Thursday, November 26, 2015

Most projects run on "little data"

"Big Data" is the meme du jour, but most projects run on "little data", the sort of data that fits into the constraints of spreadsheets like Excel. It's everyday stuff that drives estimates, scorecards, dashboards, task assignments, and all manner of project analytics.

So, assuming you using Excel as a spreadsheet for doing actual calculations and data entry, and not a row-column table version of Word, you will find that you to do some analytics and data analysis from time to time.

Pivot tables are one spreadsheet data tool, but that's not the discussion today. Today, it's filters, which is the Excel name for the process and tool, but which the database people -- familiar with SQL for row by column -- would call a query.

And so, how to do a filter in Excel, something practical for the project manager? There are youtube's galore on the subject, but here's a neat, step by step, illustrated process that goes from the simple to the advanced.

Just what the PMO need to get into the data business

Some other rules
Beyond what you will read in the linked article, there are a few data rules that will make life simpler
  • Every column should have a header or title that is unique, even if just column1, column2, etc
  • Only one data value in a cell. Thus, first and last names should be in separate columns; so also city and state. But maybe also captain and ship's names. This is called "normalizing" the data
  • Keep the static data in separate row/column areas from the data that changes. So, if a ship sails to San Francisco on a certain date, the ship's description goes in one area; the city description in another; but the city/date/ship is dynamic and belongs in a third area.
  • Don't put 'word processing' paragraphs or labels in the middle of the data. In other words, maintain the integrity of row by column
  • It's good to have at least one column that is guaranteed to be uniquely valued in each cell, like a row ID
  • If you can avoid using "spaces" in the data, that's good. It makes the query more sure. So, "column1" instead of "column 1"

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Monday, November 23, 2015

I was right before I was wrong

"The point of an investigation is not to find where people went wrong; it is to understand why their assessments and actions made sense at the time."

"... made sense at the time" to whom?  The investigation might want to look at whether what went wrong should have ever made sense to anyone -- what were they thinking?! -- and why someone was allowed to think it ever made sense.

I have in mind the Challenger accident of the mid-space shuttle era. Should anyone have been allowed to think that the solid boosters were safe after overnight temperatures in the 'teens? In that case the mix of politics, management, and engineering proved deadly.

Just released! The second edition .........

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Friday, November 20, 2015

The introvert personality at a conference

OMG! If you're an introvert, attending a 3-day conference where you're expected to network and bring back new relationships, contacts, and business intelligence. Looking forward to that has got to be nothing but dread. Three days of small talk and useless chit chat about the weather? God awful!


So, a few useful ideas are found here in an essay entitled: "How Introverts Can Make the Most of Conferences" by reporter Dana Rousmaniere interviewing Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking" 
  • Take a recharge break. Take more than one. Leave the building for a change. Even for extroverts, conferencing is exhausting
  • When approaching a stranger, try to land on a topic of mutual interest. That way, you don't have to talk about the weather
  • Open the conversation with something that is common in the environment, like the speech just heard.
  • "Relax into extroversion" when you find a topic that stimulates your curiosity. That is: extend the conversation
  • Be a speaker or panel member, or submit a paper to the proceedings. If there's such an opportunity, grab it! Nothing like a little public speaker exposure... it gets easier with experience.
And, to add something to Ms Cain's advice, you can also be in your company's product booth, or a walk-around person handing out souvenirs. 

And, remember this, many of the people you will meet are likewise introverts looking for way to break in. So, most of whom you approach will be in your situation and looking for a connection.

In other words, it's a target-rich environment.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Value stream mapping

Value stream mapping seems to be a new label on old wine. But nevertheless, the wine ages well. In the "old days", we simply called it process mapping.

Value stream mapping derives from the Lean community, where of course the focus is on leaning out non-value add. So, in value stream mapping, each activity, to include the workflow of authorization and other governance, and ancillary activities, like a trouble report or a status report, is evaluated for value-add.

Some call it "de-cluttering". Don't hang onto the stuff you really aren't going to use.

And, of course de-cluttering the non-value add begs the question: what is value-add?

There is an answer, of course, but it may take a bit of customization to make it work everywhere. Simply put:  
Anything that is ultimately delivered to the customer, or contributes to making the customer deliverable a good thing in the customer's eyes; anything that makes the customer more successful; and anything that gives the customer the willingness and capacity to pay.

A lot of project and business stuff would not fit this definition directly. Nevertheless, most practical organizations can't live without them, so there's a certain non-value overhead that goes along with everything.

One thing I do like about value stream mapping is the clarity of the diagramming. Take a look at this diagram:

If you're interested in more, this diagram came from a nice post at LeadingAnswers

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Jurgen's scorecard index

When there's a good idea, share it. And so, I come to Jurgen Appelo's "Scorecard Index"

The banal part
Following the usual -- and not unusual -- prescription, Appelo does these things
  • Defines a objective, even qualitative if necessary
  • Defines a metric to go with the objective
  • Sets performance boundaries 
  • Measures frequently enough
  • Makes the results easy to interpret

The clever part
But then, he normalizes all the data, converting normalized values to percentages, and displays them in a pipeline grid.

Pipelines per se are not unique, and normalized data has been around forever, but it's the combination of all the banal with the clever that makes it work:

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What I learned in pre-school

Could this be true? Clair Cain Miller reports that it may well be:
Preschool classrooms .... look a lot like the modern work world
This according to David Demming in a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research

What does he mean? In the paper's abstract, he says:
"Since 1980, ... employment and wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill."

And, where do we learn these essential-to-job social skills? You got it! Pre-school is where it starts big time, unless you are from a family with siblings near your age. In that case, it starts even earlier, at least for the second child.

Demming goes on: "Children move from art projects to science experiments to the playground in small groups, and their most important skills are sharing and negotiating with others"

Ooops! does pre-school sound a bit like Agile?

Why do we need social skills? Isn't being a nerd enough to land a good job? Demming says: " .... social skills reduce coordination costs, allowing workers to specialize and trade more efficiently."

From David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ms Miller reports:
“If it’s just technical skill, there’s a reasonable chance it can be automated, and
if it’s just being empathetic or flexible, there’s an infinite supply of people, so a job won’t be well paid ... 
It’s the interaction of both that is virtuous

Automating nerds?
Well, this is, of course, all from academics. In the real world, non-socializing nerds and eccentrics are not a dime-a-dozen, and what they do is not algorithmic, and so they may not be virtuous but they're not likely to be automated out of a job.

Flip it around
On the other hand, if you didn't pass pre-school, can you still learn this stuff?

Yes, and so we see the emergence of the so-called flip classroom where the "facts" are conveyed as homework, and the class experience is all about socializing the knowledge. See Kahn Academy and others for this sort of thing.

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lessons from Gettysburg

Paul Merrild has an essay worth reading, an excerpt given below:
It’s impossible to visit the battlefield of Gettysburg without being deeply moved. The Union and Confederate armies together suffered more than 50,000 casualties during the three-day battle. The course of American history was changed forever by leaders making strategic decisions under grueling circumstances.

[I] recently spent three days wandering these hallowed grounds as part of a leadership retreat ... Here are a few insights that I gleaned:

Convey the leader’s intent. Union Army General George Meade would sit down with his war council sometimes three or four times per day during the battle. This continual “confirmation of understanding” allowed Meade to better to communicate with his commanders and soldiers the tactics and strategies needed to survive the Confederate push.

...The concept is simple: everyone in the chain of command must know clearly and concisely the mission’s objectives two levels above them and be able to communicate this information two levels below them. This understanding enables anyone in the army to make decisions “in the moment” that are consistent with the overall strategic objective set by the general

Be prepared to kill what you love. General Lee once said: “To be a good officer you must be willing to offer the death of what you love.”

He was a calculating strategist who was willing to sacrifice soldiers if it meant the numbers would play out in his favor for the greater good of the Confederate Army. Certainly, Lee’s was an extreme view born of war, but it does underscore the importance for leaders to be decisive when executing the mission and vision of their organization.

Stand behind the gun. Joshua Chamberlain was a college professor with no military background or training when he volunteered for the Union Army. He became a highly respected Union officer, earning the Medal of Honor for his gallantry during the Battle of Gettysburg after defending the southern flank of Little Round Top with a risky bayonet charge he personally led.

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