Justifying and Prioritizing Projects

To provide context, let’s define a “project” as it relates to this post: A project is a complex issue, with a defined set of goals, that requires a leader to influence/motivate many others, implement strategy, inspect, and ensure execution.

The vision for an organization is one big project that cascades into other projects and supporting goals, which also have cascading projects that are nested all the way down. The importance of justification and prioritization is critical at every level.

All projects (starting with the highest level vision) must be justified; Similar to culture, they should not just “happen” and there should be some guiding principles/values in place.

Here are some tips on justifying projects:

  1. Challenge, challenge, challenge; The leader should vigorously challenge their own projects/vision during the planning process. The higher level the leader is, the less likely they are to be challenged by others, therefore know that it is appropriate to be hard on yourself when planning. Then ask your peer group to beat you up a bit more; which is all about crisp justification for something that is about to be your obsession for a period of time, and that will impact many (if not all) others in the organization.
  2. When assisting others in justifying their projects: Ensure they have gone through the exercise above by having them answer the following questions:
    1. Why in the heck should we do this?
    2. Is it supported by our overall vision?
    3. What will our measurable(s) be?
    4. If successful, will the results be material?
    5. What happens if the project fails? This should be the last question because the answer(s) will validate importance/justification

In regards to prioritizing projects:

  1. Stack/rank by measurable and the impact of outcomes
  2. No one should have more than 3-5 direct projects at any given time; any excess should be kicked down the list or deleted (if they are important they will resurface)
  3. If there are too many projects for the leaders who are available to manage them, change an input. Either the team/investment needs to grow, or the priorities need to shrink to a manageable level. The key is in justifying the projects first; if there really are more than the team can handle and they have all been justified, grow the team and invest in people and resources at a higher rate.

Hope is not a good strategy

The things that we find ourselves hoping for, are exactly those that we need to break down into actionable projects with the appropriate accountability/inspection points. We have to be intentional about our success, while being able to predict failures and act in advance to avoid them.

Today is the day. Dive into your areas of hope; break them down, and turn hope into the highest probability of success. Once that corner is turned, stress is minimized and confidence replaces hope.

Big changes require great plans, and great plans require even better audits

Things never go as planned with large projects/big changes. If the proper inspection cadence is not set as part of rolling out the plan, then it is futile to be frustrated by a lack of execution. I have accepted that where people (and even the best people) are required, certain things will not start, be done as intended, be finished, etc., without proper follow-up by the leader…….and that with more people, the chance of miss-alignment is magnified.

For the project to be worth starting, the leader of the project must be willing to do what is required for success and put in the inspection points at the onset. Similar to a meeting being unproductive with out a leader, agenda, and set duration, so is a plan that does not include an audit process.


We are the ones who…….

  1. Make time to take care of ourselves and our families
  2. Prospect and look for new opportunities, even when business/life is good
  3. Make corrections (and be the one to point them out) rather than excuses
  4. Look for issues when none are apparent
  5. Do not allow 8-5 to be a factor in achieving our goals
  6. Celebrate and recognize the success of others
  7. Write down our goals and consistently inspect performance against them
  8. Stomp out complacency; we look for it throughout the organization, especially after big wins
  9. Understand and accept leadership risk (relying on others for success)
  10. Strive for those who lead us to not have to worry about anything under our control

Early this morning while exercising in a small hotel gym, I reflected on how fast things are moving in life.   My kids are growing up too fast; I am getting older; MCCi is growing faster than ever and our team is phenomenal.  I was reminded that balance, growth, and leadership are tough, and that a certain level of stress (each person has their own tolerance) will be present when we are trying to do it all perfectly;  The reality is that perfection is impossible and that is the reason for reflection.  Consistent adjustments are what is key.

This week I am in three different states and will be part of some very important meetings.  We are prepared, and they will go as well as they can because our team is awesome.   But what am I most excited about this week?  The daddy daughter pool day with my 4 and 6 year old daughters on Saturday.   Just as much preparation is going into that:  Early morning grocery store run, hot dogs, popsicles, all-day pool day, bubbles, games, umbrellas……..

Progress is stressful, but much less so when it is your desire / your plan rather than someone else’s

Leaders are entrepreneurial in that they create growth through ambition, research, collaboration, validation and go to market strategy.  They go to their leaders with “Here is the plan and I would like your feedback”, rather than their leader coming to them with “What is the plan?” or building out the plan for them to follow, mandating that there be a plan, etc.   You ask any leader out there if they would rather impose pressure on others to grow or have their team approach them with growth plans for collaboration and feedback, and I am confident that the vast majority will choose the latter, and that those that do the latter will rise at a much faster rate.

It is very easy to spot the plans that are built with thought leadership/passion vs. the plans that are put together as part of a requirement imposed by others.   It is not about the structure of the documents, or the fact that there is required data to include – it is more about the ownership that can be felt in the document.  It can be felt based on creativity, humility in admitting what needs improvement, strong goals, and a strong plan for executing.   Those plans are motivating to all and they can only start with the leader being passionate, putting the time in, and holding themselves accountable to producing a plan that will motivate all stakeholders and ultimately lead to growth.

Continuous incremental progress (not money) is the path to happiness.  This is why even the most successful people continue to have the the highest level drive and passion.  It gives them purpose and fulfillment to know they are better today than they were yesterday.   Once we have this fundamental belief, it is a crazy thought to let others impose the pressure for us to progress (be happy).



Effective Leadership (strategy, praise, admitting mistakes, etc.) is done verbally; Transacting/Formalizing is done via written communication.

The first email account I had was in college and the first text message I sent was at the age of 27 – in order to get a first date with Kristen (my bride).   For this reason and regarding leadership development, I believe I had an advantage over the folks that are in their 20’s today;  mainly because verbal communication was the primary option back then.   I only had to learn how to text (on my Nextel “beep beep” phone – note that the first iPhone was 2007) because Kristen would not answer my calls or respond to voicemail.  Comparing my experience with the younger generation who has had email and text messaging since they can remember, it has likely made leadership an even tougher endeavor for them given that face to face and verbal interactions are key to effective leadership.

I was listening to a TED talk last week and the presenter stated that the #1 benefit from a training program they delivered to their up and coming leaders was focused on communicating effectively.   It made me remember the most practical and highest impact course I had to take a long time ago when going through an MBA program, which was “Effective Communication in Business”.   I distinctly remember an exercise where they had us go through the archive of our business emails and pull the three worse examples of communication and then present them to the class.  They weren’t just teaching us how to write, the medium we should use, or self-awareness in regards to the perception others have due to our actions; they were teaching us leadership.

Regardless of what/who we are trying to lead, large advancements in what we are trying to achieve only happen with a more intimate form of communication.   The quicker/easier/less stressful way to communicate is to text/email/send a letter, etc., which is also why it is typically the wrong way to handle more strategic matters.   Written communication is still an important step, but only as a follow-up to formalize and/or confirm what was discussed.

Some examples (based on my opinion only) of when to use certain channels:

Verbal/In Person Communication Written Communication
Strategic planning Meeting notes
Consulting with customers/team Conveying supporting information
Recognition for large achievements Confirmation of understanding
Reflection on and learning from mistakes Formalizing next steps
Apologizing Reporting/inspecting what is expected
Training/mentoring Conveying general information
ANY sensitive matters Business transactions


“Age does not define Leadership, so don’t wait to LEAD!”


Just this week I was meeting with a current government customer in the Atlanta area.   I told them that I had been doing what I do for 17 years.   They said – what did you do, start when you were 10?   Just about the 1 millionth time I have heard that line, but I have to admit that people are saying it less and less due to my hair turning a different shade (wife says it is awesome, but I have not bought in).    This kind of comment usually comes towards the end of the meeting and they mean it as a complement, which is the way I take it.

So getting to the point of reflection……..Our team at MCCi does a tremendous job serving our customers, which is paramount to our growth; The growth and great service seems to throw customers for a loop due to their initial assumptions about my age.  The reality is that most of the Leadership attributes to live by are common sense and not age related.   Leadership requires discipline, not years under your belt.   Experience does help you refine your leadership skills, but my message to the younger generations is don’t wait to lead!  You have to lead every day to eventually be thought of as a leader.   Your actions and not your age are what will label you as a leader in the eyes of others (and how others see you is what matters in leadership).   In closing, here is what leaders do regardless of age:

  • They properly set expectations with all stakeholders
  • They do not prematurely react due to emotions
  • They work hard and can never be called a hypocrite
  • They are responsive and can be counted on by all
  • They are proactive and thorough
  • They hold themselves accountable to be better every day – they don’t really need a “manager”. Do you need a manager to do what is expected of you?
  • They are liked/loved by team members, peers, and all stakeholders. Not because of popularity, but because of action from doing all the above.  It is a bunch of garbage to say one does not need to be liked by others….
  • They do not cause or condone drama
  • They admit their mistakes and are never defensive
  • They are rational about everything and can eloquently bring others into their way of thinking (only because they are indeed rational, smart, and well planned).
  • They are compassionate and have empathy – they always do “what is right”

Don’t wait to lead.  You can start in middle school, high school, or even earlier.  While I was a late bloomer (and still a work in progress), you can do better and should start now!   You are not going to wake up at 40 and all the sudden deserve to be a leader.


Just my annual rant on Goal Setting

This morning I sent out the following message to my MCCi family (all team members)…….

My wife recently asked what our family traditions are and what we want them to be going forward.  It was fun to think back about what each of our family traditions have been, and it was a great discussion that resulted in us making some changes based on what we want to do going forward as our lives have evolved with each other, children, family, and our friends.  We also discussed how important it was to have our own personal traditions that focus on self-improvement and being the best we can be as individuals.

As we go into the new year, I wanted to share with you some of the things that are a personal tradition in regards to ending the year and starting a new one.  It all revolves around reflection on goal achievement and setting new goals.   It is also why I am up at 5AM on a day that we have off as a paid holiday – it is that important, given it is the one tradition that I credit with every significant improvement (and failure) I have made in my life.    My overall feeling about the importance around this annual goal setting tradition is best reflected by one of my favorite quotes:   “Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin.   What follows is just a list of things I do around goal setting and self-accountability.

Goal Achievement Reflection

  • This is constant throughout the year, but having my list of goals in front of me throughout the year is what keeps me focused.
  • I do this one final time at the end of the year, which helps me set new and more powerful goals the following year.
  • If I hit all my goals – I did a poor job in setting them. This is my personal take, because goal setting is about real improvement, which is tough unless you are tough on you.

Goal Setting

  • Write them down! I have mine for each year dating back to 2005.
  • Focus on a mixture of professional and personal. Just like life, growth needs to be balanced
  • Make them as quantifiable as possible for clear tracking.
  • Think through the timing and general steps that must occur in order to achieve goals
    • Throughout the year, have a system (calendar, tasks, etc.) that prompts you to focus on the nuggets to get you there.
  • Have mentors agree to hold you accountable throughout the year and provide them with a list of your goals. Remember it is on you to schedule the recurring meetings with your mentors, and it is on them to hold you accountable
  • Have family/spouse hold you accountable – give them a list too

If you have never done it – the best place to start is to just write your goals down, and make a monthly calendar item to review your goals.   Just the act of writing them down and reflecting on them will make you a better person, and the process will get better and better with time.  This morning I looked back at my goals from 2005, 2006, etc., and they were a bit humorous in regards to what my goals look like today vs. then.   My biggest takeaway was that I failed quite a bit, but the failure came from trying, and each failure was a pivot to a new goal that was actually the right path.

Many of you know how serious I am about this and many of my friends poke fun at me (my best buddy at my rehearsal dinner made a joke that I did not propose to Kristen until I had reviewed her business plan).  However, if my sharing this helps just one person – I have done my duty in sharing something that truly works and that can better one’s life tremendously.   I will leave you with one fact.    I did not come up with this tradition of goal setting on my own.   When I was 22, my mentor, friend, and the chairman of our board, Lawton Langford is the one that questioned me about if I have written goals.  He asked “do you write your goals down”.   I said “I have goals, but I do not really write them down”.   He replied – “start writing them down – it will make all the difference in the world”.

I listened and he was right, and therefore I felt compelled to share.


“It all comes out in the wash, so why not make sure it is clean?”

I can really screw up the simple act of washing clothes; leave them in the washer too long before moving them to the dryer and I have to start all over; use the wrong amount of detergent and failure happens again; and last/worst – when I try to do something nice for my wife, I ruin their favorite clothes.   Yep, I have done all these things and it is the one chore I am not allowed to do any longer.

With the concept of leadership we are focused on practicing proactive communication, planning, and execution.   Organizations can exist and will continue (for some period of time) to move forward without these things, however it would not be the leadership way, nor would it be clean (netting the best results).      Here are just a few examples in the form of questions:

  • If you know the keys to success in your business, are you proactively and consistently measuring them so that you can ensure outcomes are in line with goals?
  • Do you come up with new goals and plans routinely and well ahead of the time period in focus, or do you wait until bad things start happening?
  • Should you wait to tell your team about health insurance changes, only after they have received their new insurance cards and start having questions?
  • When great things happen do you proactively let your team know, or just let them find out from someone else?  The same goes for when bad things happen.
  • When there is a customer issue are you out ahead of it and communicating with the client, or do you let it sit too long, only for them to become more agitated and start making inquiries?

Leaders have the right answers to the questions above.  Not only that, through their actions they have instilled leadership concepts in their organizations; their team would have the same answers.

To be conscious and proactive is a choice.  It is all about thinking ahead, understanding the importance of good communication, and genuinely caring about all stakeholders.

“The best led organizations celebrate their forecasts rather than financial statements, because they are that far ahead of the data, decision making, and planning”

At worst, we should only be making educated guesses when making decisions about our future.   “Educated” means we have gathered every inflection point that is practical, reflected on our experience, and have had discussions with mentors and the right team members.   There are no absolutes in regards to if you do x, y will happen.  However, if we use all the resources and brain power available to us, we can drastically effect the probability of a successful outcome.

The first step is to know our mission and what success looks like.  Without this, who cares…. The next step is to track key metrics that will provide the data needed for historical review and trending purposes.    The best run organizations are extremely self-aware because of consistently tracking the right metrics (which they add to as the organization changes/grows).   They understand and expect at any given time there are things that are going well and things that are going poorly.   There is always something to improve and the sooner we know it, the less likely it is to have a negative impact on the things that are performing well.   If we are aware we can make the changes necessary to allow for continuous growth.  If we fail to do this, we are just chasing the bad things when they finally slap us in the face and never have time to focus on making the great things greater.

Once the organization is consistently tracking and reviewing the most important metrics, there is a real ability to forecast the future and to plan for future growth, in an educated way.   Every organization has Financial Statements, again…….who cares?   The best lead organizations already know how their financials are going to look before they are produced.

The best led organizations celebrate their pipeline and their forecasts, because they are that far ahead of the data, decision-making, and planning.