Beyond Project Management
Erika Flora, PMP, PgMP, PRINCE2, ITIL Expert
Erika Flora's Blog

Getting Teams Unstuck: Using Games to Promote Creativity and Solve Problems

One of the most powerful tools that a Project Manager can use to solve serious problems that arise during a project is a fun game.  Seems counter-intuitive, right?  It’s not.  In fact, games are finding lots of uses in business.  The best training classes use games, not only to make learning fun, but also to help students retain key concepts that they can take back to their organizations.  Many companies also use simulation type games to effect culture change and build trust among employees.  Games can also be used when your team gets stuck on a complex problem and needs to get unstuck fast.

When a team is going around and around on a problem and cannot see any other solution then the (crappy) ones in front of them, one of my favorite games to have them try is something called "the Anti-Problem".  This game only takes about 20 minutes to play, comes from a book called GameStorming, and goes like this:

  • Set the rules for the game:  we are going to step away from reality for a moment.
  • An example problem might be that you can’t get anyone to buy your company’s product.  In the game, we'll attack the "Anti-Problem."  Write up on a white board, “Too many people are buying our product!  How do we get them to stop??!”, and tell everyone we are going to try and come up with as many solutions as possible to address the Anti-Problem.  The more outlandish solutions the better!
  • Give everyone a stack of post-its and have him or her spend the first five minutes writing down lots of solutions.  The rule, however, is that they can only list one idea per post-it note.
  • When the five minutes are up, have everyone post their ideas on the wall or whiteboard (a large post-it is easily movable and also works very well) and explain each of them.  Have the team group similar ideas together, so they can start to identify patterns.
  • Go through everyone’s ideas and discuss together.  You will be surprised by the variety of ideas and insights from the team.
What is great about this exercise is that it brings about a number of positive effects.  First, it adds some levity and humor to an otherwise serious situation and improves communication (because everyone gets to equally contribute to the solution).  Second, it allows the team to think creatively, turn the problem on its side, and have a much deeper conversation about possible solutions.  Every idea that the team comes up with can be a potential solution; you just have to flip it.  If the team comes up with things like “We need to make it difficult to buy anything on our website” or “We need to be rude to our customers”, you may want to take a look at the usability of your website or the level of service you are providing customers.  You may find things that you are actually doing to shoot yourself in the foot and should probably stop doing!

As Project Managers, we are leading our teams into uncharted lands - projects that are new, risky, and full of unknowns.  Invariably, unexpected events and changes are thrown at us, and we need to be able to quickly address them and come up with innovative solutions.  What better way to generate and discuss lots of diverse ideas than with a game?  Having a few games in your project toolbox will help you lead your team out of tough situations, and you may even have a little fun doing it!

Make 2013 the "Year of the Duck"

Be like a duck.
Stay calm on the surface, but paddle like hell underneath.

There will always be way to more to do this year than you will have the time and energy to do.  However, if you’re smart about it, you can be extremely productive and make it look easy – just like a duck.  On the surface it’s smooth sailing and everything looks calm.  Below the water, you’re working like mad.  Here are three quick tips to keep in mind this year that will help you be achieve your 2013 goals.

#1 - Focus on the Right Things

Nothing can add more power to your life than
concentrating all your energies on a limited set of targets.
- Nido Qubein

One of the things Beyond20 does at the start of every year is define what we want the year to be about – essentially, the theme for the year.  We then break that vision down into specific goals and targets in support of that theme, and make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them each quarter.  Whenever I get off track (which I tend to do pretty often) or overwhelmed, I go back to that one theme.   Make sure you’re doing a few of the right things well rather than lots of the wrong things poorly.

#2 - Add a Little Planning

You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win,
prepare to win, and expect to win.
-Zig Ziglar

I learned early on in my career the importance of planning, and I make sure to allow myself some time at the end of each day to plan for the next day.  I take 10 minutes (that’s all you really need) to write out the top 5 things to get done the next day.  I jot them down on a post-it note, put a little checkmark next to each one, and tape it to my desk.  When I get in the next morning, I know what my day looks like and (no matter what else happens) I make sure I get my top 5 tasks completed.  Plus, I love the satisfaction of checking things off my list (yeah, I’m a little weird like that).  I find that when I skip my end of day planning, my week gets overwhelmed with everything that’s urgent, and I don’t focus on those things that are most important.

#3 - Take More Breaks

We need quiet time to examine our lives openly and honestly - spending quiet time alone gives your mind an opportunity to renew itself and create order.
-Susan Taylor

Even ducks get tired and coast for a while.  When you don’t get enough rest and recharge, you’re not showing up as your best and you’re certainly not going to be good to anyone on your team.  Find whatever motivates, refreshes and excites you, and make sure you inject enough of those kinds of things in your life – go for a run, take time off from work, read a great book, meditate, pray – whatever that may be.  When we deplete ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually there’s nothing to propel us forward.  Make sure you’re taking good care of yourself this year, so you don’t run out of steam.

White Paper: Leveraging the Power of PRINCE2 and PMI's PMBOK Guide

More than 20,000 organizations worldwide have adopted the PRINCE2 methodology to manage their projects.  The reason?  PRINCE2 zeros in on the essentials for successfully managing projects.  PRINCE2 defines a streamlined approach to effective Project Management and provides a set of basic rules to live by.  It provides clear, focused guidance and equips Project Managers with essential tools throughout a project to drive successful results

While The PMBOK Guide’s 42 processes and more than 500 inputs, outputs, tools and techniques can be overwhelming and cause one to lose sight of what is really important on a project.  PRINCE2 identifies 7 core principles, 7 themes, and 7 key processes to manage throughout the life of a project.  If things start to go wrong on a project, a Project Manager can very easily go back to the basics and directly identify the root cause of the problem.

New Project Managers will find PRINCE2 to be a highly approachable framework for managing effective projects, and can obtain the certification with no prerequisites. Seasoned Project Managers (and existing PMPs seeking PDUs) will see value in its practical advice and strategic business focus.  Organizations find PRINCE2 valuable as it gives them a consistent way to govern and manage projects.

This paper will illustrate three key concepts within the PRINCE2 methodology that nicely compliment and leverage the information contained in PMI’s PMBOK Guide. 

View the entire white paper here


4 Ways to Seriously Kick Butt on Linkedin

You may have a profile on LinkedIn, but are you using it effectively?  Most people aren’t.  Here are four ways I have found to make using LinkedIn more fun and WAY more effective, whether you are trying to set yourself apart as an expert, find work, or just expand your network.  If you start doing these four killer habits, you will very quickly become a LinkedIn expert and the envy of your LinkedIn connections.  Here they are:
  1. Regularly update your profile - This is absolutely key.  Why?  Well, for one thing, employers and recruiters regularly use LinkedIn.  I have heard recruiters say that they actually prefer looking at people’s bios on LinkedIn (rather than their resumes) as it gives a nice summary of their skills.  Also, you make it easier for people to find you (and your fabulous skills / expertise) on LinkedIn when your profile is up-to-date.  Make sure your profile summary and the details under each of your positions are clear and accurate.  Include any and all keywords that pertain to what you do.  I personally like to review and update my profile on a quarterly basis – for example, each time I take on a new role, get a new certification, etc. 
  2. Add cool stuff to your status – Most people forget what a great tool the “status” line is on your LinkedIn profile.  You don’t even have to be doing anything terribly interesting to be able to include something great on your status.  Post an inspiring quote you like.  Share helpful information.  Include your favorite website.  Write a few lines about a fun event that you are looking forward to.  Spread the word on a great organization in your area.  There’s lots and lots of great stuff you can put in your status line.  Just make sure you don’t spam your contacts more than about once a week.  Also, don’t be someone who is constantly selling products.  People see through this very quickly and don’t like it.
  3. Answer and ask questions – The “Answers” section on LinkedIn is a fantastic resource for a number of reasons.  First, by answering questions and sharing your knowledge, you set yourself up as an expert in your field.  You don’t have to do this more than once a week, but try searching for open questions that deal with something you know about.  For example, I know a lot about project management, so I search a few keywords related to this profession.  See if there are any questions you are knowledgeable about and can add to the conversation.  If you get selected as the “best answer”, you get an expert point in LinkedIn.  These are great if for no other reason than to show others you are pretty cool and kind of smart.  Also, try asking a question about something you would like to know more about.  I have always been surprised by the wealth of information that I receive when asking a question in LinkedIn.
  4. Write unsolicited recommendations – This is my favorite feature that most people don’t either use or use incorrectly.  The best way to use the “recommendation” feature on LinkedIn is to, every once in awhile, go through a few of your contacts and find a couple of people that you think highly of, and then just write a recommendation for them.  Don’t wait until someone asks you.  Give it as an unexpected gift.  Most people will be so surprised and grateful they may write you one in return (and genuine recommendations make the best recommendations).  However, the absolute best reason to write an unsolicited recommendation is that it strengthens the friendship you have with someone else.  It’s a good, unselfish thing to do; and it’s a nice way to spread some love to your network.  Try it.  You will be hooked!

CAPM or PMP – Which One is Right for Me?

I get a lot of questions from project managers regarding the PMP and CAPM certifications.  It seems there is a bit of confusion around the two, and that a lot of people are wondering if they should look at one or the other (or both).  In reality, it all depends on how you answer the two following questions. 
  1. Where are you now?  
  2. What is your long-term goal?

If you are brand new to project management and your long-term goal is to work as a Project Manager, my recommendation is to get your CAPM now and take the PMP when you have a few years of project management experience under your belt.  The CAPM is a well-respected certification, and it is designed precisely for those individuals who want to demonstrate a level of knowledge, competence, and understanding of project management principles, but who may not yet have the required years of project management work experience required to sit for the PMP.

If, however, you have been working in a project management capacity (even though you may not have held the title of project manager), you may find that you have enough experience for the PMP.  My recommendation is to talk with someone who is already a PMP and ask him or her to look at your resume.  Discuss the kinds of roles you have had and see if they think your experience would qualify you to apply for the PMP.  Our company offers this as a free service to students in our CAPM/PMP classes, as well as help with the PMI application process.  Many times, when I talk with students about their experience, they realize that they have actually been working in the role of a Project Manager (and using many of PMI’s concepts from the PMBOK) without actually carrying “Project Manager” as a job title.   Don’t let the lack of the PM title keep you from going after the PMP certification.

If you find that you are not yet ready for the PMP, there is still a lot of value in having your CAPM, as you will have demonstrated a familiarity with PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).  With that said, be aware that you may have to educate potential employers what CAPM stands for (Certified Associate in Project Management) and the value that it provides.  This is a function of the fact that there are more than 300,000 PMPs in the world, and there are only about 3,000 CAPMs worldwide. In fact, heard a funny story from a colleague who had earned her CAPM and interviewed for a Project Coordinator position.  She assumed they knew what the acronym stood for and mentioned receiving the CAPM credential.  After she got the job, the hiring manager asked her why she mentioned getting her Captains License (she lives in San Diego, and they just assumed it was for sailing!). 

To me, getting the CAPM or the PMP demonstrates a commitment to project management as a profession.  It shows me that someone has taken the initiative to thoroughly understand project management concepts and has passed a difficult exam (no small feat).  It also shows me that they understand Project Management “best practice” and are in it for the long haul. 

What do you think?  CAPM, PMP, or both?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Training for my first marathon

Once you get out the door, the rest is easy.

I have never been what you would call a runner - and you don’t have to be either to run a marathon.  In fact, if you asked me even a year ago if I ever dreamed of running a marathon, I would have told you no.  It’s not something that’s ever really been on my radar.  Just a few short months ago, I would get out of breath climbing stairs or running very short distances.  I didn’t really understand people who liked running.  It just wasn’t my thing. 

However, after giving running another try, I changed my thinking on the sport, and in about six weeks, I will be racing the Marine Corps Marathon.  In these last few months of training, I have learned some great lessons along the way.  If you are thinking about trying a marathon or triathlon, I hope they will be helpful to you too:
  1. Set a goal by signing up for a race – At work, when you have a deadline, you have a goal to work towards. The same is true with sports.  When you set a date for yourself and commit some of your hard earned money, it changes you perspective and gives you something to shoot for.  It’s amazing how much more motivated you will be in getting out the door when you have a date on the calendar - It really works.  If you are thinking of running a marathon or doing a triathlon, the best first step is to sign up for a race.  Don’t know what events are in your area?  Just go to  You can search by the type of event in your area.  It’s a great resource to find your first race.
  2. Find someone to hold you accountable – It’s always easier to do something if you know someone is counting on you.  One way to make sure you stay committed is to tell everyone around you that you are doing a race.  When I sign up for a race, I post it on Facebook.  It’s embarrassing to have to go back to those same friends and tell them you didn’t do a race, and this desire to avoid embarrassment has gotten me out the door more than once.  You may even find that a friend or family member will sign up for the race.  Also, think about joining a running or triathlon club.  Most running stores have free weekly group runs (We go to Pacers and Lulu Lemon in DC).  I also love the website DailyMile.  It’s like Facebook for sports.  You can post your workouts, pictures, etc.;  It’s a huge community of people in exactly the same boat, and it’s lots of fun.  After a tiring (and sometimes not so great workout), I find that posting my run online gives me a nice sense of accomplishment.  It’s also a great place to get advice or just encouragement (which we all need so very much when trying something new and difficult).
  3. Get the right gear – Just like with any sport, you need the right gear, and it really does make a difference.  Most importantly, you need a good pair of running shoes.  The best pace to find shoes is at a running specific store.  There is at least one great store in most every city - you just have to look for them.  The benefit of going to a running store is that they will take a look at your arch, stride, and make sure you get a pair of shoes that will allow you to run long distances and keep you free from injury.  Running-specific socks without any seams on the inside make a huge difference too.  I didn’t think there was anything to this until I ran with a pair of regular gym socks and ended up with very painful blisters and corns (no fun at all, believe me!).  Also, look for running gear made of breathable material.  Cotton doesn’t allow your sweat to evaporate and you will chafe, particularly at longer distances (as it turns out,  this is not so much fun either).
  4. There will be pain, but it won’t kill you – Whenever you try any new sport, there will be injuries – blisters, cuts, bruises, as well as aches and pains in muscles you’re not used to using.  If you’re like me, there will be moments where you question why the heck you are even putting yourself through this.  There will be bad days and loads of them.  But even with the bad days, you do get stronger; and there will be good days - days where you feel like you’re flying, days where you surprise yourself and others around you at what you can do, days where your mind becomes clear, you find peace, and come up with a ton of new, great ideas – but only if you can get through the bad days and get yourself out the door again.   One last thing, make sure you take care of yourself, especially after long runs.  One of the things I have found to be helpful is to drink a run recovery drink (Endurox R4 fruit punch flavor is my favorite) to prevent muscle soreness, so you can pick yourself up and get out there again. 
  5. Never skip the long run – I generally like to get by with the minimum effort, and try to talk myself out of runs all the time (It’s too hot out, It’s raining, I don’t have time, I’ll run tomorrow), but one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t ever skip your long runs, and you will only perform as well as the time you commit to running.  If you skip runs and try to show up at the start line, your body will feel it, and you will suffer.  Make sure you make the time and show up prepared.  Unfortunately, there are no short cuts in training.
Here’s the deal, if I can do this (and I used to absolutely despise running), you can do this.  It’s just a matter of deciding that you can.  If you still don’t think you could ever run a marathon or triathlon, I urge you to watch this video: When I get discouraged or downright whiny about training, I watch it as a reminder to stay committed and to carry on.



Revised PDU categories make it easier than ever to maintain your PMP certification!

In an effort to make it easier to obtain and report PDUs, PMI recently streamlined their PDU categories.  The new system features only 6 categories, versus 18 under the previous model.  This is a positive change for project managers trying to maintain PMP certification.  Below is a summary of the changes, along with my favorite picks on creative and easy ways to get PDUs.

EDUCATION (pretty much unlimited PDUs here)
  • "Category A: Courses offered by PMI R.E.P.s or Chapters and Communities" - There aren't any real changes here.  The category listing was simplified, so that these items come up first on the list.  Some of my picks:
    • Beyond20 holds free webinars worth 1 PDU on a variety of subjects (hot topics like ITIL and Agile/Scrum, advanced Project Management concepts, etc.) most Fridays. Contact us to find out when the next one is scheduled.
    • Another one of my favorite things to recommend in this category is to listen to PMIWDC webinars.  If you are already a PMI member, joining the Washington DC chapter costs $35/year, and they offer more than 100 webinars to their members for FREE!  You don't have to live or work in DC to join the chapter, and the quality of the presenters is generally very high.
    • Adding a credential to your resume is a great way to get PDUs and differentiate yourself in the marketplace.  Consider getting one of PMI's other certifications (i.e. PgMP) or another "best practice" like Six Sigma, PRINCE2, ITIL, etc.
  • "Category B: Continued Education" - This section has been simplified to encompass any non-PMI or non-REP events, courses, etc.
"Category C: Self Directed Learning" - I really like the changes in this category.  First, the maximum number of PDUs has been raised from 15 to 30 PDUs per 3-year cycle.  Second, a lot more items have been included in this category.  For example, this category now encompasses: reading articles, white papers, books, or instructional manuals, watching project management videos, having discussions with other project management professionals, mentoring or being mentored, etc.
GIVING BACK TO THE PROFESSION (a total of 45 PDUs can be earned across these 3 categories)
  • "Category D: Creating New Project Management Knowledge" – Not much has changed here.  
    • My favorite item in this category that I always recommend to PMPs is authoring an article, which earns 15 PDUs.  You can write an article on any area of expertise you have (a single page is fine) and submit it to a PMI chapter.  Most PMI chapters have newsletters, and they are always looking for content. 
    • Another fantastic way to get PDUs is to speak.  Many PMI chapters have formed Toastmasters groups.  You not only earn PDUs by attending, but become a better communicator too!
  • "Category E: Volunteer Service" – By becoming a PMI volunteer, you can earn up to 45 PDUs.  This is HUGE!  Previously, volunteers only earned 3-5 PDUs per calendar year, regardless of the amount of effort expended (which can be significant, believe me!).  Now, PMI is awarding 1 PDU for each hour of non-compensated service.  That is amazing! 
    • I highly encourage anyone looking for PDUs to becoming a PMI volunteer for their local PMI chapter.  It is worthwhile not only in maintaining your certification, but in your overall career.  You will network with lots of other project management professionals, pick up a few new skills, and be able to showcase your talents to others.  I have known countless people that have found jobs by volunteering with PMI.  It is definitely worth your time.
  • "Category F: Work as a Practitioner" - For each year you work as a Project Manager, you can claim 5 PDUs.  Over the course of three years, you can earn 15 PDUs.  No change here. 
Interested in learning more?  Check out PMI's site with details on the six PDU categories here.

Have other great ideas on ways to earn PDUs?  I would love to hear them!

Are you sharing your “tribal knowledge” with others?

I recently gave a presentation at PMI San Diego’s conference about how to “stand out” as a Project Manager.  We all want to “stand out”: to be looked up to as the expert in our fields, be first in line for a promotion, get the coolest opportunities, and work on the best projects.  But, how exactly do we become the expert?  

Many of us as Project Managers are champions for process improvement and organizational maturity.  We look for ways to get those around us to document their “tribal knowledge” or “lessons learned” for the good of the organization and team.  However, most of us are guilty of keeping our own “tribal knowledge” in our heads.  We do this to the detriment of our teams, companies, and our own careers.

Regardless of whether you are a Project Manager or hold an entirely different role in an organization, I encourage you to put your knowledge on paper.  It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task - write a short article, blog post, response to someone else’s blog, company newsletter, etc.  When we share our knowledge with others, we showcase our talents and experience and, thereby, start to demonstrate expertise in our field.  We are all experts in something - It’s time to share that knowledge with others.

Don’t know what to write about?  It doesn’t have to be a stressful exercise or require a lot of preparation and research (though that is great too).  I like to start by asking, “What would ‘me from 10 years ago’ wish they knew?”  Other topics that are easy to begin writing about are things like:
  • What’s it like in my day-to-day job or in my industry?  
  • What does it take to get into a role like this?  How did I get into this role / industry?
  • What do I love most about this job or career path?
  • What habits, skills, or best practices make someone in this role successful?
  • What are the biggest lessons I have learned (whether on a particular project or in my overall career)?
  • What information can I share that would be helpful to someone new in a particular industry or role?
  • What’s the funniest / most challenging / surprising / greatest learning experience I have ever encountered? 
  • Who or what has impacted my career the most and why?
If you speak genuinely, you show people that you too have made mistakes and learned from them.  As a result, you will grab people’s attention and begin to “stand out” in your industry.  We all have valuable information stored away in our heads, and people love to hear stories.  Why not share yours with others?  How many cool projects, events, or other important lessons have you kept to yourself and not shared with someone that could benefit from your knowledge?  

Mastering the Dreaded Phone Interview

Phone interviews, just like in-person interviews, can mean the difference between getting that next great job and being passed over for someone else.  Thus, it’s important to take phone interviews seriously.  Here are some sure-fire tips that will help you make a great first impression and get invited to the next step of the interview process. 

Preparing for the Interview
  • Get a copy of the job description, and write down any and all ways your experience fits with what the company is looking for.  Try to recall as many stories as you can of how you have successfully performed one or more of the items they are looking for.    
  • Update your resume accordingly.  Print out a copy of your resume, along with the job description, and have them by the phone.  They need to be accessible for quick reference, and they are a great place to take notes during the interview.
  • Research the company and interviewer.  Print out any pertinent information from the company website, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Come up with a list of questions for the interviewer, and have them close by the phone.  The more information you have in front of you, the more prepared you will sound during the interview.

During the Interview
  • Dress in business attire as if you were going in for an interview.  Even though no one will see you, studies have found that people sound more professional when they are dressed the part.
  • Stand up during the phone interview.  Your voice will sound more confident than it will if you remain seated.  I also like to walk around a bit, both to increase the tone and energy of my voice and to walk out any jitters I may have.
  • Place a mirror in front of you and make sure to smile. As silly as it sounds, interviewers can hear a genuine smile through the phone.
  • Do not let the interviewer get off the phone without expressing your excitement about the opportunity and inquiring about the next step.  

After the Interview
  • Be sure to follow up with a short, simple Thank You email.

Got any other great tips?  I would love to hear them!  Leave your comments here…

New Year’s Resolution Idea: Be a Mentor.

Everybody needs a mentor - Donovan Bailey

We all know a little something about something, right?  For me, I know a lot about networking and project management, and I love to share my knowledge with just about anyone that will listen.  Why?  Because it’s something I so very much wished I had learned early on in my career.  Something I wish a mentor, a boss, anyone had taken the time to tell me about when I was young.  I thought I knew everything, and I (unfortunately) acted in some very career limiting ways.  Is there someone out there that you can help with the knowledge you have? 

Being a mentor doesn’t have to be a formal thing.  In fact, you don’t even have to tell someone, “Hey, I’m going to mentor you”.  Just do it.  Just offer advice.  Just show kindness.  Just take someone out to lunch and talk with them about their challenges and what you have learned along the way.  Show them that you don’t have it all figured out either, and that that’s ok.  It’s a journey we’re all on.  No one has it figured out (even the bestselling authors who write about it and seem to have all the answers.  Trust me on this one).

If you want to make it formal, more power to you!  Feel free to start a mentoring program at work.  Start one in your church.  Start one at school.  Everyone needs a mentor.  Why not take the initiative to be one?  You are more experienced than someone else out there.  There will always be someone younger, newer, or less experienced than you in some way.  Be the one to stretch out your hand and offer your help.  We all desperately need and want help.  If you give help, you will learn so much and grow so much as a result.  Try it.  You will be surprised by what you (and those around you) get from it.
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