Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Innovation - Not Always all it's Cracked Up to Be


People sing the praises of innovation like it's going to save the world, answer all our problems and grow our markets. There's only one problem, there isn't necessarily a correlation between innovation and growth. Let me give you an example.

The Japanese cell phone maker, Sharp, is currently selling the Aquos 912SH. It comes with an LCD screen that swivels 90 degrees, GPS, a bar-code reader (for researching and comparing products), digital TV, credit card functionality, video conferencing, a camera and it is unlocked by facial recognition.

It is an amazingly innovative phone that is years ahead of anything else, all except for one problem - they can't sell them anywhere outside of Japan. For years Japanese phones have innovated ahead of the world. In 1999 they had cameras, 3G networks in 2001, full music downloads in 2002, electronic payment in 2004 and digital TV in 2005. And what has all their innovation got them? Squat.

Japan has innovated at least 5 years ahead of the US and their market is shrinking. They've developed standards the rest of the world is not adopting. Innovation is only beneficial if there are growing markets that are demanding your innovations. Next time someone starts prattling on about how great innovation is, ask them why their not buying the most innovative cell phones in the world?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Can Software Save Money in Health Care?

Phillip Longman has an article Code Red in the Washington Monthly talking about how to make health care more cost effective. James Kwak provides an excellent summary of the points in the always informative "Baseline Scenario".
  1. The health care cost problem is largely caused by overtreatement.
  2. The answer is software: "Almost all experts agree that in order to begin to deal with these problems, the health care industry must step into the twenty-first century and become more computerized."
  3. Software implementation projects can go horribly, horribly wrong.
  4. The solution is open-source software.
Point one makes sense, but there is no reason to believe that software will solve this problem. If anything, software will make the problem worse. Why?

Computerization is like paving the cow path. People gather requirements, find ways to do things more efficiently and then, ideally, implement software systems to do this. i.e. they pave the cow path. So now cows move more quickly, one has more visibility to where they are and more people can interact with them in more ways. How will this reduce cost?

Someone is in a medical facility for a certain period of time. Paving the cow path will enable fifty people to interact with them as opposed to five. So now fifty people can over treat and over bill as opposed to five. And anybody believes this is going to reduce overtreatement and cost?

It's like trying to trap a mouse in a house of cheese.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What Kind of Rock Band is Your Team?

Rock bands accomplish different things. The people and their personalities determine the structures and working arrangements. If the structure is right for the personalities involved, the band will probably be successful for a long time - think U2. If the structures and working relationships are not right - think The Police, it probably won't work, no matter how successful you are.

Does your team resemble any of these bands?

U2 - This band has one superstar and three supporting members. This is not to say that all members don't contribute, but one of them is a superstar and the other three are not. What is interesting is that the superstar has never shown an interest in leaving the team, working separately or conflicting with the team. Also, other members have never shown jealousy or resentment. What are the structures and working relationships necessary to keep the superstar and other team members happily engaged? Are you using them?

The Beatles - This band had two superstars and two supporting members. The competition delivered some amazing deliverables, but it also destroyed them. If you have a competitive group that produces great deliverables, maybe it's best to cultivate the competition, enjoy the outputs and move on when the gig is over.

The Chieftains - This group had no easily recognizable members, rotated people through and delivered the goods for 40 years. If you have a group that is founded around a good idea, consistently produces and has the structures to rotate personal for many years, maybe it's best to keep tuning the instruments and letting them make music.

The Police - This band grew to be the biggest band in the world and yet the members personal animosities were so great that they couldn't find a way to stay together. No matter how successful a group is, if the members can't get along there's nothing that can entice them to work together. Have you ever traded off relationships for success? I have and it didn't work for me either.

Jane's Addiction - This band got itself together, produced an amazing album and song and then fell apart. Much as people have tried to put them back together again and recapture the magic, maybe it's better to enjoy it for what it was, enjoy what they delivered and move on.

Most project teams I've been on resembled Jane's Addiction more than any other. They were good for what they were, accomplished what could be accomplished and never successfully got back together again. Maybe their biggest hit was prophetic: Been Caught Stealing

Whatever team you're putting together, do the structures and working relationships match the personalities and goals?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

He who shall not be named


Have you been on a team where one person had an idea they were so passionate about, it almost prevented other discussion? A situation where you could name the person and everyone knew just what you were talking about or you could introduce the topic by saying "He who shall not be named."

We extole passion in classes and in theoritical discussion. We say "It changes the world." We link it to great athletes. How often do we enjoy it everywhere but in our own realities? Isn't it easier to deal with the reasonable, the level-headed and the practical rather than the passionate?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Newspapers and Their Changing Environment


A lot of people are complaining that newspapers are dieing.  That's not completely true.  Newspapers with an advertising based revenue model are dieing.  Companies that didn't depend upon that model are not.  Consumer Reports, Stratfor and Seeking Alpha didn't choose to follow that model, and they are doing fine.

What happened is that newspapers grew up in a particular business environment, did well and expanded.  A couple things changed that are contributing to their problems.  The economic environment changed and newspapers were/are too big to be supported by their revenue model.  This economic environment changed necessitates a business change that newspapers do not want to accept.  If newspapers were a quarter their current size, their revenue model would be fine.  For people running newspapers, that is not an acceptable solution.

The Roman's had a saying, "Times change, we change with them."  Until people running Newspapers are willing to change, they will continue to bleed a slow death.  More interestingly, other organizations, the Stratfor's, the Seeking Alpha's etc. will emerge and offer a better product with a sustainable business model that is aligned with the new economic environment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Alignment in IT Management


Glenn Whitfield over at his excellent blog IT Business Alignment ask an interesting question CIO, 
No Leader Wanted. While I agree with a lot of what Glenn says, here is asking about alignment and 
alignment is a management issue. Is everybody going in the same direction? Leaders, by definition, do not go in the same direction as others.

My point isn’t to get into an argument about semantics, but one of direction. Company ‘leaders’ need a little management. When there are good times and everyone is flush with cash, it is easier to let people go in their own direction and not worry about the trade offs. We have had almost 25 years where that has been true and discussions were about possibilities that could recover any cost. That time is gone.

Now, discussions will be about trade offs. How much is something going to cost, where is the money going to come from and what has to be cut to pay for the project we go forward with. Many projects (over 60%) need to be cut. Considerations will revolve around what are the core initiatives that will move the business forward as a successful, ongoing enterprise. Those are the ones that will be funded. That will drive alignment.

Cutting 60% of the projects means people will not be spread so thin and the projects will actually succeed. Successful people will be judged on their ability to make projects succeed, not the possibilities they promise. Also, it means that many of the people with their own agendas will be corralled. Finances will dictate that there will be much more alignment than there is today.

Understanding what’s of core importance to the business and how to deliver it efficiently and effectively will be the calling card of the successful CIO. The successful executive CIO will talk about ROI and NPV in analyzing which project go forward aligned with the business.  ROI and how project will be paid for and pay for itself are what need to be discussed. That is what leads to alignment. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

What happens if the Dog Catches the Car?

This is a copy of the blog post I did for the Silicon Valley "Art of Project Management" Blog.

dog-chasing-carI grew up in a rural area.  Rural enough that dogs chased cars.  Extraordinarily enough, the dogs never caught the cars.  In fact, they never got close.  It was good sport.  The dog felt very fulfilled, barked aggressively and made sure to never come close to catching the car.  As best as I can recall, the car was never affected by the ordeal.

How many of us catch the whiff of opportunity, chase after a new opportunity without stopping to consider the ramifications if we get it?  I know I've cursed my luck for not getting a position, and jealously watch someone else get sucked down a drain.  The ironic thing is how often the first person to win a great opportunity flame out.  Either because the lacked the skills or because expectations got so carried away, no one could hope to succeed.  That's the dog who caught the car.

So the next time you see that great opportunity and begin bargining your life away, think about whether it's worth the tradeoffs necessary.  Think about whether you have the skills and abilities to make the choice pay off.  Think about whether you want to be the dog that catches the car.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Project Management and the Prisoner's Dilemma

This is a copy of the blog post I did for the Silicon Valley "Art of Project Management" Blog.

prisonersdilemmaHave you ever been on a project or program where all the PMs knew that their project was in trouble, but they were waiting for someone else to admit their problems first?  It happens often enough, as soon as one PM admits that they have a problem, everyone else discovers problems too.


The Prisoner's Dilemma

From the PM's position, it's a version of the Prisoner's Dilemma.  In the Prisoner's Dilemma, two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full twenty-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only one-year in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation.

How should the prisoners act?

The Project Manager's Dilemma

So you're managing a project, doing your best, but you made a mistake and need more time with a critical resource.  The problem is, there is another project that need this same person.  

You are putting together your status report.  You know the economy's bad and the rumors are all over.  The company's going to have cuts and people are going to get laid off.  

  • If you confess your need for the resource and the other PM doesn't confess, your project will get the resource and safely go on. 
  • If you confess your need and other PM also confesses their need, there's going to be an evaluation and both projects will lose people and be put at risk.
  • If you don't confess and the other PM does, he will get the resource and succeed and you and your team will be fired.
  • If neither of you confess and wrangles on quietly for the resource, both projects will probably be late, but they will succeed.  There might be some people cut, but both PMs will keep their job.

What are you going to do?

Are You the One-Eyed Man in the Land of the Blind or The Blind Leading the Blind?

This is a copy of the blog post I did for the Silicon Valley "Art of Project Management" Blog.

Have you ever asked yourself this question?  I have.  There were times I thought I was sure I knew what our team had to do and how to get there.  Then there were other times when we were making progress against our plan, but the project wasn't progressing.   I've most often encountered this when business people overseeing the project become frustrated with the lack of tangible benefits.

The One-Eyed Man in the Land of the Blind

Working on projects, this is the best feeling in the world.  Once you get the taste of this feeling, you're hooked on project work for life.  The mystical experience of talking with people prior to a release or implementation, knowing that you are going to provide capabilities that people cannot imagine.  

You talk to them, explain how they will know things they cannot find out today.  Then one day, there's a demo where the abstract idea becomes a visible reality.  Something they couldn't imagine becomes something they can't live without.  

A couple months after the release and people are not able to imagine how they did their jobs before.  It's almost as empowering as learning to read.  [Editor: and that wasn't so long ago for you, was it?]

The Blind Leading the Blind

Then there is the other scenario, where one side is "showing" progress while teams are frantically trying to figure something out.  Sort of like a magician draws your attention to one spot, while the real work is going on somewhere else.  I've often thought learning magic tricks would be excellent training for Project Managers.  The trick of disappearing from certain meetings or being in two places at the same time.  Either one would make project life much better.

So for what you're doing right now, are you the one-eyed man in the land of the blind or the blind leading the blind?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Are You a Seeker or a Dwarf?

This is a copy of the blog post I did for the Silicon Valley "Art of Project Management" Blog.

dwarfWhen Project Managers and others work on projects, they often consider themselves enlightened seekers.  People seeking new and better ways to do things.  They are often frustrated by those not eagerly embracing the changes.  Let's call them dwarfs; people who are not on a journey, but who have the knowledge and almost magical power to make a project succeed or fail.  Dwarfs are often more critical to the success of the project than the seeker or anyone else might expect.  I contend that to succeed, you have to be both.  Sometimes you need seekers and sometimes you need dwarfs.

Now, this is not the terminology of PMI or Lean or Agile or PRINCE2.  It is older wisdom, articulated by the first Project Management advisors, the Brothers Grimm in 1819.  In The Water of Life, they articulated how to achieve project success under the most trying of circumstances.  

A Brief Retelling of The Water of Life

The king (CEO) was troubled.  A great malaise gripped the land and infected him.  New directions and ideas were needed, but who could help?  He called his three princes (favorite PMs) together to look for solutions.  The kingdom's future depended upon the success of the undertaking.  The company needed The Water of Life to survive.

The first prince stepped forward with a plan that could be implemented quickly.  It would be costly, but he was bringing in the best and brightest to assist on the new strategy.  He had detailed project schedules, maps to success and visionary PowerPoints.  The king was hesitant, but blessed the undertaking and sent him forth.

The prince and his beautifully dressed and highly compensated, expert consultants set out, executing his plan "Seeking The Water of Life".  As they set off, they came upon a dwarf who asked what the commotion was all about?  The prince responded that they were on a mission to save the land, to seek the Water of Life.  You are either with us or against us.  The dwarf mumbled something about daily requirements, but the seekers were so enthralled with visions of The Water of Life, that they couldn't waste their time.  There were no tasks for taking on the dwarf's daily dawdle.  So they hurried off, seeking The Water of Life.

The dwarf, frustrated at their not understanding the importance of his daily dawdle watched them ride into blind canyon.  This canyon had enticing valleys, but while the valleys looked promising and the road out of the canyon closed in behind them.  Trapped, with the canyon walls closing in around them, the seekers couldn't even get cell phone reception, as the mountains blocked the signals and they were never heard from again.

The second son had used the time while his older brother was away to plot his own path to the kingship and had put together his plan for saving the kingdom.  This he presented to the king.  The prince's arguments were good and he promised to be agile and communicate constantly to the king.  

He was given a smaller budget and tighter deadlines as he set off to seek The Water of Life.  Due to his constant communications with his customer's, who were paying for his endeavor, he barely noticed the dwarf as he rushed past.  The dwarf called out, but watched him continuously communicate himself into the quicksand.  Hopelessly trapped and sinking, the prince yelled frantically at the dwarf, but the dwarf, turning back to his daily dawdle, chuckled as the high and mighty sunk beneath him.

The third son, who hadn't prepared plans because he was busy with the details of running the kingdom, came forward and said he would seek The Water of Life.  The king was skeptical.  There was no vision. There were no schedules.  There was no map to the water.  The son resonded that no one knew where The Water of Life was, so how could they map a path there?  

The third son set out and when he came upon the dwarf, the dwarf asked where he was going.  The son said he was seeking The Water of Life and would welcome any help the dwarf could give.  The dwarf, touched that someone recognized and took the time to listen to him, replied that he knew where the water of life flowed.  The prince asked if he could help him get there?  Yes, responded the dwarf.  The journey is long, but as you have taken the time to ask and listen to me, I will help you get the Water of Life.  And with the dwarf's help, the son set out on a different path.  One no one else would have taken, seeking the water of life.

I urge you to read the der Brüder Grimm for the details of how the journey turned out.   There are riches, beautiful princesses and all the rewards a seeker could hope for.  But before you go, please think about when you are a seeker and when you are a dwarf?


Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Credit Crisis Explained

I love this explaination.  Intuitive, understandable and accurate even at the level it's presented it.  Less is more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Three Degrees of Separation


Pawel Brodzinski opened an interesting discussion about why executive management seems to be disconnected.  I responded with my previous post and both Pawel and Josh responded.  My perspective of why executive management seems detached is different from theirs, because I believe we approach the whole topic from different philosophical perspectives.  In my last post, I outlined management from the ground up.  This time I'll set my contextual perspective and then describe management from the top down.

Why Businesses Came into Existence
My outlook on business derives from why businesses first appeared and why they were structured the way they were.  The modern corporation came started in Britain in the early seventeenth century, when wealthy, land owning nobleman  realized that if they gave up a portion of their capital and entrusted it to an organized group of intelligent, motivated and hungry workers, they could make themselves much wealthier. However, to make sure that these workers didn't run off with their money, they set up structures and oversight and put two or three of their own people, the executives, in charge of running their businesses.  

The CEO, CFO and Chief Legal Council could be put in and with little background experience in the particulars of the business, they could ensure capital was effectively deployed, dividends were paid.  They did not have to know the working details in order to effectively manage it.  

Few businesses had over 500 people and with three people, the business structures were created so that skills and goals could be organized into departments to make the work most effective.  The people in those departments (operations, sales, accounting etc.) needed to know the details of their area, but those people could be promoted from within the ranks.

So Why Do You Say Executives Are Different? (Degree of Separation One)
An executive's responsibility is to people outside the business.  Whether it's Board Meetings, sitting on Boards of other companies to create synergies, conducting financial analyst conference calls, meeting with bankers or participating in closing large sales; their focus is external to the business.  When they allocate their time, depending upon the type of business, 30 to 60% of their time is devoted to people external to the business.  

The Importance of Structures (Degree of Separation Two)
This is as it should be.  Within departments, there are managers, usually several layers of them.  One problem with setting up structures is that if you don't respect the structure, you render it useless.  As an executive, if you say something to someone at a lower level in the business that contradicts what their manager has told them, you have rendered the structure ineffective.  

The difficulty for an executive is that they don't know what mid level managers have said.  They can't check with them every time someone asks them a question.  So what are they going to do?  Either, they limit access to pleasantries in the hallway and large company events or they find themselves pulled into the quicksand of internal management that they are paying mid-level managers to do.  Additionally, they then cannot focus 30 to 60% of their time to parties external to the business that need attention if the business is going to continue to grow.

Where They Come From (Degree of Separation Three)
It's a taboo subject, but there are classes in the US.  Historically, less than 20% of the population went to university.  A university degree from an elite institution was a clear socioeconomic indicator.  Even though the number of people going to university has increased tremendously, your college degree still largely determines who you'll work with, who your friends will be and the jobs you'll take.

If you graduate from Yale or Harvard or Princeton or Stanford, you'll enter the business world in a way and level that will determine much of your future career.  If you graduate from a state university, that will also determine the way, level and expectations people will hold of you.

Very few people start in the proverbial mail room and work their way up to executive.  I'm not saying that it never happens, but it is pointed out as news when it happens specifically because it is so uncommon.

Those are three degrees of separation that make executives seem distant.  They have different responsibilities, different structural concerns and different background and expectations.  

This is why I think inquiries into alignment are so interesting.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Are Corporate Executives Clueless?


Pawel Brodzinski brings up some excellent points in his blog about why top management often seems disconnected from what's happening in their businesses.  While he might be right that they are disconnected, I don't believe they are as disconnected as some think and that there are good reasons they never seem to be available.

In my experience, executives have very time constrained schedules and rarely ever know more about the details of what is happening than the people working for them. This is not a cut on executives, it is reality. Let me explain why I say this.

When an someone comes into a company, they are brought in to do a particular thing. Maybe it's technical, maybe its not, but at some level, junior employees are brought in to lay bricks. Determining who's productive and who's not is as easy as counting the number of bricks they lay.

Our brick layer is productive and get's promoted. He's now managing 10 brick layers. It's still very easy to determine if he's productive. But now, let's promote him one more time. He's now managing 10 people who are in turn managing 10 other people. You can see it's a little more difficult to judge productivity, but his job is still focused around laying bricks. He is in middle management and is still responsible to know about brick laying. But let's promote him one more time.

Now our man is an executive. One of his departments lays bricks, but he's overseeing 5 other departments. One digs moats, another mines stones for the bricks, another ships the bricks, another handles the international taxes involved in importing bricks and exporting castles and then there's this other god awful depart that does something called IT.

Our executive might have experience in one area, brick laying, but he is responsible and really needs to focus his time and attention on the four other areas. And when people working for him come to him to make decision, they spend all their life in the details and give him a 5 minute summary from which he has to make decisions consequential to the business about an area where he's had 5 minutes of preparation. And there are 10 other things going on that he needs to prepare for.

Most executives would love nothing better than to be able to focus on things they know about and build deep relationships with people whose knowledge and dedication are crucial to the company. Unfortunately, that is not reality for executives in large companies that I've seen.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Do You Really Want to Insist on "The Best"


There is a myth that people always want "the best". I think the sales culture pushes this, because "the best" is usually the most costly, both in terms of dollars and personal energy.  

When I was still associated with the Military, there was a rule of thumb that 60% of the cost delivered the last 5% of performance. That's what the best costs you. The reality is that people generally want what's "good enough". Email, blogs, PHP, Visual Basic and duck tape are all examples of where "good enough" does just fine, thank you.  

I am a big fan of "good enough" for personal reasons. I am probably not "the best" lover, but fortunately I'm "good enough"...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is Your Project like Afghanistan?


The US faces a problem in Afghanistan.  How to define victory?  If you increase spending and resouces, how do you measure their effectivness?  If you decide you want to end the engagement, how do you do get out?

Have you found yourself in this position on projects?  I have.  The project has totally lost sight of what success would be.  All sorts of interium measure are created to show "progress", but no one really knows to what.  Many of the people working on the project have no where to go if the project is cancelled, so their main goal is keeping the project going.  Going in the frantic circle of showing progress, the project becomes more and more of a death march with the progress made becoming smaller and smaller.  Interestingly, the gap between what is reported and what is reality often becomes larger and larger.  

Do you recognize this situation?

There are really only two questions:
  1. How do you end it?
  2. How do you keep yourself from ever getting in that position again?
How will it end?  The ending is painful.  People are going to have to find new positions, little corporate "white lies" have to be exposed, and if the project is large enough, some people probably leave the company.  It started so well and went so wrong.  I wish there were an easy way to do it, but there isn't.

How to keep yourself from getting into that position again?  There are two steps one can take.
  1. Set up SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievabe, Realistic and Timebased) deliverables. 
  2. Create contingency plans or exits at major deliverables.  If a project can't reach the deliverable, there is a known way it will end.
These are simple and doable.  Are there other ways people have found to avoid Afghanistan Projects?

Monday, February 2, 2009

What is Work? 3 Levels of Work

Physics defines:
Work = (Force or Energy) * (Distance)

In the work world, it means we must apply energy to something and move it in the direction the business needs it to go.  If we take the simple example of building a building, hopefully I can articulate my three levels clearly.

3 Levels of Work
  1. Work - This is energy applied to building the building.  For example: digging foundations, putting up girders, building walls etc.
  2. Support Work - This is energy applied to things which are necessary to build the building, but they do not infact help building the building.  For exmple: buying insurance, filing government paperwork, corporate negotiations, buying office supplies etc.
  3. Make Believe - This is energy applied to things that are not involved in building the building or in support of building the building.  People might make believe this is necessary to building buildings, but infact it is not necessary.  
How can you tell if what you're doing is work, support work or make believe?

Imagine there's a dail that measures how complete the building is.  Before the building starts and before anything happens, the dial is at zero.  When the building is completed and ready for people to walk in the door, the dial is at one hundred.  You measure the amount of work you actually do by how much you move that dial from zero to one hundred.

If, no matter how much energy you apply, you are not moving the dial or supporting someone moving the dial, then you are doing make believe.  

If the energy you apply moves the dial, then you are doing work.

If the energy you apply supports or enables someone to do work, then you are doing support work.

Are you moving the dial and working or supporting or are you make believing?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Not Going to Davos


In keeping the austerity of our times, I also sent in my apologies saying that I didn't think it would be appropriate for me to go to Davos.

Questions a Change Agent Ought to Ask


Susan Cramm of Harvard presents interesting questions from the new HBR article "How Project Leaders Can Overcome the Crisis of Silence."  We are all familar with the type of statistics persented, that 70% of IT-enabled business initiatives fail or fall short of expectations.  The authors try to get project leaders to engage in five conversations to gain greater insight into whether a project is going in the wrong direction:

  1. How often do you plan projects around how you would like the business to operate rather than the way it really operates?  How often are estimates and deadlines set using the PDOOMA methodology (PDOOMA - Pulled Directly Out Of My Ass)
  2. How often is the Project Sponsor drafted, un willing or uninterested?  I've written on this before "Project Manager: Right Person, Wrong Title" and unless the Project Sponsor is fully committed and powerful enough, there is no amount of project leadership, management or funds to make a project succeed.
  3. Are we faithful the the approval process?  How often do we follow a process when it's beneficial only to leave it when it's more expedient to cut corners?
  4. Are we honestly assessing our progress and risks?  How often do we put in work arounds, short cuts or make desperate efforts to complete a deadline knowing things have been left out?  How do we communicate the issue after it has happened?
  5. Are team members pulling their weight?  What can we do about it if someone isn't?
These are all discussions the project leadership should have.  Not only to gain insight into them, but also to find effective ways leaders can confess if the pressures of deadlines have forced them to take short cuts they would rather not have taken.





Sunday, January 25, 2009

Firms Urged to Try and Keep Staff

This story from the BBC should give everyone cause to pause.  While it came out a couple weeks ago, it only recently came up as part of discussions with UK personal.  While the idea is well meaning, the reality is that firms have to operate within budgets.  If they are not generating enough revenue, they cannot carry staff.  While no one enjoys laying people off, if cash-flow cannot cover expenses, choices must be made.  Even if they are driven by short-term thinking, if you cannot meet obligations, there is not long term.

Redundancies should be a "last resort" as firms trim costs in the economic downturn, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says.  Planning for recovery by keeping staff is a better approach, it added, saying an average redundancy costs employers £16,375 before any savings are made. 

The CIPD has put together a formula to estimate the financial cost of redundancy:
(n × r) + (x × h) + (x × t) + ny (h + t) + wz (p - n)
n = number of people made redundant
r = redundancy payments
x = number of people subsequently hired
h = hiring costs
y = percentage quitting post redundancy
t = induction/training cost
y = percentage quitting post redundancy
w= average monthly staff salary
z = percentage reduction in output per worker caused by lower morale
p = number of people employed prior to redundancies

Source: CIPD

Layoffs should be the last resort, but however compelling the equation is in theory, it doesn't change the difficult reality many firms face.  No one like making these types of decisions, but the decisions must be made.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Classifications of Knowledge


Pawel Brodzinski got me thinking more. [Editor: How can it be more, it's a first] The question is  what is taught or can be taught by PM organizations and what is learned.  Long before I can remember understanding it, someone beat into my head that there are four classifications of what we encounter:
  1. Data - This is everything available from what day it is, to footbal score to manuals skimmed through.
  2. Information - This is data that is relevant, for example that PMI stands from Project Management Institute and what can be taught about methodologies.
  3. Knowledge - This is the ability to use information in a meaningful way and must be learned.  For example, when you need to expend the effort to do risk and contingency analysis.  Someone can teach you what risk analysis is, but you have to learn when to do it and how long to keep doing it before it ceases to add value.
  4. Wisdom - This is the experience gained from executing projects where you should have done risk analysis and having suffered the consequences and also where you did risk analysis and it wasn't necessary.  Wisdom is the experience of having lived through the ramifications of knowledgeable decisions you made.
When I say there are limits to what you can get from PMI or any other framework or methodology, part of it is that you can only get data and information.  You must live through and experience projects to gain knowledge and be sufficiently tendorized to develop wisdom.

While it wasn't written about PM, anyone who has lived through the permutations and frustrations of projects can identify with the sentiment and understand of wisdom presented by William Blake (in 1796 or so) in The Wail of Enion from THE FOUR ZOAS” 

I am made to sow the thistle for wheat, the nettle for a nourishing dainty:
I have planted a false oath in the earth, it has brought forth a Poison Tree:
I have chosen the serpent for a counsellor, and the dog for a schoolmaster to my children.

I have blotted out from light and living the dove and nightingale,
And I have causèd the earthworm to beg from door to door:
I have taught the thief a secret path into the house of the just:
I have taught pale Artifice to spread his nets upon the morning
My heavens are brass, my earth is iron, my moon a clod of clay,
My sun a pestilence burning at noon, and a vapour of death in night. 

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song,
Or Wisdom for a dance in the street? No! it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath -- his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain. 

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun,
And in the vintage, and to sing on the wagon loaded with corn:
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season,
When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs: 

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements;
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter-house moan;
To see a God on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of Love in the thunderstorm that destroys our enemy's house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers. 

Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill, 
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, 
and the soldier in the field when the shatter'd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead:
It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity --
Thus would I sing and thus rejoice; but it is not so with me.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Concerns about Emphisis on Project Management Methodologies


Paul Ritchie at Crossderry Blog has pushed me to think more clearly about the structures and guidelines in various approaches to project management.  I'm not trying to downplay PMI or any other methodology. PM is an evolving discipline. The structures and guidelines put forth by PMI, CMMi, PRINCE2, ITIL etc are important and have personally helped me immensely. 

My concern is that the structures and guidelines of PM (Project Schedules, Risk Management etc.) are the easy parts. As so often happens, people focus the most attention on making the easy and quantifiable things easier. Often what is most important are the non-quantifiable things. For lack of a better word, judgment. Warren Bennis has a beautiful description of judgment, something like: 

Judgment is like the Yeti. You can see it's footprints, but you never see the Yeti. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, PM has been linked with technology.  For large IT implementations, it's indispensable. But I'm not sure that link is beneficial to its development as a management discipline. Talk to someone in the construction industry and they will tell you a totally different story about PM. Talk to a wheelman at a restaurant. The wheelman is the person who makes sure that everyone at a table gets their dinner at the same time and at the same temperature. Talk to someone in the movie industry about making a movie, and they will all tell very different stories about what is essentially project management. Wouldn't those insights do more to further the discipline of PM then the refinement and codification of the structures and guidelines of PM? 

Fortunately or unfortunately, the people who have the most interest in furthering the discipline of PM are the people who have based their careers around training, consulting and perfection of the mechanistic elements of PM. Those are all important skills, but they are skills that downplay the art and the judgment aspects of PM. From my experience, the more I see PM structures and guidelines, the fewer footprints I see from good judgment.

A perfect example of where structure and content are perfectly merged and judgement is totally missed is provided by America’s Finest News Source (The Onion) in Project Manager Leaves Suicide PowerPoint Presentation

Photo Credit: CG

Friday, January 16, 2009

How Do You Measure Time and Why?


Salvador Dali Time

The greeks measured time in two ways.  Chronos, the quantitative measure of seconds, minutes, hours and days and Kairos, the separation between two moments of important opportunity or discovery.

It’s easy to measure chronos, every project schedule does that with the help of every clock.  How many hours, days, weeks months will that task take?

Kairos moments of great advancement or great breakthroughs.  It’s no more possible to plan that then it is to plan when you’ll meet someone and fall in love.

Do we measure chronos and hope for kairos? 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Project Managers can Learn from Day Traders


Wall StreetA Little bit about Day Traders

In the world of financial services, day traders have existed since the first days of formalized markets.  What distinguishes a day trader is that they have to close out all their positions every night.  Meaning, they start with everything in cash in the morning and end with everything in cash at night.

So, if I’m a day trader and I start with $1,000,000 in the morning and after I close out all my positions I have $1,200,000, I made 20% on the day.  If this happened, I would be an extraordinarily happy person.

A day trader will make thousands of trades in the course of a day.  They watch what’s happening on the market and try to get a sense of the direction it is going in, and with this sense stay one step ahead of the market.

If they see a gap between the price someone wants to buy a stock at and the price someone else wants to sell a stock at, the day trader will try and fill that gap and make their profit in the process.  It is a very fast moving world where one succeeds figuring out what’s happening before other people do.  If you get it right, you can make a lot of money.  If you get it wrong, you lose a lot of money.  And every day, at the close of the day, you know the score.


What Project Managers can Learn from Day Traders

Project Managers try and makes sense of what is happening on a project.  They understand where the project is supposed to go, they try and understand where the project is going, and they try to fill the gap so the project goes in the right direction.

Things to think about:

  • If you had to close your position every day, how would it look?
  • If you resolved everything you did in the course of a day into one metric, like a day trader does money, what would that metric be?
  • Would you want everyone on the project and at the company to know that metric?
  • How would that change what you do?

Inquiring minds want to know…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Henry Ford would tell you, Methodologies (PMI, Agile, PRINCE2, etc.), like History, are Bunk


Dr. Martin Luther King used to end speechs by quoting a prayer from an old slave preacher.  It’s an apt description of approaches to projects today: “Lord, we ain’t what we want to be; we ain’t what we ought to be; we ain’t what we gonna be, but, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

On July 15 2008, PMI presented the finding of their four year, $3M study looking to see if project management added value. You can see their presentation here: PMI Presentation.  What did they find?  Dr. Janice Thomas and Mr Mark Mullaly found what most of us know; PM is messy, painful and immature, but what are the alternatives?

PMI, Agile and PRINCE2 all try and provide methodologies or frameworks to increase the chances of project success.  This is difficult as projects often pull people from different departments together to work on a project. While that is what the project requires to be successful, what does that mean for the people pulled from the different departments? Is the project of primary importance to them or is what’s happening in their department of primary importance?

Business in Silos
When the modern corporation was formed, different departments were organized around specific functions. Accounting, Marketing, Sales, Finance, Operations and even IT all had separate requirements, required different skills and had different, recognizable purposes. These departments offered structure, communications channels and common ground which was the basis for working.

Large projects rarely fit in any of those silos.  People are drawn from across the organization, often temporarily, to work on that one project. Where is the common ground or structure?  Where does their loyalty lay?  Can any externally supplied methodology or framework replace corporate power, communication and funding structures?

What is Project Management?
According to the PMBOK guide, “Project Management is accomplished through the application and integration of the project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing.”

Whether constructing a building, making dinner or developing software; there are processes that will help one be more successful. At its core, that is project management.

Different Industries are Different
Is the process for constructing a building the same as the process for making dinner? Is it even similar to the process for developing software? No, the processes must be different. Are the skill sets required to succeed at each step similar? No, safety concerns in construction are obviously different from cleanliness concerns in cooking or complier concerns in software.

Can the Processes in One Make you Better in Another?
The roots of project management probably come from construction. The Romans realized foundations were needed before building walls and roofs. Specialized skills and the coordination between them are as appearant in the Roman Coliseum as in a modern sky scrappers.

At a very generic level, the ideas of critical paths, deadlines and dependencies may cross industries, but do the specialized skills to be successful in each area align? No. Safety concerns in construction are paramount. Cranes falling in Houston are catastrophic to that project, but not a concern to someone running a restaurant. Cleanliness hopefully is an overriding concern to the restaurant owner, but unfortunately isn’t so critical to software developers.

What is Project Management?
According to the PMBOK guide, “Project Management is accomplished through the application and integration of the project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing.”

Whether constructing a building, making dinner or developing software; there are processes that will help one be more successful. At its core, that is project management.

Different Industries are Different
Is the process for constructing a building the same as the process for making dinner? Is it even similar to the process for developing software? No, the processes must be different. Are the skill sets required to succeed at each step similar? No, safety concerns in construction are obviously different from cleanliness concerns in cooking or compiler concerns in software.

Can the Processes in One Make you Better in Another?
The roots of project management probably come from construction. The Romans realized foundations were needed before building walls and roofs. Specialized skills and the coordination between them are as appearant in the Roman Coliseum as in a modern sky scrappers.

At a very generic level, the ideas of critical paths, deadlines and dependencies may cross industries, but do the specialized skills to be successful in each area align? No. Safety concerns in construction are paramount. Cranes falling in Houston are catastrophic to that project, but not a concern to someone running a restaurant. Cleanliness hopefully is an overriding concern to the restaurant owner, but unfortunately isn’t so critical to software developers.

Are the Methodologies Bunk?

History is bunk.  What difference does it make how many times the ancient Greeks flew their kites? — Henry Ford (Source: NYT, October 28 1921, p. 1)
The methodologies can be a starting point, but too often its easier to focus on the methodological steps rather than thinking long and hard about what is happening on the project and the future.

  • What is the business environment your company is working in?
  • How is that environment changing?
  • What is happening inside the business?
  • What is the state of the project?
  • Where does it need to go?
  • What needs to happen to get it there?

Maybe they are not bunk, but rather like training wheels.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Project Manager - Right Person, Wrong Title


Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking.        - John Maynard Keynes

We are living in times of great change.  In two years, few of us will be where we are now.  This week I will publish five posts that attempt to live up to Keynes’ advice.  Please join me and be a little wild with your words.  Today, let’s think about and vote on what our job title should be.  Based on voting and suggestions, other options may be added.  While this election may not be as captivating as the US Presidential elections, let’s make it a relevant assault on our thoughts.

Before we begin, I have a confession to make.  I’m more technical architect than project manager.  I’ve project managed because the PM was “asked to leave” and being the architect, political expediency dictated that I fill both rolls.  If my view is jaded, it’s because I am.  I also have the scars to prove I’m not unfeeling.

Experience teaches that we should beware of fancy titles.  They often forewarn of responsibility without the power to execute.  ‘Project Manager’ and its grandiose cousin ‘Program Manager’ are both wonderful titles, but do they accurately represent the job?

Please consider the following and vote:
Project Journalist
In an ideal world, the senior person responsible for suggesting the project and getting the budget should have their future with the company tightly linked to the success or failure of the project.  If the project succeeds, they should get bonuses and recognition.  If it fails, they should forfeit this year’s bonus, return the previous year’s bonus and lose 10% of their salary to recompense the company for some of the project costs.

The project sponsor would need someone who could give them an accurate picture of what is happening on the project.  Where schedules are, who’s confident, who’s nervous, where are things going well, where there are problems and maybe even well thought out ways to improve.  A project journalist: someone who is savvy, interested in seeing the project succeed and capable of providing an unbiased account of what’s happening and why.

Project Scapegoat
Honesty is the best policy.

Project Enzyme
Enzymes are biological catalysts, or chemicals that speed up the rate of reaction between substances without themselves being consumed in the reaction. (Source)
This would be the perfect title if it didn’t have the worst abbreviation – PE.  Consider the following:
•    “Oh god, you’re the PEe on my parade.”
•    “Oh look, it’s the PEon.”
•    “Don’t look now, but here comes the PEze Corp.”
•    “Honey, I got promoted!  I’m a PE!… Why are you looking at me that way…Where are you going…”

Project Manager
Voting is strictly anonymous, so no one will know the troglodytes who vote for this title.

Other
If you have other suggestions, please make them comments section.  Meaningful additions will be added as options. Think of this election as being like Illinois politics- vote early, vote often, VOTE HERE.  You don’t even have to pay…