Why Most of Your Projects Suck and How to Un-Suck Them

July 26, 2017

Tracey Kidder said, “Building is the quintessential act of civilization.”  Think about it.  If three people washed up on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is collaboratively build a shelter.  Unless, of course, the three people were an architect, owner’s rep, and contractor.  Then, they would have to wait for two lawyers to wash up on the beach so that they could proceed with the project.

There is a project that I read about recently where the parties involved hate each other. I don’t say that lightly.  You can tell from their comments that they truly loathe and despise each other.  Here is a link to the ENR article titled  A Hospital Job Dispute Reaches Fever Pitch:


How did this project get to this point?  Could the parties involved have seen this coming?  How did they begin the project, and more importantly, what can you do on your projects to avoid such a fate? There is a link to a white paper and other resources at the end of this blog, but here is a recap:

Step 1: Get as many people involved in the process as soon as possible from owners to facilities folks to end users designers to contractors to trade partners to materials vendors. Get them in a big room.  Build a sense of team and trust and collaboration.  Note:  This cannot be done in a day.  One day “partnering” sessions are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Lean, IPD, ILPD Design-Build, and other collaborative project delivery methods are perfect for having a framework to achieve this.  Forget IPD-ish.  Just do it!

Step 2:  Make this focus on team, relationships and trust ongoing.  Every meeting should start with the team stuff.  Bring folks in to reinforce team and collaboration and communication and trust throughout the entire project from inception to demolition.

Step 3:  Give everyone tools in order for them to achieve their peak level of mental, physical, and emotional performance.  Think about it.  We throw people in a big pot that has high stakes and crushing stress without any tools and expect them to perform like a well-oiled machine. This is ludicrous.  And they don’t get enough sleep, eat crappy food, and have really poor health habits during a demanding project.  As part of your ongoing team building, have discussions about stress and nutrition and sleep and other things that will inhibit performance.  Give them the tools they need to succeed.  It also creates a sense of connection and team because everyone is looking out for each other and their well-being.

If you want more free information and resources, download my white paper that includes two of my bestselling books and another white paper on how to build the people before you build the project.  It will give you the tools you need to make your next project a huge success!  Click here to download the white paper.  

And if you want even more resources on emotional intelligence and all of the critical people skills your folks need to succeed, click here  for information on our online courses called The Total Leadership Library.


Why Project Relationships Go Horribly Wrong and How to Prevent it

June 7, 2016

a skyscraper with glass walls and the reflection of landmarks on the opposite side

“Building is the quintessential act of civilization.” Tracy Kidder

Think about it.  If three people washed up on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is collaboratively build a shelter.  Unless, of course, the three people were an architect, owner’s rep, and contractor.  Then, they would have to wait for two lawyers to wash up on the beach so that they could proceed with the project.

There is a project that I read about recently where the parties involved hate each other. I don’t say that lightly.  You can tell from their comments that they truly loathe and despise each other.  Here is a link to the ENR article titled  A Hospital Job Dispute Reaches Fever Pitch:


How did this project get to this point?  Could the parties involved have seen this coming?  How did they begin the project, and more importantly, what can you do on your projects to avoid such a fate?

We have created a program called connEx, which creates high performing teams who care about each other’s personal and professional success and well-being.  Click here for more information.

The Secret of Life: What ONE THING should I focus on?

June 5, 2015

Meditation illustration

“Meditation is a way for nourishing and blossoming the divinity within you.” ― Amit Ray

Take a look at this video from the movie, City Slickers:

When I do these leadership programs, the participants always ask me,  what’s the one thing that I could do that would make the biggest difference?  I understand the question.  We are all busy.  We can’t do dozens of things.  We can’t commit to an hour in the gym, seven days a week.  We can’t go on a sabbatical for a month.  So what is that one thing that can make a huge difference?  It’s meditation. We strongly emphasize this in our courses.  In order to create well-being, in order to be productive, in order to tap into that higher power, we must have reflection time each day.  It doesn’t have to be long.  It can be as little as 10 minutes.  But it has to be consistent.  I probably average four to five days a week where I sit down and be quiet and not do any planning or worrying or problem solving.  Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, says that anyone who is trying to attain personal mastery should practice some form of meditation.

Studies have shown that meditation increases focus and changes physiology.  It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases DHEA, the “youth” hormone.  It relaxes you.  It increases problem solving.  It increases your energy levels.  So if it does all of these amazing thins, why doesn’t everyone do it?  For some it seems too “new age”.  For some, it seems cult like.  They think that it conflicts with their religious beliefs.  But think of it as just an exercise in concentration.  You can apply your own belief system to these techniques so that you are comfortable with it.

Harvard Medical School recently completed a study on mediation.  The study published in May in a prestigious medical journal showed that one session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion and reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress.  This means that meditation actually helps prevent autoimmune diseases and inflammation that is linked to many diseases.

As if that weren’t cool enough, regular mediation actually lengthens the telomeres on our genes.  These shoelace-like structures shorten with age.  So meditation is a bonafide way to reverse the aging process!

Here is a very simple meditation technique:

Take a deep breath in.  Breathe out and think the number one.  Breathe in again.  Breathe out again.  Think the number two.  Breathe in again.  Breathe out.  Think the number three.  Breathe in a fourth time.  Breathe out and think the number four.  Then start again at one.  Other thoughts will enter your mind.  Politely dismiss them and go back to breathing and counting.  Do this for around 5 to 10 minutes.  Set a timer if you need to.

You will no doubt find this hard at first.  But the more you do it, the more you will be able to focus.  Not only during the meditation, but in all areas of your life and work.  You will be more relaxed and more resilient to stress.

I have created a guided meditation CD that takes you through a progressive relaxation followed by visualizations.  If you are interested, you can contact my Executive Assistant, Casey at casey@brentdarnell.com.  We should have it on the store on brentdarnell.com very soon, but we can find a way to get it to you if you are interested.

You can also check out my book, Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys if you want more information:


Let me know if you want to learn more about meditation and the various techniques.

What if You Knew You Were Dying?

March 12, 2015


“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Mark Twain

Guess what?  You ARE dying.  At many of these inspirational events, they ask, “What would you do if you had 30 days to live?  How would you spend it?  What would you do differently?”  I never really took those questions very seriously because the end of my life seemed so far out into the future.  But the truth is that we are all dying.  Some will die more quickly than others.  But we will all end up in the same place.  Worm food.  Take a tape measure and roll it out to 80 inches.  Let that represent your life span.  If you have great genetics, roll it out further.  Now look at where you are now.  30?  40?  50?  60?  In any case, I am always struck by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of tape left.

If today were the last day of your life, would you do the same thing that you are doing today?  It is something to think about.

A few years ago, four of our very good friends left this earth, all in their fifties.  All of their lives were cut short.  It made us examine what we were doing.  And we found out that we talked and thought about work way too much.  We worried about money too much.  We obsessed over things that really didn’t make that much of a difference in our lives.  We came to the not so profound conclusion that life is too short.  So we decided to do something about it.  We decided to take every Friday off.  We also decides to take at least three weeks of vacation this year.  When you add up the Fridays, that is seven weeks.  Add the vacations and that’s ten weeks that we are taking off.  That’s even more than some Europeans.

Don’t get me wrong.  We are not perfect at it.  We have worked some Fridays.  We have had stretches of financial worries and other trivial worries.  It is a constant struggle.  But we are making the effort.  And perhaps, over time, we will become proficient at it.  With managing your time, it comes down to this:  There are choices and there are consequences.  What choices are you going to make?  How are you going to spend your remaining days?

Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford discusses death as a motivator.  Look just after 9 minutes and listen as he talks about his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.   It’s an eye opener.


We are all dying.  We are all marching toward death.  What are you  going to choose to see along the way?

Beyond Partnering: How to Create High Performing Teams on Projects

November 13, 2014

blue angels


Traditional partnering sessions are a waste of time and money. Period. I have developed a methodology that goes beyond the traditional partnering session and contributes to the success of all of the project stakeholders and the project. Here is the step-by-step process:

  1. We start with an introduction to emotional intelligence and the basics of beyond partnering. Everyone learns what emotional intelligence is, how it can be measured and improved, and how it relates to project and personal success. We also introduce the concept of physical well-being and the mind-body connection and how it affects emotional, physical, and mental performance, which contribute to project success.
  2. Project team members take the EQi 2.0 evaluation and Symptom Survey (physical evaluation). We will take the project team through their results and how it affects team dynamics, communication, stress management, relationships, and ultimately, personal, professional, and project success.
  3. Each project team member will create their own personal, professional, health, and project goals. While we are in this process, it’s a good time to focus on areas in the project stakeholders’ lives that they want to change-finances, health, a new hobby, quitting smoking, eating better, etc. We will take the group through project goals so that everyone is clear on the overall goals and how their personal goals and company goals tie into this entire process. We will also discuss the basics of communication, roles, and responsibilities for each project stakeholder and company. We will set metrics for project success and measure these throughout the project.
  4. This preliminary work will give participants a better understanding of themselves, their limitations, and what to work on. We also do some initial exercises to set a baseline. One is called the Four Quadrants. Participants divide a piece of flip chart paper into four quadrants and label them family, this project, personal, and future vision. At the top, they put their name and their favorite piece of music. At the bottom, they put some of their challenges for the project, personally, and professionally. This is a great exercise. It breaks down barriers and creates a lot of emotional threads among the participants. We keep this information for each individual forever so we can check in occasionally to see what has changed.
  5. We also have them write a letter to themselves dated the last day of the project that lists all of their accomplishments that they have attained as a result of the program as well as the results of the project. This future diary plants all of their accomplishments and project success in their subconscious so that even if they aren’t thinking about them consciously, they are still working on them. Recently, we have given the participants the option of making a mind movie, which is a visual future diary.
  6. There is much accountability built into this process.  We have cross function accountability partners.  For instance, the architect representative might be the accountability partner of a contractor’s project manager.  The owner’s representative might be the accountability partner of a superintendent.  They hold each other accountable throughout the course of the project.
  7. We also teach everyone how to coach each other.  There is a simple methodology where project stakeholders perform peer-to-peer coaching and group coaching, using the project as a backdrop and catalyst to help each other attain all of their goals and overcome any issues.
  8. We determine the group scores and address any group developmental needs as well as the project needs.
  9. We deliver learning modules spread throughout the project on various topics such as team-building, innovation, communication, relationships, stress management, time management, presentation skills, etc.  We create an atmosphere of learning, not an atmosphere of training. We also use the latest studies in neuroscience that tells us how people learn and retain information. We involve as many of the senses as possible during the learning process. We utilize reflective learning continually because repetition creates retention. We reflect each week we meet upon personal success and project success and measure the metrics that we have designated to determine progress.  These learning modules may also include areas specific to the project or group such as business strategies and vision. The programs we provide are truly customized to each individual, to each group, and to each company, and each project. And with minimal lecture and self-directed, experiential learning, activity-based learning, each program is truly unique.  This ongoing learning and checking in ensures success of individuals and the project.
  10. It is our experience that these leadership programs that we do for individual companies create a lot of closeness and trust and high performing teams.  We have taken the outcome and now applied it to projects.  When we apply this same methodology to projects, we create high performing teams and successful projects that go beyond partnering.


Zen and the Art of Dementia

September 25, 2014


Scan 2014-8-21 0019-1


There are many horrible things about dementia and my mother’s mental and physical decline.  She can’t walk any more.  She sleeps most of the day.  She can’t remember things.  She still remembers me and my brothers, but can’t remember details of her life and the other people in it.  She can’t carry on detailed conversations any more.   That is the downside of dementia.

But there is something else that we are experiencing with this decline.  With dementia comes a send of mindfulness.  Mom is totally in the moment.  She is not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.  Each week, my brothers and I meet for brunch, then stop by Quick Trip to buy Mom an ice cream.  When we arrive, she is so happy to see us.  Genuinely happy.  In the moment.   There are still glimpses of the mother I grew up with, and those glimpses are always “in the moment” moments.

She still can be very funny, cracking jokes here and there, playing off something that we said.  Mom and Dad were always having fun.  Check out the picture to the left.  When she eats her ice cream, she is totally focused on it, telling us how good it is and savoring every bite.  She eats it like a child with simplicity and full engagement.

But the most astounding in the moment moment is when there is music in the air.  There is a church group that comes once a month to her assisted living place, and they always start with several hymns.  When they try to hand Mom a hymn book, we tell them that she doesn’t need it.  She knows every word to every verse to every hymn they sing.  Of course, she grew up in the church and played piano for years.  And that part of her brain is completely intact.  When the music starts, she is completely in the moment, singing not only the words, but the harmony.  Wow!

I could dwell on the loss of Mom’s memory and her physical decline or I could be in the moment with her and cherish those “in the moment” moments.  It’s a decision.  And this not only goes for my time with her.  This goes for all of the folks I come into contact with every single day.  Are you in the moment, fully engaged, fully present with the people you come into contact with?  Or are you checking your phone, your texts, Facebook, email, or some other technology that only pulls you away from the present?  The choice is definitely yours.

How to Create Sustainable Change: Have a Plan A, B and C

July 10, 2014

changeAt the beginning of our programs, all participants create development plans.  Many times these plans are grand in nature.  I’ve seen things like “I’m going to run a marathon.”  or “I’m going to do an Iron Man Triathlon.”  or “I’m going to work out EVERY DAY!”  These are amazing goals to have.  And I applaud these participants for allowing themselves to dream big.  At the same time, some of these folks are starting from nothing.  They are doing no exercise at all and yet their goal is to do an Iron Man.  For those folks, we tell them to start small and always have a plan A, B, and C.

Plan A may be to train for the Iron Man.  Plan B may be to run three times a week.  Plan C may be to walk every day for 10 minutes at lunch.  Another example is:  Plan A is to work out every day.  Plan B is to work out three times per week.  Plan C is to do 25 push ups in the morning.  While these lofty goals are admirable, sometimes they can be discouraging.  When the participants don’t accomplish these goals, they feel like failures.  And they are not failures.

Real, lasting, sustainable change comes from tiny things done consistently.  If you can choose to eat right most days, if you can commit to walk for 10 to 20 minutes most days, if you can commit to meditate or manage your stress well most days, you are going to create some amazing, lasting changes in your life.

So have those lofty goals, and always have a plan B and C to fall back on and do those consistently.