An interview with Kimberly Wiefling, author of Scrappy Project Management, trainer, facilitator and consultant in Silicon Valley Alliances by Łukasz Paluszkiewicz
You have decided to submit an abstract for International PMI Poland Chapter Congress for the second year in a row, and you qualified each time. Why have you decided to speak on this event again?
Last year’s PMI Poland Chapter congress was such a wonderful experience for me! I felt so warmly welcomed and appreciated by the people I met. And I also felt the growing importance that Poland is playing in the project management world. On a personal note, I felt emotionally connected to my Polish colleagues because Poland is the home of my great grandparents, who spoke only Polish.
Last year you conquered hearts of Polish Project Managers with your attitude and chickens. You have achieved a perfect score in the surveys and your workshop was sold out. What is your secret?
Passion! I love my work, and I strongly believe that inspiring people to become great leaders is critically important to the future of Our World. Most importantly, I rely on the people who participate in my workshops to contribute their valuable wisdom and experience to our work together. The participants make the magic happen! I simply open the door to their possibilities and unleash the “group genius”.
You have been consulting with many big companies in Silicon Valley, and also Japan. You did a project with NASA also. From my perspective, those are very different cultures, how do you work effectively with such different people?
What a great question! Yes, these are very different country cultures and organizational cultures. But one thing they have in common is that they all are composed of human beings. Because of this, all teams face many similar human challenges in spite of differences in their business and technical challenges. Research has clearly shown that most global teams fail almost entirely for human skills and team dynamic reasons. These include a lack of trusting relationships and the inability to overcome communication challenges, including productive approaches to decision-making and problem-solving. Teams universally also frequently struggle with unclear goals and lack of shared priorities. Neuroscience has taught me a lot about the tendencies of our human brains, which share many commonalities globally. Just as the Hawaiian Islands are all connected deep below the surface of the ocean even though they appear to be separate above the waterline of the details of each organization’s culture or challenges, I have found it is useful to connect with people on the level of the common ground of human being-ness that we all share.
You are travelling a lot for your projects. If you had to choose only one place in the world to do your projects, where would it be and why?
Although I’ve fallen in love with many incredible places on Planet Earth, I must admit that I would choose to do my work in my hometown of Silicon Valley, California. Silicon Valley is one of the most diverse communities I’ve ever experienced – over half of our population here doesn’t speak English at home. I can enjoy a truly global experience right here at home! Every team here has people from other countries and cultures. There are many educational institutions here that foster creativity and innovation. And the Silicon Valley embraces diversity, risk-taking, mistake-making, and “failing forward”, all crucial elements of innovation and entrepreneurship. This magical combination makes Silicon Valley the birthplace of tremendous innovation, and also truly a “City of the World”. As a Citizen of Planet Earth, I’m thrilled to be living and working here!
This year you will be teaching us how to lead to achieve impossible. Could you give us a glimpse of what will your speech be about?
This is my favorite topic! I’ve been working on so-called “impossible” projects for most of my career. I’ve noticed that, when people say something is impossible, they mean that they personally cannot imagine how to achieve it. That’s why so many smart people have said truly stupid things like “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” That quote is from Lord Kelvin, a famous physicist, who was a professor and also head of the British Royal Society. Why didn’t he say “Airplanes may take hundreds or thousands of years to develop, and rely on technology that we can barely imagine”. And what about birds? They are heavier than air, and surely Lord Kelvin had seen birds when he made that statement. Achieving “impossible” requires us to have the courage to imagine a future that we DON’T know HOW to achieve. We must be willing to take risks, make mistakes, and bear disappointment. In addition, we must be willing to continue on in spite of criticism from cynics who would rather crush our dreams than support us.
Many things seem “impossible” until someone else does it – a competitor, for example. Why didn’t Motorola invent the digital phone? Why didn’t Nokia invest the smart phone? Why didn’t Marriott or Hilton invent AirBnB? Why didn’t a taxi company invent Uber? Why didn’t recording companies invent iTunes? I’m sure that there were people in each of these organizations advocating for change and future possibilities, but… somehow their ideas were not considered feasible. I can imagine some “expert” explaining why their ideas for the future of their company were unrealistic, not feasible, or even “impossible”. Sadly these companies all paid a high price for their inability to imagine a new future beyond their current reality.
As project leaders we are often challenged to do what seems impossible. I look forward to equipping people with tools that will help them imagine the future, overcome obstacles, and create possibilities, and achieve what others do not dare to do.
Will the chickens help you this year as well?
Yes, as always I will be traveling with my rubber chicken, named Kabungee. He is a frequent flyer, but sometimes I joke that he is actually a “frequent FRYER”… being a chicken, you know. (Fried chicken is so tasty, but Kabungee does NOT think this is funny!) We are both looking forward to spending time with the PMI Poland Chapter Congress this year.
You will be also leading a workshop where you and the group will work out 12 keys for successful leader. Could you share your perspective on this topic?
I was educated as a scientist, earning a B.S. in physics and chemistry and a M.S. in Physics. When I entered the business world I discovered that the biggest challenges I faced were those that required human skills to succeed. Unfortunately my education did not prepare me at all to successfully overcome these challenges. In fact, all of my professional life I’ve been striving to master these vital human skills, sometimes disparagingly referred to as “soft skills”, or even the “touchy-feely stuff” by my more technical colleagues. Finally I’ve created a “leadership toolkit” that makes these human skills concepts succinct, accessible, and learnable. I developed this toolkit while working with Tokyo Medical and Dental University professors on a program called “Creating Medical Innovators”.
Is it obligatory to wear creative socks to attend the workshop?
Absolutely! Research has proven that people who wear creative socks are also more creative thinkers. This is a phenomenon called “enclothed cognition”. The way we dress impacts that way we think and act. Don’t believe me! Try it for yourself! I’m sure you are going to feel much more creative when you put on a pair of creative socks!
Do you want to say something to the Project Managers in Poland and to those that will be at the congress?
Poland is a world economic leader. As anyone can learn from Wikipedia, “The economy of Poland is the sixth largest economy in the European Union.” I’m personally very honored to be working with Project Managers in Poland because I strongly believe that strengthening and expanding businesses globally is an important way to contribute to improving the people’s quality of life. PMI Poland Chapter Congress participants are building the future of Poland, Europe, and Our World. In some small way this congress is another step towards a world where we can collaborate and do business together more effectively, and where peaceful commerce and positive cross-border relationships are the norm. I’m looking forward to being part of this step towards a better world… together!
Kimberly Wiefling lives and works in Silicon Valley, California, USA. She has been called a force of nature – the good kind! She creates inspiring workplaces by helping “groups of people” rapidly become “true teams” so that they can achieve what would be impossible for any individual acting alone. And she helps these teams accelerate their progress by applying common sense principles proven effective globally in the real business world. She is the author of Scrappy Project Management, published in Japanese, and the executive editor of the whole series of five Scrappy Guides. Kimberly works with globalizing businesses, traveling extensively in the US, Europe and Asia.
Passionate and certified project manager professional with many years of experience in many industries as automotive, aerospace, industrial, IT and shared services. Because of his broad interests and willingness to share fun facts, colleagues call him a walking encyclopedia of unwanted knowledge. Fan of personal development, heavy books reader and plastic models enthusiast. Łukasz believes that smile, respect and honest communication can open many doors.