A PM’s Toolbox Tour: Top Tray

Toolbox Top Tray The top tray of my project management toolbox has three compartments which hold my Chimes, Linked Lists and Open Channel.  Tibetan chimes (tingshas) are prayer chimes traditionally used to focus and clear the mind before and after a teaching or meditation.  I use them a bit differently as a way to attract people’s attention without having to raise my voice or bang on the table.

The first time I experienced their use I knew I they were going in my toolbox.  There was something so compelling about the chimes harmonic resonance that even the large group I was in broke off conversation at the sound.  Chimes are particularly effective (and unexpected) in phone conferences. 

I keep two types of Linked Lists: where to find knowledge and data repositories and where I can go to find people with whom to share ideas and collaborate.   I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat (wow, I better keep this, I might need it for something sometime: ) and eventually transitioned from trying to have everything with me to just keeping up with where things can be found.  So the first Linked List is for trusted sources of information – books, other publications, websites, thought leaders and other libraries of stuff that won’t fit in the toolbox.   In my toolbox, I just want to have enough stuff for a “trip to Maui” per George Carlin (R.I.P.: see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac for details). 

Once I get heads-down on a project, my focus can get really task-oriented and narrow (like hamster-work time).  To combat this (and a tendency toward introversion) I schedule frequent forays into social learning environments.   As a PM, I actively encourage and enable (to the best of my ability) folks on my project teams to do the same.  There’s nothing like immersion in varying viewpoints to sharpen your own perspective!   How often do you experience yourself differently? 

So my other Linked List stores information about events like conferences, seminars, PMI breakfasts & dinners, BayAPLN events, etc., places away from the usual workplace.  Speaking of which, there’s a great conference coming up this fall, Agile Open California 2008.  If you’re interested in meeting folks for dialog and collaborative learning, go to an Open Space format conference!   For details, check out – www.agileopencalifornia.com 

My informal project management survey on essential tools came up with the following related to Linked Lists: my organizer, Outlook, Mind Manager, Day Planner, iPhone, Blackberry, address book, Favorites. 

The Open Channel is an analog communication tool that both sends and receives.  It’s essential for successful project management and requires significant energy, streams of intuition and constant tuning.  At the receiving end of the channel are active listening (I have to work hard at this), observation, generous interpretation, instinct and empathy.  At the sending end are authenticity (I’ve been told sometimes too authentic), Nonviolent Communication, and Appreciative Inquiry.  Respect, collaboration and negotiation travel in both directions. 

Do you listen to the people you work with or interpret them?   What flows through your Channel?  

There were a number of tool survey responses related to Open Channel:  a smile (it’s non-threatening; begin everything this way: smile before answering the phone), sense of humor, appreciation/compassion for folks in the trenches, neuro-linguistic programming, relationship building skills and making the effort to use them, positive expectations, inclusiveness, praise, copious notes, communication skills. 

For some good Open Channel reading, I recommend, Listening: The Forgotten Skill, by Madelyn Burley-Allen, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond. 

Ainsley Nies


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