Gator-Aid, Redux

Good project managers follow up.

Not that I followed up my article last month about a Florida tour-boat operator who not only saved a misguided tourist from lunch – becoming lunch, that is – but then carried on the rest of the tour with perfect aplomb. No, I didn’t follow up, but Ken Clineman, the tour-boat guy, did.

And Ken is a project manager in real life!

Or was. He’s retired now, but he wrote me that he had been a systems engineer/project manager who worked in Verizon ‘s Federal Division. Clearly, he didn’t let his project management skills wither when he signed on to run tour boats around the Everglades. (Which sounds like a fun retirement plan. Maybe without the alligators. Nah, the alligators aren’t the problem. Maybe without the occasional tourist who mistakes the swamp river of grass for a petting zoo.)

He concluded his note to me thus: “I guess many PM skills are transferable in diverse situations!”


So come on, sign on for some Legal Project Management training. Transferable skills. Effective, non-boring training. A few bad jokes. And I’ll even throw in an alligator.

(Disclaimer: I’m not bringing a real alligator. We’re clear on that, right?)

“Failure Is Not an Option” – My Bimonthly SLAW Column Is Available

My regular column in Slaw, the Canadian law journal, has gone live. I describe some project management lessons from the Apollo 13 near-disaster.

Remember, you don’t have to be Canadian to read Slaw :-) . (Disclaimer. I’m not Canadian myself, though I’m close enough right now to see the lights of Victoria, BC from my window, about ten miles away.)

Why Every Project Manager Should Read “The Martian”

Andy Weir’s The Martian (affiliate link) is an essential read for lawyers who want to better manage their projects.

Okay, you have to like a certain type of fiction, the book where every episode is something-goes-wrong-and-the-protagonist-is-gonna-die-unless-he-thinks-his-way-to-the-solution. In this case, he does it with rich humor and a good-sized helping of four-letter words. And along the way, he endures a laptop filled with 70s TV and disco, exposes a major flaw in the Aquaman comic books, and manages to survive when left for dead in a forbidding environment inhospitable to human life.

The book is “hard science fiction,” filled with terminology the narrator doesn’t always explain. So if you see that as a barrier, you’ll struggle with this book. I urge you to push through it, since most of it doesn’t matter.1

Because the protagonist is one heck of a project manager.

He plans. He figures out where his plans won’t work, or may fail, and creates backup planes. Stuff goes wrong. He figures out new plans. He keeps moving forward. And he retains a sense of humor about it all (e.g., Aquaman – a terrific two-line aside that’s been cut from the upcoming movie, though it appears in a different context in some extras apparently intended for the DVD).

He covers the essence of project management, four of the five tools.

  • He manages the project, a rather critical project – his survival in the face of ridiculous odds.
  • He manages his time, which gets extremely critical on voyages he must make away from the landing site.
  • He manages his budget – food, air, water, and electricity.
  • He manages his “client” (I won’t spoil the book by explaining further here, but his client in the project-management sense comes into play about a third of the way through).
  • He doesn’t manage his team, but only because he doesn’t have one.

He’s alone. On Mars.


Or as he writes in his diary, “My Wikipedia page will say, ‘Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars’.”

His project: to return home and edit that entry.


There’s a movie coming, directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma and Louise) and starring Matt Damon (who was an actor long before he became Jason Bourne). It’ll probably be pretty good, but the trailers and extra material – there’s about ten minutes of stuff floating about the web – haven’t captured the self-mocking tone in which Weir’s protagonist keeps his logs. That’s fine, I guess. A book is a book, and a movie is something different.

So enjoy the movie, but to learn more about project management, go read The Martian.

The Value of Training

The Three Geeks site offers an excellent article on the value of training.

Or as their included cartoon suggests,  “too busy” is also too busy to truly commit to the practice’s (and your own) future. Anyone can be too busy on a given day or week, but too-busy-all-the-time is the opposite of a long-term solution.

Training makes the practice stronger. And benefits the clients. And helps retain the best talent.

It costs a few bucks, but as the Three Geeks graphic suggests, payback comes rather quickly.

So what’s not to love?

(Typo corrected 6:15PM PDT.)

Safety Tip of the Day

When you travel with your portable USB devices – smartphone, tablet, etc. – they tend to run out of power at the end of the day. How cool is it, then, that so many airports, coffee shops, and such now have USB outlets just waiting to charge your phone?

Let me rephrase that. How cool is it that these places may have USB outlets with malware lurking to take over your phone?

I’m not suggesting one of these places would intentionally place malware in the system. But if there is any software behind these outlets, that software could be compromised.

The same goes for plugging into a friend or colleague’s laptop. It’s probably safe. Probably. But maybe….

Datalink cableIf you do this often, the way to do it safely is to use a specialty USB charging cable such as this one (affiliate link) that lacks a data link. A USB cable has multiple wires, with some for power and some for data transmission. This cable eliminates the possibility of data transmission – not so good for connecting to your own computer, but a nice safety tool for connecting to a strange outlet.

After all, this is the age where the bad guys stick false fronts on ATMs and gas-station credit-card readers. How long before they’re installing false USB chargers that will indeed charge your phone… but will also attack it?

(This cable claims to work for the iPad too, but I’m not an Apple guy and can’t verify that.)

Hat-tip to James Neal Martin.

LPM in Australia and New Zealand

I am making a rare trip “down under” in November: in New Zealand the first part of the week of November 16, flying to Australia (Melbourne / Sydney / Brisbane) the end of that week through the week of November 21.

If your firm or law department is interested in working with me during those weeks, please let me know. Since transportation costs and travel time aren’t issues, I’m happy to offer a significant discount on my seminar and training fees. Even if you just want to talk while I’m there, let’s figure out a way to make it happen.

You can contact me at +1 530 539 4242 (that’s 530-LEXICIAN), or by emailing training at Lexician dot com.

I look forward to seeing you in a few months!

New: Now You Can Subscribe by EMail

I know the world is trending away from email. Sometimes I’m in front, sometimes I’m behind, and sometimes I just do it my own way.

It’s now possible to subscribe to these articles by email. Click the box in the upper right-hand corner and offer up your email address.

“But Steven,” I hear you say (because all is known on the Internet, right?), “what will you do with my email address? Will you scam me? Spam me? Green-eggs-and-ham me?”

None of the above. I’ll protect your address as best as my site allows, and I will not use it for anything other than to send you these articles. (Actually, I won’t even use it for that, in a literal sense. The Postmatic application will do that for me.)

I don’t know, but if it were me, I’d chance it.

(And if you’re too modern for email, you can follow me on Twitter, wherein I also post automated notices of new articles.)

Have a great weekend.

“Hold Off the Earth Awhile”

I buried a dear friend yesterday.2

He’d fought an insidious brain tumor for three years, or about thirty-three months more than his doctors had allotted at first diagnosis. He fought the good fight. But death always wins. Or to quote the opening of a friend’s novel,

Nobody’s tough enough to take Death in a fight, not a fight Death wants to win. Death eventually wins them all, some by knockout, some by TKO, and some simply by claiming a unanimous decision when the fight’s done.

But it was Shakespeare I was thinking of yesterday through my tears as I added my handful of dirt to the grave. A line I’d read and heard a hundred times sprung to mind, a line I never fully understood until yesterday:

Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms.

That’s Laertes, with Hamlet watching from the shadows, as his sister Ophelia is laid in the earth.

“Hold off the earth awhile.” The line always seemed obvious, in part a simple request, in part a way to avoid turning a powerful scene into slapstick, the intransigent gravedigger showering Laertes – and his costly costume – with debris. “Hold off the earth awhile” is nothing but a way of getting to the real point, his desire to cradle his younger sister one last time.

So I’d thought, until yesterday.

They buried Andy in a tiny box, not Andy, of course, because Andy was gone, not even Andy’s body, large and strong even as disease wasted him at the end. Only Andy’s remains, the ashes left after the crematorium had done its blasted work. Such a tiny box, of unadorned pine, a foot on each side, lowered into a three-foot-deep pit, a hole that a child might have dug save for the purposeful, rectilinear sides.

That couldn’t be Andy in there. How could they confine any part of him in such a small vessel?

Hold off the earth awhile.

Hold off, while we remember. While we believe he’s still here, walking among us, mocking the fuss we were making over him.

Hold off the earth awhile. Hold off the finality of this moment, the emptiness, the dizzy mortality that sets us staggering across our days.

Hold off the earth awhile, not so we can cradle our loved ones a final time, but to stop the world from spinning wildly out of control. To stop the passage of time. To let us believe for a few more seconds we can be whole, and together, and undamaged.

Hold off the earth awhile.

And then I added my handful of dirt to the handfuls already in the grave, and a hundred mourners after me did the same.

The world didn’t stop.

It just got a bit smaller.

Miss you, Andy.

When the Project Whispers, “Get Out”

Many years ago, a film (The Amityville Horror) featured a house that whispered to a visiting priest, “Get out.” (If you scroll down a bit, you can see the “get out” bit with Rod Steiger as the priest.)

Every been on a project like that?

Most of us have the sense to leave the house – or the project – when it speaks up and tells us to get out.

What about projects that don’t speak so clearly? Or impart the information in a language we don’t understand? What about clients who expect us, as project managers, to stay in the house of the project no matter what it’s intoning?

Projects rarely say, overtly, “Get out.”3

Rather, they speak the language of incipient failure.

Today’s article marks the start of a series on project failures – how to spot them, how to avoid them, and how to correct them. Project failures such as this one:

(My most recent book, the second edition of Legal Project Management, is done and is now available, and I’ve had a break. That’s my cue to start the next book/project. I’ve begun writing, including reworking an earlier start I made on the book, but I want to use these articles to explore some of the concepts of project failure – and project turnaround. This will be an intermittent series of articles, interrupted by various other ideas that come up, but project failure will be a running theme at least through the fall.)

Here’s the clip. It’s not very pleasant, with the flies and all, so I’ve pushed it way down the page. At least they were real flies. These days, the filmmakers would use 17,000 computer-generated/CGI flies.


On Living While Dying: A Beautiful Article by Oliver Sachs

I rarely write on Saturdays, but this was too beautiful not to share: Oliver Sachs in the NY Times.

  1. The one term that may throw you from the start, because it appears constantly, is a “sol,” which is a Martian day, about 24 and a half hours. He eventually explains this one. The rest don’t really matter. Skim or skip them – e.g., his description of hexadecimal and ASCII codes, which are the way computers handle characters – and read on.

  2. This article has nothing to do with project management.

  3. Some do, in almost as plain language. Listen to them, if you can.