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Monday, December 2, 2013

May I have your Attention, Please?

[Also available as a podcast]

You know the drill - anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airline has heard this announcement from the flight attendant, usually followed by a safety briefing video and a demonstration by the crew. 

Most of us briefly look up, see the flight attendant standing there, snug our seat-belt, glance up above our heads, and resume reading - or listening to music, whatever. Most of us ignore the actual briefing if we have flown more than a few times. Even the comment "you may have flown before, but this aircraft may be different than what you are used to, so please follow along with this safety briefing" is unlikely to gain more than a few curious glances. If the safety message is only a video, there may be even fewer people paying attention.

We have become so used to distractions and the constant babble of noise around us in our daily lives, we learn to tune it out - and that can sometimes be a good thing. But how do you get - and hold - someone's attention, particularly if the message you have to share is really important?

On aircraft, different techniques have been used over the years to try to gain - and hold - your attention when announcements are made, with varying degrees of success. Humorous flight attendants are popular, but what about the safety videos?

Some of the most effective have been produced by Air New Zealand, who developed a series of safety videos that actually get you watching - and engaged. They also change the videos regularly, so you are also less likely to be "ho-hum" when you get settled in for your flight. Passengers now look forward to the safety videos - imagine that! Nude flight attendants with paint-on uniforms, anyone? You can be sure everybody paid attention to that safety video!

"That's nice for the airlines", you say. "But
how can we get - and keep - someone's attention?"

One tactic is to hook them with the unexpected - and then engage them in the message, and keep them interested until you are finished.

The Unexpected


Well, perhaps it is not a great idea to literally start with a bang (especially on an airplane), but you need to do something to begin to hook their attention away from their smartphones at the beginning of your message or presentation. Something out of the ordinary can work quite well, if you don't overdo it.

Many years ago,well before the clever Air NZ videos, I was on an aircraft that most definitely held my undivided - and disconcerted - attention.

I was leaving New Delhi, en route to Singapore. My first time flying on Aeroflot - the Russian airline. I was on an Illyushian II-86, a large single-level wide-body aircraft with the same capacity as a Boeing 747-400. It held close to 350 people, but that day it had less than 100 passengers. Plenty of room for everyone to stretch out, which was nice for a long flight.

Illyushian II-86. Attribution: Jean-Pierre Tabone Adami (2002)

They closed the cabin doors, and a flight attendant rattled off a long spiel in Russian. They then switched to English, and I casually began to half-listen.

"We have now turned on the fasten seat belt signs. Please make sure to have your seat belt fastened at all times when you are in your seat. Your life vest is located in a pouch under your seat. In the event of an emergency..." the attendant droned on with the rest of the standard safety briefing. 

There was just one problem.

There was no seat belt sign. In fact, there were was a clear absence of "no smoking" signs as well as seat-belt signs. There were no signs at all - in any language - except the glowing "Exit" sign in the aisle beside me.

Get them Engaged

Once you have their attention, give them something to think about. If you lapse into the mundane and familiar, you will begin to lose your audience. Keep it interesting - and keep a few surprises up your sleeve in case you need to re-hook them.

I looked all around the cabin, trying to see if there were any signs, any at all - aside from "Exit". I looked back to my left. Ahhh, there was one more "Exit" sign, at the bottom of the wide stairs. So, the first one wasn't a fluke.

...Hold on, stairs? You said this was a single level plane.

Yes, stairs. Exit sign, wide carpeted steps, railings on both sides, the whole bit. They went down to a lower level, and I could see a few suitcases piled up against one wall. ...Wait a minute, suitcases visible from my seat? 

I learned later this was part of the "Luggage at Hand" option offered by the aircraft - you could buy your ticket and check-in on-board, but not on the International flights.You could walk your own bags into the baggage deck.

The safety spiel was long since finished, but I was suddenly fully engaged and very interested in this peculiar aircraft, and in particular how it related to my own safety. 

Steps to the baggage compartment? Only Exit signs?  What else was going to be different about this plane?

Keep them on the Edge of their Seat

OK, now you have their attention. Your message is different, and fresh - OK,  maybe just different, but they are listening to you, so don't complain. What do you do next? Right - weave in the important parts of your message into your story while they are interested. Wait - is my message a story? Why not? Stories and anecdotes can be a powerful medium for a message to be delivered in a fun and engaging way. So tell them what you want to tell them - but keep it interesting.

After takeoff, I continued to look around the aircraft. I noticed the person beside me had his feet up. Yes - he had his feet up, with the ultimate in legroom. He had flopped the seat-back in front of him down flat.

...Wait - seats are only supposed to recline backwards, right? They are not supposed to flip forward and sandwich you...?!

As the flight was quite empty, I had three seats to myself, as did the person in front of me. And behind me. And beside me. So I sat by the aisle...and in the middle...and then at the window, getting my maximum value from the three seats. I casually flopped the seat-back forward in front of me, and enjoyed the ample legroom with my feet up. Thus relaxing and thinking about perhaps having a nap, I looked out the window at the engines and the right wing. There was only a slight lulling chop for turbulence, more like a rhythmic bouncing sensation. The plane was gently bouncing in time with the flapping of the wings.

Hey, No Sleeping in the Back Row!

Keep things moving, don't let the message get stale. It might just be time for another zinger or small surprise.

...Flapping? Yes, this was a jet - and yes, the ends of the long, slender wings were bouncing up and down, making them flap about 6 feet (2m) up and down at the wing tips. Suddenly, I began to feel nervous, and uncomfortably alert. 

I then glanced at the twin jet engines on the right side, positioned forward of the wing on long booms. Both engines were bouncing up and down.

Yes, bouncing!

The engines were not bouncing the same way, though - they counter-bounced. One went up while the other went down, about once a second.

Flap, flap, flap, bounce, bounce, bounce.

Suddenly I was very, very nervous.

Send the message home

Repetition in your message is fine, as long as you don't over do it. A common teaching practice is to "tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you have told them." Make sure to emphasize your key point - the stories and anecdotes are great, but make sure they remember the core of the message you are trying to deliver.  

I shuddered, and turned my attention back inside the aircraft. I was just in time to see the passenger in front of me rub his back against the seat. He was twisting to rub an itchy bit of his back against the side of the seat cushion, but as he did so, the entire frame of all three seats in his row visibly twisted with his movement.

At that point, I simply gave up worrying. 

If we ever crashed, nobody would ever survive. It was the longest 5 1/2 hour flight of my life.

One thing is for sure though - they had [accidentally] gained - and held - my complete and undivided attention for the entire trip.


Everybody seems to want a slice of your attention. It is no wonder people are complaining that attention spans are constantly decreasing - there is no shortage of interruptions and distractions that are all wanting a piece of you - and your time.

It used to be that the simple phrase "May I have your attention, please?" would have most of the people in the room politely turn and listen to the speaker for a decent period of time - to listen to an announcement, or perhaps a full hour-long presentation. Now, however, we seem to have grown immune to this polite request. Buzzing, chirping, ringing, tweeting, and just plain lack of social etiquette seems to be the order of the day. Even when we say we are paying attention, our fingers are itching to check email, Facebook, twitter or texts. For most of us it has become a habit - or even an addiction.

"Not me", you say - "I pay attention! Don't count me as one of those 'rude' people!"

Well, perhaps you are an exception. However, not many can resist the constant distractions surrounding us and in the palm of our hand or our pockets.

Oh, hey, but wait - I have one more interruption...

Did They Get the Message?

Hey, what about the airplane story above? How does it fit in with "getting your attention" and "communicating a message" - after all, the flight attendant spoke for barely a minute, reading off some card that apparently did not even relate to their aircraft. What 'message' were they trying to pass on? They didn't even care to get their facts straight, while *I* have an important presentation to give to a group of 500 people. I prepared for weeks - how could you even compare the two things? want the secret.

That's gonna cost you.

You gotta pay.....attention.

The important thing to remember about your message is not the actual message delivery itself. It is what the audience takes away from the experience that matters. What will they take away from their journey with you?

The anonymous flight attendant said little - but the experience spoke volumes. I learned to pay attention on aircraft - and not take my surroundings for granted. In doing so, I became very aware of how different things were - and how they could potentially affect my safety. It was, effectively, an interactive, 5 1/2 hour long self-directed "safety briefing" that started with the "hook" from the flight attendant. I learned a few more things too:

  • I learned that I may think twice about flying on that particular type of aircraft again. 
  • I came to appreciate the other aircraft I had become used to flying on, with their short-legroom, no-flip-forward seats, their non-flapping wings and engines firmly affixed to the wings in a most satisfactorily non-bouncy way.
  • I also learned that "this aircraft may be different" is not an idle threat!

When you prepare for and deliver your presentation, think as much about how you are presenting your message as what you are trying to say. You never know what the audience will actually take away from your presentation, but if you can engage them and keep up their interest in what you have to say, they may actually end up leaving with some of the message you were trying to convey.

Good luck with your projects, take care in crafting and delivering your messages - and next time you are on an airplane, pay attention to the safety briefing!

Gary Nelson, PMP

Monday, November 18, 2013

Guest Post: A Recipe for Teams

By Peter de Jager

Groups of people are most effective at completing large complicated tasks, when they’re co-operating smoothly with very little interpersonal conflict.  This is nothing more than an observation. When this happens we recognize it is a somewhat unique occurrence. So… we give it a name – we call it a ‘Team’.

When we move onto our next large complicated task, and there’s no shortage of these – we remember our last success and try to replicate the it. We remember the Teamwork and set out to re- create that same sense of co-operative team spirit. The problem is that we really don’t have an accurate understanding of why/how a group of people gel into this thing we call a ‘team’. We know it’s desirable, we know it seems to generate positive results, but we don’t really know why it happens.

Consider for a moment the inherent complexity of how people interact. If there are only six people in a group, there are 15 possible one-to-one interactions. Add one more person to the group, and the number of interactions jumps to 21 interactions. (Think of clinking wine glasses when you make a toast around the dinner table) For the sake of simplicity? I’m ignoring the many ways in which people can form cliques and how that adds to the number and types of interactions.
The simple truth is that a manager does not have the time to oversee each and every interaction within a group, anymore than a farmer can attend to each individual ear of corn in a cornfield. What a farmer does, and what we as managers must learn to do, is create an environment that is ‘friendly’ to teams and which supports their growth.

The other thing a farmer knows, and managers must embrace - Is that the ears of corn, the team members in this analogy, are going to do what comes naturally. We cannot ‘force’ people to work well together… The moment we start to use force, we almost guarantee the group will never blossom into a team.

So? Before we put on our boots and head to the fields, can we define what it is we’re going to try and re-create? What exactly is a team? A working definition is comprised of three parts. The first component is a well defined goal/objective. The second is group of people who believe that the goal is worthy of their efforts.  And the third part is a shared understanding of the roles of each individual as they work towards that goal.

That sounds simple enough – hopefully not so simple as to be useless – just simple enough to keep in mind as a starting point as we work towards our goal of creating a team.

The first part is easy enough. Defining the goal, and then communicating that definition doesn’t require any special powers. Just some good analytical skills, and the ability to communicate. Surely these are abilities well within the reach of most managers. One down, two to go.

The next piece is a little bit more difficult. Getting people to see that the goal is worthy of their efforts isn't achieved by snapping our fingers and expecting people to immediately accept our exhortations that the goal is worthy. It requires a touch of leadership ability, and an understanding of how people respond to Change. There’s nothing too difficult here, but this does require some effort on the part of the Team Leader, it doesn't just happen. Two down, one left.

Lastly we have to have everyone on the team understand two distinct things. First? How their role will contribute to the success of the team. And just as important? How the roles of everyone else will contribute to that success. How do we do this? Simple. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. All done. Well… not quite – something’s missing.
All of this is all very fine. These three components provide a good structure on which to build a team, but to be perfectly honest? There’s something missing here, and it has to do with the complexity mentioned earlier. People interact with each other, and the ‘spirit’ of a ‘team’ is encapsulated in those interactions. Given that these interactions outnumber the Manager’s ability to monitor and/or affect on an individual basis… how can a Manager affect this aspect of Team formation?

Part of the answer lies in the simple reality that people are social animals. Left to our own devices, we naturally choose to get to know each other. The more we know each other, the more we’re likely to trust each other – assuming of course that we’re trustworthy – and for the most part we are. Working together isn’t an unnatural act. We might not help a complete stranger – but most of us seem to choose to do so, but we will almost certainly help anyone with whom we have more than a passing relationship.

So? How can we capitalize on the almost hardwired aspects of human nature to create the teams required by our organizations? Just as the Farmer lets ears of corn do what ears of corn do… we should create environments/opportunities where people can do what people tend to naturally do.

If you want to see this happen… and reap some organizational benefit from human nature? Here’s a simple recipe for team building  Invite people together for an informal evening. Don’t provide food. Sooner or later – someone’s going to get hungry – that’s what humans do. Don’t order in… instead suggest that they cook a meal. Don’t have supplies on hand. A team will form that will head out for supplies (this used to be called ‘hunting’)… when they return, a team will form to cook the meal, another will form to set the table. Before your eyes a team is forming. It’s what people do.

© 2013, Peter de Jager. Peter is convinced we make things more difficult than they need to be. The answers are in front of us. He’s a Keynote Speaker, Writer and Consultant. Visit to listen some live presentations.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Guest Post: Five Essential Presentation Tips

By Peter Taylor, The Lazy Project Manager

You are already an expert on Presentation Skills – I mean, how many presentations have you suffered in your time at work? Clearly you can recognise a ‘good’ presentation and a ‘bad’ presentation. You have so much experience!

Here are my top 5 tips to improve your own Presenting Skills.

1. To Begin: Open on a high and finish on an equal high– start and finish your presentation with a story or example or key point, something that will both relax you and get the audience engaged, and leave them wanting to find out more at the end.

Getting the audience's attention right from the beginning is essential - remember the first 10 minutes window is the first point of opportunity to lose your audience, and having lost them they are very hard to get back.

2. The Content: If you talk about something you know well then rehearse to control your time and avoid getting ‘carried away’. If you don’t know the subject well then still rehearse and possibly invite people who know more than you do on the subject to be there to support you if needed.

Don’t try and deliver 100% in the presentation – takeaways/hand-outs/follow-ups etc are all acceptable (after the event)

3. Time: It’s not the volume but the message that counts. Don’t waste people’s time.

The average presentation is 60 mins – say an average audience is 100 people so this may be just 1 hour of your time but it is 100 hours of your audiences’ time. Wasted if I you are not ‘good’ – and this is equal to 4.2 days!

Last year I presented to around 7,000 people which is a potential of 292 days of wasted time if I got it wrong.

Better to prepare and deliver a great 30 minutes rather than a mediocre 60 minutes.
Hands up anyone who has ever complained about a presentation finishing early?
And be prepared to adapt to time constraints – time of day – organisers demands etc – be flexible

4. The Practicalities: Or the three Ps: 

  • Prepare, a well-rehearsed presentation will keep your audiences’ attention
  • Present, the smallest part time wise
  • Profit, Your audience should gain something from the experience

5. Break the Rules: There are a number of ‘rules’ that you may have been taught over the years.

  • 6:6:1 rule (6 bullets /6 words/1 idea on one slide) – not a bad rule but try and avoid it – use pictures instead of words, the slides (if you have slides) are for your audience and not for you!
  • Agenda - tell what are you going to tell, then tell and then tell what you have told them … absolutely not, entertain them, educate them and leave them wanting more and open to talking after the presentation
  • Thank the audience – well yes but to close this way is a very flat ending to a presentation, better to close out with a call to action or simple ‘next step’.

Break the rules and have fun with your next presentation!

You can learn a whole lot more about Presentation Skills on my Webinar that runs on 28th November 2013 - CHECK IT OUT HERE


Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

In the last 3 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 20 countries and with new books out including ‘The Lazy Project Manager and the Project from Hell’, ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’, ‘Leading Successful PMOs’, and ‘The Thirty-Six Stratagems: A Modern Interpretation of a Strategy Classic’ - with a number of other book projects currently underway.

He has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’ and he also acts as an independent consultant working with some of the major organizations in the world coaching executive sponsors, PMO leaders and project managers.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at and  – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

•    Keynote Presentations and Lectures
•    Master of Ceremonies
•    Inspirational Workshops
•    Coaching
•    Authoring

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Guest Post: Is Your Voice Being Heard?

Our world is clogged with promiscuous noise offering everything from eternal youth to creating your own avatar on Facebook. We are bombarded  relentlessly with information through more channels than we could ever have imagined.

At work.  How many emails come into your inbox each day? How many unnecessary meetings do you attend?

Walking to get your lunch. Billboards, shopfronts, audio, people with flyers.

At play. Advertising on every website, on social media, in every game.

Well intentioned information that’s shared by others to help you with your work.

The point is, we are all so submerged in information that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be heard.

Ever been presenting an idea in a meeting to see people texting or checking emails? It’s ok, go ahead, I’m listening. Ever been giving a presentation to see glazed looks in eyes or worse, people nodding off.

To cut through the clutter we need 3 things.

  • To have a sense of purpose for each piece of communication.
  • To understand what information is relevant to your audience.
  • The ability to structure the information in a way that is easily followed.

You don’t set off on a holiday without a destination do you? Even our most carefree travellers who may say, I’m off to Europe, still have a destination in mind. Where do you want your audience to be at the end of your presentation? Having a clear purpose in your mind allows us to filter irrelevant information as well as keeping ourselves on track.

Let me show you what I mean. Say I am the headmaster of a school and my purpose is to motivate my audience of Year 11 & 12 boys to eat healthier food. 

So when I’m planning my presentation do I include:
a) information on how eating well can help you live longer
b) information on how eating well gives you guns
c) information on how eating well reduces pimples, makes you look better and helps you get girls

Get it?  Purpose acts as a filter when you plan your presentation or any other important conversation.

How do you know what is relevant to your audience? Do your research. And this can be as deep as you need. Who are they? Age? Gender? Salary? Interests? What do they know about your topic? What do they need to know? What motivates them? Where do they live? What do you imagine their lives are like? Walk in their shoes. Get in their heads. When you do, you will create content that nails your target every time. And that means you’re cutting through the clutter.

So thanks to your purpose you’ve got a whole heap of relevant information.

But if you throw it out randomly you will lose your audience.  The way you structure your information is critical. Your listeners need to be taken on a clear cut journey. There are several ways to create this structure but it will always need a logical flow. Let’s go back to our teenage boys.

Not so Great Structure

Better Structure



Simply by placing the benefit up front (in this case) you have the audience’s attention.

Do not confuse being an extrovert and being able to wing it casually in front of 10 or 1000 as being a great communicator. The fact that you’re the one asked to speak at weddings and funerals may just mean you are less scared of public speaking than anyone else.

To be a great communicator you need purpose, you need relevance and you need structure BEFORE anything else. But when you can rise above the noise and articulate well in a boardroom or a ballroom you are noticed and promoted. You are seen as confident and knowledgeable. You are heard and that means you can influence, getting more of what you want.

Lynne Schinella is a professional business speaker, corporate trainer and CEO of Ripe Learning. She can be contacted on 612 9929 8989 or emailed at

Friday, October 25, 2013

Life Skills through Project Management - Projects for Kids

This article celebrates International Project Management Day - November 7, 2013. One key theme this year is Life skills through project management – Teaching project management skills such as planning, organizing and leading to young people in grammar schools and high school. 

Managing Projects is tough, right? You need a lot of training, experience, an iron will and a cast-iron stomach in order to be able to deal with all of the challenges and complexities that your sponsor, stakeholders, vendors and customers can throw at you. And yet somehow, you manage to survive the experience, and take those battle scars with you as you strive to improve on the next project. Sometimes it seems that if you are not some sort of Superman, you won't survive.

Hardly sounds like fun - who would want to ever manage a project with a bleak future like that ahead of you, with all of your projects viewed as uphill battles?

Not all projects are like that - and in fact, many activities that happen in our everyday lives are, in reality, projects. The problem is that most people don't realize that fact - and yes, I even include the experienced Project Managers.

I also submit to you that managing projects does not have to be tough. It can be fun!

Not only can they be fun, but managing projects is so simple that a child could do it. They may not be quite ready to tackle your multi-million dollar project, but I assure you that children can - and do - manage projects every day. The big difference between their projects and yours is scale and language. But even at that, you may find yourself surprised at what 10-12 year old children (and even younger) can actually do.

Learning to manage projects successfully is an essential life skill - and you are never too young (or too old) to learn how to do it.

Even a Child can do it

Project Management concepts are actually not that hard to understand, but you do need to consider the language you use when teaching children. Let's take a look at how one Project Manager tries to explain things to his 11 year old daughter, and ends up adapting his teaching so she can better understand and use some simple project management techniques to solve a big problem.

Extract from The Ultimate Tree House Project

6. This Means War!

When Amanda got home, she went into the kitchen to talk to her Mom. Instead, she found her father getting a drink of water from the tap. 

“Where’s Mom?” asked Amanda.

“She just went to the store to pick up some spices for dinner. We ran out.” Her father said. 

“What’s up, kiddo? You look upset.”

“Boys are stupid.” she said.

Her father raised his eyebrows. “All boys? Including me?”

Amanda looked at her father. Oops! “No, of course not YOU, Dad. You know, BOYS. Especially Ben.”

“Oooh, Boys. What seems to be the problem?” asked her father in a gentle tone.

“They just, they just….ooooo! They are so annoying sometimes!” she exclaimed. “I know how to do what they need to do and they won’t let me help them because I’m a GIRL.”

“And what do they need to do?” he inquired.

“Build a tree house. I mean, the rope ladder for it. I know how to make one, I learned it in Girl Guides. But they won’t listen. They are just dumb boys. They said that No Girls were Allowed, and that’s not fair!” she pouted.

“Well, what’s stopping you from building your own tree house?” asked her father, looking at her closely.

“I….what?” she stopped and looked at her father. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you seem to know how to do some of the things that these silly boys don’t know how to do, so why don’t you build your own tree house?” He looked at her with a sly smile on his face. “We have lots of wood left in the yard from the old fence, and you are welcome to use it to build your own tree house too.”

Realization of what her father was saying crept across her face like a sunrise. “Really? Can I? I mean us Girls? Can we?” she blurted out.

“Of course. Girls are just as capable as boys. Plus you will have a secret weapon!” he announced.

“What secret weapon?” she asked.

“Me!” said her Dad.

“Huh?” she looked at her father closely. “What do you mean?”

“Do you want to make a tree house like your brother?” asked her father.

“Yes! I mean no, the boys’ one looks silly. I want to build a better tree house than them.” She crossed her arms and raised her head defiantly. “I want to build a much better tree house than Ben and his gang.”

“Oh really?” smiled her Dad. “Are you willing to pay the price?”

Amanda suddenly looked uncertain. “What price? I don’t have much of my allowance left. It’s not Saturday yet.”

Her Dad smiled. “Not your money, Amanda. You keep that. The price I am talking about is taking the time to learn how to build your tree house the right way.”

“And what is the right way?” asked Amanda, now puzzled.

“As a PROJECT.” declared her Dad.

“Awww Dad, not work stuff!” groaned Amanda. Her father was a Project Manager for a local construction company. “Work stuff is boring!”

“Just wait and listen,” continued her father. “You need a bit of this work stuff in order to make your tree house better than Ben’s.”

He paused, noting his daughter’s scowl. “Not only am I going to tell you how to make a better tree house than Ben, I am going to show you that you can do it easier than him. Are you interested?”

Better? Easier? she thought. She liked the idea of that. “Okay Dad, tell me how to do it!”

“Well first, Mandy, I need to draw you some pictures.” her father replied. “Please go into my office and grab some blank pieces of paper and a ruler and meet me at the kitchen table.”

Amanda went down the hallway and entered her father’s “home office”. She opened the printer tray and pulled out five pieces of blank paper. She closed the printer tray and walked back to the kitchen where her father was waiting at the table.

“Have a seat, Amanda.” said her father. “No, not in your normal seat. Sit beside me so you can see what I am drawing.”

Amanda moved around the table to sit beside her father.

He pulled a mechanical pencil from his shirt pocket and drew some lines using the ruler and wrote some notes.

“There are four steps to every project,” her father spoke in a formal voice. “Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closeout. Well, five if you count Control, which kind of happens for the whole project.”

Amanda looked at the words. “Initiation? What’s that? And Execution – people don’t get killed on your projects, do they Dad?”

He father looked at the paper thoughtfully for a moment. “Initiation is getting things started. And no, honey, we don’t kill people. I think I might need to use some better words for you. Let’s try something else.”

He flipped the paper over, lined up the ruler and drew another diagram.

“Okay, how about this. Idea, Plan, Do and Finish Up. Sound better?” he asked.

“Much better, thanks Dad.” smiled Amanda.

“And then instead of ‘Control’ we have ‘Lead, Check and Correct’.” Her father suggested.

“Ok, I guess…” Amanda wiggled in her seat. “You explain it first and I’ll tell you if we need different words.”

“Ok honey, that’s fine. So you know what an Idea is, right?” asked her father, with a wink.

Amanda sat up straight and stuck out her tongue. “Of course I know what an Idea is. C’mon, Dad!”

“Okay, just checking.” He smiled. “And you understand what Plan is, right?”

“Like when you want to do something but you are not sure how, so you have to think about how you are going to do it?” Amanda suggested.

“Right, that’s pretty close. Though at work, even when we pretty much know what we are going to do, we still take time to discuss it and see if we want to do it the same way, or if we want to try to do it a different way.” Her father replied.

“And ‘Do’?” her father asked, “That’s an easy one too. Not too hard yet, right?”

“Not too hard, Dad. I am Eleven you know…” she squinted up at him.

“Right, of course, you’re Eleven.” Her father drew out the last word.

“So ‘Finish Up’ is pretty obvious too, huh?” asked her father.

“Yeah Dad, our teacher keeps telling us to hurry and finish up our work.” She yawned. “Sorry, Dad, it’s kind of boring so far. I’m not a little kid. So where is the secret weapon part?”

“Almost there, I will speed it up a little. The bottom part is important. Well, all parts are, but that part is kind of a big part of my job at work, so at least I think it is important, anyway.” Her father paused and rubbed his eyes.

“Ok Dad, tell me…” she started.

“Ok, well the ‘Control’ part, or ‘Lead, Check and Correct’ as I wrote it for you, is important because it is how you make sure you are still doing what you are supposed to do – and will end up with what you wanted in the first place.” 

“Like when we do a quiz at school and the teacher tells us to check over our answers before we hand it in?” asked Amanda.

“Kind of like that, yes.” said her father.

“Ok Dad, that’s great. Thanks!” Amanda started to get up from the table.

“Hold on honey, there is a little bit more for tonight. I need to explain some more before we have dinner.” Her father motioned for Amanda to sit.

Amanda sat down.

“Now what did you see when you were watching your brother and his friends today at the tree?” asked her father.

“They were arguing and fighting over things. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing,” she said. “Each one of them had ideas they were saying but the others did not seem to be listening.”

“Hmmmmm,” said her father. “I think this might be what is going on then.”

He pulled out a fresh piece of paper and drew another picture.

“I think they went straight from ‘Idea’ to ‘Do’” mused her father. “That’s usually a recipe for disaster.”

“They weren’t cooking, Dad. They were trying to build a tree house.” corrected Amanda.

“Yes, dear, you are right. What I mean is, it sounds like they skipped Planning and jumped right into Doing. I see people try to do that a lot, and it rarely works out well. They usually fail.” Her father rubbed his temples.

“Fail? Like on a test at school?” asked Amanda, with a curious look.

“Different. Fail in a way that if a person does not do their job right, people can get hurt,” sighed her father. “Either that, or they waste a lot of time and money trying to do something that does not work like it is supposed to, and they have to redo things to make it work right.”

“Ok Dad, you said we were almost to the ‘secret weapon’ part…” urged Amanda, fidgeting in her seat.

“Well if you look at the drawing of what your brother and his friends seem to be doing, there is a part we said was missing, right?” he asked.

“The Planning part, right Dad?” said Amanda.

“Right. The Planning part is the secret weapon. All of the parts are important, but by far that is the most important of all.” Her father coughed, took a sip of water and then continued. “I am going to draw you one more picture, and that will be it for tonight. You have been studying hard.”

Studying? thought Amanda, She wasn’t studying – was she?

Her father pulled out his ruler and flipped over the paper. He set the ruler and drew another drawing:

“See the curve? That shows how much time and effort you should spend in each phase of your project. The curve can be a bit different depending on your project, but notice how there is a big part of it in the Planning section?” asked her father.

“Ummm...yeah?” yawned Amanda.

“Well, that is where you need to spend a lot of your effort, before you start really doing things on your project.” Her father watched her eyes closely. They were beginning to wander. He heard the front door open and then close. His wife was home; dinner would be ready soon.

“That’s enough for today, honey. You take these drawings with you, and go work on your homework for a few minutes. Then please wash up and help your Mom, okay?” Her father smiled at her.

“Yes Dad.” said Amanda. She stood up and then stretched as she walked down the hallway to her bedroom.

She has a lot to learn, he thought. This is going to be an interesting challenge. Boys against the Girls (…and Dad!)

You can read more of the story in The Ultimate Tree House Project, including additional lessons taught to the young PM by her father - and of course, what happens to the children and the Tree House!

*International Project Management Day 2013 Special*

For a limited time (through November 8, 2013) you can download the eBook version for FREE. Click here to get The Ultimate Tree House Project eBook now! Enter code: AG89C

See the International Project Management Day website discounts page for other offers:

The Ultimate Tree House Project - Project Kids Adventures #1
ISBN 978-1482558135 (220 pages)

10 year old best friends Ben, James, Tim & Tom find the perfect tree in a forest near their school and begin to build the Ultimate Tree House. Things start with a bang, and get even worse when Ben's sister Amanda discovers them working on their secret tree house. Next thing they know, the girls are building their own - in the same tree - and it looks even better than the boy's! How are they doing it? What is their secret weapon? After the accident, everything changes and the boys are forced to team up with the girls - as if that would ever work! 
This book introduces basic Project Management concepts to children through an entertaining, funny story and simple lessons taught to one of the children by her father who is (of course) a Project Manager. She applies what she has learned and suddenly the girls are leaping ahead of the boys who had just "started building" - without a plan. 
Come join this unlikely band of tree house builders - four girls, four boys - as they end up working together to try and complete the Ultimate Tree House Project! This book is targeted at children ages 8-12.

You can also visit the Project Kids Adventures series companion website for free resources and fun activities for children, parents and teachers.

This series has been designed to support classroom programs, but is also suitable for independent reading and as fun bedtime stories.

Click here for Parent/Teacher Notes and School Curriculum Applicability

Note: Discounts are available for bulk orders and classroom programs. If you would like to run a pilot program in your school, please contact us at

Coming soon: The Scariest Haunted House Project - Ever! Project Kids Adventures #2 (Read the free preview here

I hope you enjoy the book.

Good luck with your projects (no matter how old or young you are), and remember to have fun doing it!

Gary Nelson, PMP