Share Your PMI Degreed With Everyone

Professional Development, to me, has always seemed so literal. If I want to become a better engineer, I read a book on engineering. If I want to improve as a project manager, I read more books on project management. Now in instances where I want to learn “tricks of the trade” and shortcuts about how to accomplish something quicker, I can understand that approach. You don’t see this literal approach with athletes though. If Lionel Messi wants to continue to be the best football player in the world, he can’t continuously run and kick the ball. I am sure he does because he is one of the most creative athletes ever. He has to mix it up and stretch his muscles, otherwise his body will learn how to use the least amount of energy to produce the same results. That is probably why CrossFit has become so popular. It doesn’t let your mind or body rest. This stretches your entire being so you are continuously growing stronger every day in every way.

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 2.53.46 PMProfessionally, I make my living as a project manager. Lately, I have found myself becoming less and less interested in project management professional development training because as I said at the beginning, it feels too literal. A couple of weeks ago though, I began a journey I know will change my outlook on these feelings forever. I joined the 2015 Project Management Institute(PMI) Masters Class in Phoenix, Arizona. The class is composed of 34 students from 18 different countries and right away, I knew it was going to be special.

Probably the most immediate excitement I felt was that I fell into a professional development experience right after I shook the first of the of the first person I met. Professional development for project managers is not all about the technical tools or processes required to reach the end state. Nor is it just about strategic business development. This class reminded me it is about learning how to become real again. I agree with PMI we need more strategic business leaders but the class has also focused on servant leadership, courtesy of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center. Studying servant leadership has reminded me about the simple truths that matter most, honesty, trust, credibility, authenticity, etc.

So, I thought, what is a way I could try and jump into this experience and quickly provide a new perspective to help my classmates and PMI stretch their muscles to become real project management leaders. I am not sure how I will do that but one thing I do know is I am a nerd. So when I saw that is providing PDUs for project managers, I thought that is a perfect place to start. Anywhere you read now in the major business publications, companies are choosing to hire more what I call “professional generalists” who can be dropped into any situation and thrive. This requires not only having technical skills to speak the “native” language but liberal arts skills so you can communicate effectively in different media and natural “human” skills to create strong relationships with everyone on your team and in the organization.

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 2.54.03 PMAgain, I can’t learn every skill I need by reading a book on that skill, I need to stretch myself to see what I am capable of. Just like PMI does with the PDUs, I want to be able to track my progress so I can share with everyone what I am learning and how much of a cool nerd I am. So I thought what if PMI teamed up with Degreed to track a project manager’s professional development outside of the traditional professional development walls. Degreed provides a way to track ALL the ways a person learns whether it is through YouTube, reading a book or article, attending a conference, or attending a traditional brick and mortar school. Professional development comes in all shapes and sizes.

Just to give you an example of the different resources that are available, you can check out Degreed’s Learning Resources, My Education Path, or my Projects page.

Below is a list of Massive Open Online Courses I shared with my classmates from around the world.

ALISON (Ireland)

Ewant (China)

FutureLearn (United Kingdom)

iVersity (Germany)

Kepler (Rwanda)

Open2Study (Australia)

Rwaq (Saudi Arabia)

Schoo (Japan)

UniMOOC (Spain)

Veduca (Brazil)

XuetangX (China) 

Going forward, learning and professional development are going to adapt to the different ways people learn. As this evolves, the way we recognize people for their accomplishments must also adapt and change. PMI provides the global community to interact with professionals all over the world.Degreed provides a community for those professionals to share their growth and development. This “cross training development” is the future of professional development  and I can’t wait to share this new insight with my PMI Masters classmates.

Make the jump and dive in.


Shut Up and Color

Nothing is set in stone. Everything will inevitably change and many times, the greatest lesson we can learn is to accept who we are, work hard, and admire the beauty around us. I am so so lucky to be married to a beautiful amazingly talented woman who has helped me appreciate me. When I graduated high school, my two goals were to earn a PhD in physics and play in the United States Open Golf Championship. Sixteen years after leaving Sheridan, Wyoming I rarely play golf and I make a living as a project manager.

imageTo put this in a broader context, after high school I attended the United States Air Force Academy and started out majoring in physics. When I graduated I received a degree in behavioral science by way of an anthropological study of Native American medicine wheels (inspired by the Big Horn mountains back home) and the Academy’s Character Development Department.  I lived in Portugal for a little while, became depressed enough that I needed some help, and then moved back to Colorado. In January 2006 I had an appendectomy performed on a Wednesday, was released from the hospital on a Thursday, went home, and on Saturday woke up in an ambulance being rushed to the emergency room. If it wasn’t for my mom who lived 8 hours away and her cat Katie, I probably would be living with my grandparents now in heaven eating peanuts and drinking Pepsi. In May 2006, I asked my future wife for her phone number.

I say all this to share some of my favorite phrases.

“Shut up and Color”

“Don’t should on yourself”

“It is what it is”

The military taught me to “shut up and color.” I have never been the smartest guy in the room and many times I have found hard work be more innovative than algorithms. I don’t disagree with working smarter but I think too many people waste time trying to look smart when they should just zip it, roll up their sleeves, and get back to work.

My child psychologist handed me a piece of paper I hung by my bed that read “I will never should on myself.” Every time you ask someone what she/he wants to do in life, if the answer begins with “I should….” everything after that is a lie because it is what that person thinks the world would like to hear instead of answering “I want to…..” or “I must…..”

Then there is the old standard, “It is what it is.” Don’t over think it. The world will continue hurling through space and there is nothing we can do about it. So instead of worrying , appreciate the beauty around you and take a walk once in a while.image

I left Sheridan with aspirations of becoming the smartest golfer on the planet and traveling the world trying to help everyone. Thanks to the military and the fact I had to make a living, I pay my bills as a project manager. What fascinates me though is if you strip away our titles, all we are doing is learning stuff and helping folks. No matter our intentions, good or bad, we are trying to make this world a better place.

My dream was to become a combination of Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society , Indiana Jones, and Payne Stewart. But I never liked extremes. I don’t like sitting in an ivory tower all day hypothesizing and not to sound like a martyr but I couldn’t sit on the driving range all day when I had the opportunity make a difference somehow. I also didn’t care for working for the sake of just working. That is probably why I have become fascinated with project managers, designers, and developers. The new age of folks who are getting it done strike that balance between theory and application. Just like the Denver designers and developers I admire, sometimes sweat and grit is the most creative thing you can do.

Keep it simple, keep learning.

Organic Education with F. Scott Fitzgerald

Every educational adventure begins with a list. What we forget though is how organic learning is and how that list must adapt and grow. In school, your counselor or advisor sits down with you to create a list of classes the school requires to be completed in order to graduate. Instead of your school counselor, what you if you had the privilege to study under F. Scott Fitzgerald? In 1939, Sheila Graham, who lived with Fitzgerald for the last three years of his life was so fortunate and luckily documented the whole experience in her book College of One.

College of One

Ms. Graham did not received a formal education but became a nationally syndicated gossip columnist in Hollywood at the same time Mr. Fitzgerald was turning his attention to the silver screen. The plan was to create a curriculum Mrs. Graham could be studied in two years for a woman who had to learn in a hurry.

“There would be no math, botany, biology, Latin, or French. This education was for a woman who had to learn in a hurry, who wanted to be familiar with what in a broad sense was taught in a liberal arts college. It would embody Scott Fitzgerald’s ideas on what should be taught and his personal method for getting the most from what he considered essential subjects in the shortest possible time. It would take between eighteen months and two years, he estimated. The student would be ready for her diploma in May 1941, after taking written and oral examinations on what she had learned. As the sole graduate of the F. Scott Fitzgerald College of One, class of ’41, I would wear blue stockings and a cap gown, and I would receive a unique scroll presented with due ceremony by the founder himself. It would also be a reeducation for Scott. He would be taking every course with me. We would study history, literature, poetry, philosophy, religion, music, and art. He was as eager to brush up on his own knowledge as I was to learn from the beginning.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald understood the learning process extremely well. He realized everyone learns differently and at different speeds. For the simple reason, he created an organic approach that today would probably be seen as out of the ordinary. Learning must adapt with every generation and student which Mr. Fitzgerald realized in 1939.

“Most educators create a master plan of study at the beginning and stick to it, regardless of the needs of the pupil. But not Mr. Fitzgerald. The curriculum grew concrete as it developed. The order was changed when a book was impossible to get or because Scott believed my interest was flagging. There was nothing rigid about the education. It had an organic growth. The four sections of the plan were never considered final and were constantly retyped by Scott’s secretary.”

What if we adopted this approach in our schools today? What if instead of going to college, you create your own College of One and create your own curriculum? You have all the necessary tools at your disposal. What if you contacted professors or mentors you admired and asked them to sit on your review board for your oral examinations? What if you took control of your own education just like Sheila Graham did and create the curriculum and learning experience you have always dreamt about?

Keep learning free and simple.

Stop Paying for College and Learn

Everyone is so obsessed with how much college costs they are becoming blind to all the free resources available on the internet. If you still doubt me, check out the resources at Degreed and My Education Path. After graduating high school, students can now go online, learn almost any subject they can think of, and make an honest living.

LearningList-Portfolio Graphic

Continuous cycle between your learning list and portfolio.

What is so beautiful is how simple it is.

  1. Figure out what skills you want to learn and who you want to help
  2. Make a list of the the different courses you want to enjoy
  3. Prioritize your “learning list”
  4. Have a blast learning what you love and are curious about
  5. Update your portfolio and share your success with friends, family, and your dream company
  6. Repeat until you are tired, take a nap, and repeat again

Learning should be a simple lifelong journey that never ends. If you focus on how much it costs though and the debt you will have to pay back, it quickly becomes a burden that lasts the rest of your life.

Instead just focus on making it simple.

I am trying to become a “full-stack project manager” where I can not only lead the project and coordinate with stakeholders but also develop and deliver my client’s solution using multiple programming languages.

I identified what skills I wanted to learn:

  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Ruby

…created and prioritized my “learning list”

  2. Ruby
  3. Python
  4. JavaScript

and began taking courses at Codecademy. Here is a snapshot of what I have learned so far.

I have now moved onto Codeschool where I am learning more about HTML 5, CSS3, Ruby, and Ruby on Rails. Here is my report card.

I am tracking all of this on Degreed with compiles all of the different ideas and theories I am learning from multiple sources. If you have not created a Degreed profile, I highly recommend you do so. I predict it will replace the modern day registrar office in 5 years. 

The one point I want to make is that your portfolio is made up of both what you have learned and what you have made. Look at your portfolio like an artist. She cannot just learn about color theory and how to paint. She must use her new skills and knowledge to create works of art that show the world how intelligent and amazing she is. That is what you must do to make this simple process work. When you share your success with the world, show them what you know by making something. It could be a blog post or a new web application, or a new circuit board that helps you automate your daily household tasks. Whatever it is, use your new skills to make cool things that will help as many people as possible.

Lastly and most importantly, when you are figuring out what skills you want to learn, set it in the context of who you can help. Share your knowledge and curiosity with other folks who are struggling to pay for college. Show them how you can use a simple process, beginning with a simple list that could be written on a napkin, to earn a free education that will last a lifetime.

Let’s keep learning simple and free.

Denver Developers and Designers are Awesome!

Back in August, I had the amazing pleasure of volunteering for @dvlpdnvr 2014 for the second time, thank you @meusPartum. Thanks to all the developers and designers I had the distinct pleasure of meeting, my approach to project management and getting sh*t has dramatically changed. For over 12 years I have worked as a project manager using what I call the “old-fashioned” way of getting sh*t done. What I learned though at @dvlpdnvr was that value, authenticity, and relationships matter more than credentials and processes. I would argue though processes can be reimagined to be more beautiful and elegant but that will be a separate discussion. In this post, I want to celebrate the Denver design and development community which is awesome. If you are unfamiliar with this fantastic family of friends and organizations, check out this Denver Egotist article about some very impressive wins for some Denver and Boulder agencies.

Develop Denver Logo

In this community beer is the preferred currency. What matters most are results. It doesn’t matter where you learned your skills. What matters is when it comes time to perform and create a kick@ss website or web application, you produce results. This is the same community that created OhHeckYeah, courtesy of @Legwork and @modeset_.

At the after party, I tried to think of a way to summarize my experience in one word. After a couple of beers and delicious burrito at @illegal_petes, the word “emergence” came to mind. The most beautiful moments of @dvlpdnvr revealed themselves through vulnerable and authentic moments. Nick Jones (@narrowd) delivered the most vulnerable moment of the event with his “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing” presentation. Right before our eyes, Nick walked us through his creative process. We started out together in a beautiful pasture but quickly fell over the edge of what felt like an abyss but then at the end, Nick pulled us back up to the clouds where the view was incredible. Near the end of the second day, I was fortunate to watch different teams accept the Ballmer Peak challenge where they were required to drink a beer every time they reviewed their code. The requirement was simple, consume an API. It was up to each team to create a cool experience that consumed some API from anywhere they could find it. The @galvanize G-School team developed the most “subtle” experience by flying us through the universe in their “rocket ship”. At the end of entire event Ian Coyle (@IanCoyle) shared 42 lessons he had learned over the course of his career and he fully admitted that list will probably grow. It was a great way to end a conference that celebrates getting sh*t done. These three moments were perfect examples of what I am calling “emergence.” In each moment, folks started out with basic requirements or ambitions, create something cool and amazing, and then we rode the roller coaster with them all the way to the end. More often than not, the solutions and experiences we are searching for are waiting to be discovered not solved. Instead of finding the solution, we are discovering the answer. The simpler the answer the more beautiful it is.

The designers and developers in Denver and Boulder are amazing. I just hope I have the privilege of hanging out with them again next year at @dvlpdnvr 2015.

Below is a list of the folks who presented at @dvlpdnvr. If you have a few moments, I recommend checking out their websites, there is some amazing talent in this list.

Develop Denver Speakers

Amelia Graycen (@bunchopunch) “I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That: A Humane Introduction to Machine Learning”

Chandler Prall (@chandlerprall) “ES6 – What Is It and When Can I Use It”

Jake Gibbons “Atomic Styleguide Driven Development: The Death of Pixel Perfect”

Scott Smith “Beer Locker”

Shaz Sedighzadeh (@shaz) “Workin’ 5 to 9 – “Inspired on Side”

Aaron Ray (@aaronjray) “Use Your Time, Don’t Spend It”

Kinsey Durham (@KinseyAnnDurham) “Ruby for Beginners”

Matt Webb (@creatify_me) “Turning Coders into Makers”

Thabo Fletcher (@thabofletcher) “Don’t F*ck It Up: The Finer Points of JavaScript Injection”

Chandler Prall (@chandlerprall) “Optimizing Your Site: Tools and Tactics to Give Your Users a Faster Experience”

Mike Pack (@zombidev) “Using Ember to Make a Bazillion Dollars”

Nick Jones (@narrowd) “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing”

Ryan Eaves “Dynamic Content Loading Without CMS Headaches”

Randy Winch (@liquidlev) “Switching to Agile: One Year Later”

Talon Poole (@legittalon) “KoaJS and the Generator Generation”

Michael Arestad (@michaelarestad) “Sasstronauts”

Devin Reams (@devinreams) “The GitHub Flow: Building Software Better Together”

John Gilbert “When Sh*t Hits the Fan”

Garrett Dawson (@killtheliterate) “Functional JavaScript. Wut?”

Tony Felice (@tonyfelice) “Measurements with Meaning”

Justin Gitlin (@cacheflowe) “Building Physical Video Games for Marketing, Entertainment, and Social Good”

Ian Coyle (@IanCoyle) “42 Lessons Learned”

Students Need Love not Degrees

Right now everyone is focused on eliminating college debt, but why? That still won’t change the fact that people I know who have masters degrees and PhDs are struggling to stay employed and pay the bills. Two days ago, I came across an article written by Margaret Rhodes about four radical ideas Stanford’s believe could reinvent college:

  • Lose the 4-year degree
  • Lose the high school to college model
  • Lose the transcript
  • Lose the college major

In the article, Margaret Rhodes explains how Stanford’s came up with these ideas and how they could completely reinvent the way we look at college. The ideas I took away were the timelines we place on education and how we share our educational accomplishments.

Everyone is taught to go to college, graduate, get a job, start a family, and start paying taxes. Follow this formula and we are guaranteed to be happy and successful but I am sure anyone reading this is immediately thinking of exceptions to that logic. In the article the recommendation is to make the 4-year degree a 6-year degree but I would make the argument for a 10-year degree. I have always been late the party but who says you feel confident in your educational accomplishments when you are 25 or 26 years old? What if we earned our degree when we are 32 which seems to be close to the average age my friends have been starting families.

Also random thought, why do we call it “earning a degree?” That seems to focus on the fact we are paying for our degree instead of learning. It goes back to another major theme in the article that our 800 year old system needs to be completely reinvented.

The other takeaway is how we share our accomplishments. Stein Greenberg from the sums this up by saying:

“We now live in a world where you can get any piece of information at any time. What if it wasn’t about information accumulation, but about developing competencies and skills,”…“What if a transcript could be as unique as a fingerprint and really show and emphasize the skills you have going forward?”

Artists and athletes have always enjoyed  the purest and most authentic accreditation process ever created. I don’t care where Claude Monet or Paul Cezanne learned how to paint. I just love their work and believe them to be some of the greatest painters to ever live. I don’t care that Lebron James or Koby Bryant didn’t go to college. They are two of the greatest basketball players ever. Artists and athletes are judged on their actions and accomplishments. So why can’t we do that for every college graduate in the world? I don’t mean to disparage anyone with a degree but let’s be honest, what does a degree tell us? It is proof that I paid an institution a lot of money so I could learn various topics, most of which were chosen for me, and then pass a bunch of tests. When I graduated though, I didn’t know how to raise a child, pay my mortgage, network, or live in the real world. What if instead of a degree we helped students figure out how to create portfolios that reflected their life’s work and accomplishments, just like an artist’s painting? If you don’t like a painting, the artist is not paid and may not be able to pay rent, that is just reality. If I don’t like a student’s portfolio, I may not hire her/him but that just means the student knows what needs to be improved so she/he can go back to the chalk board to update the portfolio and try again.

Learning is iterative and lifelong. We must treat it as a such instead of trying to cram it into boxes and folders that have been collecting dust for 800 years.

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Designers Need To Be Told No

Designers complain about time sheets and schedule deadlines and I don’t blame them, but I believe they secretly yearn for those rules. Without being bothered by a project manager, designers have no way to measure their creativity and originality. When a designer is told she can’t do it that way is when her true brilliance shines.

When I was about ten or eleven years old, my mom taught me I must play their game if I want them to play mine. I didn’t know what she meant but 33 years later I think I figured it out. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything we create must live in the real world according to their rules. My mom was an elementary school art teacher and even though she taught the children how to bring their ideas to life on canvas or with clay, she taught them about the rules they must obey. It made me sad to think artists had to play by the rules but now it makes sense. If you play their game, they will play yours.

In the military, the “old guard” always told the young officers and enlisted troops to “shut up and color.” You always hear folks telling students to ” color in between the lines.” . That may be one of the reasons why in every generation you see counter cultures. There will always be people who do not want to play by the rules. Artists and designers tend to fit in this group and that is a good thing. When I am putting together a team, I want folks who like to color outside the lines because they test the boundaries which are necessary in order to keep the project moving forward. If you never test the limits of a project, you will never realize how far you can go.

Color In the Lines

Now I probably can’t rock the skinny jeans or canvas shoes or slicked back hair thanks to my “drive-in movie” forehead but I am completely in love with designers. Designers are the “makers” and “doers” that rely on creativity and originality to solve problems and improve lives. With so many rules though, it seems these folks are purposefully living outside the boundaries they vowed to leave behind so they can feel liberated and free to create ideas and prototypes nobody has seen before. It is that thinking I am in love with but i think it is necessary to still have boundaries, otherwise how are we to decide if the ideas or prototypes are original?

I have been told over and over again my military background does not make me creative. It makes me an automaton who follows the rules and never disobeys. Back at the Academy when I was in college, I asked a friend, with all things being equal, if the only difference between two resumes was where they went to college and one applicant graduated from Harvard and the other graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, she would always choose Harvard. I asked why and she said that applicant is probably more creative, I call bullsh*t.

Creativity and originality need boundaries to succeed. These boundaries create constraints that force designers to feel the stress they need to create brilliant ideas and innovations. Of course, it is not fun to have limitations and rules but what if those constraints are provided in an environment where people do not feel restricted? Can you combine the discipline of a soldier with the rebelliousness of a designer and create even more originality? How do you know something is original if you have nothing to compare it to? If you have an unlimited budget, is what you create truly the most sustainable prototype possible? With an unlimited budget, you run the risk of birthing a spoiled child that thinks the only way to solve a problem is with more money. With no deadlines, when do you know you are done or can move on to the next project?

Creativity needs boundaries in order to be happy. Boundaries create the “creative depression” all artists need to live in the real world.

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Beautiful Project Management is Unbiased

When everything comes together and the simplest solution is discovered through painstaking discipline and design, beautiful project management is unbiased. It does not matter whether you are a producer at Frog or IDEO, a delivery project manager at Apple, an engineer at NASA, or a social entrepreneur working in Africa, beautiful project management looks and feels the same. It is simple and elegant.

I began working as a project manager in 2002 but I didn’t realize it. Back then, I called myself a resource advisor working for the 65th Communications Squadron. After that, I served as a quality assurance evaluator for Air Force Space Command in Colorado. When I left the Air Force, I have served as a program control analyst, schedule manager, risk manager, training coordinator, and management consultant. None of these possessed the title of project manager but they all served the same role. My job was to help people. It may not have been flashy or sexy, but I helped people and I continue to do so.

A couple years ago, I was introduced to an entirely new industry of what I thought were project managers but who called themselves designers. They specialized mainly in web development but I learned about industrial designers and social innovators. Their solutions and methods fascinated me and for a while, I felt like a newcomer to Facebook, everyone else looked happier and healthier than me but I realized we all suffered the same problems and frustrations, we just used different terminology.

Art Museum Drawing

In both worlds, design and project management, the best solutions always look the same. They are simple, elegant, and unbiased. They don’t care where they came from or who they help. Their only goal is to exist so that others may be happier and healthier. I always thought being a project manager meant I was supposed to wear fancy suits and fly all over the world solving the big problems in big organizations. When I read about firms like IDEO and Frog, those stereotypes quickly dissolved and I was jealous of folks who traded ties for t-shirts and dry clean slacks for blue jeans and comfortable shoes.

The answer is never on one end of the spectrum or the other. It always floats in the middle between both poles. Project managers need artists and more creativity. Designers still need to work within the basic constraints of every project (scope, time, cost, resources, risks, and quality). When it all fits together perfectly, I call it beautiful project management. You can call it whatever you want but you know it when you see it. Just like a beautiful piece of artwork, an elegant solution just makes sense. You can show it to a child and it requires no explanation.

Beautiful project management is unbiased, it does not care where it comes from or where it goes. It’s only goals are simplicity and elegance.

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