Why is the Guide to the PMBOK on the Best-Seller List?

A good friend of mine recently alerted me to the fact that the PMI publication, “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” made it to the BusinessWeek best-seller list (see BusinessWeek Best-Sellers list for December 5, 2005). Yes, you read that correctly, the best-seller list. Of course, while most project stories would seem like great fiction, the PMBOK is a work of non-fiction. But how could the Guide to the PMBOK become a “best-seller”?

I have an idea on why this has happened. I think it relates to the skyrocketing number of project managers seeking professional certification. I mentioned the high rate of certification in a previous post about the competitiveness of the project management field. I would like to revisit the idea here as it makes my case for the fact that Project Managers need to be doing what they can to sharpen their skills and improve their performance.

Let’s face it folks, while the PMBOK has improved significantly with the latest edition, it remains a difficult book to read. It is really more of a reference than a book. The only reason that people are out there buying it is because:  1) they want to do a better job as project managers 2) they need it for certification and 3) there aren’t many books out there that cover the topic that are better written. I say not many books because books like Kathy Schwalbe’s (Information Technology Project Management) contain much of the same information as the PMBOK and are much more readable.

That so many PMs are buying the PMBOK says that you and I need to be thinking about staying competitive.  Knowledge and awareness of the necessary PM skills found in the PMBOK is one way. Seeking out opportunities that will provide relevant experience is another way.  And sharpening our people skills through emotional intelligence is an excellent way as well.

Applied EQ4PM #4: 4 Emotional Red Flags

Previously we talked about a framework for applying Emotional Intelligence to Project Management. The EQ framework begins with emotional Self Awareness, which means, understanding what is going on with us.

Some of us may find it very easy to know what is going on with us emotionally. For others, it will not be so simple. I went from being completely unaware to become very aware of my emotional state. In the process, I learned about good emotions and bad emotions. And I learned about recognizing problems before they started, based on my emotional state. I learned to recognize emotional red flags for myself and for others.

These red flags helped me to identify underlying emotional problems. Once I recognized them, I was able to choose a more responsible behavior. The key, and most important part for me was to recognize these emotional red flags. Here are 4 emotional red flags:

#1 Inappropriate Humor

I used to consider myself very funny and believed it to be a strength. We would all probably agree that humor is good, especially on projects. What I found was that I was using inappropriate humor. The reason is that I was afraid of making my point directly, so I used a joke to do it. As an example, consider when someone would show up late to a project team meeting. Instead of confronting the issue directly, I would make a joke like “looks like the trains didn’t wait for you today”. I was angry that they did not show up on time. But my use of humor was indirect and not effective at addressing the behavior of my team member.

My humor was masking my true feelings of anger or fear. Now when I make a joke, I ask myself what was behind it. Was I singling someone out and trying to make fun of them? Was I just trying to get attention? Was I scared and trying to take the attention off me?

#2 Use of Sarcasm

Closely related to inappropriate humor is sarcasm. Perhaps it is just humor taken to an extreme. We use sarcasm for the same reasons as inappropriate humor; we don’t want to say something directly. Sarcasm is when we say to your boss “everyone thinks the new expense approval policy is a GREAT idea” and then you tack on, “just kidding”. The “just kidding” is the exclamation point that makes sarcasm and inappropriate humor easy to spot. If you are saying “just kidding”, you are saying “don’t get mad at me for telling the truth”.

#3 Passive-Aggressive Behavior Passive-aggressive behavior can be very subtle. A few good examples of passive aggressive behavior are showing up late for meetings and failing to ask for approval in advance. As project managers, we all know there are too many meetings. It can be difficult to be on time for all of them. But when you show up late, you are sending a signal to the other people attending that meeting. Of course, we all will be late sometimes. It happens. If it happens once in a great while, that is no big deal. Or, if we call to let others know or provide some sort of advance notice, that is not a big deal. It is when we have a pattern of this behavior that it indicates there is usually something else going on. Failing to ask for approval in advance is similar. We all know the old adage, it is better to ask for forgiveness than approval. That saying likely came from a passive aggressive person. It might very well be true. But that adage can also be construed to mean, “do whatever you want”. Certainly, as project managers we need to show initiative. This means that sometimes we are going to need to act in the absence of clear authority. However, we also need to aware of what is really going on. Is there some underlying reason for acting this way? For example, is it unclear what we are responsible for? If so, we should get clarification from our manager so that our lines of responsibility and authority are clear. If we show a pattern of not getting approval from our leaders, or acting as if it is not required, we are likely acting passive-aggressively. What is underneath passive-aggressiveness? Anger. It sounds ugly, but it is true. When we act passive-aggressively, we are angry and we resent authority figures. So we respond in ways that look like we are complying but aren’t. We show up late. We turn in deliverables late. We act in the absence of authority.

#4 Hostility

Hostility is perhaps the least subtle of all these red flags. Hostility is in your face. Examples of hostility would include blowing up with anger in a meeting, walking out, using your physical presence to intimidate others, muttering under your breath, and making threats. Hostility is about being angry and acting out. It is not about being responsible for your anger. Do you recognize any of these red flags in your behavior? What is going on for you when you are behaving in these ways? Are you scared, angry or sad? By watching for these red flags, and then understanding the emotional causes, we can choose to act more responsibly. Our teams and stakeholders will definitely appreciate that, and we will be better project managers because of it.

Applied EQ4PM #5: Helping to Develop Others through Vision Casting

I was listening to John Maxwell’s book called Winning with People, and he mentioned something that Abe Lincoln said about relationships:

When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.

Abraham Lincoln

I like what President Lincoln said and I would even take it a step further.  When we are dealing with others, we need to think about not only what they will think, but also about what they will feel.  We do that by putting ourselves in their situation.  We need to imagine what it would be like to be them.

In his book, The Platinum Rule, Tony Alessandra suggests a similar approach.  Tony takes the golden rule a step further to create the platinum rule.  While the golden rule is about treating others as you would like to be treated, the platinum rule is about treating others as they would like to be treated.

A good application of this approach is when we need to give constructive criticism.  Let’s say we have someone on our team that we need to provide some less than positive feedback.  We could just deliver it the message, and leave the person feeling sad, or angry, or perhaps scared for their job.  Or we can do it in a way that leaves them feeling excited and energized to make a change.

The key to generating excitement and energy is to think through what we are going to say and how it will impact them.  We need to address the behavior in a factual way and describe the problems or negative outcomes that it causes.  Then we talk about what is the proposed or desired behavior.  Finally, we can cast a vision for the individual which is larger than the way they see themselves.

In a recent situation, I had a team lead who reported to me who was very frustrated with the level of support he was getting from a technical support team.  For 3 weeks he had been struggling to get the support team to address a serious problem he was having.  The support team seemed to be moving slowly with no solution was in sight.  I was holding the standard high for him and expected him to resolve the situation.  My team lead was feeling angry and helpless and wanted to give up.  He wasn’t even following through on suggestions that I made for solving the problem.

I thought about his situation and considered what he was thinking as well as what he was feeling.  I put myself in his shoes and realized that if I were him, I might be a little angry as well as scared for my job.  Especially with the pressure, I was placing on him.  For him, this was about performance and he felt the stakes were very high.  I also saw that he lacked experience in dealing with this type of situation.

So I decided to try a different approach with him.  When I next met with my team lead, I told him what I had observed about his performance and that I still expected him to follow through on my request.  I then told him that I had full confidence in his ability to solve the problem.  I didn’t want him to give up on the problem or for me to solve it for him.
Then I told him that I thought he needed to change his way of thinking about the situation.  So that he wasn’t so scared about his job, I asked him to consider the importance of the problem in terms of the overall priorities for the project and for his life.  I pointed out that while it was important to get the technical problem solved, it was certainly not life and death.

Then I tried to get him excited about what was possible.  I told him that I saw him as someone with a lot of potential. I described for him a future state where he was successfully dealing with problems like this one all the time and enjoying it.  I was able to cast a vision for him around dealing with problems like this.

I also suggested that instead of feeling helpless and angry, he could find a way to have fun with it.  I proposed that he view the situation as a game, similar to table tennis.  Viewing it as a game, he could reframe the situation and allow for a more positive outcome.  As a game, he would also be more likely to have some fun with the situation.

After the discussion, my team lead looked less scared and angry.  He seemed more confident and energized about solving the problem.  He was excited.

Within a couple of days of our discussion, the root cause of the technical problem was found and resolved.  My team lead was excited and happy to report that to me.  I think it was even more important that he had found a new way of dealing with problems, and seeing them as a game.

When dealing with individuals on our project teams, it is important to put ourselves in their shoes and to address what they are feeling.  We can then cast a vision for them in terms of how we see them in the future.  This is an important two-step process.  Using this approach, more often than not people will try to live up to that higher vision we have for them.

Who are the Project Management Thought Leaders?

In November of 2005, I ran a survey of just over 100 project managers.  Several weeks ago, I posted some interim survey results on the question of who do you consider a thought leader in project management?

Now that all the results are in and have been cleaned up a bit (I excluded responses which were not from project managers), here is a tally of the responses to that question. Note that I excluded myself of course since this was a convenience sample and it was no surprise that a number of people submitted my name.

Receiving 3 votes: Peter Drucker, Harold Kerzner, Rita Mulcahy, Jack Welch

Receiving 2 votes: Fred Brooks, Steven Cohn

Receiving 1 vote: Joseph M. Juran, Scott Berkun, Steve McConnell, Tom Peters, Paul Martin, Norm Augustine, Michael Thomsett, Michael Hammer, Martin Fowler, LeRoy Ward, Larry Leach, Kooi Kraig Kramers, Kent Crawford, Kathy Schwalbe, John Schuyler, John Keane, Joe Paterno, Jerry Hansen, Jeff Hill, Tony Rizzo, Walker Royce, Steve Rollins, Eliyahu Goldratt, Ed Yourdon, Ed Schipp, Donald Trump, Denise DeCarlo, Curt Cook, Charles Vander, C. Northcote Parkinson, Bruce Robkoff, Brian Homan, Bob McGannon, Bill Ruggles, Barry Boehm, Warren Buffet, Alan Cooper, and W. Edwards Deming

IT was interesting to me that Peter Drucker and Jack Welch were named as thought leaders in project management. I understand Harold Kerzner and Rita Mulcahy since they are both quite prolific and widely recognized as PM experts.

What does this all mean? Well, to me it means that there are very brand names when it comes to project management. There is no single reference point. No PM Guru, if you will. I would have thought that there would be more consensus on this question.

Chances are your IT project will not Succeed

I was reviewing the Standish Group Chaos Study results recently, and it really struck me just how bad the numbers are.  In case you have not heard of them, the Standish Group has been studying IT projects since 1994.  They survey the industry and report the results of project successes, challenges, and failures among other things.

The results are quite interesting, and depressing at the same time.  Over time, we have seen a decline in the number of IT project failures and a rise in the number of challenging projects.  However, since 1994 the project success rate has barely gone above 30%.  That is embarrassing.

Here are the cumulative study results, as compiled from various sources including the Standish Group website.


Granted, project management is a difficult profession.  IT projects are fraught with risks and dangers.  But 30%?  Come on, we have to do better than that.

Applied EQ #6: What are emotions?

Before we get very far into the business of applying emotional intelligence, it may make sense to define emotions.  I like to keep things simple whenever possible.  My mentor, Rich Blue, uses the acronym SASHET to represent the following 6 emotional families:  Scared, Angry Sad, Happy, Excited, and Tender.  Rich contends that those 6 families of emotions contain all the range of possible emotions.

There are 3 positive emotional families (Happy, Excited, and Tender) and 3 negative emotional families (Sad, Angry, and Sad).   Within each of these families, you will find most common emotions.  For example, Angry includes frustrated, irritated, upset, mad, and resentful.

Families_of_emotions_05dec22 Based on that acronym, I created the diagram at left which shows each of the families and all the nuances of that family of emotions.  It is usually most important to know what family of emotions I am experiencing and less important to know the degree to which I am feeling it.  For example, the emotions within the family of Happy range from pleased to glad to optimistic.  It is simpler to just recognize happy than to try and pinpoint how happy we are.

I like the SASHET acronym and the model.  Others may use more or fewer emotions; I try not to get hung up on that.  Daniel Goleman, for example, includes confidence, disgust, and surprise as emotions.  I don’t find this helpful; if you do, please use them.  I find the family of 6 feelings sufficient to address the needs of applying emotional intelligence to project management.

Applied EQ #7: What am I feeling Now, Part 1?

Several posts back, we introduced a framework for emotional intelligence which could be applied to project management.  That framework contains 5 areas of competence as shown in the diagram at right.  The first area of emotional competency we are going to tackle is Self Awareness.  Modified_framework_05dec22_1

Self-awareness is the first building block of emotional intelligence.  Without being aware and understanding our own emotions, it will be difficult to move into the other emotional competencies like self-management, social awareness, or team leadership.

Self-awareness may be challenging for us for a number of reasons.  First, our emotions can be as volatile as the weather in Chicago.  They mix, morph, and evolve, often in a short span of time.  One minute we might feel excited and happy about a friend’s plan to visit us.  A moment later, we might be scared or angry about the same event.

We may also have childhood wounds which inhibit our ability to access our feelings.  For most of my life, I suppressed many of my emotions.  This was partly a result of growing up in an alcoholic family where everyone (except my dad) was denied the opportunity to have or express emotions.  In addition to that, I think I inherited my Mom’s emotional sensitivity; she was about as emotional as a small green soap dish.

As an adult, I found that all my emotions were dampened.  In particular, though, I found it difficult to feel happy, angry, or sad.  When my brother Marty killed himself in 1996, I remember feeling numb.  It was a long time before I actually felt sad and angry about his death.

What I lacked in happiness, anger, and sadness, I made up for in fear.  I was afraid most of the time.  I was scared about how I was performing at work, scared about money, and scared about nearly everything.  I still have a high level of fear in my life.

It took a lot of hard work over the course of nearly 5 years before I was able to access my emotions directly.  This included work with a coach and as well as working in two support groups.  I learned various techniques for getting in touch with my emotions.  I learned to recognize the physical sensations that lead to emotions.  I learned to journal.  Eventually, I was able to feel angry and sad and to dampen the fear I felt all the time.

Everyone is different when it comes to being aware of our emotions.  For most people, the kind of work that I went through is unnecessary.  However, each person may find that some emotions are easier to recognize than others.  Self-awareness is about developing this capacity.

There are many ways we can increase our emotional self-awareness.  The following are my favorite techniques:

  1. Use a feelings journal
  2. Conduct a physical inventory
  3. The face in the mirror
  4. Use paired sharing
  5. Backtracking
  6. Reflections/meditations

We will describe each of these techniques in future posts.

Applied EQ #8: What am I feeling Now, Part 2?

In my last post, I talked about Self Awareness as the first building block of applied emotional intelligence.  Self-awareness is about knowing what emotions we are feeling at any one point in time.  Some of us are great at knowing what we are feeling.  Others of us may need some help to determine what we are feeling.  No matter where you are, the techniques we are introducing here will be of some help to you.

There are many different emotions or feelings, but these simple families tend to be sufficient for most people:
• Sad
• Angry
• Scared
• Happy
• Excited
• Tender

The first awareness technique I want to introduce is to keep a feelings journal.  A feelings journal is simply a place to log what we are feeling.   For best results, we should take notes throughout the day on what we are experiencing and what feelings result from that.  Our notes don’t have to be extensive; a journal entry may look like this:

Talked with Jim this morning and congratulated him on getting his deliverable completed ahead of schedule.  I left feeling happy.

The journal can help us track our feelings over the course of the day or week.  Once we have journaled for a few days or weeks, we can look for patterns like:
• Balance of negative feelings versus positive feelings
• Same feelings every day at the same time (e.g. sad every morning)
• Predominant feelings (e.g. always scared)
• Feelings tied to relationships (e.g. angry whenever I talk to my Mom)
• Deadspots where you are not able to feel anything

• Feeling blindspots (e.g. never angry or never happy)

I recommend that you keep up a journal for a full 30 days.  It can be a helpful way to become more aware of what you are feeling and what is triggering those feelings.

Applied EQ #9: What am I feeling Now, Part 3?

The second awareness technique I want to discuss is to conduct a physical inventory. By this, I mean that we will use the physical sensations in our body to help us determine what we are feeling.

Emotions are manifested in our bodies. What we feel emotionally is reflected in what we feel physically. If you are having trouble feeling an emotion or cannot name what you are feeling, you might be able to use your body as a clue. You can train yourself to recognize what it feels like to be happy or sad.

Here is a quick guide to the sensations that go with each of the feeling families. It is important to note that these physical sensations can vary from person to person. As you begin to pay attention your own body, you may note minor variations.

Happy – Faster heartbeat, relaxed muscles, laughing, smiling

Scared – Faster heartbeat, tightness down the back of the neck and in the shoulders, jittery or tingly, constricted breathing, feeling cold, sweating

Angry – Faster heartbeat, tightness in the jaw and clenched fists, pain in stomach, change in breathing, feeling hot, yelling

Sad – Tense muscles in the chest, moist eyes, feeling cold, crying, lump or tightness in throat

Excited – Faster heartbeat, jumpy, tense muscles, yelling

Tender – Relaxed muscles, feeling warm, full sensation in the chest, arms want to hug.

As you go through the course of a normal day, you can take a physical inventory to help you understand what you are feeling. Check your heartbeat and see if it is elevated. Look for areas where your muscles are tight. Use these to help you determine what is going on with you emotionally.

It is important to remember that we may feel a combination of two or more emotions at any one point in time. While one may dominant, it may be the one that is further below the surface that we need to understand and address.


For example, if someone does not complete a deliverable on time and does not let us know, we may feel a combination of anger and fear. We might be angry because they did not let us know. We might be scared because we are going to have to slip the schedule or miss other commitment dates.  The feeling of anger may dominate in this case. However, it could be the fear that is underneath that anger which is more important to understand and manage.


Conduct a physical inventory on yourself and see if that helps you to determine what you are feeling. Next, we will talk about a related technique:  The Face in the Mirror.

Applied EQ #10: What am I feeling Now, Part 4?

The last few posts we have talked about techniques for increasing our self-awareness.  Without knowing what we are feeling, we cannot begin to manage ourselves or others.  Using the Face in the Mirror Technique will help us to increase our awareness.  This is closely related to technique #2 that we discussed last time, taking a physical inventory.

The face is a reflection of what is going on in our bodies.  In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the work of researchers Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman.  Tomkins and Ekman conducted extensive experiments on human facial expressions.  They found that across societies there were a common set of facial expressions caused by underlying emotions.  Tomkins and Ekman decoded the facial expressions and cataloged three thousand unique human facial expressions having emotional meaning.

The point is not to teach you three thousand facial expressions; rather, it is to demonstrate that your face represents the window to your emotional soul.  By understanding what emotions look like, you can use your own face to better understand what you are feeling.  Later, we will apply this same technique to decode the faces of others.

Poker players are well aware of the face as a window to the soul.  I was for a short time a junkie of the World Poker Tour; I could not stop watching it on TV.  I was fascinated by the various ways in which the different players would hide or camouflage their faces so as not to give away their hands to their opponents.  Most players use hats and sunglasses to hide much of their faces.


One player named Phil Laak has been dubbed the “Unabomber” for his tendency to wear dark glasses and a hooded sweatshirt to cover much of his head.  When he is under the gun, Phil will take in the drawstrings on his hood until none of his face is visible to the other players!

What does all this have to do with applying emotional intelligence?  By studying our own faces, we can learn about the emotions we are feeling.  We can use our own faces as a guide.  We don’t have to know 3,000 expressions.  We only have to learn the various ways in which the 6 families of feelings will show on our faces.

The chart below contains a quick taxonomy of faces representing the 6 families of feelings, with a picture and a brief description of each. Faces_of_emotions_05dec23_v3_copy

Like the physical inventory we talked about last time, you can use the face in the mirror technique to help you understand your emotions better.  As you have a feeling, check out how you look in the mirror.  With practice, you will be able to recognize what you are feeling based on your face. This practice will also be very helpful for you when you are determining what others are feeling.

In the next post, we will talk about the fourth self-awareness technique:  Paired Sharing.