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.”1

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.

About My New Book

As noted offhandedly yesterday2, my new book is out.LPM 2e cover small

It’s like the first book, only better.

In a way, it is the first book, Legal Project Management, the book that started the (mini) revolution. But it’s a new edition, and contains about 100 pages of new material, along with much revision and expansion of the original material. (For one thing, it has a larger page size, which allowed me to write more about some topics given the strict two-pages-per-topic structure.)

The ABA has taken over the publishing tasks, and I think they’ve done a nice job – clean presentation, improved internal design, etc. I’m proud to be associated with them, and I hope they feel the same about me.

In fact, they’ll feel even better about me if you head on over there and order a copy. Plus one for your library. And maybe even some for other folks at the firm on in your department who would benefit from thinking about legal success in a broader context.

Thanks for all your support these past six years, and here’s to spreading the Legal Project Management story more broadly over the next six. Together, we can make a difference for lawyers, for firms and departments, and for clients.


Sequels, for Me and Willie the Shake

The sequel to my bestselling Legal Project Management is here.

Okay, in the book biz, they call ’em second editions, but still. The ABA is releasing Legal Project Management, Second Edition. New words! New typography! New cover! New Shakespeare quotes!

As with all of my professional books, each pair of pages features a semi-relevant quote from Willie. In honor of my own sequel, I did some research into Shakespeare’s sequels. Original research, since he never got around to writing them. Except for Henry V, which was a sequel to Henry IV Part ii, which was a sequel to Henry IV Part i, which was a sequel to Richard II. And the Henry VI Parts i/ii/iii –> Richard III tetralogy. (Actually, one of the sequels below is real. By Willie. I’ve obfuscated the title – but not the plot – a bit.)

Hamlet II: Fortinbras, King of Denmark. The Norwegian takeover artist is tormented by Young Hamlet’s ghost, Old Hamlet’s ghost, the rather confused ghosts of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Ophelia’s ghost, Laertes’ ghost, Polonius’ ghost, Claudius’ ghost, Banquo’s ghost (because, why not?), Gertrude’s ghost, and the very alive – and still exquisitely annoying – Osric, who is dispatched to ghostville early in Act II to torment the other ghosts.

Son of the Tempest. Miranda and Ferdinand’s son is shipwrecked on an island but finds his grandfather’s magic books, with which he plots revenge on Milan until he discovers true love with Ariel.

Thirteenth Night: Malvolio’s Revenge. The disgraced steward plots and carries out the murders of Toby and Maria, Fabian and Antonio, and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice Sebastian and Olivia and Orsino and Viola, saving the worst for Feste, his puns, and his ukulele.

Romeo Revenant. Friar “Miracle Max” Lawrence puts another magic potion to use. We discover that Romeo was only mostly dead, although Juliet was all dead, and when Romeo went through her pockets to look for loose change, he realized she’d become a zombie. He lets her bite him, or chew his brains, or whatever zombies do – I refuse to watch TV zombie-thons – so he can move with her through the ghost world. During curtain calls, the ghost of Hamlet (the young Hamlet) makes an appearance, meaning, of course, there will be sequels to the sequel.

Chopped: Titus’s Kitchen. Titus Andronicus gets a competitive cooking show on The Food Channel, where he cooks up… uh, no. You’ll have to ask someone else for the details here.

Falstaff: Take My Wife, Please. The jolly old elf chases after desirable women of Windsor, who plot to make him the laughingstock of the town.

Fifty Shades of Kate. Katherina Minola, tired of the games played upon her by her now-husband Petruchio, introduces him to some very different games. Turnabout is fair play (in fact, that proverb originated in this work), although hijinks ensue when she can’t get his collar off even after he admits that the sun really is the sun.

A Comedy of Terrors: Freaky Friday. After hearing a strange prophecy, Dromio and Dromio switch places, as do Antipholus and Antipholus. Realizing no one can tell them apart, they conspire to commit a series of increasingly deranged murders, while one member of each pair establishes an unbreakable public alibi for the other.

Three Gentlemen of Verona. Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and James Franco create a fable about life, sex, and buddy stuff in Verona Beach, just outside of LA. (That’s Lower Ascot, of course. Not Los Angeles. We’re talking the 1600s here.)

Birnam Wood. Malcolm’s first task, as Scotland’s new ruler, is to get rid of the ten thousand trees that now litter Dunsinane Hill. It takes him three acts to recognize that Scotland has become England’s dumping zone. He strives to win independence from England, with the vocal help of Sean the Connery, but eventually he is overthrown by Fleance (guided, of course, by Banquo’s ghost and abetted in the final showdown by a pack of zombies led by Romeo Montague – see above) in fulfillment of the witches’ prophecy.

Enter, Pursued by a Bear. Shakespeare’s only surviving one-actor play, acted upon the stage at least once by William himself, according to a rare poster for the show. In this existential comedy, the actor, in a bear costume, explains the ludicrous plots of The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline. Audience participation (has to do with the bear thing) also informs this rarely performed “problem play.”

Midsummer’s End. Puck returns from vacation to discover Hippolyta leaving Theseus to return to the Amazons, Helena resuming her dalliance with Lysander, Demetrius making a revenge play for Hermia, and Titania deserting Oberon in search of her true love Nick Bottom. Puck rounds them up to stage the play Romeo and Ophelia: A Ghost Story, but they make such a total hash of it that only the appearance-ex-machina of the real Romeo-the-Zombie and Ophelia’s Ghost can convince the Midsummer couples to get back together.

My Bimonthly Canadian Law Magazine Column Is Available

My column in Slaw this month is titled The Fifth Tool: Assigning Tasks.

Learn a simple secret to getting task assignments right the first time – the right results at the right cost. (Or at least the results you asked for at something close to the number of hours you agree on. Legal Project Management can help with a lot of things, but there are limits. You already knew that, of course.)

So hop on over to Slaw and take a look.

Outstanding Project Management Behavior, Gator Division

What do you do if you’re a tour-boat operator in Florida and one of your guests, spying an alligator, jumps overboard to swim towards it?

Why would a tourist do that? Well, according to this five-year-old story (hat tip to Kevin Underhill’s brilliant Lowering the Bar series), he “wanted to fulfill a lifelong fear/fantasy of swimming with a gator.” (In answer to the obvious question, yes, though the story doesn’t reveal how many he’d had.)

The operator,  Kenneth Clineman, observed the gator pushing off the bank to swim toward the interloper, perhaps to fulfill a lifelong fear/fantasy of consuming a tourist. Clineman maneuvered his boat between the two aquatic beasts, a good thing, undoubtedly, at least for the non-reptilian member of the impromptu synchronized swimming team.

But that’s not why Clineman gets the Outstanding PM Behavior award. I assume any tour operator not doubled over with laughter would do as much.

From the news story:

After receiving assistance from [Park Ranger James] Hines, Clineman assured the tour guests that the event was highly unusual and continued his tour.

Yup. Equanimity under pressure. That’s project manager behavior.

(Photo: “Alligator mississippiensis yawn 2″ by Ianare – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alligator_mississippiensis_yawn_2.jpg#/media/File:Alligator_mississippiensis_yawn_2.jpg)

The Fourth Tool: The Budget

My regular column for SLAW, the Canadian online practice-of-law journal, is now available. It focuses on budgets, the fourth of my five tools for legal professionals.

Of course, you could buy the book on which it’s based for a more thorough discussion, he said with a smile, but the SLAW column is a good introduction.

Ringo and Project Management

Recently, Ringo Starr was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.3

There’s been discussion among music aficionados of a certain age as to whether be belongs there as an individual. After all, according to someone who should know, “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles.”

John Lennon said that.4

But…. First, John was an inveterate joker. Second, Paul, a brilliant musician overall, was and remains a rudimentary drummer. And third, in a 1980 interview, he stated, “Ringo’s a damn good drummer. He was always a good drummer.”

Here’s the project management part.

Ringo wasn’t a great drummer in terms of technique. (He’ll be the first to state that much.) No one would mistake him for the “in” drummers of the 60s and 70s, the power of John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) or Ginger Baker (Cream) or the jazz-inflected chops of John Densmore (the Doors) or the studio work of Bernard Purdie (every funk hit you can think of) or Hal Blaine (every not-so-funky hit you can think of).

But he kept an immaculately steady rhythm, playing without a metronome. And when he varied the rhythm, it was because the song subtly required it. As George said, “Ringo’s got the best back beat I’ve ever heard and he can play great 24-hours a day.”

He listened to the lyrics and found the precise fills that complemented them. (Listen to the rolling fill on the toms after “he blew his mind out in a car” that instantly transforms a folky ballad into a rock classic.)

He thought solely about what would serve the song rather than how to show flash as a drummer. Paul: “Right down the center. Never overplays.” George: “Brilliance. Pure feel.” John: “Ringo knows where to go just like that.”

Most of those in the R&RH0F are the glory guys, the front men (and women).

But someone has to keep the project in line, keep the beat, set the structure.

Maybe some drummers nowadays do that better than Ringo5, but he was the gold standard.

That’s the project manager’s job. You don’t get the glory. Heck, at least the drummer gets to sit up on a platform and hit things. People rarely pay attention unless you screw up.. (Let’s not even talk about drum solos. Please.) But you’re the difference between an innocuous folky ballad and rock ‘n’ roll!

So let’s hear it for Richard Starkey.

Oh, there’s one last way in which Ringo embodies the “zen” of project management – his cry at the end of Helter Skelter:

Planning and Project Management

From today’s Pearls Before Swine:


Worthwhile Article on Paying Your Best Performers “Unfairly”

Business Insider has a very nice article on Google’s policy of paying people “unfairly.”

By “unfairly,” Google means that different people receive different pay and/or incentives for the same position and title.

One requirement is that the business have reasonably unbiased ways of judging productivity.

That works in the tech world. (Google is not alone here.) It’s clear on a programming project who writes the best code and writes it the fastest, turns in the fewest bugs, helps most to debug other people’s code, and so on.

What About Legal?

Some law firms offer a mild variant of this procedure by paying more to those who bring in new business – the eat-what-you-kill approach. However, to some extent, that approach defines the lawyers’ primary business as sales, not legal work.

Would it be possible to use the Google model effectively in law, looking solely at service-delivery effectiveness rather than sales? Who are the attorney (partner-level) superstars when it comes to managing projects, being highly profitable rather than just revenue-generating, delivering client value, and, yes, besting the other guys consistently?

Should firms (or departments) do something like this? Some do allocate a share of year-end funds to equity partners based on their effectiveness, though I gather this is anything but transparent for most firms using this model. Could it be modeled further? Would it help morale and retention? Or is it simply out of step with the expectations of most lawyers today?

How much of the value at a practice comes from superstars v. solid performers putting in the hours?

Personal note: when I worked for Microsoft, I was compensated in part based on the difference I made to the company and its customers. I received base compensation based on my experience and job description – i.e., title and level/position. I gained additional compensation, often exceeding salary, because of things I accomplished that went beyond “doing my job,” whether it was saving millions of dollars a year against the legal budget or, in earlier days, breaking barriers to adoption for some key products and bailing out a number of high-visibility troubled projects. 




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

  2. in my defense, it was my birthday, and I was focused on other things.

  3. Okay, the whole idea of a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame seems an oxymoron. Rock at its best is immediate and ephemeral, even if The Who somehow sang “I hope I die before I get old” at the Super Bowl. Still, the R&RHoF is – somehow – a thing.

  4. Paul played drums on Back In The USSR, Dear Prudence, The Ballad Of John & Yoko, and a few other tracks, but often when the Beatles were recording songs he’d written, he’s sit at the drums to show Ringo, “Play it like this.”

  5. I said “Maybe.”