Friday, April 3, 2020

Risk management: what's to know?

If you only know one thing about Risk Management, know this:
Schedule slack is your most powerful tool
Poorly developed instincts and skills in the use of this most powerful tool are leading causes of poor risk management

If you are a Systems person --- a strategic thinker; an integrator; a "it all has to work" person -- you'll translate schedule slack into to "loose coupling"

Loose coupling is your most powerful tool
This all sounds like schedule, but the side effects are profound (slack is like a nail; it works everywhere):
  • Time is lost to effect design, manufacturing, or delivery mitigation
  • Pressures mount to "do something"
  • Short-cuts are taken
  • The thing may not work at the end (oops, that's career limiting)
And, the list of slack misuse is relatively short, so everyone should be able to keep these bullets in mind:
  •  It shall be: All schedules require slack; a schedule without slack is but a hope, and is risky all the way
  • At the end: Slack is always sequenced after a risky event is to occur. NEVER put the slack first, hoping it will all go away
  • Don't add risk unwittingly: Unnecessary coupling (to wit: bundling) just adds risk where there was none. Decouple everything; don't purposely couple anything. 
If you bundle (tightly couple) the statistics are against you:
  • If two independent events have a 9-in-10 chance of success, then when tightly coupled and no slack between them, success of the pair is only 8-in-10, a loss of 10 points
  • It gets worse fast: a pair with 7-in-10 chance of success degrades to less than 1-in-2. A loss of 20 points.  Good grief!
The effect of slack? NO loss of points .... a cheap way to fight  

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Virtual teams ... now is the time

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work.” Thomas P. Wise, "Trust in Virtual Teams"

Thomas P. Wise is probably correct that virtual teams are more about "how" than "where", but as the covid-19 virus is about as I write this, everyone is scrambling for the playbook on virtual teams, and turning to the chapter on "how" without question. We know the "where": tucked away at home or some other remote location

By Wise's take, these are the main determinants of whether a team is really virtual:
  • Geography
  • Communications
  • Culture

The culture thing
I line up big time on the culture thing.
I've always said: You can't push culture through the Internet cable all that well.

Commonly, you've got two identities: Remote and Local. And each identity has a personality and behavior that fits the either the local or remote culture. (Will the "real" you come forward?)

In this moment of crises, project teams suddenly made virtual carry their project culture home, so it's not like hiring virtual staff and hoping the culture will seep through the Internet.

So, values, customs, loyalties, and trusting relationships -- all components of the culture -- will persist for the relatively short time this event will be with us. The question will be: what's the tail on this? How will it be different when we all gather back together?
It's an unknown, or better yet: a known unknown.

Geography and Communications
But, the the others are important. For instance, if in the long run, this sudden surge of virtual teams returns to perhaps working from home a day a week pretty much means just a geographic separation: you're not going to lose your culture (beliefs and norms) in just a day at the house. But, given enough time in a remote geography, and you're going to "go native" as they say.

And, of course, if you can't effectively communicate visually, then there goes the body language and probably half your communications input.
Conference calls -- voice only -- are the worst in this regard (just put it on mute and go the kitchen for a snack ... will you be missed? Will you miss anything? And, how would you or anyone know?)

The good news: all kinds of communication apps are popping up. The bad news: in the short run, the physical channels in the Internet are stressed.

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Saturday, March 28, 2020


"Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Even to the end"
Harry Hopkins to Winston Churchill, February, 1941

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Who said 'evidence'?

Did you see this witicism at herdingcats?
A skeptic will question claims, then embrace the evidence. A denier will question claims, then reject the evidence. - Neil deGrase Tyson

Think of this whenever there is a conjecture that has no testable evidence of the claim. And think ever more when those making the conjectured claim refuse to provide evidence. When that is the case, it is appropriate to ignore the conjecture all together 
And, of course, think of this when office or business politics is made superior to evidence. Particularly the collision of politics and risk management

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Project Management ... my definition

When it comes to defining project management, there certainly is a "book" answer, and most would go to the PMBoK, the body of knowledge published by PMI.

Fair enough.

But, I beg to differ a bit. My idea of how PM should be defined is in the chart below.

My idea
Book Answer
WIP, Test, V&V
Executing, Controlling
Partial delivery
(Closing is at the very end)
Influencers and discriminators
Specific goals
Specific success criteria

And what, you might ask, are "influencers and discriminators"? The executive summary is below, but read all about it here.

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

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Plans and improvisation

"As they say ... the best-thought-out battle plans fall apart as soon as the first shot is fired.
Then you improvise"
"Unless that first shot went through your head!"
Dialogue from Nelson DeMille's novel "The Deserter" 

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Monday, March 16, 2020

The unfolding course of events

"It is not given to human beings -- happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable -- to foresee or predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events"

Winston Churchill
Of course, project management can modify such a bit to tolerate some of the intolerable:
  • Simulations can add to the extent of foresight of unfolding events
  • Systems tests can reveal unforeseen hazards in the road ahead
  • Verification and validation can trap missing requirements satisfaction that will make itself known in the fullness of time.
 And, the PMO can make judgments regarding the cost of over reacting vs the cost of under reacting to unfolding events.
  • Protecting what you have vs foregoing a possible opportunity
  • In effect, judging opportunity cost for a course of events that is not entirely foreseeable.
Of course Donald Rumsfeld could have been thinking of Churchill; would he have been tolerable if he could have seen 18 years ahead?
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

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