Archive for July, 2016

High Performing Business – Quality – Fitness for Use

Friday, July 29th, 2016
Big trucks are the "luxury" vehicle of choice in Alaska.

Big trucks are the “luxury” vehicle of choice in Alaska.

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT

There are many reasons over the years I’ve spent more and more time in Alaska, but the main reason is just learning to live in a small remote Alaskan town helps me develop perspectve on what is really important.  And it’s most certainly not the luxury items often deemed as “high quality.”  It is obvious why there is plethora of  rugged heavy duty 4×4 pick up trucks with thick rubber floor mats  over racy sports cars in this town.  Quality in Alaska means you can count on it to get through many winters.

I find myself confronted with the trade offs for one prospective solution after another for this project I’m working on with the Alaska Research Garden for year round food production.  High quality in some parts of the world does not translate into high quality here if we cannot first aquire the item and have it shipped, and next easily and quickly maintain and repair the item.  Even being the best Project Manager with extreme expediting capabilities only goes so far when one supplier after another wants to charge you more to ship their wares than the item is worth.  I am quickly figuring out other ways to get things done in these cases.  This does help stimulate amazingly creative approaches.

You also learn quickly the true power structure in remote locations.  The all mighty dollar does not go that far when it is not how people measure the quality of their lives.  Cultivating good relationships with local repair professionals and distributors who can get needed parts and supplies  for much of the equipment required for daily living is mandatory for making life work in Alaska.  In a small town you must build bridges, not burn them.  In a world full of infinite choices, living at the end of the ferry line in Alaska,  when you have any choices, it is only one or two choices – with the most basic functionality being the premium “high quality” feature.

I got reminded of all this recently with my fridge on the fritz.  I had recently started making lunch for the small appliance repair guy when he was over fixing my well pump last month.  This paid off when I was perplexed why my freezer would be ice cold but my fridge had become as warm as the compost bin.  When the repair guy was over installing the part he ordered weeks before to insure the well stays working, he stayed longer as lunch was on and showed me how to keep the fridge working while he ordered the part to repair the unit.  (The temporary fix requires using a blow dryer in the freezer!!)

Ease of doing these temporary fixes while waiting on the parts for the long term solution is now part of my definition for quality.  It’s not like you can just run to town to get another fridge.  The store that sells fridges in town is often sold out of them.  So it becomes about being able to fix the basic necessities of life quickly and easily to keep it running or having a back up that works sufficiently well while waiting on the parts needed for the repair.

Having redundancy in mission critical equipment that is rugged with lower levels of skill required to maintain and repair defines high performance and quality in remote Alaska.  Creating a high quality experience is about understanding how well the solution fits for the end user’s priority of needs.   What creates quality is the fitness for use in the situation and it is fairly easy to measure  here in Alaska – can you get it,  will it work, and does it last?

While not everyone can get these experiences first hand of what it takes to live in Alaska,  there are ways to learn how to create the most high quality existence for you.  Finding the experiences that are the right fit require knowing yourself as well as we in Alaska quickly learn what is the right fit to survive here.   Cheetah students learn how to make these same assessments on creating their unique high quality life that is the perfect fit by becoming a Cheetah Certified Project Manager.

High Performing Business – Quality – Listen

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT


Rita Soto, the Cheetah Operating Officer, has this uncanny ability to listen to the micro nuances of what people need. It's one of the pillars of her decade long success with Cheetah Learning.

Rita Soto, the Cheetah Operating Officer, has this uncanny ability to listen to the micro nuances of what people need. It’s one of the pillars of her decade long success with Cheetah Learning.

Creating a quality experience for another in any realm is all about listening to them.  When through your actions, people are able to meet their needs, they feel heard, seen and acknowledged.  This is the higher level of “listening.”  Sometimes, though people do not even know they have the needs they do – until they see what it is they could be experiencing.  In learning, we call this stage the beginning of wisdom.  For example, before Cheetah Learning created the four day approach to passing the PMP exam, no one really knew they needed that.  It was just presumed to pass this very difficult exam, it took months and months of arduous preparation.   Yet even then, over 40% of people still failed.

But at Cheetah Learning, we listened to the one need that was not being met and that need was to be guaranteed to pass the PMP exam after a prep course.  It wasn’t just about doing an accelerated approach to prepping for the exam, it was actually passing the exam.   Yes, we’ve had numerous businesses’ who have attempted to copy Cheetah’s accelerated approach over the years – but there are things they are not hearing in what people need to make passing the PMP after only four days of prep a reality.  One of them is this guarantee – who wants a wasted journey?  None of these other copy cat company’s last longer than three years in any level of market penetration.  There is a reason for this – they don’t listen to the students as well as Cheetah Learning does.  They may start by offering a guarantee similar to Cheetah but soon realize they are missing some element of the accelerated four day prep approach that Cheetah uses and end up losing quite a bit of money attempting to satisfy a similar guarantee to Cheetah.   Then they start making changes to their guarantee, exclusions, holding back “administrative fees,” etc – eroding the value of their guarantee.  Soon they find the business just isn’t as lucrative as they once thought.  We’ve seen this play out many times in the fifteen plus years we’ve been helping people pass the PMP exam, at cheetah speed.

When you learn how to really listen to what people need and how they feel about that need, then you can start to create solutions of significant value.  This level of listening is not just a one time event – it must be a part of the culture and an embedded part of the company’s processes.  I read every single course evaluation from every student.   As do all the other key players in Cheetah Learning – we want to hear what our students have experienced.  We have daily dialogs with each other about what our students are telling us and how we can improve.  We share what we are hearing in every realm of engagement with prospective students, the people who are organizing our classes for companies, the third party course resellers, our students, even our students’ families.  Routinely we’ll hear back from our students how to better teach some of the techniques they use in our classes with their children.  So, we create free how to guides and mind maps that help our students use our approaches with others.  Consistent quality delivered Cheetah fast happens because of our ability to listen.

To create a high performing business with quality at the heart of everything you do, pay attention to how well you are listening to your customers.  You can learn how to better listen in several of Cheetah Learning online courses – the Cheetah Certified Project Manager program, the Communicating Through Conflict course, and in any of the Cheetah Negotiations courses.

High Performing Business – Quality – Keeping it Real

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT

At Cheetah Learning we live by the core premise that learning is about creation, not consumption.  It is in this creative expression that happens through learning I find the most engaged experiences.  For me it is all about the quality of engagement.  I’d much rather live a life full of passionate pursuits than a ho hum day in and day out here we go again dol drums. Goal directed pursuits brings me not just the most progress, but also the most passion.  It is this passion that stimulates high levels of learning.

While becoming passionate about goal directed pursuits creates a  high quality learning experience, it is not contrived purposefully to maintain a specific level of quality – it is the other way around.   By keeping it real in the moment, where the student is creating their own learning experience, establishing goals that are relevant for their purposes, and becoming passionately engaged in the pursuit of these goals, that the high quality of the participation emerges.

However, this does not mean we just enter into a learning space with our students without significant advance preparation.  This is where our adherance to modern quality best practices of process design shine.  We design every element of our classroom experience so the student can focus 100% of their attention on their own creative expansiveness (aka “learning.”)  While significant learning can and does happen when things go awry,  Cheetah’s goal is for our students to quickly achieve mastery in the specific skill for the course they registered (whether it be mastering some specific element of managing projects to being able to quickly pass a standardized project management certification exam).   But to develop mastery requires Cheetah students integrate these skills into their existing skill base – which takes individual creative effort.  This is where the most expansive engagement emerges which is why people genuinely develop the same level of passion taking Cheetah courses as we have in creating Cheetah courses.

I read a quote recently that said – “how can you expect your readers to stay up all night reading your book if you can’t stay up all night writing it?”   The same is true with creating engaging, high quality learning experiences.   One of the things people notice the most about the Cheetah Learning team is our passion and engagement for what we do – it’s real because we all love what we do.   Right now I’m in the middle of creating a new program called “Project Food Independence.”  I’m totally consumed with the processes involved in setting up this year round food production system.  I jump out of bed ready to go at it again every day while I’m learning the best way to do this and the best way to teach others how to do this.   It’s this real enthusiasm for every part of the learning business that continues to create the high quality learning experiences Cheetah students have come to know and love about the courses they take from Cheetah Learning.


High Performing Business – Quality – Making the Grade

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
When you design products to meet high standards and deliver a high quality experience, your customers become your primary advertisement. If a company's main business is from word of mouth, like it is for Cheetah Learning, you can be guaranteed they deliver on both the caliber and the quality the most discerning and discriminating customers can easily distinguish.

When you design products to meet high standards and deliver a high quality experience, your customers become your primary advertisement. If a company’s main business is from word of mouth, like it is for Cheetah Learning, you can be guaranteed they deliver on both the caliber and the quality the most discerning and discriminating customers can easily distinguish.

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT

In the retail world, the big name brands commonly make lower grade products for the big box stores who demand the lowest prices for their customers and also for different levels of customers.  For example Black and Decker tools are made by the same company as Dewalt tools.  Black and Decker tools are a lower grade for the consumer market whereas Dewalt tools are a higher grade made for professonials in the trades.  Many manufacturers also make lower grade versions of their product for stores like Walmart who go for the lowest price.  For example, if you purchase a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower from Walmart, it is a lower grade than what you would get at a store that specializes in lawn care products who charge more and offer more service.

Understanding the grade of your offering depends on the type of clientele you wish to service.  For example, the people who enjoy shopping at Nordstrom (a high grade supplier of products) are typically not the same clientele who enjoys shopping at Walmart.  Yet there are people who expect the Nordstrom experience at Walmart prices and don’t quite grasp why it is they are paying a higher price at Nordstrom for higher grade products than what you can find at Walmart.  For the company making the higher grade product, success comes when  they focus on targeting the more sophisticated consumer who understands this grade differential.  The key then is to  stay consistent to the grade integrity of the brand along all lines of the value chain interacting with their market – from the quality of their marketing material, detail of customer service approaches,  to the ease of use of the end product and the outstanding results the end user experiences.

Quality is not the same as grade  – low grade products can have significant quality – just look at MacDonalds – it’s the same low grade products worldwide – a MacDonald’s cheeseburger tastes the same in Prague as it does in Pittsburgh – that is quality.  Yet no one would consider a MacDonald’s cheeseburger to be a high grade product.  And on the other hand, high grade products can have low quality – just look at the Jaguar car where the joke is when you purchase a Jaquar, you also need to purchase your own mechanic.

In a wide sea of providers for helping people prepare to pass the PMP exam, at Cheetah Learning, we consistently stand out as the high grade and high quality supplier. The majority of our business is from word of mouth from people in the companies and organizations worldwide who employ the most intelligent people who want a solution they know they can trust (high quality) to help them achieve their desired results, and do it fast (higher grade).  Places like MIT, Stanford, Sandia Labs, etc all have Cheetah graduates on staff.  It is discerning people who grasp the value of their time and understand that achieving great results quickly is worth the price for the experience who become Cheetah graduates.  The folks who are looking for the least expensive way to take a PMP exam prep program are akin to the power tool shopper who picks a black and decker power tool over a dewalt power tool. They are shopping based on price, not the overall quality of the experience or end result they will have using that product.  Those who get there is a significant difference in how Cheetah does accelerated exam prep and want to make sure they use their time (and money) wisely, opt for Cheetah’s high grade, high quality solution.

Think about the difference in grade and the quality of the  experience you would prefer to have the next time you are shopping around for any product or service.  With Cheetah Learning it is possible to have both a high grade and a high quality experience – it’s why we have stayed the market leader for Accelerated PMP exam prep for the past 15 years.  To check out just why we are so different in helping people pass the PMP exam at Cheetah speed, download Cheetah’s free Smart Start Guide for the PMP.

High Performing Business – Quality – Good vs. Bad Project Managers

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT

Not all project managers are good project managers - learn how to spot the difference earlier rather than later......

Not all project managers are good project managers – learn how to spot the difference earlier rather than later……

Throughout the years I’ve run into some very good project managers and some very bad project managers.  Just recently I finished cleaning up the mess made by this project manager I had to let go a year ago after a huge mishap.  It got me thinking, how could I have saved myself some headache and heartache and better vetted this particular project manager?

I’ll start here by listing the qualities of the good project managers I’ve known  then list the characteristics of all the bad project managers I’ve run into (fortunately all the bad qualities have never existed in one person):

Good Project Managers

  1. Communicate just enough information the right way – not over or under sharing but the right sharing at the right time in the right way.  They pay attention to what type of communications work best for all the people involved.   They genuinely enjoy the interactions, make communicating clearly their priority and make it a point to be as transparent as possible so everyone has all the information they need to make the best decisions possible.
  2. Focus on completion  – they want to finish their project and move onto the next big thing.
  3. Have the requisite credentials to do the project for which they are hired – whether it be leading a construction project or installing a new computer system, or launching a new course, or building a project management support team.
  4. Are consummate professionals – avoid disclosing irrelevant information about their personal lives not pertinent to completing the project.   They keep their challenges not related to the project out of the dialog with others.
  5. Work autonomously without the need for oversight – they can be trusted to complete the project to the specifications, within budget and on time.
  6. Attract,  hire and inspire good people to do the project work – they don’t just bring someone on the project because they happen to be a friend, or owe them a favor, or want to give them a chance.  Likewise they get bad apples off the project team fast.
  7. Pay close attention to the quality of the project work as it is a direct reflection of their capabilities.
  8. Mitigate risks in a timely manner, offer full disclosure when things are not going to work out as planned, and engage qualified people in troubleshooting creative solutions to the challenges that arise.
  9. Offer fair pricing for their services – being clear about the costs, the options for various price points, and only ordering enough materials to do the job at hand.  They are good at reigning in extraneous costs for doing the project.
  10. Provide detailed reports on the project plans, progress, the costs incurred to date, the cash flow needs for various phases – pretty much they avoid having the client be surprised by any element of the project.

Where as bad project managers:

  1. Way over share or way under share – you never really know which end is up with what you are told.
  2. Make excuses – it’s never their fault why the project is not progressing.
  3. Claim they do not need the credentials and have all the experience they need to do the project.  They may be very enthusiastic and charasmatic – yet when pushed get quite defensive about why those credentials are just BS.
  4. Try to engage you in helping them out in some way that makes you uncomfortable with some pressing problem in their personal life – whether it be to move out a home because they are getting divorced, helping bail a family member out of jail, donating money to a church project, etc.
  5. You question every decision they make as it does not seem like they really have the ability to do the work for which they promoted they could do and had done.
  6. Everyone who works for them has their same last name, was in their college fraternity, was some “chum” from their school days,  or has some type of personal relationship with them not related to the task at hand.
  7. Point out all the projects they “worked” on over the years – but is vague on the details of what it was specifically they did for that project.
  8. Design things on the fly and you only find out about problems when the attorneys show up at the door or some government official shuts down your project.
  9. Either charge far too little or far too much for their services.  They tend to order way more supplies than they need,  and many times the project space is in absolute chaos.
  10. Their plans or progress reports are always just about done – but you never actually see them.  When challenged about this they get angry and defensive as they are clearly in over their head.

So just how do you determine if someone is qualified to be a project manager?  Here is my assessment list:

  1. Are they transparent?  Do they let you know their strengths as well as their foibles?
  2. Do they have a history of increasing complexity of their projects – even if they are young – what is their track record of success?
  3. Can you contact people who have used them in the past that they would not even provide in a reference situation (after all – any reference someone provides should say glowing things about them – but what about the ones they don’t provide?).
  4. In interactions, do they keep their personal life personal (this one is HUGE – I can’t tell you how often I hear about someone’s recovering alcholism, former drug addiction, recent divorce, trouble their children get into with the law, how they found Jesus, etc).  This is now a big red flag for me on hiring them to work on any project.
  5. Who has worked with and for them in the past and for how long have these people worked for them?  If they can pull on a wide cross section of skilled people they more than likely have done a fairly good job managing them in the past.
  6. How well do they communicate the actual work of the project, their decision making processes, and where specifically they will need your input?   I can tell this with how they handle themselves in our early exploratory interactions.
  7. How do they react when things do not go their way?  Do they stay calm and work together towards a mutually agreeable solution or do they get angry, and resort to aggressive forms of behavior?   If its the latter, take a pass on this person.
  8. What is their approach in bidding for the project?  Do they have an established process or do they simply give you a quote and avoid too many details?   If you have an established process for accepting bids, how compliant are they with following that process?
  9. Do they have the guts to tell you what you are asking for may be very hard for them to do, but they may know someone who could help you?   Or maybe they suggest they could do the work if you considered a different approach.  Regardless they are honest about their abilities to do the project you are requesting.
  10. What is their ability to complete the work they started?  You can judge this by assessing the completion of things in their own life – if much of what they need to do the project is in a state of near completion, or needs some type of major repair – you can pretty much be guaranteed that your project could go the same route.

I tend to be the consummate optimist and see the innate good in everyone – it’s really how I prefer to live.  But as I’ve said for decades, I can start being smarter whenever I’d like.  This doesn’t mean I now dismiss everyone as unqualified – but it does mean I have become more discerning and take more time evaluating their qualifications for the task at hand.  I have a more defined selection process in the people I choose to have around me helping with the important projects.   My life has gotten so much saner and more productive as a result.