Thursday, February 4, 2016

1,2,3 counting or measuring or positioning?

Counting, positioning, or measuring: what's in a number?

Remember pre-school or kindergarten: we all "learned our numbers".
Ah! but did we?

Want to count something? Just use the integers, starting at 0 and going in familiar step: 1, 2, 3 ....
The count takes on the dimension of what you are counting: dollars, inches, meters, liters, etc
You can do arithmetic on count, but because of the dimensioning, the results may or may not be viable: square inches are ok, but square dollars are not.

Want to rank or position something? Again, we fall back to the integers -- 1st or 2nd position is good; position 1.2 in a queue has no meaning or implementation. And, there is no dimension per se in a position. Some arithmetic still applies, but it's tricky. Addition is not commutative: you can add 1 to first position to get second position, but you can't add first position to a 1. Stuff like that.

Want to measure something? You can use any rational number (a number that can be fashioned by the ratio of two numbers). Really, anything on a measurement scale is rational and can be a measurement. And, you can do arithmetic between rational and irrational numbers (like "pi")

For a number to be useful in measuring, every number in between has to be meaningful. That's why you don't do measurements with ranks and positions: the in-between numbers are not meaningful.

Calibration: And, to be meaningful, the scale has to be calibrated.  A ruler with irregular spacings or a warped or bent rule, or guesses without reference to benchmarks or other reference classes are uncalibrated. And, thus, every number in between is not meaningful.

Project management
And so, where does the rubber meet the road in project management?
  • Probability x impact risk tables or matrices
  • Planning poker
What's the first thing you need to do for a risk matrix or planning poker? 
  • If for real measurements, you need to normalize the reference class or benchmark to the project. 
  • But, if for ranking or positioning, nothing more is needed
And, you might ask: if I want to work with real measurements, what is the normalization thing?

Just about every planning poker game or risk matrix uses some simple scale, like the binary scale, to weight the choices or impacts. Fair enough
But, a "4" in one project may have really no relationship to the value of a "4" in another project. So, are these numbers just ranks, or positions, or are they numbers for measurement?

If just for ranking, then nothing more is needed: 4 ranks over 2 by 2:1. Done
If for measurement, then here's what you do:
  • Find the simplest real thing you've done before that is similar and call it the baseline cost;  divide its cost by its cost. You'll get 1, of course
  • For everything more complicated, divide by the cost of the baseline. Something twice as hard should divide out as a 2; four times harder divides out as 4.
When you're done, you got a set of numbers that are normalized to the baseline; calibrated to the reference baseline; and suitable for measurement (every intervening number is meaningful)

We're done here!

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Estimating from the master


Today's quote: Here's a quotation that is a favorite of mine drawn from Fred Brooks, Jr.'s "The Mythical Man-month"

"It is very difficult to make a vigorous, plausible, and job-risking defense of an estimate that is derived by no quantitative method, supported by little data, and certified chiefly by the hunches of the managers"

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Estimate everything?

Mike Cohn on estimating (from his email blasts):

"Because I've written a book on estimating, people seem to think I estimate everything on my product backlog. I don't.

I ask a team to estimate a product backlog item only when having the estimate will lead to actionably different behavior. 

So, for example, I might ask a team for an estimate on a user story so that I can decide if I want that story soon or perhaps not at all. Or I might ask for an estimate so I can make a commitment to a client or partner. But I don’t ask a team to estimate just so I can later yell at them if they’re wrong. I don’t ask a team to estimate just so they feel pressure to meet that estimate.

To make this practical, I looked at the product backlogs for both Mountain Goat Software and Front Row Agile, two websites for which I’m the product owner. For Mountain Goat, only 13 out of 61 (21%) user stories have estimates. This is largely because I am close enough to the development work on that site that I have a very good feel for how long things there will take. For most items, there’s really nothing my team could tell me that would change how I prioritize that work.

Things are a little different right now on Front Row Agile. There we have 18 out of 48 (37%) user stories estimated. But, I’ve also asked the team on that site to estimate 12 of the unestimated stories, meaning 30 of 48 (62%) will be estimated. That’s a much higher percentage than normal. It has to do with some year-end planning and budgeting we’re doing.

Why not estimate everything? 
 Estimating can add a lot of value. It can lead to better decisions. 
For example, I’ll make a better 2016 budget with the estimates I’ve asked for than if I don’t get them. Right now, that’s important to me. But, if an estimate will not lead to an actionably different decision, time spent estimating is wasted. And none of us has enough time that we can afford to waste any if we want to help our teams succeed with agile"

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What time is the 3 o'clock meeting?

Have you ever been asked: "What time is the 3 o'clock meeting?" 
You're thinking: "This guy is on something; or he's texting while talking!"

We here in the backyard of the seemingly larger-than-life Walt Disney World* pay some attention to the management paradigms coming out of our corporate neighbor.

And, so the Disney response to that question is instructive, as given in this blog post from the Disney Institute, which I sum up as:

'Any interaction provides an opportunity to add value and improve quality of communications'
“What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” On any given day in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, you might hear Guests asking our Cast Members this seemingly peculiar question. And, while the question appears to have an obvious answer, we also know that frequently the true question lies beyond the obvious.

As our Guests are often excited and distracted ..... So, Cast Members will ask some additional questions to uncover what it is that the Guest really wants to know…such as, “What time will the parade get to me?” “When should I start waiting to get a good viewing spot?” and “Where is the best place to stand?”

Instead of simply repeating the obvious answer—the actual parade start time—back to the Guest, our Cast Members take this opportunity to .... share with the Guest what time the parade will pass by certain locations in the park, offer possible vantage points to view the parade or advise when to leave another area and still arrive at the parade on time.

This is important, because rather than dismissing the “3 o’clock parade?” question as something trivial and offering a blunt response, Cast Members understand that it offers the opportunity to exceed the Guests’ expectations .....
.... the “3 o’clock parade” question is commonly used to help Cast Members understand that their answer can either end the conversation, or it can begin a quest for richer discovery.

*Did I mention:7 parks, 29 hotels on property, 40,000 acres, and tens of thousands of "cast members
And, I am an un-paid volunteer for Disney Sports Attractions

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

When it gets complicated

There is no problem so complicated that you can't make it worse - a common phrase in the astronaut business*

* Credit to Glen Alleman

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

About mistakes... oops!

Some say that an enlightened business/agency/enterprise is one that provides the freedom to make mistakes. Quantmleap had a posting on this very topic.

Perhaps... But, I don't agree with the broad idea that we need to allow for and accept mistakes. Mistakes are only tolerated up to some point, then ....

If you're working your own money, then you're free to make mistakes. But, if you're working with other people's money (OPM) it's all together a different situation.

Take a risk
This idea about mistakes should be more narrowly drawn, to wit: we need the latitude to take risks --some of which may not work out -- that are within the risk tolerance of the enterprise. How do we know what the tolerance limits are? We can ask, or by experience and intuition we learn/know the boundaries.

Here's the tricky part: risk attitude is not stationary: it matters when you look at it. Over time, optimism abates; pessimism rises. And, prospect theory tells us that risk attitude is different if you are facing a choice between bad or worse or between good or better.

So, it matters when the mistake is made (temporal dependency) and matters whether or not a mistake was made trying to avoid a really bad outcome (utility dependency)

We also need the latitude to make tactical errors (mistakes in some cases or calculated risks in others) so long as we don't make a strategic error. That is, we can be wrong tactically so long as we can recover and get back on a track toward the strategic objective. But to make a mistake on the strategic objective is almost always fatal.

We should also be mindful that -- even with the latitude allowed for these classes of mistakes or errors in assessment or even judgment or risks gone bad -- the cause or causality of the mistake is material. Negligence will never be tolerated; so also duplicity, though innocent ignorance may be ok.  Thus, the same mistake (effect) with different cause may be tolerable, or even thought to be a good bet that didn't work out.

Consequently, as in all 'rights', the right to make a mistake is not absolute;  as a practical matter there are often many constraints to even a liberal degree of latitude.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Disruptive defined -- again!

I'm not one to obsess over the number of angels on the head of a pin, but a recent posting about what's disruptive and what's not caught my eye -- to wit: an innovation that captures and exploits excess capacity may well be disruptive even it doesn't it the traditional definition that it must come from below from a less capable competitor

The poster child for this idea is the smart phone that exploits the excess capacity in a mobile telephone to do decidedly non-telephonic things. Certainly disruptive! Does anyone have a land line anymore? But it didn't come for a poor below the horizon start-up. Apple was a big dog before the iphone, etc.

For those of us raised on the Theory of Constraints, 'exploiting excess' is certainly a different book. In the ToC world, the idea is all about efficiency: maximize the capacity and capability of the least capable functionality, and then do no more!

But then fostering disruption is not about efficiency; it's about creating and promoting and adopting new effectiveness, even if a bit chaotic. So, if you're out to be disruptive, the button-down is out and the t-shirts are in! The precision of project management is subordinate to eccentric ideas and free thinking. (Does PMI know this?)

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