January 1, 2015

Poor Planning on Your Part Does not Necessarily Constitute an Emergency on Mine

While some would call him a tool, Bob Carter‘s famous statement above rings truer than ever in my world. This post shall kick of a new series on project management faux pas. I’ll be tossing in my every so slightly jaded views and perhaps a rant or two where needed. Enjoy!

A Fire Drill is an Emergency Preparedness Tool, Not A PM Buzzword

There’s a boat load of buzzwords used in the corporate workplace that make me want to punch babies. I hear quite a few of them daily and it makes me glad I don’t have kids right now. If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, good for you. You haven’t been tainted by middle-management’s eternal goals of making projects as convoluted as possible while wrapping them up with sleazy-marketing-colored paper and ribbon. It’s a common occurence to hear at least one of the well-known words or phrases on the list such as synergy, vertical, circle back, or the one I absolutely hate the most: fire drill. Any time someone says something’s a fire drill, I want to tell them “there’s no fire, go sit the fack down.” Typically, Fire Drills are products of poor planning on someone’s part, and they’re trying to cover their own @$$. Everything will subsequently be an emergency and whatever you’re doing, however important it may genuinely be, will no longer be of relevance. This makes the Project Management part of me absolutely rage with hatred so hot, the Seven Circles of Hell have seen nothing like it. The effect is compounded when you don’t have any visibility into the back story or even the entire project. This is where things can get ugly. The takeaway here is this: do what you can with what you have, and that’s that. Don’t be afraid to say “no” because at some point, you as a project manager, lead, or other member of leadership in your team has to draw a line; your team is important and playing along with someone’s failure to execute will only harm your team more. When you do say “no,” also be prepared for an alternate solution. While you may want to just flip the bird and drop the mic, coherence between teams is crucial lest a company completely fall apart because teams are literally at war with each other.

How to Triage a Last-Minute Project

Here’s the scenario: you’ve arrived at the office at your normal time, and team lead Joe from the Development team at XYZ Corp (the company you work for) rushes to your desk and says they need all of your staff to drop whatever they’re doing and do A, B, and C tasks by the end of the day, then scurries back to whatever hole he came out of. You, the PM and leader of your team of elite superhumans, knows very well how quickly a project can go sideways and understands the need to make sure the pieces all fall into place in a timely fashion. Here’s where you have three options:

  1. Automatically say yes without any second thoughts.
  2. Say No with an asterisk (a.k.a: “I need more information”).
  3. Say No and give a reason.

Let’s cover those three options in detail and determine which will create what outcome, starting with the worst-possible choice.

Automatically Say Yes Without Any Second Thoughts.

Of the three, this is the worst idea and here’s why: you just arrived. You have no idea what the status of your own team, is, yet. How on God’s green earth can you assume you can pull a rabbit out of your hat if you don’t even know you have a hat? Your team may be okay with pivoting for a small period of time to assist, but don’t expect last-minute mandatory overtime to go over well. Your team members have lives outside of the company at which they work and other responsibilities. The work-life balance that’s been established already should be adhered to as much as possible. Those who can stay, will. Those who cannot, won’t. Accept that. Be careful, though. If you press too hard or pull the last-minute card too often, you’ll start building resentment and once your team starts resenting you, either they’ll leave, or they’ll become bitter and cause more problems for you in the long run.

Say No and Give a Reason.

This is a bit better of a choice, though not the best of the three for one good reason: your reasons may not be good enough for those above you. In some corporate structures, management doesn’t care that your team is already neck-deep in whatever projects they’re working on and can’t be pulled. Sometimes management does understand and accept that such is life. Joe, our friendly drive-by emergency crier won’t like it, for sure, but that’s not your problem. Setting boundaries is key to establishing proper inter-team relationships. It should be made clear who does what, who can cover for whom, what each team’s limits are, and the like. The last thing you need is to accept a last-minute project you can’t follow through on and end up causing more problems and setbacks and having management bear down on you even more than they already may be. Your team will appreciate that you’re standing in front of them, taking the brunt of the force that is everyone else’s problems, especially if they’re already swamped and don’t have the resources to add more to their respective, metaphorical plates.

Say No with an asterisk (a.k.a: “I need more information”).

This option can be described as one where you’re basically saying “I need more information before I can make a decision.” This is the best of the three responses but not one others may necessarily like. While it will vary from company to company, some may expect a blind following and anything short of that is insubordination. Watch out for that. If you’re in that situation, you’re probably best getting out and finding a new gig. You don’t need that pressure on you at all times, it will wear you down. When you basically say “wait a minute,” you’re telling them that you’re not opposed to helping, you just need to know the whole picture so you can make not only an informed decision, but make sure you can allot the resources necessary. This is where triaging of current tasks comes into play and it’s a learned skill. Make a thorough assessment of what’s currently going on in emergency land, then asess what’s going on in your own yard. Gather as much detail as you can:

  • The end goal?
  • What phase(s) has/have already been completed?
  • Remaining phase(s)?
  • Why is this now an emergency?
  • What can we do to prevent whatever happened from happening while we’re working to “put out the fire?”
  • How many people are needed?
  • What is the deadline?
  • Why is that date the deadline?
  • Are there alternate deadlines available?

While not every one of those items is rock hard crucial to helping complete a last-minute project, it’s important to be able to assess if the project converted to “last-minute” status because of some sort of blocking issue that needs addressing or someone dropped the ball. If it’s the former, then do what you have to do, soldier! Rescue and win the battle with glory and honor. If someone dropped the ball, you need to make sure you’re covered if you start assisting; the last think you need is to go down with a sinking ship that you don’t know is sinking. I’m not saying that you should automatically peace out if you find out that someone oopsed or neglected to do their part. I’m saying you need to cover yourself and your team before you go in. Don’t dive head first into a shallow pool. If you can provide alternate solutions to the problem that is bringing with it buckets of doom, then go for it. It’s entirely possible someone missed something or has been neck-deep in whatever they’re struggling with and failed to see the solution from another angle. While nobody loves a pompous @$$, everyone loves a hero, so go be that hero.

When All the Options Make Things Worse

There’s an invisible line that once crossed, there’s no going back, and you’re better off elsewhere. You might find out that you crossed the line when you get let go because you chose the wrong option and now management wants your head because reasons (i.e. “corporate synergy”). Times like this suck and can be rather chaotic. The effects are longer lasting because it doesn’t just affect you in the short term, it affects those around you who may have depended on you, like your family. All of a sudden, the mortgage is on the line. It’s a tough line to walk and a lot of people aren’t willing to walk it so instead they choose to make whomever they have to happy no matter what the cost. This is a decision you’ll have to make on your own. I can’t tell you what to do or what would be the best option. I can however tell you to be confident in whatever decision you make. Your team will look to your for guidance and if you’re not sure of anything, they won’t be sure of you. On the flip side, if you’re always willing to bow and kiss feet at the drop of a hat, your team will look at you as nothing more than a butt kisser. Don’t be that guy. I’ve seen a lot of that in my travels and my experience tells me that being a kissass is like doing heroin: once you start, it’ll be damn hard to stop. Not only that, but whomever’s metaphorical backside you’re planting your metaphorical lips on will get addicted to it, too. They’ll start to realize they can manipulate and basically come to expect that when they say “Jump!” you’ll say “How high?”, regardless if you’re already smacking your head on the ceiling just standing up straight. Several militaries have a mantra called the “Seven Ps” (“7Ps”): Piss Poor Planning Promotes Piss Poor Performance. There are variations such as “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” and the six-word version “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance” which is more along what I belive in on a day-to-day basis.

Don’t Forget, You’re Still a Team-Player

It’s not a bad idea to understand that the nature of working with multiple teams is that from time to time you’ll have to step in. I want to make a disclaimer that all of what I said above should be taken with a grain of salt. A lot of it comes from personal experiences and trials and tribulations. I’ve been in the scenario of the Project Manager where I had to determine if my team really could help out or if I’m just going to send them to the butcher as well as being a member of a team where the PM blindly accepted all requests for emergency assistance that really wasn’t an emergency nor was it appropriate to drop everything and run into the burning building that was a very poorly planned project.

Another Disclaimer

Don’t get mad at me if you get fired over anything I’ve written. These are my opinions and you’re chosing to act on possibly unfounded information. If you value my opinion at all (which I think you do if you made it this far), be careful when sailing in uncharted waters. Don’t be rude. Don’t get angry. Don’t ruin the vibe of the office, either. People will just hate you. Being professional is key to being respected. Even if you say no, a quality inter-team relationship will survive the decline or modification of a request. Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. If you’d like, hit me up on twitter. I’d love to have a conversation with you. I’m always open to hearing what other’s think about various topics. There’s never just one way of doing things and something can always be improved upon.

Disabling Comments on Existing Posts After Disabling Comments Site-Wide with WordPress

Update: I can’t seem to replicate this issue anymore and thus closed out the bug I submitted below. I ran into an issue this morning after disabling comments site-wide on this particular site that I could no longer enable the Discussion widget to disable comments on existing posts. Since this seems like an issue others would run into, I took the liberty of creating a bug against WordPress 4.1 addressing the issue. If you’re interesting in following, feel free to do so here or via the bug itself.


While clunky, my work around was to re-enable comments site-wide so as to have the Discussion widget return as an option in the Post Editor so I could disable comments for my existing posts. I cannot speak as to wether it was limited to just published posts as I did not test it.

September 9, 2014

Create A Photograph

Level of Entry: Low
Time to Master: Infinity

There’s a thought in the photography community which extends to pretty much any facet of life: you only get better by doing. One does not become a pro golfer by reading a book—although reading does help—nor does merely buying a professional-grade camera make you a good photographer. How does one become a pro, though? If that’s a path you want to take, awesome. If not, don’t worry, as this still applies to even those who want to excel at photography as a hobby or a small side gig to pass the time and pay the photography bills. I’ve broken it down into four super easy steps.

Some horses. (unsplash)


At the start of this little conversation I told you a high-end camera does not a pro photographer make. But let’s make sure we differentiate high-end and high-quality. A Canon T5 is a high quality camera based on how its built, but a Canon PowerShot might not feel the same way. Whereas a Canon 1D-X is a high-end camera compared to a Canon T5. (side note: Yes, I could use Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Samsung, etc., but the brand doesn’t matter.) What you need to do to complete the “get” phase is this:

  1. Determine your budget.
  2. Make a list of everything you want in a camera.
  3. Cross off everything that has anything to do with megapixels, high quantity of auto-focus points, the letters “L” or “G” for Canon or Nikon lenses, frames per second, CompactFlash vs SD, Medium Format. You don’t need any of that extra stuff to take a good photo.
  4. Find a camera lens for less than $200. Your choices are limited. On purpose.
  5. No flashes until you feel comfortable without them.
  6. Gather the necessary accessories for said camera. This includes a memory card and bag (simple is fine).

Now that you’ve collected your gear, it’s time to get outside and make a photograph of something. (If you have the space, resources, and ability, you can make a photograph indoors, too, but it’s generally cheaper to walk outside than to buy studio equipment.


This is the easiest step. Before you being, make sure you take your camera out of the box. That’s a key step to becoming fluent in the language of photography. Also, make sure you know it’s controls. The manual is the most detailed source of information on this. If you don’t have a manual, check out your manufacturer’s website. I’ve even provided a few links for you to give you a head start: CanonNikon, SamsungSonyPentaxOlympus.

If you haven’t taken a photo of more than your cat, do take a photo of something other than your cat. If you haven’t taken a photo at night, go do that. Do as much as you can as often as you can. You’ll take loads of crappy photos. While this is the Do step, Do Not let that break your spirit. You’ll figure out ways to tweak and find your unique touch in the next step. Doing requires time, of course. If you don’t have hours upon hours of free time to spare, do a 365 project—take a photo of something you haven’t taken a photo of before, every day, for a year. Do that as much as you can. Do take photos with your friends. Of your friends. Around your friends. Of people you want to be friends with. Perfect strangers (ask first—don’t rude).

Once you’ve taken your daily photo, go take a hundred more of different things. Go to a park. A zoo. A car show. Walk down the street. Walk up the street. Find a bug. Find two bugs. Find a bug killing a bug, National Geographic style! There should be zero people in your life pressuring you to perform here. If anything people around you should be supportive of your new endeavor. Maybe if you ask nicely, they’ll pose for you! If you feel pressured to perform, remove that source of pressure from your life. Stop wishing. Stop comparing. Stop thinking. Now is not the time to think. Now is the time to do, to make. Getting the idea?


Time to learn. You’ve taken a load of photos and are starting to get a hang of your camera. If not, go back to Step Do. Now’s the time to learn and pretty much down right steal from other people. We need to be very clear, though. By steal, I don’t mean ripping off another’s work and calling it your own. I’ll go into more detail about that, but first let’s talk about learning. There are great free and fee-based learning platforms and videos available on the Internet. In this day and age, a DVD takes second fiddle to instant, on-demand content. Great free videos, courses, and platforms include this list from PetaPixelfree live events by CreativeLive, and funny YouTube videos by DigitalRevPhlearn, and Matt Granger. Premium platforms include Lynda.comKelbyOne, and CreativeLive’s On Demand video selection. Watch everything you can. If you have to, take notes and watch it again. You can’t watch too many videos.

Once you’ve consumed more videos and articles than your brain can handle, find photographers in niches you personally enjoy. Look at their work. Read their blogs. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, 500px, and any other social networking site they use. Even better, don’t just follow them, chat with them. Reach out to them for tips or really anything you can think of that would possibly help you! Once you’ve done that, steal from them. Specifically, steal their look. Try to make a photo that looks like that. If it’s something like a landscape or wildlife, capture that same animal or area! When you’ve successfully done that, do it again, with another photographer. I’d be willing to bet cold hard money bags of money that the second photographer you follow or are otherwise interested in their work shoots differently than you do, with a different style. Once you’ve knocked out number two, go for a third, and a fourth. After every attempt or measure of success, make it your own. This’ll help you figure out what your style is. You’ll find yourself going back to what you like the most and over time, tweaking it to make it your own.


So you’ve completed Step Learn. Now what? Do it all over! If only a small amount of time has passed (less than a year), start with Step Do. If it’s been a bit of time or you have the ability to upgrade, do that, with the mindset that you’re upgrading because you can improve yourself with your new gear in ways that you can easily quantify, not just because you like a red band on the end of your lens. You’ll find this to be an endless cycle that even pros will execute from time to time. If you become a full-time professional, you’ll always be looking for ways to improve and making sure you have everything you need to be as creative and as successful as possible.

Johnathan Lyman
Kenmore, WA,
United States
blogging, design, technology, software, development, gaming, photography