Posted by & filed under Blog.

observeI’m pretty cynical about the whole mindfulness thing, especially in business. It’s only mentioned in passing in this McKinsey Quarterly article. But don’t be put off – it’s a very thoughtful piece. There’s some useful stuff about coping with – nay, countering – the insidious “always on” work culture. And I agree wholeheartedly with the message to observe more and react less. A nice pointer to a more productive and effective way of working.

Posted by & filed under Blog.

US Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, 1936 – 2016

“The main business of a project manager is to take the romance, the mystery, the irony, the ambiguity out of everything he touches.”

(OK, hands up, it’s a quote I’ve pinched from Antonin Scalia, the US Supreme Court Judge whose death was announced today. He actually said it about lawyers – but I think it’s equally applicable to project managers)

Posted by & filed under Blog.

Ask your management team what a good business plan looks like, and you will probably find close agreement. But ask them what a good change plan should include, and opinions will vary widely. A CFO will insist on creating new financial measures; an operations VP, on installing a quality program; an HR specialist, on revising compensation and training; a marketing executive, on getting everyone to be more customer focused.

A McKinsey Quarterly article.

Posted by & filed under Blog.

MourinhoThe English Premier League is a managerial cauldron. Love it or hate it, football at this level provides striking lessons in how to – and how not to – succeed as a people manager in the workplace.

Let’s take a look at the season so far.

1. Know yourself, be yourself

Leicester City manager, Claudio Ranieri, is laid-back, funny, spirited and generous with his time; the sort of guy who buys pizzas all round whenever his team keeps a clean sheet. Contrast him with Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger whose outwardly cool and guarded persona masks a tightly coiled inner spring.
These are two very different characters; yet both their teams are excelling.  There is no mould for great leaders – but they all show authenticity. Know yourself, be yourself – and your team will recognise you as the real deal.

2.  Be careful what you promise

When Claudio Ranieri was recruited he promised just one thing – to keep Leicester City from being relegated. We are approaching the half way point of the season and his team is top of the Premiership! A stunning performance for a relatively small, unfashionable club. Expectations are running high and Ranieri is already under pressure to talk up the prospect of silverware. Yet he stoutly refuses to go beyond his original promise. I admire him.

3. Plan for a breather

Boxing Day games are a highlight of the season. Holiday spirit imbues every true fan and expectations run high. What a day for Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, to give his star striker, Sergio Aguero, the day off! Successful managers need to tread a fine line between applying – and relaxing – tension. No team can sustain indefinite pressure. So find time for your key players to take a breather. Don’t run them hard until the hammer is really down.

4. New blood; know when to use it

José Mourinho needs no introduction. His name even pops up in my spell checker; how famous is that? However, following a disastrous start to their season, Chelsea has reacted boldly, replacing the hapless José with Guus Hiddink, a tried and tested interim manager. It’s still early days, but Guus seems to be just the man to turn the tide on Chelsea’s season. Famous last words, but Chelsea have stopped losing games.


Fresh thinking and an outsider’s perspective can work wonders. And you don’t need to pay Premier League prices to find a good Interim Manager. Contact us to find out more.

Posted by & filed under Blog.


Passport and driving licence aside, your CV is one of your most precious documents and should be kept bang up to date. Do it now and, for God’s sake, keep it brief. Nobody is going to read much beyond your first page. Remember: two pages, great. Three, max.

Likewise make sure your LinkedIn profile is regularly updated and matches your CV.


You really should get out more. There’s lots of opportunities for networking and generally getting yourself known. Whether it’s a regional (eg Cambridge Network) or professional (eg IET) gathering, go along and mingle.


I mean literally carried away, by security. It’s really very unbecoming and it’s an image that sticks!

Posted by & filed under Blog.

AmbitionWork yourself out of a job

Being irreplaceable can help you through a downturn – but it can also hold you back during the good times. You should aim to be mobile (ie replaceable) enough to grasp the next big opportunity when it arises. Make sure you have an obvious successor and – most importantly – that your boss rates him or her as highly as you do. Nothing enhances your own mobility like having somebody ready to backfill into your own role.

Bring in people who are better than you

Surround yourself with people whose skills are different from yours. If you are an arts person, bring in scientists – and vice versa. If you are a systemiser, bring in empathisers – and vice versa. Bring them into your team and energise them.

Know when to call in the cavalry

You’ve got a problem and it just won’t go away. You are floundering and – if you don’t find a solution soon – you will be defined (at least in your bosses’ mind) by this damned problem. Take the initiative and get external help. Fresh thinking and an outsider’s perspective really do work wonders. Just do it!

And finally, don’t lunch at your desk!

Lunchtime is a great opportunity to sit with the people who may well hold the keys to your future. Get out there and make yourself known to them!

Posted by & filed under Blog.

HourglassThe APM’s definition of a project is “A unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives”.

Don’t you just love that word, transient? Therein lies the challenge facing a project manager. He or she has been assigned a transient (that word again) team; a bunch of disparate, sometimes desparate, people who may not know each other but who nevertherless are expected to collaborate and deliver some pretty serious business objectives within an infeasibly short period of time.

At best – all the planets are aligned – and you’ve been given a crack team of seasoned professionals. They have a good track record of working together on past projects and relish the challenge that lies ahead.

At worst, you’re in charge of a coalition of the unwilling, some of whom do indeed have a history (ahem!) of working together. To cap it all, their loyalty is not to you but remains with their departmental bosses, the guys who do their appraisals & pay reviews. They’ve been seconded to you but they are way out of their comfort zone.

So how do you mould this bunch of misfits into a coherent team, all pulling in the same direction, towards a planned objective?

That, my friend, is the secret ingredient of project management. They don’t teach it on a PRINCE2 course but it’s the magical combination of soft power, mind games, grit and fairy dust that the text books call leadership. It’s intangible – but you’ll know it when you see it.

Posted by & filed under Blog.

Half full or half empty? Or maybe the glass is just twice as big as it needs to be?

Fresh thinking and an outsider’s perspective often do work wonders. That’s why using an Interim Manager (ie hiring in management talent on an as required basis) can be a very effective way to address the bijou problemette that’s just landed in your in tray. Sure, it would probably be cheaper to use in-house resources; only everybody is tied up with other stuff and, even if you did get Joe Bloggs from the Ops Department reassigned, you’re not convinced he’s got the gravitas, chutzpah or whatever to cut through all that management crap (sorry, I meant management silos) within your organisation.

Interim managers tend to be objective, independent-minded souls who are unphased by office politics and personalities. They will have done it before – and in lots of different organisations. They can usually start within days and with minimal recruitment and contractual formalities.

Most importantly, they are loyal to you and your objectives. After all, they need your referral for their next job.

Interim managers, eh. What’s not to like?


(“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” – so said the late, great George Carlin, RIP)

Posted by & filed under Blog.

SangriaQuite a big response to my last blog, including some prime examples of ill-judged “Out of Office” auto responses. I was particularly struck by this one. (My correspondent assures me she changed all names – and – just to be on the safe side, I’ve changed them again):

I am on holiday until 1/9. If your enquiry is urgent then please refer to:

Peter Parker for [customer_name] issues –, +44 (0)7…

Sheila Singh for [secret_codename] issues –, +44 (0)7…  

Chas Cole for [flagship_project_name] issues –, +44 (0)7…

Don’t wreck the place while I’m gone!!

Best regards

Sam Ashton

How many security breaches, not to mention commercial faux-pas, can you count in that sorry case, eh? In trying to be helpful to his colleagues, kindly old Sam is actually dispensing some pretty valuable intelligence to anybody who happens to spam his email account.

When it comes to electronic communication it seems, the more senior the executive, the bigger the gaffe.

So if you’re by the pool – have another sangria for me and ponder over that – oh so witty – Out of Office reply you left behind. Write in haste – repent at leisure.

Posted by & filed under Blog.

shutterstock_302341913I am on vacation – back in the office Tuesday, 1 September. Meanwhile incoming email is being discarded. Please refer business critical issues to my deputy, Richard.


I am out of the office until 1 September but remain contactable via email.


Both Clare and Philip are outstandingly good project managers, highly regarded by colleagues and managers alike and operating at the very top of their game in their respective industries. Their styles may be markedly different but both deliver outstanding results.

Clare is brilliant at delegation and, in particular, has a knack for developing the people within her team. She is also a mum to three demanding kids and regards her holidays as sacrosanct family time; disturb her at your peril. That said, she will always take calls from her deputy (in this case, Richard), even on the beach. And don’t you just love the audacity of discarding her emails. Tell ‘em, Clare!

Philip is more old school, with an outwardly relaxed style that belies a sharp mind and a penchant for identifying project risks that others have overlooked or ignored. His kids have long left home and he likes to keep abreast of work issues while on vacation. He has a little place in Brittany and – I am guessing here – sets aside an hour or so between croissant and déjeuner to catch up on email and make calls.

Too many project managers, on returning from holiday, hide behind their screens for the first couple of days, trawling through the detritus that accumulates daily in our inboxes. What a waste of time and what poor management that is. No so Clare and Philip. They are back in control straightaway, showing their teams and managers just who is in charge around here. Normal service has been resumed – and very reassuring it is too.