During the almost five decades I have spent in the project management arena, I have collected many best practices that eventually end up in my textbooks. Most of these best practices revolve around continuous improvements to the project management methodology and result in updates to the policies, procedures, forms, guidelines and templates used for managing projects.
Actually, the wording “best practice” may be incorrect. It may be better to use the words “proven practice” because a best practice implies that it cannot be improved further. Proven practices, on the other hand, are subject to continuous updates.
There is one best practice that I have used over the years and have never been able to improve upon. I regard it as the “best” of the best practices, and it relates to how I run my life (related to project management, of course!). This best practice has not appeared in any of my books.
I spend a great amount of my time traveling and conducting seminars and workshops for the International Institute for Learning (IIL). We work with PMI chapters around the world and will send out brochures and e-mails about upcoming programs.
Once the announcements are made regarding the programs, I begin to receive e-mails from people I have never met, wanting to take me to dinner. I enjoy having dinner with the PMI chapter officers the night before the event because they tell me about the companies that will be attending and what their expectations are. This input is invaluable because it allows for some customization of the presentation.
Unfortunately it is other people, many who have no intention of attending the conference, who offer to take me to dinner for their own personal reasons. Regardless of how many times I ask them the reason for the meeting, they prefer to say it’s personal and we can discuss it over dinner. This is what usually happens:
5:30 p.m.: The individual picks me up at my hotel and drives me to a restaurant at least 30 minutes from my hotel. This means that I am now at their mercy for a ride back to my hotel and they have my undivided attention.
6:00 p.m.: We arrive at the restaurant, end up sitting in some remote location where nobody can hear us or perhaps even see us, and order dinner. My host tells the waiter that we are in no hurry and want a slow, leisurely dinner. This usually gets me nervous because I will be a captive longer than I expected.
6:10 – 7:30 p.m.: My host tells me about their life history from the age of 10 to their current age of usually 30-40 years old. This includes information about their family, their education, the number of courses they took, their grades in the courses, and what they learned. And as expected, a lot of it is totally unrelated to project management. This also includes facts about their employment history. If they have an unhappy home life, this portion of the meeting can run for another hour. When this happens, I am under the impression that my host has me confused with Dr. Phil. I pretend to listen attentively; while thinking about starting an IIL blog titled Dr. Phil on Project Management. Recognizing that this new blog could drive me to serious drinking and drugs, reality soon returns and once again I am clueless as to why they are telling me this. The suspense is now killing me!!! Why am I here?
7:30 – 9:00 p.m.: For the next 90 minutes, they tell me all of the facts about their current employer, especially everything that’s wrong with the company related to project management and everything they did (or at least tried to do) to correct the situation. Of course, they are very adamant that 99.99% of the problems are because of senior management. They try to make it appear that they are God’s gift to project management and yet their company does not appreciate their efforts.
During the discussion they continuously ask me, “Didn’t I make the right decisions?” or “Don’t you agree with me?” or “What would you have done if you were me?” At this point I am getting a little nervous for fear that I may not have a ride back to my hotel. I am also fearful of giving this individual my ideas for how I would handle the situation because I have no idea what they would do with the information, or whether or not it would be taken out of context. And, once again, I am still in suspense as to the purpose of this meeting.
9:00 – 9:30 p.m.: Now we get to the real issue. Since their company obviously does not appreciate their efforts, they want to leave their company and is there anything I can do to help them find employment elsewhere? I just spent 4 hours listening to someone who wants a project management position somewhere. Now I finally figure out that my host really does not believe that I am Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer, but instead thinks that I am an employment agency. And as you might expect, they now pull out a resume from their briefcase.
You cannot imagine how many times this has happened to me. So, what’s the best practice for how to handle this situation?
When people ask to take me out to dinner, I ask them one question: Why do you want to take me out to dinner? This catches them by surprise and most people refuse to answer the question and try to change the direction of the conversation.
If they have a valid reason, I will be glad to have dinner with them.
If they tell me it is a personal reason, then there’s no question in my mind that they are seeking employment and want my help. I then tell them that they can join me for breakfast in my hotel between 6:30 a.m. – 7:00 a.m. to discuss whatever they want. I make sure they understand that at 7:00 a.m. I am heading to my lecture and our breakfast meeting is over.
In 30 minutes over breakfast, all of the important information is discussed. Most of the time they decline to have breakfast with me and just send me a resume. This best practice has worked well for me for several decades. And for those of you who know me, you can give up the idea that I will have an afternoon talk show on personal issues related or unrelated to project management any time soon.
Dr. Harold Kerzner.