Posts Tagged ‘The soul of a project’

Can you be too strong? The answer is, “yes.” Maybe a better way to say that is, “A strength can be taken too far, to the point where it becomes a weakness.” There is a very good psychological test based on this called The Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). The SDI addresses motivation and is based on Relationship Awareness Theory, which has as one of its four premises

Strengths, when overdone or misapplied, can appear as weaknesses.

 This is something I see in my teaching and consulting practice routinely. This may sound a bit odd, but trust me, it isn’t. So what is this all about?

Remember the Peter Principle series from a few blogs back? You might recall the Peter Principle states:

People are promoted to their level of incompetency.

With those previous blogs the focus was on temperament as viewed by Jung and Myers and Briggs. Temperament reflects how our brain is wired.

With the SDI Dr. Elias Porter, PhD, takes a different approach looking at motivation and whether or not a person is driven by a sense of altruism, assertiveness, analysis, or flexible (a combination of the three). From their names you can guess what approach a person would take if it is their dominant or native trait.

So how can a strength be taken too far? Good question. Imagine I score “flexible” on the SDI. If the heat is on and a decision is needed I might look too wishy-washy for you as the pressure builds. In fact, that will be the truth if I am spending all my time looking for the “sweet spot” of the decision and am ignoring the fact time or money is running out.

This reasoning carries forward to the other motivational types as well:

  • The altruistic person gets so worried about how everyone will feel they become indecisive;
  • The assertive person runs head-long into a decision unaware of the risks involved;
  • The analytical person just never has enough information to make a decision.

To make matters more challenging, when under pressure a person can “move” and shift to another SDI position. For example, the altruistic person may move to the more assertive position and become dictatorial – all in the name of helping everyone. You can have some fun thinking about how some of the other shifts play out and people you know who act that way.

There are several takeaways from this:

  • Try and walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. See if you can see things through their eyes.
  • Remember that people can shift their attitude, opinion, and approach to a situation when under pressure. They aren’t necessarily being two-faced, they may just be responding to the pressure and trying to do what they think is best.
  • Watch your own behavior. It is easy to feel justified with one’s approach and lack awareness that we are changing our attitude and how we deal with others without having any conscious awareness of it. It can all be done blindly in the belief of what is “best.”
  • Finally, too much of one thing can create difficulties. Try and take it easy and leave space for others.

This was a short run-through of only one aspect of the SDI. I strongly encourage you to explore the SDI. It is a simple, practical profiling test that yields good information.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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The Soul of a Project #28: The Wisdom of Doubt!

by Gary Monti on November 1, 2012

On Apollo 1 what would have happened if someone had asked, “What happens when you combine a spark with elevated oxygen levels in an iron rich environment?” Those 3 astronauts might have gotten to live out their lives telling their grandchildren stories about the early days of space flight. Avoiding Monday-morning-quarterbacking, the question is worth asking in terms of determining when confidence bleeds over into over-confidence. In resilience engineering that bleeding over is referred to as drift.

What stems drift is doubt. A muscular approach to projects can easily push out doubt, which is unfortunate. Doubt has a real value. It encourages us to seek others opinions and get as many eyeballs as possible on a problem or solution. Evolutionarily it has a real benefit. Darwin talks about the survival of the fittest. It is commonly thought of as the strongest. That isn’t what he meant. Survival of the fittest refers to having the best fit, i.e., finding the sweet spot among all the possibilities when swimming in a sea of possibilities.

Doubt is connected to another important evolutionary development – a conscience. In The Sociopath Next Door Martha Stout, PhD, explores the social consequences when a conscience is lacking and the associated lack of doubt. It is a very interesting read.

You might be wondering where this is going. After all, we need to develop a sense of confidence so we can get things done. But if my confidence is high does it mean I’m a sociopath? What to do?

The answer lies in wisdom.  Wisdom is choosing what to do (or to be still) when there isn’t a clear-cut path that would bring a tear to Euclid’s eye. And this is where we get back to the group. Use doubt to provoke, to dig deeper, to make a game of the situation. A little cage rattling will go a long way towards waking people up and getting them energized, which leads to better solutions and gives everyone on the team a chance to feel significant. At that point work is no longer a job, it’s a quest. It’s a chance to get lost in the problem and feel alive!

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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The Soul of a Project #24: The Peter Principle and YOU!

by Gary Monti on September 4, 2012

The Peter Principle states, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetency.” From a psychological perspective there is a great deal of truth in that statement. Ever wonder why it occurs? Let’s explore based on depth psychology (Carl Jung) and the concept of temperament. Some background will help.

In depth psychology we have 8 function attitudes. These are ways in which we gather and process information. We all have them. Where we vary is in the preferred order in which we use them.

There are two major ways we can gather information: Sensing and Intuiting. These break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Likewise, there are two major ways we can process information: Feeling and Thinking. These, too, break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Combining this information we end up with the following table:

GATHERING INFORMATION

PROCESSING INFORMATION

Sensing – extroverted Feeling – extroverted
Sensing – introverted Feeling – introverted
Intuiting – extroverted Thinking – extroverted
Intuiting – introverted Thinking – introverted

 

We all have all eight. Where we vary as individuals is in the rank order. Also, for each of us, our number 1 gets the highest amount of brainpower while our number 8 is the most difficult to work use. This leads to an interesting dictum.

“For as strong as you are in one part of life there is a corresponding Achilles heel…and there’s no getting around this.”

For example, someone who has Thinking – extroverted as number one has Feeling – extroverted as number eight. What does this mean?

The Thinking – extroverted part means this is a take-charge type of person. She can give orders and take command. Think of an entrepreneur starting a business. There can be a gruffness present that is somewhat abrasive, but things get done! The business grows. It runs like a clock. In fact, it grows to the point that how it is organized (or should I say “disorganized”) is becoming increasingly important. The number of squabbles between employees is increasing and it is showing in terms of how customers are serviced and outsiders view the business.

This is where Peter Principle comes into play. The very strength that grew the business, Thinking – extroverted, has led to a problem that is the most difficult for the founder to solve. Barking more orders only makes things worse.

Feeling – extroverted has been studiously avoided. People are told to suck it up and get the job done. This may sound macho but the reality is the leader is avoiding it because she is at a loss as to how to deal with the issue. In fact, she’s probably afraid of it. There is an important reason as to why this occurs:

Addressing the weaker functions requires putting the strong one aside.

You can probably hear the entrepreneur saying, “Are you crazy! I built this business based on my commanding attitude and now you want me to listen to their feelings! We don’t have time for that! This is a BUSINESS!” At this moment the Peter Principle surfaces in all its flaming glory and if not addressed trouble occurs. That trouble starts with the leader looking foolish and needing to be “understood” and progresses to a tragedy in which clients aren’t getting served, costs go up due to inefficiencies, and the competition starts eating your lunch.

Don’t despair. In the next blog we’ll go a little deeper and see if anything positive can come of this.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Alcoholism and substance abuse are quite damaging. Once, I was brought up short dealing with associated issues.

An employee suffered from alcoholism. The signs were there: irritability, other employees having to cover for his erratic performance, etc. Dealing with the issue ended up creating a personal nightmare that taught a lesson that was very well learned.

My partner and I talked and decided to break protocol and bring him in for a discussion since the employee, I’ll call “John,” was a team lead and we lacked a backup in his position. (We broke protocol by bypassing the manager to whom John reported –a telling first sign.) John was contrite. But that wasn’t the problem. I and my partner were; but here, I am going to keep the focus on myself. The desire to be “the understanding boss” swept over me. At the time, it felt adult, the right thing to do. What wasn’t so obvious was wanting to be seen as “the understanding boss.” In short, the situation ended up being a focus on me rather than on the team lead position needing responsible performance. Consequently, I felt all warm inside having shown magnanimous behavior from my ownership position.

What is needed in such situations is analysis of what is required for the position to succeed and then determining if the right person is occupying.  Sounds simple. It isn’t…unless a different focus is established. That focus is one of humility.

In retrospect, I believe John picked up on how the ownership position was abandoned for the sake of personal gratification. It created a blind spot within which John quickly ran to and stood. He promised to rehabilitate, do better, blah, blah, blah. What ended up happening was quite the opposite. Later we found out he had gone back to work and became worse. People couldn’t stand working with him. He let people know he had talked with the owners and we were okay with him and his performance.

This all came to the surface only when we saw costs go up and performance drop off in John’s area. This is when the reality hit – the hammer was dropped squarely on my head. Having used John and the situation for personal aggrandizement the company was hurt. The lesson was learned. Branded into my prefrontal cortex was:

“Before others can be evaluated, I must evaluate myself.”

Looking squarely at the situation the action plan showed itself quickly:

  • Admit to my mistakes
  • Decide what served the organization and employees best
  • Confront John
  • Accept that he will feel being treated unfairly

John was called in and the above bullet points were covered. It was difficult and felt good all at the same time. By sticking to the principles relevant to the situation things became simple.

John’s alcoholism came to the surface and he engaged in a series of manipulative behaviors that kept the focus on my partner and I and avoided any ownership of responsibility on his part. When pressed for what he owned, free and clear of anyone to blame, he only got frustrated and angry. The decision to terminate him became easy when he responded to us saying the situation had only gotten worse, “Well, you are the one’s who gave me the extra room.” (If only all dealings with substance abuse were this direct.)

At that point the principles pushed my ego aside and spoke, “John, the position requires X performance. You are consistently choosing Y. We need to respect your desire to do something different and need to let you pursue that path.”

My pulse was at 72. Humility. It works.

Over the years, remembering this situation has helped immensely and a lesson has been learned worth passing along. When dealing with someone I deem difficult and either fly into confusion/anger or feel euphoric with my decisions around him or her, the first, best question to ask is, “Where am I bullsh_ting myself?” My path is inside that question.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Ever been tortured by an expert or SME (subject matter expert) who has the ability to help the project? They can create nightmarish situations for the PM by becoming the tail that wags the project dog. It is especially true when senior management needs to bail itself out of a situation and sees the expert as a White Knight.

How can this happen? How can someone who has so much to offer become a black hole whose gravitational force distorts the project in a way that pulls it outside realistic parameters? I’ve seen this with newly minted PMPs© who want to defend the honor of PMI® and what the profession stands for. In general, fighting for one’s standards is perfectly fine; in fact I enjoy working with such individuals as long as they are reasonable. The extreme situation brings to mind a PMP who said he would have to turn his PMP credentials back in if he were forced to follow the project plan. The code of ethics demanded it!

Again, I want to repeat. People who are committed to their professional standards and take action accordingly are the ones worth working with. They are to be prized. Think of your own surgery.

But what about those who are over-the-top (which can apply to engineers, programmers, craftsmen, etc., in addition to project managers)? Just what is “over-the-top,” anyway? Psychiatry can help. There is a term, “inflation,” which can be associated with psychosis. Psychosis occurs when there is a split with the outside world. The psychotic is consumed by a universe within himself or herself – a dream world, so to speak. (By the way, I am not a psychiatrist, so if some toes have been stepped on I beg forgiveness and welcome feedback.)

Now, this isn’t all bad. It is what shamans do in a very disciplined way. They split from conventional wisdom to seek alternative and deeper meanings. It is like thinking outside the box only more extreme. Once the shaman gains his/her internal insight and truth they bring it to community and share it with others.

That thinking outside the box sounds pretty good. Could probably use it on a lot of projects.  So, how do things get derailed? Let’s get back to that term, “inflation.”

Inflation involves confusion:

“It is when a person confuses themselves with being the truth rather than a reflection of it.”

You know the type I am referring to. Even when within ethical boundaries there is no negotiation, no shades of gray, and no compromise. This is when they become a danger to the project. Essentially, everyone else is a lesser being. They only work independently for to work interdependently would sully THE TRUTH. People, including the PM, are to report to them. If this doesn’t occur the inflated individual truly believes the earth will start wobbling on its axis and spin into the sun. They can become the PM’s worst nightmare.

So, what to do? The options include:

  • Work with them as they are and accept the drop in performance because others have to suffer this individual who is insensitive to their part of the project;
  • Get someone else to take the White Knights place. Group wisdom is superior to individual genius. With everyone pulling together they just might craft a realistic solution;
  • Delay the project or that phase until a more realistic person can be found.
  • (This is the tough one) take the White Knight to task and hold them responsible for integrating others work. Keep them in the pressure cooker until change occurs.
  • Hold your ground and let the White Knight quit. Graveyards are full of indispensible people.

I’ve had a client go through the last option. Senior management was Chicken Little running around thinking the sky would fall and wore themselves out trying to placate the White Knight. He’s gone. Work is better. Several humble, good engineers stepped up and shouldered the responsibility. The work improved.

Interestingly, (this is where yours truly comes in to play) senior management was “hooked” on the White Knight. They had to go through withdrawal, withdrawal associated with thinking the White Knight could do magic. They had to be nursed through the process of being realistic and seeing that projects take what they take in order to get accomplished. Last check, things are going well.

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Ever feel lied to? Is it hard to put your finger on what, exactly, is wrong with what is being said or done? It can feel like you are trapped inside an Escher drawing. What to do?

My suggestion is, “Go with it!” If that is what is happening, then call it what it is. Let the team members and stakeholders know (in a calm voice, of course) that their closed arguments just don’t add up. And just how is this done without sounding like a loon yourself? Once again, it is one of those “reads easy, does hard” situations.

Let go of focusing on the outside world. Go within…and drag all that insanity with you. Let people talk. Listen. Absorb without judgment. The tools needed to spot inconsistency are already in your toolbox. Stop thinking and, as Obi Wan told Luke, “use the force.” This force is there all the time. It is called integrity.

I’ve had more than one CEO (but not many), as well as other stakeholders and team members, lie to me on a consistent basis. If challenged, they would say they were simply testing me, wanting to see if I knew my stuff. Which is fine if it stopped there. The problem is when they saw my ignorance or naiveté as a license to stay with the distortion and go on with whatever their (hidden) agenda was.

This may sound a bit paranoid. It isn’t. We all actually do it to some extent. That “extent” is determined by how much we lust after or want to avoid something. Ever fudge 15 minutes on billable hours? For guys, what do you say in response to, “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?”

Those situations to which I am referring to here, though, are the systematic ones. The situations where there is a conscious effort to paint a complete picture that is closed in scope but relies on fabrications. When this occurs the details fail to match up. And this is where the solution lies!

Pay attention to those details without getting swamped by them. The way to do that is by watching behaviors and seeing in what direction outcomes go based on believing what is told. See where that trail of bread crumbs leads. When you get that picture, go back and look at the details again.

Again, trust your judgment. Once you can draw a bead on some of the inconsistencies, i.e., articulate them, keep up the process. The details, upon which you need to focus, validate, look to see if they exist, are mutually inconsistent, etc., will become apparent. It’s as if they begin to phosphoresce.

As you confront (in a respectful, business-like manner) the situation there will be a natural repeating of the illusion. You’ll be asked to stare more closely at it, as with Enron when reporters where getting close to the truth. You might even be told you just don’t get it, that you need to mature and get up to speed in order to see the truth. It can be especially tempting when the person creating the illusion has power.

The fact is, if you work to stay with the inner truth there will be a calm out of which grows the ability to sum (no matter how many thousands or millions of dollars have been spent) the situation in 3 words, “It’s an illusion.” At that point, you can do the best project management possible.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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The Soul of a Project #7: Revenue and Trust

by Gary Monti on March 20, 2012

Increasing revenue can create quite a challenge. Doing more of the same is not necessarily the formula that works. Over the years I’ve come to see there are revenue plateaus companies hit. No matter how they try they can’t break through these sales barriers. So what is going on? One element that shows up 99 times out of 100 is trust. Or, should I say lack of trust.

The typical approach prior to engaging me is trying to “put a tire pump” on what’s worked in the past – more of the same. This lead to exhausted, frustrated employees and executives who feel let down. The approach seems so simple – just do more of what we’ve always done. What could be simpler? Plenty.

During root cause analysis what typically surfaces as the culprit is lack of trust. Senior managers want more of what benefits the company but they don’t want to let go of the reins of power. You might be asking, “What does that have to do with increasing sales?” The short answer is, “The people need to be empowered.”

Correspondingly, the employees try to work the same old work patterns. They shy away from the seeking the increase in responsibility that goes with the freedom to explore and grow the company. They might get slapped down. They want assurances.

In the end it boils down to one word – trust. How does that figure in to expanding an organization? What is happening is a change is needed for the growth to occur. Some of the old rules need to be retired and new ones need to be brought in. This creates a huge amount of stress. Managers fear for their jobs (of which there are fewer and fewer as one climbs the organization) as do the team members (who might have to leave the company if failure occurs).

This fear comes about mainly because people have to go to places within themselves of which they are afraid. In interviewing them the response I get goes something like this, “The skills I have honed are working fine – thank you very much! Go get the other guy to improve his work habits and turn more power over to me. Get out of my office. I have work to do. How much are we paying you to do this?”

If this attitude fails to change the revenues will stay the same or fall back to lower levels. This falling back throws gas on the fire and the tension gets even greater. The confusion also increases because efforts to grow have only made things worse!

What to do? The answer is quite simple but very hard to do: each person has to take charge of leadership in his own life and have the courage to negotiate new connections with those around him. There is a lot of inward activity. The key to success is going deep within and bringing to the forefront aspects of oneself that are a challenge to deal with. When the courage to do that is present and action is taken suddenly the ability to work with others associated with changing and growing seems possible. It is quite rewarding but I have to admit, it is scary and it is hard.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Wish there were more creativity, flexibility, and discipline on your project? Take a page from modern art and improvisational jazz (improv). Improvisational jazz may sound undisciplined. Criticisms can be similar to those leveled against modern art, ” My five year-old can paint like that!”

Taking a page from modern art, Picasso was in reality thinking very deeply trying to determine, among other things, how much he could subtract from the visual image and be left with the essence of what he was seeing (“Bull”).

Similarly, improv can be very deep. One thing it tries to accomplish is playing with the rules to see where things go. (The soloist in a band could switch from Inuit pentatonic scale to Egyptian heptatonic to see if the other players can keep up.) Well, if one is going to play with the rules they’d better have a good idea what they are! Discipline is important.

By manipulating the rules a whole new frame of mind can be created, one that takes people to new places.  Think of Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” with the melting watches.

So what would happen if we combined the two frames of mind? How could this be applied to projects? When stymied the team might breakout from being stuck and frustrated. What would happen if they stripped the project to its essence?

What does the customer need vs. want? How do the components relate? What are the rules? Can we play with them and create a project model that simultaneously covers the breadth of customer needs while integrating the components in a meaningful way?

Think of the creation of the iPad (upon which this blog is being created at 22,000 feet). Remember the early comments that there was no market for it? It is just another gadget with no serious application. It’s too small to be a computer and too large to be a phone.

Working this way is risky. But what if the team broke out to design and implement what would definitely meet the customer’s needs and maybe even more? Could they have a sense of pride, of accomplishment, of being leaders in their specialty? Think about it.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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A new series “The Soul of a Project” begins with this blog – “The Paradox of Communications”. This is something near and dear to me since it is one of the cornerstones of my consulting practice. The common ground with previous blogs is getting the job done.  There is another component as well, one about which I have strong feelings. It centers on the phrase, “soft side of management” and similar statements.

Frankly, I rankle at that phrase, since it has at times been associated with “easy,” or “superfluous,” and, for those of us with testosterone coursing through our veins, it can be considered “a woman thing.” To borrow from Charlie Brown, “Arrrrrrgh!”

It would be greatly appreciated if anyone who actually validated those assumptions to speak out and comment accordingly. Experience has taught that sustained, constructive relationships takes work, a lot of which centers around communications. For that matter, brief, non-repeating communications requires a lot of work. Ever have to deal with a retail clerk who didn’t understand your needs?

The challenge with good communications is reflected in the paradoxes present:

  • Leaders are disciplined and absorb great deals of information, building a mental structure from which they work. The irony, though, is the connection is made with the stakeholder population by speaking from the gut.
  • The spoken word and text are serial in nature. However, good communicators work multiple channels simultaneously.
  • Even when communications is tightly restricted, e.g., Morse code, which is just dots and dashes, those receiving could identity the sender and their mood.
  • Good communicators survive fact-checks. Good communication, though, is more than listing facts.
  • Listening is different than being a human tape recorder. We phase in and out of conversations. Regardless, good communications that are highly accurate occur all the time.
  • Perfect documentation is a goal to strive for, one that can never be achieved. Yet, good teams stay connected and solve problems even when working at a distance.

This is a good place to stop and ask the questions, “When you are effectively communicating do you know what is going on? If so, do you know what that comprises? And, just how do you know? What evidence is there?”

Asked another way, “What does the flow look like when communications are going well?” Give it some thought. I’ll see you next week!

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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