need to do the best job on that role for the institution that I can. So it’s not me, it’s the role I’m performing.

24:59

So if you’re the chair of biology, you’re job is to be the best chair of biology possible. It’s not Jeff’s shop, it’s the biology shop at the school. So you need to keep your mind on the right thing. It’s not an individual thing. It’s the group thing. We’re in this together. We’re part of a larger organization. And if you take that attitude and you preach that attitude and you get them to believe that attitude, it resolves almost all conflict. That turf war goes away quick. It’s really, really nice.

A chieftain’s greatest reward lies in helping the Huns prosper. I will fight to get my people a raise. I don’t worry about me getting a raise. If my people get a raise, they’ll be much more successful in which case, I will eventually get a raise. I put my emphasis on them. My job is to make them successful because they’re making me successful if they’re successful. It’ll come back to me eventually. Karma will catch up to you. It’ll be good.

25:55

Cultivating allies. This is a struggle too. Why is chieftains do not march in the battle against a clearly superior foe without first strengthening their own forces with those of an ally? A common sense practice. I usually call this advocating out in the field. I find somebody who’s open to the project. Somebody who might be a little bit opposed and I try to have a conversation with both of them together at the same time.

That way, I can get them to kind of work together a little bit, soften the territory a little bit, pay attention to my surroundings. Remember Attila was in an area, you always had to pay attention to everything going on around you. You never know when you’re going to get sidetracked.

The more friends you have helping you out, the easier everything is going to be. When developing allies, do not meddle in their affairs. They have no concern to you. This is a hard one because usually, when you’re trying to build an ally, an ally is usually only good if they’re an ally above you. If they’re above you, hey, look, a new pawn. I can move it all over the place.

27:00

You can help to a point but be careful and don’t be afraid to push back. You see, I’m doing this and brought you in on this project because it directly affects you. I respect your opinion, I want your input. However, you’re asking me to do stuff that’s way outside the realm and I’m not necessarily who’s comfortable with that. I appreciate our relationship here but I really question your judgment on using me in that way.

It’s a hard conversation to have but again, I try to be as transparent as possible. It solves a lot of problems. People don’t have to guess what you’re doing or what you’re focused on.

You will have confrontation, unfortunately, so get used to it. Chieftains should avoid doing battle when both winning and losing will cost too much. If you’re going to do that project, it’s going to cost you a fortune, it’s going to kill your team, is it worth it? You got this incredible project. You’ve got a very tight deadline. They’re going to have to work tons of overtime for very little…it’s going to kill him.

Why do it? There has to be a really compelling reason to do it and if there’s that much importance on it, there should be some really compelling compensation at the end of it.
In which case, there’s enough reward for your team to do it. So don’t kill your team uselessly on this stuff.

28:10

More often, the chieftain’s greatest advances from the Huns, comes from a single chieftain’s courage to buck tradition by leading the tribe on the difficult and popular course to innovation. I don’t think this is anything new to you guys. We live in a web, this thing changes every couple of weeks. We’ve got to start all over again. We’re used to innovation. I’m told to invent something new. How do you do it? I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. Let’s go.

We’ll come up with some new way. This is something that I think we’re all comfortable with here. So we’ll keep moving. But on other crowds, it’s a real hang up. Weak chieftains when face with confrontation often do the easiest thing - nothing. So that doesn’t necessarily avoid the risk. When they do nothing, they contribute nothing at in consequence to the tribe. You’ve got to actually step out of your comfort zone.

29:02

And if you see something coming and it looks risky, identify that risk, handle that risk, do what you can to move it forward and move it out of the way, but don’t just sit there. It’s kind of like sitting there watching a train wreck. You’re just drawn in there like…I’ve seen people got hang up like that. They got this big project they just, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m like do something. First, move. One step at a time.

Oh, one of my favorite ones. Favoritism. I have favorites in my office. They don’t know who they are because I’m harder on them than anybody else. It’s not necessarily fair, but I really try to pay attention to make sure I don’t fall into the favoritism part.

Second-rate chieftains are quick to admonish talented warriors who disagree with him about anything. Essentially if you take your top performance, oh, that wasn’t so good. To build up your own ego, no, no, no. You’re doing it backwards.

30:01

You need to be building them up. That was awesome. You did an incredible job. I’m so proud of you. You could advance. You could be taking my job here soon. Don’t worry about that stuff. Just help them succeed and you will be rewarded eventually.

First-rate chieftains learn from disagreements with talented warriors and encourage them to challenge their ideas. If you are so stubborn, you will not listen to somebody who is capable and an expert in their field, you’re a fool. I’m sorry to say it, I’ve got a lot of fools in my area. They won’t listen to common sense. And a lot of times, we hire these experts, they come in, they still don’t listen. So what are we doing? It’s just silly.

Here’s my favorite one. Get a dog…get a pet rock, get something. You don’t need a pet in the office. I equate this to being a yes-person. If I come in to an office and somebody ask my opinion and I have something negative to say, I usually say, “Are you sure you want to hear my opinion because I’m going to be honest?” Most of the time, they retract the offer.

[Laughter]

31:10

Daniel Frommelt: Because I’ll be very honest. I’m sorry, this is really stupid idea. I think this is foolish. I respect your judgment, but it’s dumb. If I have something positive to say I’ll throw it out there first. But if I’m quiet, there’s usually reason I’m quiet. I’m trying to be polite, but if they ask, OK, you asked. But I do give them a warning.

Risk taking. Something you can’t get without. A tribe without chieftains and warriors that are willing to take risks never achieve greatness. I have a team right now that’s kind of struggling. We’re on the edge of the really, really, awesome things. We’ve got five vacancies in that branch. And they are struggling and they’re coming up to me everyday.

This place is falling apart. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? This place is rocking.” Like, how do you see it’s rocking? This place is falling apart. We have all these vacancies. You guys are maintaining with half the staff.

32:04

That is incredible. When we fill the staff, we are going to be running ahead of everybody. You guys are doing great. It’s just a change in perception, but they need to hear it. They need to hear that leadership. They need to move forward. Like you guys are doing awesome. Don’t be worrying about it. We’ll get it going.

Huns who never fail are ill-prepared to deal with the bitterness and disappointment they will encounter as a warrior. All warriors fail from time to time but failing never stops a warrior from pursuing victory. I have screwed up so many times, it’s amazing, but I learned from them.

If you don’t learn from your mistakes then don’t make them. But you never know what you’re capable of doing until you step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. I learned a lot about project management at the beginning because I screwed up really, really bad time and time and time again. I wouldn’t identify all the researchers. I wouldn’t identify all the stakeholders. I wouldn’t get all the right allies in place. I’d start the project and then realize, oh, it was a worthless project. Oops.

33:03

OK, we’ll start over. That was wasted resources. It took time for me to fill you out what was going on. So you need to be ready for those things.

Your honor is your armor, and this is tough. Secrets are exposed as soon as they are known to three Huns or one Roman. It’s true. If you have something secret, keep it to your self. You’re really itching to share it with somebody, write a note to yourself and then burn it.

[Laughter]

Daniel Frommelt: Do not. If you have something that absolutely has to be kept secret because of confidential matters or because of HR or because of something tragic or funding hasn’t come through yet, shut your trap. Don’t say it. Because if it fails and you said it, you’d look like a fool. So you’ve got to be careful with this stuff.

Huns must be trained to serve the tribe’s interest so that when they’re tempted to make a quick personal gain at the expense of the tribe, they will instead do as they have been taught.

34:03

If I treat my people with respect time and time and time again and do whatever I can to bend over backwards to help them at all times, I will have their respect. And if they have the offer to go somewhere else or to do something else to take code that we’ve written and go off and do their own thing, they could still. But if I treated them with honor the entire time and they respect me, I have hopes that they will in turn do the right thing and not walk off with the keys to the kingdom - in this case, the knowledge.

In order to fulfill the expectations of office the chieftain is sometimes a very different person in public, from the person in private. No worthy chieftain disgraces the title even in private. That’s why I have my office in a set up that is very comfortable zone for the people of…and I had a couple of people in here who might have been in my office once or twice. So I’ve got a nice couch, it’s very relaxing. It’s almost like a living room.

When that door is closed, you can say whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. It’s very relaxed. It’s a private area.

35:04

But I still keep in mind that I’m at work. There it is again. You need to keep in mind that even though you’re letting your hair down, you want to vent and it might be a Friday night and you’re out with some friends and you’re having pizza in some place, you’re having a beer, you do not let it slip, do not vent in that environment.

If you need to vent, again, write yourself a love letter or hate letter and then burn it later. You just keep it to yourself. But this honor goes a really long way. So if you look at all those advice from Attila, I’ve kind of extracted all that negative personality, focus on what he had done and his vision, his life, twist it all around and attaches the project management principles.

The whole point is there’s a lot to learn from these guys. I actually did an additional study, so Sun Tzu, the Art of War, incredible stuff. So Genghis Khan, Attila the Huns, Sun Tzu and I call it the war room.

36:02

I had a whole workshop set up that we did. It was really, really fun, very intense. And each one of these guys had a whole different attack method on how they solved problems. None of them are really great personal individuals but they have a lot to teach us. Anybody who can gather tribes and bring them together when they had nothing, create a culture and an army out of pretty much nothing, they pack light, they move fast. There’s a lot of stuff we can learn from these guys.

So this is Attila and this is what you do. You get paid for your bad days. The good days are free. The bad days, you get all your paycheck in one hour. That’s the approach you’ve got to take. It’s the tough decisions you make. The tough things you have to deal with. That’s where you get paid for. The easy things anybody can do. The thing that sets you apart from everybody else is that you can make those tough decisions.

37:01

You can make those calls. You can organize it. You got some stopping point. You find a way through it, but you’ve got to take the blinders off , look around, be aware of all your surroundings, be aware of all your allies, leverage everything around you, you’ll always find a solution. It may not be the easiest one, it may not be the simplest, but…West Roberts wrote a really fun book and this is where a lot of the principles came from.

Victory Secrets of Attila the Hun is also another one. Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. And really cool books that, if you want, pick those up, really, really entertaining. I used to leave it on the office. It kind of scares people. They walk in like, I’ll come back later. It was kind of fun.

Anyway, with that, we have a couple of moments to answer a few questions if you guys want to throw some stuff at me. Yes?

Audience 1: When you voiced your opinion about bad decision and you’ve been told to do it anyway, how will you position that to your team?

38:05

Daniel Frommelt: When I am told to do something and in private, I’ve talked to the leadership, I tell them I will play the party line. The same thing when I talk…pull my people in my office, I tell them, you know what, I’m tired of your grumpy attitude, get off the pot and play on the team. So, OK, I’ll play on the team. I will play the…tow the part line, I’ll do what you need me to do.

And I will tell them, OK, this is what we’re going to do. And if they’re grumpy, I’d say, you know what, we’ve had a discussion in detail with the upper management, I understand what you’re saying, I have addressed that with them, their sure that this is the direction to go, I trust them as well, let’s move forward.

And in a couple of cases, I was right. In one case, I was wrong. That’s OK, I’ll admit that. We’re OK. You have to play the same role that you’re expecting your people to play and if you don’t, you’re a fool too. So on the same token, I’ve got to do both sides of the fence there. Yeah?

39:02

Audience 2: Just on the same topic, but with the…I’m assuming that you spend a lot of time on statistics or research or arguments, when you were saying I don’t think you should do this, I don’t think we should do this for a variety of reasons.

Daniel Frommelt: In the cases that are there, I can’t really talk detail, unfortunately, but I usually do have information and when things are thrown at me, I always go by my gut instinct. If something feels wrong, it’s wrong. I haven’t identified it yet. I haven’t reasoned it out.

I mean, if you’ve read Blink, Malcolm Gadwell, it focuses like…if there’s something wrong and you just get that instinct something is wrong, trust that instinct. Don’t override it, trust it. Just hesitate a little bit. Examine it. Figure out what’s wrong with that thing. Or if you get something you’re like, you know what, this is going to win. There’s no way this is going to lose.

40:01

Trust that instinct too. You’ve got an innate ability just to assess things really quickly, make a snap decision and just ride it out. So if you haven’t gone through that book, I’d try that. That answered your question or kind of waffling?

Audience 2: I think that was articles or research or something...

Daniel Frommelt: OK. Let me add a little bit more to that piece then. The two people that I’m talking about, I’m very acutely aware of the communication style, I’m also aware of their schedule, and I know that they make snap decisions. So if I took time to go back and do much more research, I knew it would have already been pass, that opportunity, the ship would have sailed, I’m lost. I had to execute quickly. So that was the reason why I had to jump in quick. I had some information in my fingertips, but not enough where I feel there was a full report.

41:12

And I was really hoping for is, OK, let’s examine this in some more detail. That never happened. A snap decision was made. You know you’re going to do it anyway. OK. But I just want to go on record that that’s what I said. I support the party line, we’ll do what we’ll need to do, but, I’ve said my piece.

Yes?

Audience 3: How does one recover from being fool?

[Laughter]

Daniel Frommelt: Just smile.

Audience 3: Yeah, I mean, I’ve done it, so.

Daniel Frommelt: It’s all I could do. I walk up and down the hallway and you’ve got two options; you can smile or you can cry. And one of them is dignified. So if you have to fake the smile, fake the smile. Do what you’ve got to do. But I’m foolish all the time. That’s OK. And I make fun of myself all the time, like, oh, well, I goofed up again. Life goes on.

Yes?

Audience 4: You talked about planning, implementation through just like going…although you have nothing else to do and then you close it out. Well, how do you get away from getting stuck in that because I found myself going through that cycle and being afraid to close up because I like to turn things over and that happens. So as the deadline comes, I just kind of freak out. How do you get out of that?

42:16

Daniel Frommelt: Scope control. Most projects, you’ve got to maintain scope control all the way through and it’s really easy to say, oh, you know what, it’ll be really cool if I can do this one little party. And while I’m here, I can do…all of a sudden you’re 10 feet away from where you should be.

And a lot of times I’ll have a very quick touch-base meeting with my team weekly, sometimes more frequently, depending upon how close the deadline is. Where we at? Well, I’m working on this. Like wait a minute, that is not part of this. Drop that we’ll come back to it later when we have time. Stay on task here. Let’s get this part done so we succeed.

So it’s a tough thing to do and I have to make that call. I’ve had to do that many times, saying, OK, that’s outside the scope of this project. Well, we’ll put it on for later, we’ll come back to it, we’ll notify the people to come back to it, we’ll document it so I’ll have a list, but I’ll definitely throw it off the list so we get it out the door.

43:06

OK, last one.

Audience 5: You talked about how important it was to take a look at a project afterwards the pros and cons and we’re looking to really institute that into our process. Any tips or tricks, kind of the top two or three things for that off site, let’s talk about it. It can be a very sensitive conversation obviously when you talk.

Daniel Frommelt: Potentially. The best thing is to have fun when you do it. And then shortly after that, I usually have a failure party. We take our biggest failure and we celebrate it because we learn the most from it. It took a while for my team to kind of relax and get into that mode, but most of the time they’re like, oh, my gosh, you’re making fun of me.

No, that’s not the intent. We learn so much from this one piece and it had nothing to do with you. I did not throw you out. I did not reprimand you. I didn’t write you up. It’s just a mistake. It’s no big deal. But we learn from it. We learn so much from some of these stuff, we’ll never do it again. Future time savings, that’s great.

OK, I need to wrap up here but I will hang on the hallway and stuff.

Moderator: Yeah.

Daniel Frommelt: Anything else?

Moderator: That’s it. I think that’s plenty.

Daniel Frommelt: Yehey.

[Applause]