From the monthly archives:

May 2011

Introduction to Project Management was a full-term 3-credit class, therefore we combed through a lot of material and got exposed to a lot of concepts. So I would probably be returning to this course quite a bit to share little reflections on the subject here and there.


There were quite a few observations about Project Management as discipline and practice that were rather revelational to me personally. One of them was from the textbook which we used in our class: Project Management: A Managerial Approach, 7th Edition. In the introductory part there was a section The Vital Dozen for Project Managers. The section was presented as a summary of the answers of many managers to the question: “What information were you never given as a novice project manager that, in retrospect, could have made your job easier?” The Vital Dozen in no particular order looked like this:

  • Understand the context of Project Management
  • Understand who the stakeholders are and what they want
  • Understand what the “success” means
  • Remember what you are trying to do
  • Lead from the front
  • One look forward is worth two looks back
  • Bild and maintain cohesive teams
  • Recognize project team conflict as progress
  • Enthusiasm and despair are both infectious
  • Use time carefully or it will use you
  • Above all plan, plan, plan
  • Accept and use the political nature of organizations - emphasis mine

The list above is just in bullet points, but the actual text had more expanded explanation for each point. They are all quite relevant and important, but the one I found particularly surprizing was the last one on accepting and using the politics in organizations.

It was a surprize to me because my personal attitude to politics has for a long time been of staying away from it as far as possible. As a matter of fact, until lately I had been mostly unware about the political forces and undercurrents in my work environment as I was trying to not get involved into it at any cost. I used to take pride in the fact that I am not letting myself get involved in politics at work.  You could imagine my astonishment when I learned from the textbook that my trying to stay away from the politics was called “naive”. I had thought it was being “mature”  ;-).

There are three types of political behaviors according to the authors of the text: Naive, Sensible and Sharks. The Naives’ attitude is “politics is unpleasant”. Sharks think it is an excellent opportunity for getting what they want through proper manipulation. And the Sensible accept the fact that politics is necessary for achieving goals through negotiation and bargaining.

My attitude to politics had started gradually to change over the past year, even before the Project Management class in my part-time MBA program. At my previous job I had witnessed some very powerful changes caused by relatively inconspicuous political manipulations. Those political manevures had dramatically changed the power distribution and the very culture of the company. That politics affected me too in more than one way. So those changes at work have prompted me to become more aware and alert to the existing politics. I started to realize that staying away from the politics is not necessarily the best policy and “neutrality” does not guarantee that you would not get affected by the politics anyways.

So the Project Management class helped me to validate the idea that staying out of politics is not the same as standing the middle ground and being mature, but rather being naive. And the alternative to being “naive” is not necessarily becoming a “shark”. The real middle ground is becoming sensible, accepting the fact that politics is inseparable from any organization, and is therefore a necessary means for achieving goals through bargaining and negotiations. This is true for any member of organization, but probably even more relevant to Project Managers in particular, as they are commonly known to have high level of responsibility without appropriate level of authority.

So the lesson learned: become sensible to the organizational politics, lest you become the sharks’ lunch ;-)

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In my Consultative Processes class that I took in Fall Term of my second year part-time MBA at GWU we had a case of Ellen Moore(A): Living and Working in Korea. I learned a few interesting things about the country’s culture - something that I wouldn’t ever guessed on my own. I have quite a few acquaintances from the Korean descent, but apparently the people I know are rathter assimilated to the American culture, at least outwardly.

The biggest news for me was that Koreans can be heavy drinkers. At least heavy enough, that some facts would leak into a business case. Again, I would not have inferred this fact based on the behavior of the Koreans I know. After reading the case, I thought that it might be just a specific group of people presented in the case. I checked out the World Health Organization data on alcohol consumption and it turned out that South Korea indeed holds the thirteenth place in the world by alcohol consumption per capita.

That data also had another big surprise for me. I have always thought that Russia should hold the top position in such a ranking. I found out that it is only #4 in the world. Still, “honorable top 5″, but got beaten by other counterparts from the former Communist bloc ;-) . Here is the link to the WHO interactive map and chart of world alcohol consumption by country. The data are slightly dated, from 2005, but as we know –  old habits die hard ;-)

Another interesting fact was re-enforced for me in regards to the Power Distance phenomenon. I first learned about it from the Malcolm Gladwell ‘s book Outliers. Gladwell tried to analyze the root cause of the Korean Air Flight 801 crash and overall high crashing rate of the Korean Air up to the late nineties from the perspecitve of national cultural norms. He referenced the Power Distance as one of the major reasons of the crash. In Ellen Moore’s case this same principle played out rather dramatically leading to the “near crash” of the multi-million IT project. The contexts are very different, but outcomes are strikingly predictable.
Later in my Organizations and Leadership class, aka Organizational Behavior, this Spring Term we were reviewing the Hofstede’s Framework for cultural values by nation. Though the Framework has been under certain criticism for methodology and other limitations leading to some specific rankings for some countries seemingly out of the whack, the overall approach is well recognized and accepted. In Hofstede’s Framework there are actually five Cultural Dimensions by which countries may be differintiated: Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), and Long-Term Orientation (LTO).

As a matter of fact, another cultural difference from the Hofstede’s five seemed to play significant role in the Ellen Moore’s case: Masculinity. Even though in Hofstede’s model South Korea is lower than the US on male cultural domination reflected in Masculinity index, it was obviously a source of major tension in the Ellen’s case.

As I said in the beginning, Ellen Moore: Living and Working in Korea case was quite revelational to me. You can read here my situation analysis in a form of the Memo from Andrew Kilpatrick.

Overall I really appreciated the Consultative Processes class at GW MBA program for its integrative approach, when you could draw on the knowledge or develop understanding of other related subjects, be it Organizational Behavior, Project Management or Corporate Finance.

To all my Korean friends, Cheers! ;-)

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On Monday I had my final exam in Business Law and Communications.  My final presentation in Introduction to Project Management class took place two weeks ago. With that I am done with my classes in GW part-time MBA Spring Term. I feel free and relieved … for the next two weeks. Then my two classes for Summer Term will start. Just like last year, emotionally I don’t feel that my whole second year MBA is over yet. Not until I am done with my summer classes and have a full summer break, including vacation. One more note on my Introduction to Project Management class. Today we got our grade for the final group presentation and analysis paper. Our group got 294 out of 300 possible points. Not too shabby :-). Still have to wait for the grade in Business Law.


The relief I am feeling now about the end of the MBA Spring Term   is not quite the euphoria I had last year. Over the second year of part-time MBA I became more confident, if not complacent. Not that I lost interest in my classes, but the school became more routine. The first year I was adapting to the learning routine in general, struggling with core quantative courses in particular, and learning to cope, if not overcome quant anxiety. By the middle of the second year I sort of got a better grasp of the situation.  It was also helpful that I have not had heavy quantitative courses after the Fall term of the second year MBA. For now  I have only two quantitative classes left from the core MBA curriculum: Macroeconomics, and Operations Strategy, even though I heard the Operations class is not too heavy on quants.

Speaking about quants, anxiety and poets in MBA programs. I am planning a post on pre-MBA summer reading list specifically for poets entering MBA. I have had my share of struggle with the quantitative MBA classes, and over the last two years found a few books which I wish I had read before my first year quantitative classes started. I stumbled on them already after I had classes related to the books. I read, skimmed or referenced them and found them quite helpful. If I read them before starting the business school, I would not have to spend so much time trying to get the basics and foundations from dryly written graduate textbooks. I hope to have the list published in the next couple of weeks, so poets – stay tuned.

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This Spring term I had another core class in my part-time MBA program – Organizations and Leadership. This course is also commonly known in other MBA programs as Organizational Behavior. The course was rather interesting, and I will hopefully write more about it at a later time. On a side note about the topic of leadership you can read my post from about a year ago – Management, Leadership and My Shepherd Dog Experience.


Today, however,  I just want to share a small episode from that class. In one of the classes our professor told us a recent story of one of his undergraduate students. The student was at the end of his senior year and was already interviewing for jobs. He got an interview with some pharmaceutical company (the name was not disclosed to us). At the interview the student was asked to open his Facebook profile and befriend a particular person – HR associate of that company just for the duration of the interview. He was told that while they were conducting interview with him, the HR person will go around his Facebook pages as a “friend”.

The student agreed to do just that. Professor did not give us specifics of how the interview itself went. Nevertheless, the student did not get the job. In the feedback he received from the company he was specifically told that the image he projects on his Facebook does not align well with the image of the company. The professor’s message was “beware of what you share on your social media profile, such as Facebook, because you don’t know where it is going to catch up with you”. I agree with the general premise of the message. I constantly repeat to my kids, that in the era of total digitalization, almost everything we do leaves digital traces somewhere. This digital footprint can be stored indefinitely somewhere or by someone and can be digged out eventually by a motivated determined “researcher”- be it a marketing company, government agency, a criminal group or just a nosy neighbor.

There has been a flood of articles on the privacy issues in digital age. This is just one of the thousands, from Time.com: Data Mining: How Companies Now Know Everything About You. We have known for a while that many employees, admission committees, and the likes, have been routinely “googling” the job and college applicants. This story however brings a new twist into the mix. Now that many users have enabled privacy settings in their Facebook profiles, the information that was more easily available to strangers before is no longer as easy to get. Therefore some companies try to resolve the issue “head on”.

There are a few issues for me related to this job interview episode:

  • First, of course, the legality of this company’s request. Even though I have taken the course in Business Law this Spring term, I would not be able to answer definitively this question. But on the guts level I think that the company is asking of way too much insight into my private life.
  • Second,  if the company is using this underhanded technique to dig out information about you from the very start, what kind of control will they want to exert over you when you become their employee? Do you really want to be in that company on those terms?
  • Third, I think no one should be so desparate to get a job at any particular company, so that bend over at their first request, and open access to their private life. Of course, if this is a job at one of those three-letter government agencies concerned with national security, then it’s a different story, and I am not discussing it here.

I shared this story from the classroom with my family and one of my colleagues. The most amazing thing for me was that my 12 year old daughter and a thirty year colleague gave me, independently of each other, the same response at a blink of an eye. They said that now people will start having two Facebook profiles: one more private for real friends, and the other – for public. As a matter of fact my colleague already has two profiles, the one with his middle name he uses for public purposes. It is actually more like the business company’s profile for his business interactions. However there will probably be a trend to have two or even more profiles, each of which will look like private, but only one will be real private, the rest will just pose as private in the eyes of the snooping HR or other unintended “friend”. As for me, I would stick with my last bullet above – I will turn down the opportunity with such company. For me it’s not worth it. Even though I have nothing “incriminating” in my profile, which I hardly maintain anyways, I prefer to control how much information I want to share with my real or self-imposed “friends”.

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