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Issue # 29 October 2010

Pow'Rful Presentations Newsletter
 
October 2010 - Project Management and Life Lessons from your hobby

Pow'Rful Presentations is a relatively monthly investigation of ideas, strategies and techniques to assist readers be more present in life, better project managers and make effective presentations (in all senses of the word).
Disclaimer - depending on your background, and my South African origins, you may find some of my spelling and grammar to be "imaginative".
 
© Wayne Botha 2010
 
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Life and career lessons from the hobby of homebrewing.
Brewing a batch of beer has many similarities to managing projects. Learn and grow, below.
What is your hobby? Do you learn lessons that you can apply to your career and other areas of your life from your hobby?
 
I recently decided to take up homebrewing as a hobby, to provide relief and a change of pace from managing complex and stressful projects all day. Little did I know that I would be learning life and career lessons. Here are the important lessons from homebrewing for you to employ and improve your value as an IT project manager and enjoy more of your life.
 
As a reference point, if you are not familiar with the process of brewing beer, here is a simple description of the process.
 
1. Take two-to-five gallons of water.
2. Add flavoring, similar to the way you use tea bags to flavor water and produce your afternoon tea.
3. Add fermentable sugars.
4. Add yeast.
5. Wait two weeks for the yeast to consume the fermentable sugars and produce alcohol.
6. Add carbonation.
7. Enjoy the result.
 
Every new batch that I brew is a new project and a new experiment. At every step of the process described above the brewer can tweak variables and produce a different beer. More sugar increases alcohol content, if the yeast consumes it. Different yeasts provide different characteristics and so on.
 
Here are the lessons learned from the hobby of homebrewing. Apply these to your life and projects.
 
1. If none of your batches fail then you are not trying new things. If every batch of brew is a success, then you are following a boring path. When you brew a batch of beer following a tried and true recipe, then you should get a predictable result, which is what you sometimes want. However, if you want to stand out from the crowd and blaze new trails, then sometimes you will brew a batch with some new ingredient, and it will turn out to be terrible. I experimented with fruit flavoring in a recent batch and now have five gallons of beer that tastes like Raspberry cough syrup. Now, I know that fruit flavoring doesn't work for me - chalk it up to a failed experiment and move on.
 
2. You learn something new with every batch that you brew. I enjoy learning new skills and increasing my knowledge of homebrewing. However, the implication is that I know when I start brewing a batch of beer I will be making mistakes with this batch. When you look back and review the process followed to brew the beer, you realize that you have more experience and knowledge than you had before you started. I don't know about you - I don't like making mistakes. Yet, the only way to brew beer is to get started, follow the recipe, realizing that you are making mistakes that you are not even aware are mistakes, and then learn from the mistakes so that you avoid them in future. You know that you will gain experience and learn lessons by taking the action, yet you are not thrilled about going through the process of learning from mistakes.
 
3. Thanks to my grandfather who worked through the Great Depression, the first question that comes to mind when starting any new endeavor is "How much does it cost?" Here is The Question: "How much does it cost to get started in homebrewing?" Answer:" How much money do you have?" The starter equipment is about $200. Then you can keep on buying accessories and equipment and toys until your bank account is depleted. The lesson is "Set a clear goal, identify what is essential to reach your goal, and then realize that everything else is luxury." Gold plating a project or your primary fermenter costs more money, but does not necessarily equate to additional value.
 
4. Normal is normal, until you learn something new. The first thermometer was inaccurate. I did not know this and assumed that it was accurate because it was brand new. The result was that I did everything at the wrong temperature, and did not know that it was wrong. I added the speciality grains and hops at the wrong temperature and amazingly the yeast survived being pitched at an unknown temperature (It should be under 80 degrees). Only after I saw someone use a digital thermometer in an instructional video, did I purchase one and have never looked back. The point is that while you are ignorant, what you believe is normal, is normal for you. It takes new information to educate you to see that you version of normal is wrong. Don't be afraid to validate your impression of normal with peer project managers. Normal is only normal until you know better.
 
5. Primary fermentation takes about two weeks. This is about fourteen days. As a project manager your inclination is to fast track the process. Nope. Two weeks. You can't get a batch through primary fermentation in seven days by brewing another batch. You can brew two batches in fourteen days, but you can't shorten the fermentation time. Bummer. This lesson of patience is probably the hardest skill to learn for a new home brewer. Beer gets better with age in the first few months. Just sit there and watch it age if you want good beer. No amount of critical path analysis or PERT fast paths are going to make any difference. This is Africa time - it happens when it happens and takes as long as it takes. Some things in life just can't be rushed either and therefore you may as well enjoy the ride. Find something else to do while time passes.
 
6. Brewing beer is a team effort. One component is not more important than another. Yeast needs sugar to ferment into alcohol. This occurs in water. Hops provided flavoring and malt extract provides sugars. Each ingredient is a part of the team that creates the final product. Remember it on your projects as well - each team member plays a role to reach the goal. Two packets of yeast do not make up for a lack of fermentable sugar. Two blondes on your project don't make a brunette. Identify strengths of team members and use each one's strengths and contributions to reach your final goal.
 
7. The world has changed. When you want to learn a new hobby, a quick Google search reveals hundreds of free instructional videos showing you how to brew beer at home. The newbie homebrewer has access to hundreds of fellow hobbyists in an instant through free online discussion forums. This reduces the learning curve tremendously and where it would have taken years of your own trial-and-error to become a master home brewer before the advent of the Internet you can now become a passable home brewer in a few weeks. This eliminates the need for expensive training classes and learning from veterans through the local home brew club.
 
The availability of free instructional videos has implications for IT project managers. Firstly, you can learn as much as you have the appetite for today. If you want to be knowledgeable on advanced brewing techniques or beer tasting skills, then Google is your friend. You have no excuse to be ignorant on any subject today. Secondly, your project team members have access to the same technology. How are you using video and audio podcasts to communicate with your project team members? Are you still relying solely on email communications?
 
I trust that these lessons from my hobby of homebrewing will help you to be a better project leader and see your hobby and life in new perspectives.
 
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Humor from the Hiking Trail.
Although this is a relatively monthly newsletter, I seem to generate enough embarrassing moments to fill a daily journal.
 
I was camping and hiking with a boy scout troop this past weekend. It was a hot, humid and gruelling hike over uneven terrain and every step required concentrated effort going up and down the slippy, hilly terrain. The scouts and adult leaders were tired and tempers frayed just before we came to a rest point along the trail.
 
The scoutmaster is a healthy 267 pounds, 6 foot 4 inches man. 200 yards from the rest point, he stopped the hike and announced "We will now practice first aid evacuation skills. I need the scouts to build a stretcher and carry me to the rest point, pretending that I have slipped and broken my leg."
 
A hush of disbelief fell over the woods as the scouts absorbed his words. No-one was in the mood to carry the scoutmaster over this terrain in this humidity.
 
One scout spoke the words on everyone's mind when he summed it up with "I have a knife and know how to build a tombstone".
 
The scoutmaster's leg healed instantly as we continued hiking.
 
 
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Do you need a speaker for your IT or Project Management association chapter meeting? Contact me and lets see if we can work together for a win/win/win outcome.
 
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Email me with any problems or questions that you have about project management or presentations and I will attempt to address them in a future newsletter.

More next time!

Wayne Botha

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