Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A world without a 0?


Can you imagine project management without the help and usefulness of the number 0?
Indeed, could we do modern project management without 0?

On the other hand, the Romans, and the Greeks and Egyptians before them, did pretty well in project management, and they had no 0; they didn't even have the concept of a number 0.

Recall your Roman numerals: 10 = X; 20 = XX; 50 = L, and so forth. No need for a zero in any of that!

Good grief! the pyramids, the Greek Parthenon, the highways and aqua ducts of ancient times, all managed without a 0! Boggles the mind to think of it.

On the other hand, engineering and project problems could be solved in the ancient world.
They had Euclidean methods that were quite effective.(*)

And before there was 0?
And so what preceded the zero? Apparently some civilizations understood "void" or "null", but the Greeks thought the concept challenging to the teachings of Aristotle, and so they passed on developing 0.  These are "place holder zeros" and they predate the numerical zero by several millennia

At last, a 0
Yea! for India. Apparently, India is in the lead to be credited with the invention of 0.
A National Geographic essay on this very subject sheds some light:
Researchers at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library recently conducted carbon dating on an ancient Indian text known as the Bakshali manuscript.

They found that some pages in the manuscript date to the third or fourth century, five hundred years older than previously thought. That pushes back the origin of what would eventually become the zero symbol, 0, we use today.

The manuscript shows a series of Sanskrit numerals. In it, zero is represented by a small dot.

Some doubt
Ooops! There are some doubters about the Indian origin of 0. ZerOrigIndia, or Project Zero, in the Netherlands, partners with researchers in Mumbai to pinpoint the origin of zero.

Nonetheless, I think we can all agree with this statement:

" .... zero was crucial to the zero-to-nine decimal system upon which algebra developed in 9th century Persia and was essential for physics principles documented by scientist Blaise Pascal in the 17th century."

_____________________________
(*) The Greek mathematician Euclid put down his theories (**) of a system of proofs which came to be known as geometry. His books of "Elements", circa 300 BCE, actually went as far as showing how to solve equations (early algebra) and define irrational numbers, all with geometry. So, no need for 0, though there was a centuries-long fuss over "what is a 'point', and how is it measured?"

(**) There were many earlier mathematicians that contributed to a body of knowledge that gave Euclid a foundation to work from



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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Large scale strangers


Anything on a large scale requires strangers to work together effectively. No strangers? Probably not really a large scale.

And so how does this work? I've always said: strangers don't trust each other. Why? There's no common basis for trust -- "I believe in you; you believe in me." is missing

Nonetheless, here we are with complex projects -- some on a global scale -- with all manner of strangers cooperating effectively. We don't necessarily trust each other so what is the trust mechanism?
  • Trust in money for one thing. We can exchange products and services with complex and large scale projects because we trust the value of those efforts when "monetized".(*) Which, if you've never really thought about it, is trust in the full faith and credit of governments to protect the value of money -- monetary policy is you will. Right now, that's pretty much the dollar, pound sterling, euro, yen, and the yuan -- the world's reserve currencies
  • Trust in the portability, perpetual storage, convertibility in and out of transactions, and no requirement to be physical give money its prominence in society(**). No matter how long you keep it, or where, it never wears out or spoils.
  • Trust in the rule of law insofar as it applies to terms and conditions for employment, contracting, purchasing, accounting, etc. In other words, trust in the value of anti-corruption
  • Trust in the general acceptance of a global morality -- stealing and assault are illegal everywhere
  • Trust in certain standards, like time for one thing, Newtonian physics if you're working in the not-quantum world, and Euclidean geometry if Einstein's relativity is not bothersome to  you. One second is one second everywhere (atomic clock arguments set aside -- we're not talking space station stuff here)
Now, here's another one, perhaps off the center stripe, so I offer it separately:
  • The power of bureaucracy (yuk!). No, it's true. Bureaucracy is what makes it possible to organize large number of strangers effectively; pass instructions around; receive and integrate product into a product baseline. We would never have advanced from the 18th century cottage industries without effective bureaucracies to put thousands of strangers together
  • The ability to translate or transliterate languages, both written and spoken. Though there are curiosities: Chinese has never spread beyond China even after being around for thousands of years; English is a global language after only a few centuries
  • And, of course, the separator between humans and animals is imagination; language facilities imagination among strangers.
_________________________________
(*) What about barter you ask -- or what about favors? Small ball stuff. Barter and favors don't scale.
(**) Only about 10% of the money in the world is physical  
Some of the ideas in this posting are derived from "Sapiens" by Harari, and "Empires of the Word" by Ostler


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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Confucius simplified


Some of you read my recent posting on data quality and integrity, the discussion of which is anchored by a statement attributed to Confucius

Fair enough

But, the "publish" button was hardly pushed when this rolls in from herdingcats. I call it Confucius simplified:

If you make [a] serious allegation or claim and don't have serious evidence, no one is going to take you seriously




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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Information quality; information integrity


In the early 21st century when the 4th edition to the PMBOK was being designed for publication in the first decade, there was debate about adding "data quality" to Chapter 11, Risk Management. The idea behind data quality being to evaluate risk in the presence of not only uncertainty, but also to look at the impact of making risk-informed decisions in the presence of lousy data.

I'm extending "data" to "information" for this discussion. The working difference being that information is multiple data elements integrated, and that data integrated data set integrated with context.

And, also think of information in the large sense. With all that, I offer this bit of insight from Confucius:
“If names are not correct then statements do not accord with facts.

And when statements and facts do not accord, then business cannot be properly executed.
When business is not properly executed, order and harmony do not flourish.
When order and harmony do not flourish, then justice becomes arbitrary.
And when justice becomes arbitrary, people do not know how to move hand or foot.

Hence whatever a wise man states he can always define, and what he so defines he can always carry into practice; for the wise man will on no account have anything remiss in his definitions.’
Confucius, Lúnyŭ† (Analects), xiii:3 (Chinese, early fifth century BC)2”

Empires of the Word.”(*)
 Nicholas Ostler 

My favorite
So, Confucius might have been a good member of the Chapter 11 team, but for his age. I think he said it all about data quality, data integrity, and indeed business integrity in the largest sense of the word when he said:

"And when statements and facts do not accord, then business cannot be properly executed."
_______________________

(*) If you love language or history, then "Empires of the Word" is a good read on the history of language


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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Interrogating or discussing?


".... interrogations, like battles, are never won but only lost"
John LeCarre
And so, you might ask, the lesson for project managers is what exactly?

My definition first: Interrogations, in the PM space, are just an adversarial or autocratic way to have a discussion. Someone in authority uses that authority to dominate, intending, of course, to "win"

And so, the lesson is: domineers don't win much, even when they're sure they've won it all. They often lose some aspect of .... respect, esteem, moral authority, mystique, and personal power as they "get up close and personal" as a means to overpower their "discussion partner".

After all, the closer at hand the more the weaknesses and blemishs appear. Afar is more mystical; mystique is what often sustains power and adds interest. But, you can't interrogate from afar, so be prepared to give at the office if interrogation is your thing.




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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bring me a solution


I've always been an advocate of "bring solutions when you bring problems". In other words, no whining.

Some argue the opposite: Bringing a solution is like bringing an advocate that has something to lose if the solution is not adopted ... prestige, face, standing, etc.
Perhaps fostering or initiating an opportunity to discuss the problem before a solution gets locked in is better

Well, yes, perhaps.
And, I'm sure there are situations that need/require brainstorming and an open source approach.
But, not every solution is so elusive or difficult.

In most cases: come with a solution (or a solution candidate), but be open and insensitive (on a personal level) to an alternative.

We're all big people here! (Or, here's your opportunity to be the adult!)



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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Inspiration


Does your work inspire you?
  • Super if so
  • Frustrating if not

Kristi Hedges tells us in an hbr.org essay that psychologists T. Thrash and A. Elliot have posited three contributors to an inspired work life:
  1. We see new possibilities
  2. We're receptive to outside influences
  3. We've a feeling of energy and motivation
Not working for you? Hedges goes on (I paraphrase her ideas):
  • Inaction is your enemy; get up and get moving (my paraphrase)
  • Keep on learning; if you think you've arrived at the pinnacle of knowledge for your job (career), you're mistaken. Not learning new stuff is actually going backward; you're knowledge will atrophy
  • Expand your network; new people brings new ideas
  • Keep it simple; narrow the scope or choices so you can focus and set priorities
The one that works best for me is the "keep on learning".  Writing this blog is an example; you might be amazed at the background reading and research that goes into it, from which I get many ideas for my professional role.
 


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