Thursday, December 8, 2022

Influence and discriminating factors

When it's OPM -- other people's money -- the client gets to make the priority judgments.
I call them "influencers and discriminators" In this table, you'll find commentary that defines or explains the five influencers.

Money, staff, infrastructure, intellectual property or access
Real, virtual, remote, dedicated or shared
Calendar, duration, milestones, value-add points
Client deliverables; business deliverables; project debris
Agile CUD: create, update, delete agility
Fitness to use; fitness to standards; fitness to “best value”
Risk to the client; risk to the business.
Impact and likelihood. Black swan effects

A typical priority set might be as shown below. Best use of resources and attention to quality rank highest in this example. But there are other situations. Read on to the next charts

So, here's how this might look if schedule were all important. Sometimes, if you miss a milestone, you've missed the entire reason-for-being of the project. In that case, schedule has to stand out above all others.
Or, maybe it's cost management. If you're in the public sector spending the taxpayers' money, then it is often the case that resource management rises to the top, as in the chart below.

From a contracting perspective, you open the envelope and pick the "least cost that's technically acceptable". Sometimes that's a bit harsh because long-standing relationships might get tossed, but when cost is the standout, and all proposals are otherwise acceptable, then pick the lowest cost.

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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Avoid 'this' scheduling mistake

'The mistake' to avoid in scheduling is to construct a milestone-success situation that strictly depends upon two or more tasks scheduled (planned) to finish at the same time.
So, what's the big error here?
  • First, as regards milestone success, each of the tasks leading into the milestone is a risk to success (success means: it is achieved on time)
  • Second, total risk is the product of all the input risks (as seen by the milestone) . 
  • So, whereas each task coming into the milestone may not be too risky, say by example 90/10 (*), three tasks of 90/10 each would present a risk to the milestone such that success is reduced to about 73/27 (**)
What are you going to do about this?
Bring on the time buffers! (***)
  • You might be able to add a buffer on one or more of the input tasks to raise the success of that task to 99/01, or so
  • You might be able to add a buffer following the milestone, such that any late success is absorbed by the buffer (This tactic is called "shift right" by schedule architects)
Reconsider the schedule architecture
  • You might be able to reorganize the schedule to eliminate this milestone
  • You might be able to shift resources, activities, or other criteria to change the properties of the milestone
What if there are common vulnerabilities among the tasks?
  • Common vulnerabilities means the tasks are really not independent; there are couplings between them.
  • The "math" of independent events, as given in the footnote below, is less accurate.
  • Generally, the 'tail' situations are more prominent, meaning the central tendency around the most probable finish time "smears" out a bit, and thus possibilities further from the central figure are more prominent.
(*) 90 successes out of 100, or 90% chance the task will finish on time, or early.
(**) Here's a footnote to those estimates: It's assumed the two tasks are independent, meaning:
  • They don't share resources
  • They don't have the same vulnerabilities to a common risk
  • The progress, or not, in one does not affect progress in the other
(***) A scheduled event of zero scope, but a specific amount of time, aka: a zero-scope time box.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A flat project no more?

The world was flat, but perhaps no more.
The same applies to projects.

In the flat system, we have these properties:
  • There is no "place". Anybody and anything can be anywhere that there is connectivity
  • Capital flows (largely 'cost' in the project world) are nearly borderless. They are quick, inexpensive transactions that can move the money to the cost center at a stroke
  • Cost centers locate to the most efficient areas, and such searches for cost effectiveness can be somewhat dynamic
  • Insofar as components have to have some 'national identity', assembly or manufacturing is "colored" by these requirements.
  • Supply chains (actually, not a chain but a mesh of nodes and links) link everything; nodes and links are optimized to provide maximum efficiency and fault resistance.
  • Supply, manufacturing, and assembly are anti-hierarchical. They are borderless-flat
  • The 'US dollar' is supreme, and safe; everybody trades relative to the dollar.
  • Labor is somewhat fungible. There are trained workforces, of course, but similar workforces are interchangeable.
  • Labor loyalty is weak; labor moves around, seeking maximum return on personal interests
  • Risks are global in their spread
The Covid crises emphasized many of these properties. 
But, as they say: 'Covid is over' (except perhaps in China)

Now, in the post-Covid world we see also some counter-forces to the flat world, and by extension, the flat project:
  • Return to the office
  • Dress the part
  • Work reasonable hours; rebalance work and off-work
  • Be a team player, less of an individualist
  • Set up borders and boundaries to 'contain' activity within a physical sphere or economic or national zone, as it were
  • Contain risks to the home front
  • Promote loyalty
  • Keep the money at home
  • Pay more as a cost input, but also expect the customer to pay more to the top line in the name of 'buy local'
If you see this coming, you may want to rebaseline for less flatness!

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

A leadership doctrine

When applying the principle of "calculated risk", leaders should pick subordinates with the intellectual subtlety to evalutate strategic and operational problems in their full context.

They should be given the latitude to judge just how much risk is appropriate given the value of the objective and the balance of resources.

Paraphrased from the writings of historian
Craig L. Symonds

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Layoffs in the middle of your project?!

Well, talk about cratering a schedule and resource plan!
Layoffs in the middle of a project will do it for you.

But wait!
There may be a silver lining here:
  • Communication complexity in and among project participants decreases as the square of participants. That could be a winner

  • You may be able to select the departees. That's tough in any circumstance, but it's also an opportunity to prune the lesser performers.

  • Some say that if you want to speed up a project, especially software, reduce the number of people involved (the corollary is more often cited: adding people to a team may actually slow it down)

  • There's an opportunity to rebaseline: All the variances-to-date are collected and stored with the expiring baseline. A new plan according to the new resource availability becomes a new baseline. Unfavorable circumstances can perhaps be sidestepped.
Of course, there are downsides:
  • If your customer is external, they may not relent on any requirements. You're stuck trying to make five pounds fit in a three pound bag.

  • There may be penalties written in your project contract if you miss a milestone, or overrun a budget. That just adds to the fiscal pain that probably was the triggering factor for layoffs.
Did you see this layoff thing coming?
  • On the project balance sheet, you are the risk manager at the end of the day. So, suck it up!

  • And there's the anti-fragile thing: build in redundancy, schedule and budget buffers, and outright alternatives from the git-go. And, if you didn't do those things in the first baseline, you've got a second bite at the apple with the recovery baseline.

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

Buffer your sponsor expectations

If you follow this blog you've read several references to the project balance sheet. So, is this about accounting? Yes, and no: Yes, it's about a double entry tool to keep track of "mine" and "yours", but no, it's not the accountant's tool used in your father's accounting office.

Take a look at this figure:

What have we got here?

First, the business and the project; but also what's mine -- the project stuff -- and what's yours -- the business stuff. Mine and yours!

First, the left side
On the left side of the balance sheet is the sponsor's investment in the project. Investment need not be all monetized, and it need not be all tangible. Sometimes 'good will' -- the accountant's name for the intangible gut feeling that this thing is worth more than book value (market-valued assets) -- counts for a lot. (Think: sponsor commitment, even when the going gets tough)

'Yours' simply means it's resources and commitments owned and given by others to the project. It's the 'your's side of the balance sheet that's somewhat akin to the right side of the financial balance sheet (money owed to creditors and money invested by owners).

Then, the right side
On the right side is the 'mine' side of the project balance sheet, akin to the left side of the financial accounting sheet (assets of the enterprise). The right side is the project side:
  • Estimates and evaluations of the project manager
  • Uses for the investment and resources to be entrusted to the project manage -- in effect deliverables and other artifacts, and perhaps some intangibles as well*
All about facts
 And, take note: the left side, the sponsor's side, is the fact-free zone: it's a top down allocation of resources to the vision. It is the ultimate utility expression of the sponsors: what's valuable, and how valuable, even if not entirely objective.

And on the right side, it's all about facts (benchmarks) and estimates (benchmarks applied to project circumstances). It's bottom up.

The gap (and the buffer)
Of course, there's the inevitable gap where utility collides with facts and fact-based estimates. The gap is the risk between expectations and capacity-capability. 

Ah! But the gap is also a buffer between the project facts and the limits imposed top-down by the sponsor. Like all buffers, it's designed to absorb shocks and unknowns on the project side that might drive actuals above the plan. 

And how large is the gap (risk) buffer? Only as large as needed to create a balance--that is, a deal with the devil--so that the project can go forward, and only so large as needed to absorb the shocks you would normally expect.

In other words, the gap (risk), shown on the project side, is only as large as it needs to be to close the gap. Usually, it's a matter of negotiation, but once the PMB is set, the risk is the PM's responsibility to manage.

Oops! the PM is the ultimate risk manager.

In a real world example, I had this situation:
  • We bid a job competitively in a firm fixed price environment. 
  • We offered a price that was equal to our cost; in other words, no fee (profit).  We just wanted to keep the lights on and keep barriers to competition with our customer as high as possible. 
  • We won! 
  • And, in  the next moment, my general manager said: "Your bonus depends on making 4% net margin".  I had my gap!  (oh yes, I made the margin and the customer was satisfied)

* Yes, indeed! Projects produce intangibles, even good will, but it makes for an accounting of project value all the less objective.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Proposals follow Strategy

Got your strategy in mind now?

It's time to implement. One way to do it is to propose the work to your sponsor or to your client.
So, now you need a proposal. 

Do you read Mike Clayton? You probably should.

Here is his idea of the 12 points of a perfect proposal:

What are the elements of a perfect proposal? Here are 12.
No one wants to hear all about you. See the next subtitle. That's who your audience wants to hear about... themselves. But (and it's a big 'but') they do need to know enough about you to know you are worth paying attention to. So, for a cold proposal, this means using the introduction or cover letter or some other means to establish your credibility - what my dad used to call your bona fides.

This is what they want to know... What's in it for them? Show how you have their best interests in mind with this proposal. You understand their needs and desires and know how to satisfy them better than any alternative solution can.

Keep your focus on the specific situation. Any sign of standard 'boilerplate' descriptions, arguments, or evidence will make it look less about 'Them' and more about 'anyone'. 

How will your proposal deliver and maximise value to them? The vast majority of business decisions revolve around the capacity to either make money or save money.

But there can be other benefits too. Describe the non-financial value your proposal offers - and what this means to them. This, of course, means you need to take time to understand them and their requirements and priorities. 

All that hard evidence gives them a reason to make the decision to accept your proposal. But it won't motivate them to do so. For that, you need to tap into their emotions. Find emotional hooks into pride, fear, duty, desire, ambition, loyalty, passion... Emotions drive decisions: reasons justify them.

So, you also need to show how your proposal will solve their problem, deliver their joy, or enhance their reputation. Make the link between what they want and what you are proposing as clear, simple, and short as you can. A 15-step sequence from the cause (your proposal) to the effect (their outcome) won't cut it. 

Next they need to know what will happen if (when) they say yes. What will you do, what will they do, and how long would it all take? For confidence that your is the right choice, they need to see a plan that clearly works.

This section lets them understand how your proposal fits into your life and theirs - your business and their own. This shows that you and they are compatible and is the equivalent of the more traditional (cheesy) 'how we are different to the competition'. Of course this differentiates you. It shows how this proposal is right for them and for you.

Don't go all techy on a technical proposal. Remember who you are speaking to. If your audience is a business person or a group of businesspeople, focus on the business. If your audience is software engineers, focus on the business of software engineering: not the hardware. What is their business? That's how to frame your proposal.

I get it. You have a lot of ideas to get down. But, before you start, develop a structure that makes it compelling for them to follow. If they asked six questions in a sequence, then a great structure is to answer those six questions... in the same sequence. Make it easy for them to say 'yes'.

Finally remember Mark Anthony's advice: 'The evil that men do lives on. The good is oft' interred with their bones'. People remember your mistakes and easily forget all the good stuff. Make sure you check the quality of your proposal, not once, not twice... Better still, get the pickiest, most pedantic person you know to do it for you. You invested all that time. Now add a little more investment, to avoid throwing it all away!

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