Category Archives: Listening

ADHD and Project Management

“If you’re in [project] management and find yourself frustrated by a talented employee who is undermined by seemingly inexplicable but persistent behavioral issues, it’s possible there’s a specific reason for it. He or she may have ADD/ADHD.” (Victor Lipman, Forbes Online, 10/02/2012 and 9/3/2014)


How do you deal with ADHD in project management situations? I would like to hear back from people with this experience, as I better formulate my approach to helping people in bio-medical technology companies improve their project successes.

Have you had a project team member with ADHD? As either a project manager or team member, what helped you to help them focus better? Are you a project manager with ADHD? How has your ADHD been an asset, a strength you can build on? What techniques have most successfully enabled you to overcome obstacles that ADHD might otherwise drop in your path?


An explosion of color

An explosion of color

Ten years ago it was estimated that about 4% of the adult population has ADHD; that they are 18 times more likely to be disciplined and 2 – 4 times more likely to be terminated. A 2012 study estimated that 83% of the costs of ADHD were incurred by adults.

Our society, our economic world is clearly diagnosable as having ADHD. No sooner is one task thrown at someone, than a new one slides down the chute. (Changed, but hopefully consistent, metaphors.) “Multi-tasking” is expected, but entails constant distraction and usually comes with a continually changing, uncertain and inconsistent set of priorities.

Noise and clutter are everywhere.

Project Management

Successful project management requires a healthy tension between following structure and having the flexibility to respond to uncertainty; between, on the one hand, being a “good team member” and following directions and, on the other hand, being creative at solving new problems.

We know that the foundation for good project management is a thoughtful preparation to fall back on when the inevitable problems of time, design, resources and compatibility crop up.

Structure; Flow

Structure; Flow

Goals must be kept specific and realistic. Project managers and team members need systems, discipline and focus to manage the workload.

Project managers have to decide when the result is “good enough” – often (usually?) not perfect by theoretical standards, but meeting something like 80% of the original expectations, with a clear understanding of the costs and benefits of the tradeoffs that have been made.


Someone with ADHD lives with the often uncomfortable marriage of a strong individual task focus + distractability; has to learn to systematically chunk larger goals into smaller goals and declutter their agenda; to steadily problem solve their way through uncertain, unclear situations.

Someone with ADHD may find it difficult to juggle the management of diverse (and always ambiguous) personalities with managing the team’s task list, all while upper management and stakeholders may be trying to change both project scope and overall priorities. Project management may challenge someone with ADHD to be very politic in what they share, when and with whom. They may need to find ways to develop charisma and good, attentive listening skills to win over team members and stakeholders; to develop partnerships; and to create enough space for the team to succeed.

It seems to me that the things an adult with ADHD has to get good at are precisely the things that make for successful project management.

What are my strengths?

What are my strengths?

But I don’t know. I would like to hear from you about your experience.

A few additional references:, “Over 60 Tools For Focused Action”, “10 Ways To Boost Productivity At Work”, “7 Facts You Need To Know About ADHD”

Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publications, “Mental health problems in the workplace,” 2/1/2010

Attention Deficit Disorder Association, “Workplace Committee,” 2015, “Succeeding in the Workplace”, “5 Power Shifts You Can’t Succeed In Business Without,” 2015, “Six Common Planning Mistakes Adults with ADHD Make: (and how to fix them),” 2010

The Value of Unstructured Data

Paul Hake, a predictive and advanced analytics specialist with IBM’s Healthcare Analytics team, discusses the emergence of cognitive computing and how it can be applied to healthcare. Paul specializes in data mining and machine learning and has 14 year’s experience designing and implementing analytics solutions in the Healthcare and Life Sciences Industries.

As part of the Medical Development Insights series on URBN, I interviewed Paul about the intersection between “big data” and healthcare. Currently, “structured data” (easily quantifiable, often seen as checkboxes on forms) dominates the healthcare data field. However, “unstructured data” (narrative information) may contain some of the most important information for understanding, diagnosing and treating patients.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Several key quotes from this interview:

  • A lot of the useful, powerful data . . . is not captured in the structured data.”
  • 70% of the determinants of your health is behavioral.”

Improving Global Health

I interviewed Beverly Brown for Medical Development Insights on the UR Business Network. Beverly is Director of Development for the Center for Global Health & Development (CGHD) at Boston University. She joined the Center for Global Health & Development at Boston University in 2010 to lead the effort to diversify the funding for programs, people, and projects. She is primarily focused on diversifying funding for global health initiatives, life science research and development.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Once again, it became clear in the interview how important bedrock project management principles can be: listening to the local community to hear their needs and how they describe their needs; planning; scheduling; budgeting; preparing a business model for sustained success.

Ingenuity of the Bionic Ear : Cochlear Implants

Sam Silberman has had a hearing problem since he was a young child. His parents got him a hearing aid early on, and as he grew he replaced his hearing aids with ever newer hearing aids. But in 1999 he did something transformational for himself: he had a cochlear implant. From somewhat indistinct sound and speech, he immediately leapt to clear sound and increasingly clear speech. Today you wouldn’t know he has a hearing problem unless he told you.

With my co-host, Kevin Franck, I interviewed Sam and we explored his journey from deaf child to Senior Area Manager for Cochlear Americas, the global leader in bionic hearing devices.

Click hear to listen to the interview.

Management Mistakes In the Ebola Hot Zone

Every project starts with a worthy goal. Unfortunately we often then assume that all reasonable people will accept the initiative. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa poignantly illustrates how that can go wrong – badly and fatally – even in something as important as health care.


Once it was recognized that the epidemic was Ebola (in March 2014), the international community’s response was “rapid and comprehensive – exactly what you would hope.” But therein lay the seeds of an even worse explosion of cases a few months later – making the West Africa Ebola epidemic the worst ever. “The foreigners had come so fast that they had actually out-run their own messaging: there were trucks full of foreigners in yellow space suits motoring into villages to take people into isolation before people understood why isolation was necessary. . . . [I]solation centers [were] a one-way maze [where] relatives and friends went in and then you lost them.”

images-4Rumors then started about organ harvesting at the hands of rich foreigners. As fear itself became “a contagion,” people ran from, hid from and attacked health workers. They stopped cooperating – and as they fled their ancestral homes in fear, the disease spread unseen into other, farther outlying villages.

What does this horrific story have to do with project management in our everyday workplaces?

Well, it sets out in stark relief the unforeseen collapse of some of our best intended interventions.

If we were to replay the West Africa Ebola response, what might we do differently?

  • Realize that no matter how noble and important the effort, no problem solving will be effective without engagement of and clear communication with the affected parties.

  • Engage local champions – “drivers,” people with real credibility – to understand and explain the effort.

  • Surface and candidly address rumors. You just can’t afford to disdain and ignore viewpoints you consider irrational.

  • Have the humility to listen to the people’s experience, their concerns and fears, and cast your proposed solution in those terms – and modify it accordingly.

The source of all quotes is “Hell In the Ebola Hot Zone,” by Jeffrey E. Stern, Vanity Fair, October 2014, one of 2 excellent articles in this issue with clear implications for how we handle important problems – and ourselves – in this brave new world. I will be commenting on the other – “Anatomy of an Airliner Crash,” by William Langewiesche – in my next post.

The “New Sheriff In Town” Syndrome


New leaders in an organization can bring a blush of new life, new beginnings. But they can also mean the arrival of the squelching of current staff, their ideas, their creativity.

Call it the “There’s a new sheriff in town” syndrome.

When there is a new leader, it often represents some dissatisfaction with the approach of the former leader. So a new beginning is desired! Great! New ideas. Different perspectives. An understanding of shifting priorities, meeting customer demands and expectations that may have been disappointed in prior times. This could be the birth or re-birth of innovations and insights that have percolated within the organization for some time.

The danger comes when the new leader sweeps in with the perception of a mandate that says, “What has been in place has not worked, and you need to fix it.” Certainly some of the things that have been in place have not been optimal, but the new leader has to bring their perspective, their expertise, their background to bear on a situation that includes some hard work and successes that many people in the organization are justly proud of. Before new precepts issue forth from the executive suite, it is important to listen and hear what the existing expertise in the organization is and what has been learned.

One of the worst violations of the existing bank of knowledge possessed by staff occurs when those at the top countermand what line staff has been doing because “We are not meeting customer needs.” That may be true, but the executive needs to be careful about defining who “the customer” is in these circumstances. It is likely that the executive is talking to other top level executives about what they need and want. Again, that may yield true and very important information about new imperatives; but middle managers and line staff in one organization are usually working with middle managers and line staff in another organization, and their experience may yield equally important information about what is working, what is breaking down, and where fixes to those problems are most likely to occur.

New sheriffs seldom enjoy access to the informants who provide necessary intelligence to get work done most effectively. New leaders should lead, and leadership always includes a huge component of listening well, carefully and at all levels.