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Tag: Facilitation

Team Building: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

These days many, if not all, of our projects are performed by cross-cultural teams. Not only do members come from different national and ethnic cultures, but they come from cultures based on mindset (for example progressive and conservative, woke and anti-woke), generational attributes, socio-political influences, corporate environments, and more.

Teams are vehicles for getting things done. When people come together to accomplish objectives – whether to win a game or perform a project – having an understanding among the team members regarding their objectives and the way they will work together is critical to success.


What Culture Is

“Culture is often described through Professor Geert Hofstede’s definition: The programming of the human mind by which one group of people distinguishes itself from another group – the set of shared beliefs, values, and norms that distinguish one group of people from another. As global organisations become increasingly diverse, understanding and managing cultural differences has become a critical competency for business leaders.”[1]

In human societies, culture is a concept that groups people based on shared knowledge, beliefs, values, and practices. A culture includes social norms, habits, customs, institutions, behaviors, beliefs, arts, laws, and more. We have many overlapping cultures – for example, corporate, regional, national, ethnic, generational, and religious. In teams, there are diverse cultural norms including those around cleanliness and neatness, how close people stand when talking, punctuality, and styles of dress.

Cultures are dynamic. They change as people’s needs change and as one culture is influenced by another. New cultures evolve out of this dynamic change process. Each team has a culture. Some are consciously created and understood, others, not so much.


Why Team Cultures are Important

Our culture influences our mindset with its beliefs, biases, and values as well as the way we work, play, dress, relate to one another, and communicate. The more that team members understand one another and agree upon values, goals, objectives, and communication and collaboration norms, the more team effectiveness increases.

What are the differences in behavior that get in the way of your team’s optimal performance? Are they caused by cultural differences?


“Anthropologists consider that world cultures vary along five consistent dimensions, which include collectivism versus individualism, and cultural preference for uncertainty avoidance. The extent to which cultures vary for these different dimensions can lead to very different expectations when it comes to interpersonal relationships and business communication.”[2]


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If some people have a cultural norm of rigidly adhering to punctuality and others are more accepting of a looser adherence, conflict is likely. For example, a U. S. employee visiting his Scandinavian company’s home office was shocked and insulted when he was not permitted to enter a meeting to which he was five minutes late. The cultural norm in that company’s home office was that if you were not on time, then don’t come at all. In the U. S. division coming in a few minutes late was acceptable. The American’s lateness influenced the local colleagues’ opinion of him and made integrating him into the team more difficult.

In another example, there may be a clash between team members from a culture that values assertiveness and tolerates some abrasiveness and those from cultures that view conflict and abrasive language as undesirable. When an assertive team member puts forth an idea, she might expect others to bring up conflicting ideas or criticisms. When they don’t assert their opinions, thinking of doing so as being rude or disrespectful, the assertive person, not understanding the cultural norm in play, may take silence as agreement. The result would be adopting a less-than-effective idea, creating a design or plan deficiency.


A project manager from a culture that avoids uncertainty will tend to strictly adhere to detailed structured plans and take fewer risks out of fear of failure. This can frustrate team members who have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and seek to innovate, take a more agile approach, and change the plan to obtain more creative outcomes.


What We Can Do

Cultural consciousness and emotional/social intelligence can avoid the negative impact of cultural differences. Cultural consciousness means being mindfully aware of culture as a force in team performance, of the cultural attributes of team members, of the ability to transcend cultural conditioning, and of the tendency to think one’s culture is better than others. Emotional/social intelligence means having the capacity to be aware of one’s feelings, able to manage one’s behavior and be sensitive to the feelings and behaviors of others. As individuals, we can choose to be adaptive to our current situation rather than being limited by cultural norms that are no longer relevant or useful.


As project managers, we can build a team culture that respects the cultural backgrounds of team members while cultivating an understanding of how to behave in a way that leads to the team’s success. For example, when it comes to decision-making, adopting an approach like the Six Hats model makes it a norm to look at an idea critically and from multiple perspectives opens the door to a critical analysis of the idea. Combine that with the awareness that avoiding conflict robs the team of useful information, and that exhibiting abrasive speech patterns and behavior may be taken as a sign of weakness, a personal attack causing another to back off or fire back to escalate a conflict and redirect the process away from the idea content.


Creating and sustaining effective teams requires cross-cultural awareness training to promote mutual understanding and respect, effective communication processes, and team-building activities to speed up the movement from forming to norming without much storming, to promote optimal performing.

Make sure that team members can fully express their opinions and needs. Consciously agree upon common values and goals to achieve a team culture that integrates the multiple cultures of its members.


We build a team, and once it’s built, we sustain it throughout its life. Like any structure, if we build it well, sustaining it is easy. However, it takes ongoing mindful awareness and patient effort to overcome the obstacles presented by cultural differences and turn them into strengths.


Psychological Safety and Accountability for Performance Management

Reading an article, “The Downside of Psychological Safety in the Workplace[1], I am reminded of the need for clear thinking when it comes to applying any philosophy, particularly in the area of psychology and performance at work.

Albert Einstein advised us to make everything “as simple as possible, but not simpler.”


It is easy to take a clever idea and ruin it by mindlessly applying it as if it was the miracle cure for every situation. Avoid seeking simple solutions to complex problems. We see it operating in the application of agile management, positivity, candid communications, as well as psychological safety. When we apply a belief or theory without considering and adapting to the situation at hand, we risk making things worse instead of better.


Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a good idea. It focuses on freedom from shame and fear of punishment. Proponents of psychological safety believe that this safety correlates with high performance.

How bad could being psychologically safe and high performance be?


But, over simplifying can lead to a belief that any kind of discipline or negative criticism is psychologically harmful and degrades performance.

The article mentioned earlier was co-authored by Wharton’s Peter Cappelli.  It says that “Too much psychological safety at work can jeopardize performance in typical jobs, according to new research.”

The research implies that people in typical jobs, as opposed to creative or innovative jobs, need less psychological safety. Too much safety, and workers will slack off and their performance will suffer.

Are people in “typical” jobs more likely to perform well if they are in fear of being punished or shamed? Are they lazier, less motivated, more deserving of psychological abuse than creative problem solvers, designers, and other creativity workers? Are creative workers immune to the downside of too much safety?


I do not think so.


What are Typical Jobs?

First, it is necessary to define “typical” when it comes to jobs. Among the most common jobs are nurse, service representative, cashier, and server. And of course, there are project manager, software developer, and all the other jobs found in projects.

Creativity and innovation are not limited to jobs in R&D or design, where there is a need to risk being wrong to get it right.

Jobs in other fields may be best done with repetitive application of accepted tools and techniques, but there is always some need for creativity. Even AI based robots must be taught to assess the situation before applying a solution. It is a think out of the box, when necessary, attitude.

In Toyota’s quality management system, assembly line workers were expected to stop the line if they saw a problem. Fear of making a mistake would inhibit workers from taking the initiative to stop the line. Fear would stop workers from creatively adapting instead of following the rules.


Goals Drive Performance

High quality performance is critical to success. Performance is optimized by focusing on both short-term goals like getting the task done right, and long-term goals like continuously improving process and wellness.

Optimal performance can be achieved without shame or fear of making errors by working to “perfect” process and outcome using a quality management mindset.

Some errors or defects are expected. That is why Six Sigma is not Infinite Sigma. When they appear, errors are seen as learning opportunities to discover the cause and avoid it next time. Systemic causes are explored before blaming performers.

But that does not mean there is no accountability for poor performance. If a performer continually makes errors and fails to take responsibility for their performance, discipline is required. Without it, morale and team performance suffer.


Too Much of a Good Thing

So, it makes sense to include psychological safety and accountability in performance management. Psychological safety is meant to relieve any kind of worker of the unnecessary and damaging effects of negative motivation. Accountability is making sure that causes of performance deficiency are discovered and acknowledged.

Psychological safety, like any psychological-behavioral-management-leadership approach, should not be taken as standalone truth. It must be applied based on each situation, integrated into a broader program that values personal, organizational, environmental wellness and optimal performance.


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Accountability is Needed

Accountability is often misunderstood. It would be ideal if everyone understood the need for it, had a great work ethic, wasn’t afraid of criticism, and everyone’s performance, the organization was accepted and accepting.


Accountability is not Blaming

But the ideal is not the norm and even if it was there is still a need for accountability.

Accountability is not blame. It is bringing performance to the surface to identify the causes of performance quality – whether it is good or bad. It is great to be held accountable for stellar behavior and not so great to be held accountable for errors and failures.

Whenever there is accountability, some individuals will be afraid and view consequences as punishment. They may perceive management as a bunch of mean overseers ready to criticize and punish.

There is an internal psychological dynamic at work. Some fear being fired. Some have an internal judge criticizing any imperfection with an unrealistic sense of perfection. Some in leadership positions lack empathy and misread resistance to accountability as laziness. Some blame when they find someone accountable.

Fear is generated from the inside, even when there is no external threat. Recognizing the psychological dynamic enables individuals to be self- reflective and put their inner critique in its right place. Their recognition gives management and leadership the ability to be empathetic and more effective in managing performance.


How to Go Forward

When it comes to managing performance, consider both psychological safety and sustained effective performance and continuous improvement.

Safety and accountability are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together to promote wellness, process quality, and sustainable high performance.

Psychological safety is promoted by a program of training and sustained reinforcement for managers and staff on what makes for the best way to handle accountability.

That kind of program confronts the causes of blaming and resistance to accountability, psychological dynamics around fear of criticism, methods for objective accountability, and the need for a quality management process that seeks sustained optimal performance.




How Project Managers May Help Address Construction’s $30-$40B Productivity Problem

Productivity has been in steady decline—CNBC reported a few months ago, for example, that the U.S. had experienced five consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in worker productivity. Last year, worker productivity was falling at the fastest rate in four decades.

Productivity in construction is an even harsher reality, the industry faced with skilled labor shortages and a recent FMI Corp report that showed productivity is a $30 billion to $40 billion annual problem, affected by planning, communication, and collaboration 3 in 4 times.


In this article, I discuss how, in the construction industry that faces labor shortages topping half a million, the role of the project manager is ever-critical in empowering the team to work more collaboratively, heed strict quality assurance requirements, and achieve greater productivity outcomes onsite to, correspondingly, drive better customer outcomes.


The Role of Project Management in Construction Projects

Studies show “an extremely strong correlation between the Project Manager and the success of the construction projects” (ref 1). What’s more, project managers with high emotional intelligence have been shown to be a catalyst for empowering team cohesion and effectiveness (ref 4), particularly with the soft skills to navigate teams through change management – a key competency that successful project managers in the construction industry possess, according to a systematic industry literature review (ref. a).

The role of a construction project manager is a multifaceted one, its duties perhaps described as a myriad of spinning plates, routinely responsible for example (ref. 3) –

  • Project cost estimating
  • Project planning
  • Production planning
  • Resource management
  • Scheduling


Project managers in construction are able to address these myriad challenges through agile methodologies to drive greater flexibility, correspondingly higher productivity outcomes onsite, and an integrated approach is of particular use to facilitate greater cross-functional collaboration.


Integrated Project Management

Experts recommend companies employ an “integrated” construction project management approach (ref 2); project managers in construction have a wider scope than the traditional time-cost-quality project management triangle, needing to address, for example, critical factors like “sustainability, health and safety, ethical requirements, social responsibility and security.”

Authors view “integration” as a “keyword” of project management in construction, with the “project managers of tomorrow [requiring] new competencies and new ways of working that embrace technology and communications” (ref 2). The authors stress the importance of “Integrating the different and fragmented process in the supply chain and with the design team.”

Ways project managers can integrate project systems and workflows to drive greater transparency, real-time data sharing, and correspondingly higher productivity outcomes onsite include:


Materials and Inventory

Integrating project management with materials and inventory management systems ensures project teams onsite get what they need onsite when it’s needed, that materials are appropriate (i.e., not damaged), so they can perform work on schedule.

A synchronization between project and inventory management platforms not only helps declutter and decrease outdated project data as changes are made in real-time, but also helps project managers better oversee projects with relevant alerts that:

  • Better predict stocking needs and help the team assess how they might acquire safety stock to prevent stockouts
  • Provide access to pertinent job costing information, helping project managers better forecast and improve accounting across companies’ operations; they can also work with inventory managers overseeing equipment rentals to drive better profitability and ongoing maintenance.


When coupled with other proper inventory strategies (e.g., inventory tracking and kitting) and other IoT solutions, project managers can work in tandem with inventory managers to better account for inventory through its lifecycle.


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Project managers can work with safety managers to develop safety metrics (e.g., hazard identification and assessment; hazard prevention and control; program evaluation and improvement) that ensure onsite workers are managing their own risk and abiding by site rules. Safety is a team sport, hence why the team needs to keep each other safe, which will also help drive greater quality assurance targets.

What’s more, project managers can work with inventory and procurement (as discussed above) as well as construction technology teams to implement emerging technologies to support greater safety outcomes: e.g., robots to automate needlessly hazardous installations, newer-generation drills and impacts that prevent against kickback events, drones to perform overhead safety checks, etc.


Project Design

An integration between project management and design (e.g., architecture, CAD, and BIM) can help drive better quality assurance, ensuring not only scoped design plans are properly installed, but also that design-related problems (and ensuing rework) are mitigated.

According to Dodge Data & Analytics, 61% report BIM processes reduced project error. In the hands of a project manager, BIM data is powerful; what’s more, integrations with smart tools can help ensure project managers and the design team alike are getting application-specific reporting so they can verify not only that designs are accurate, but also that critical fasteners were installed to manufacturer specifications.



Platforms like Green Badger are purpose-built to measure, benchmark, and report on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) metrics, helping project managers report to business owners data on carbon, waste, water, and energy data, how projects are completed to company sustainability targets, etc.


Bottom Line

As the construction industry combats with a labor shortage that has topped half a million, it’s no surprise that productivity issues on sites nationwide cost the industry between $30 and $40 billion annually. All this to say, the job of the construction project manager is of prevailing importance, helping companies negotiate complicated projects and workflows and empowering cross-functional teams to be more productive with continually shrinking resources. An integrated construction project management approach is the way forward to driving the productivity needle back in the right direction, improving company top and bottom lines, and improving the industry outlook as it looks to build the green infrastructure projects necessary for our planet’s continued existence.



  1. Abdulsamad Ali, M. and Chileshe, N. (2009). The influence of the project manager on the success of the construction project [Paper presentation]. 6th International Conference on Construction Project Management (ICCPM) / 3rd International Conference on Construction Engineering and Management (ICCEM) Global Convergence in Construction, Jeju, Korea.
  2. Fewings, P. and Henjewele, C. (2019). Construction Project Management: An Integrated Approach. (3rd Edition). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
  3. Sears, S., Sears, G., and Clough, R. (2008). Construction Project Management: A Practical Guide to Field Construction. (5th Edition). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  4. Zhang, Q. and Hao, S. (2022, 04). Construction project manager’s emotional intelligence and team effectiveness: The mediating role of team cohesion and the moderating effect of time. Frontiers in Psychology 13
    1. Oliveros, J. and Vaz-Serra, P. (2018). Construction Project manager skills: A systematic literature review. In P. Rajagopalan and M.M Andamon (Eds.), Engaging Architectural Science: Meeting the Challenges of Higher Density: 52nd International Conference of the Architectural Science Association (pp.185–192). The Architectural Science Association and RMIT University, Australia.

Objectivity in Conflicts – Moving from Win-Lose to Win-Win

Conflict, whether you call it difference of opinion, or disagreement, is an inevitable part of project life. Managing it well is critical to short-range project success and long-term healthy relationships. Organizational success relies on both project success and healthy ongoing relationships.


While not all conflicts or disagreements can be settled to satisfy all parties (win-win), there can be many more of them if the disagreeing parties put their efforts towards addressing the conflict and the decision that will end it rather than competing with one another.

Even when there is a win-lose conflict, cultivating long term relationships better enables follow through and future collaboration. Take for example two people vying for the same job. Imagine what might happen a year or two later when the one who lost is interviewing his opponent for a position in the ‘losers’ new company.

The way the conflict was managed will make a big difference. If they perceived a fair process and there was a cordial closure, it is more likely that they will consider their experience with one another without letting emotions overwhelm objectivity.


Passionate Objectivity

Decisions resolve conflicts and set up the action that will influence the future. Objectivity is a key to effective conflict resolution because it leads to rational and practical decisions and effective action to carry them out.

We are living in a time when beliefs are confused with reality, when ideologies and emotions drive decision making, often without considering longer term outcomes. To come to an effective decision to resolve a conflict it is necessary to suspend beliefs and attachments long enough to assess their usefulness.

Are you willing to question and validate your beliefs? Are you willing to collaborate with your opponents to confront the conflict rather than one another?

“When you see.., how belief, prejudice, conclusions, and ideals divide people and therefore breed conflict, you see that such activity is obviously not intelligence. Will you drop all your prejudices, all your opinions … so that you have a free, uncluttered mind?


“If you say it is impossible, you will never find out for yourself what it is to be intelligent.” – J. Krishnamurti


Krishnamurti pulls no punches. He says that to be well, happy, and able to take care of business, you need to stop being driven by beliefs and biases, you need to see things as they are, objectively.

Objectivity is the quality of being unbiased, relying on facts rather than opinions and personal feelings when making decisions. Objectivity does not mean ignoring the role of opinions, emotions, and gutfeel. It means taking them into consideration and making sure that the decision being made is the right decision.

If we overemphasize rational analysis, we end up with solutions that are brittle and hard to implement because they ignore the human element. If we under emphasize analysis, caught up in emotions, we get poor outcomes and ongoing strife.


Confronting the Issue

Objectivity leads to the idea of confronting the issue rather than the opponent. This is far easier to act upon in projects and organizations as opposed to the socio-political realm of ethnic groups, nations, and governments.

Here, in projects we have the advantage of relatively clear mutual objectives among stakeholders. For the most part, everyone is after a quality outcome, at a reasonable price, within time constraints. There may be differences of opinions about just about everything – objectives, designs, estimates, plans, resources, etc. But if the parties take a step back and remember what they are all after, there is a good chance that they will make good decisions to achieve it.


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Taking a long view

Often, when there is conflict the tendency is to think about the short-term consequences of the decision. Objectivity requires a long-term view.

Will the design option enable easy maintenance? Will the people who are on the “losing” side take an active role in implementing the decision, even though it was not their first choice? Will ongoing relationships be healthy?


What Does it Take to be Objective

It seems so simple, objectively address the issue to come up with resolution, a decision to act, that satisfies as many participants as possible and leads to successful project completion and healthy long-term relationships. Simple, yes. But not easy.

Emotions, beliefs, and biases get in the way. If the parties are unwilling or unable to step back and objectively assess the situation and make a decision based on identified decision criteria, they will struggle to justify their position, often relying on hierarchical authority, rhetoric, and distortion rather than good sense.

Two things are required: emotional and social intelligence and an effective decision-making process.


The process is a starting point for optimizing conflict resolution. A process that includes identifying decision criteria and that uses analytical methods, opens the door to improved self-awareness and self-management. An effective process makes it less likely that strong willed, assertive people will be able to have their way regardless of the facts and what is best for the organization and project. It forces people to step back and assess things objectively.

Emotional and social intelligence promote the ability to disengage from feelings long enough to be rational and to respect the needs of others. But even when there are parties who lack the ability to exercise self-management and recognize the power of objectivity, an effective process will influence the outcome.

As you make the decisions that resolve conflicts, make the effort to step back and drop your prejudices and opinions so that you have a free, uncluttered mind? Will you take the time and effort to validate your feelings with facts and consideration of alternative views?


It takes effort and awareness to bring objectivity to bear when you feel strongly about your position. It takes skill, courage, and patience to question your beliefs, validate them, and accept that your way is not the only right way and may even be the wrong way.


Doing What You Can to Change the Unacceptable

Don’t underestimate your power to make positive change. Angela Davis, a passionate activist, is quoted as saying:

“I have given up on accepting the things I cannot change.

I aim to change the things I can’t accept.”


As project managers we are often faced with unacceptable realities that get in the way of project and career success.


Take for example the situation in which meeting a deadline relies on resources promised by a functional manager to be available at a specified date. The resources do not show up because they are assigned to another project and won’t be available for weeks. To make matters worse, the situation is often repeated, and functional managers are never held accountable. The organization holds the PM responsible for getting the project done on time, no matter what. But in reality, most projects are late, and no-one is ever fired for it. Everyone accepts the fact that schedules cannot be trusted. Clearly there is some dysfunction.


There are other examples of unacceptable situations, your boss or co-worker is abusive or incompetent, your sponsor or client chronically has irrational expectations and will not listen to reason, etc.

With a fixed mindset, you can believe that nothing can be done about it. You might be thinking “It’s always been like this and it always will be.” or “I can’t do anything about it, its above my pay grade.” If everyone is thinking that way the situation won’t change. If everyone misunderstands the advice to accept things as they are, things will not change.

Change is possible with a shift to a realistic understanding and a growth mindset that realizes that learning and change are possible. Accepting things as they are does not mean keeping them that way.  It simply means that since you can’t change the present moment or the past, the best you can do is to accept what is and what was. The future is subject to change if you apply the courage and skill to act effectively.


Passion and Equanimity

When we aim to change the things we can’t accept, we are faced with the paradox of equanimity and passion. They are both required.

Equanimity is mental calmness and balance regardless of external circumstances. It is accepting that passionate action and unphased acceptance coexist. With equanimity we have the presence of mind to accept what is, analyze what got it that way, plan to do something about it, act, and accept what happens. Whatever happens, we repeat the process – accept, plan, act, accept. Progress is an ongoing process.

In our example, let’s say the analysis uncovers that functional managers want to honor their commitments but are faced with demands from multiple projects and their sponsors that cause them to over commit. A rational plan to correct the situation would be to establish an effective portfolio management process which moderates the flow of projects, recognizing the interrelationships between functional resource availability across multiple projects. To project management professionals, it seems a no-brainer. But creating and sustaining a portfolio management process in an immature PM environment is not easy.


If formal portfolio management doesn’t happen there is still hope. There is always something to do, including doing nothing. Your options range from accepting the status quo to changing jobs. In between are options like grass roots cooperation among managers as resource demands change, multi-project monitoring at a PMO level, patiently and skillfully petitioning executives for portfolio management, and more.

This is where passion comes into play. Passion is a strong feeling of enthusiasm about something. If there is a passionate desire to correct the situation, then it is more likely to happen. And equanimity provides the best platform for making the change you want.


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Set and Setting

An often-overlooked aspect of making and managing change in our work environment is personal feelings. On a practical, analytical, unemotional level we can come up with the means to make change. If we do nothing or if what we do doesn’t improve the situation, there are feelings – anger, frustration, fear, despair, a loss of passion, etc.

On a personal level self-awareness and self-management, the two principal parts of emotional intelligence must be applied to enable you to change the things you cannot accept. On one extreme of the practical options is doing nothing, accepting the status quo.

If you do absolutely nothing, your feelings will not change. They will get stronger. Your anger might turn to depression. Your performance might suffer. So, you do something, you change your mindset. Environment (setting) and mindset (the way we think, our beliefs and mental models) determine the way we feel and our behavior.


We Can Change Our Mind

While we can change our environment – the organization culture, stakeholders, etc. – our ability to do so is limited. On the other hand, we have far more control of our mindset (though sometimes it doesn’t seem so). Changing the mindset begins with adopting an attitude of acceptance and letting go.

If we accept that we are in an unacceptable situation and we can’t change it, we can leave – ask for a transfer, find a new job, retire. If we choose to stay, for whatever reason, we have the difficult task of avoiding letting the situation lead to debilitating emotional reactions, like the anger and despair mentioned earlier. That is where a mindset that includes the belief that it is possible to be equanimous and optimally well in any situation is essential.

Apply mindfulness and emotional intelligence to remind yourself that you can change the way you think and feel, that everything changes, and that you can accept the status quo and do what you can to change your setting. This approach leads to a sense of personal control and hope for improvement. It is the theme of my latest book – The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Living and my first book, The Zen Approach to Project Management.


Related articles:

Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance

Making the Impossible Possible

Practical Perfectionism and Continuous Improvement

Achieving Quality Performance and Results

Know When to Give Up