Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Red rover, red rover, send ..... over!


It's an old game but it's a way to choose a team:
  • Everyone stands around waiting to be chosen
  • The team leader chants: "Red rover, red rover, send { name } over!", and that person is chosen
Ooops! It's hell to be the last chosen... or worse, not chosen at all! Gives you a headache (take aspirin) and sometimes a heartache (Rejected!)

So, Carolyn O'Hara has some advice:
Do:
  1. Check your own behavior and biases for tendencies that might make people feel excluded
  2. Empower others — it makes them feel trusted and included
  3. Continually work at creating an inclusive culture — it’s an ongoing process
Don’t:
  1. Gloss over differences — people want their unique contributions to be valued
  2. Assume diversity is the same as inclusion
  3. Leave it to chance — be proactive about promoting inclusion
  4. Gloss over differences — people want their unique contributions to be valued

Catalyst Research Center for Advancing Leader Effectiveness recently completed a survey of 1,500 workers in six countries that showed people feel included when they “simultaneously feel that they both belong, but also that they are unique..” So, no Taylorism here: no one is "plug and play"; everyone has their unique utility.

Of course, while you're busy being inclusive, be aware that you might also need to be tolerant. Tolerance and inclusion are actually different ideas ... you can be tolerant without bothering to include; and you can be inclusive while being intolerant to those included.

It's a bit tricky for some, but for a productive team, you really should try for both qualities.


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Monday, September 29, 2014

The TOGETHER thing


Heidi Grant Halvorson tells us that being together, working together, and actually doing things together is a big deal.

This is news you can actually use

OMG! There's a magical elixir: Halvorson relates this bit:"... the feeling of working together has indeed been shown to predict greater motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, that magical elixir of interest, enjoyment, and engagement that brings with it the very best performance."

So, we all work in teams.. at least that's been the preferred project organization for more than a generation.. thus, no problem? We're together all the time, or are we?

The take away from Halvorson's piece for me is that working in teams is not enough. You actually have to work together to do things together to get the benefit of "together". Indeed, is this true: "....the weird thing about teams: They are the greatest (potential) source of connection and belonging in the workplace, and yet teamwork is some of the loneliest work that you’ll ever do."?

If you've ever worked from home on a team, you know what this all about. Team work at home can be pretty lonely. Personally, I like the hub-bub of other people around, or at least some background noise to stir up the air.

Perhaps this is the real issue: ".. The word “together” is a powerful social cue to the brain.  In and of itself, it seems to serve as a kind of relatedness reward, signaling that you belong, that you are connected, and that there are people you can trust working with you toward the same goal."



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Friday, September 26, 2014

Speaking off the cuff


Every project manager speaks to groups in public... it goes with the territory. But, what happens if someone drops in unexpectedly and an off the cuff briefing or speech or speaking opportunity portends?

If this is not your strong suit, here's some worthy advice from John Coleman writing at the hbr.org network blog:
  1. Define a structure: The pressure of extemporaneous remarks comes from their ambiguity. What do I say? What do I not say? The worst and most stressful business speeches are those that ramble without purpose. In forensics we’d tackle this issue by quickly drafting a structure on a note card to support our main point — often an introduction, two or three supporting points, and a conclusion. With these on paper, it was easy to fill in the details with stories, examples, and statistics. Now, when I’m asked to offer unexpected remarks over dinner or at a board meeting, I grab a napkin, notebook, or the back of a PowerPoint deck and jot down my main argument and some key supporting points. Then I fill out the examples and data I need to make those points — usually in 20 words or less. Any ambiguity or tendency to ramble evaporates.
  1. Put the punchline first: When I worked in consulting, one of the cardinal rules of communication was “punchline first.” Any presentation should have a clear thesis stated up front so that listeners can easily follow and interpret the comments that follow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen business presenters ramble through a speech with the audience wondering to the very end about the point of the comments. Giving a good business speech is not like telling a good joke. Don’t save the punchline for the end.
  1. Remember your audience: All it takes is a few lines to make an audience feel acknowledged and a speech feel fresh. Tie the city in which you are speaking into your introduction. Draw parallels between the organization you’re addressing and one of the stories you tell. Mention someone by name, connecting them to the comments you’re offering. These are small gestures, but they make your remarks more tailored and relevant.
  1. Memorize what to say, not how to say it: How many times have you practiced exactly how to say something in your head then frozen up or completely forgotten in the moment? In forensics speeches, we’d often have 5–10 citations to remember, 3–4 examples with names and places, and 3–4 supporting statistics. That’s a lot to research and remember in 30 minutes or less. The trick was this: We’d focus on memorizing key stories and statistics, rather than practicing our delivery. If you spend your time on how to say something perfectly, you’ll stumble through those phrasings, and you’ll forget all the details that can make them come alive. Or worse, you’ll slavishly read from a PowerPoint or vertical document rather than hitting the high points fluidly with your audience. If you know your topic, the words will come.
  1. Keep it short: Blaise Pascal once famously commented, “I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.” While it seems like the challenge of speaking with limited preparation would be finding enough to say, the opposite is often true. When at a loss for words, many of us underestimate the time we need — cramming in so many stories and points that we run well over our time and dilute our message. No one will appreciate your economy of words more than your listeners, so when in doubt, say less.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Even if you hate statistics...


Many tell me: "I hate statistics", or they tell me: "I don't know anything about statistics, so I don't use statistics in projects"

Hello!... actually you do use statistics; you're just not that aware of it.

One of the most prominent principles you apply probably unwittingly and unconsciously is the Central Limit Theorem, affectionately: CLT.

From a risk management perspective, the CLT has these two ideas embedded that are useful day to day (look: no math!):

1. Central tendency: similar to mean regression, central tendency says that regardless of the underlying distribution of random effects, whether asymmetrical or not, uniform or not, the aggregation of all the independent effects will have a bell shape with a pronounced central value.

That's handy because no matter how pessimistic or optimistic are the various WP managers about budgets and schedule, at the project level it all washes out and there will be a general bell curve to the central figure that is the sum of the durations or the sum of the budgets.

2. Regression to the mean: most natural phenomenon have random variations (the time for the paint to dry, etc) but over time they find their way back to their long term average.

If your project is to paint the fence, then there may be a few warm days, a few dry days, a few cool days, but over enough time, the time to paint the fence will wander back to its long term average. This gives you the basis for parametric estimating with relatively low risk.

This, of course, underlies the long term quality assumptions in Six Sigma and other process control paradigms. Of course, if there is tool wear, like the paint brush wearing out, then such non-random effects will bias the mean off its natural center.

Generally, biological systems, like people, regress to the mean unless there are material changes in environment, training, tools, etc. So, just because a team member performed really good (or bad) this time, such non-average performance does not predict the next time.

Malcolm Gladwell tells us it takes 10K hours to become an expert -- about 5 years in normal times -- so the drift of the mean with expertise is usually quite long.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I say weights and you say probabilities...


Just to be clear: weights and probabilities are not the same concept:
  • Probabilities express the proportion of certainty allocated to each value. Consequently, the proportions all add up to 1.0 like slices in a pie.
  • Weights, on the other hand, express relative strength... as such there is no need to have proportionality among weights unless it's convenient.
We hear these terms used interchangeably... weights when we mean proportional uncertainty; probabilities when we mean relative weights. With context, we usually know what is really meant, but not always.

In marketing and sales, we often hear about probable sales (ok) and weighted market values (ok), but then somehow the weighted market value becomes the win probability... not likely true

And, we see similar usage on the risk register where weights and probabilities get mixed.
  • It's ok to say impacts are weighted by some binary scale (High = 4 x Medium; Medium = 2 x Low)
  • It's even ok to say risks are weighted by their probabilities: risk impact x risk probability
  • But, it's not ok to an 80% probability of this happening and a 30% probability of the opposite happening. If these are all part of the same pie, they may be weighted by a ratio of 8 to 3 for some parameter, but they are not 8 to 3 in probability: 80 + 30 > 1

But wait: the world will not end if these errors are made. On the other hand, let's wipe out ignorance!



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Saturday, September 20, 2014

What are you doing on mute?


From no less a project management tome than "The Atlantic" comes this bit of confirmation that we all know but don't talk about. People on conference calls aren't always paying attention.

OMG! Is that news?

Here's a graphic to make the point
I guess I'm old school: if on mute you'll find me in the top couple of bars... doing email or something else.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's faster in the slow lane (?!)


Are we all physicists?

We might be.

This might be another take on the tortoise and the hare, but it's more about flows in projects, whether WIP flows in the Kanban, conventional team throughput, or staffing pressures and policies. And, for the quants among us, there's a bit of physics as well.

Imagine this experience (we've all been there): Driving on a multi-lane highway at moderate traffic volume, everyone is in their place: fast guys are in the fast lanes; slow guys are in the slow lanes. All is order.

Now, the volume builds, and you notice an inexorable shift of volume to the fast lanes: everyone wants to get ahead of the crowd.

Now it gets interesting: the fast lanes slow down with increasing volume but the slow lanes keep on moving... moving in fact faster than the fast lanes! And, as volume builds, the phenomenon is more apparent, until... volume overwhelms the whole system and all lanes move together in fits and starts.

Fits and starts: that's physics, actually. So is the slow lane being faster.

And what are the physics that apply to Kanban boards and all the rest of the flows in projects?
Answer: reflected energy. The load (capacity) can't absorb the energy (volume) being thrown at it, so it throws it back in the form of reflected energy (everyone stepping on the brakes).

Do you have microwave waveguides in your project, or any kind of load-matched transmission system? If so, you probably measure the return loss: energy transmitted but not accepted by the load, thus to be reflected.

And, if the reflections are timed right they create coherent waves (standing waves). Thus, in traffic, and elsewhere, with too much volume being applied, you might be standing still in one place, only to move ahead at the speed limit at another place, then to stop again... ergo, standing waves of coherent reflection.

And, we see it in all manner of project flows... the lesson being obvious... throw more volume at the fast guys (fast team) and eventually they'll slow down until everything they are doing is being done slowly, only to be passed by the less-fast (we won't say mediocre, or anything like that)

In the software business, we have Brooks law [I paraphrase]: Adding people (volume) to a slow (late) project makes it slower (later)

Your job: volume manager. No point in throwing good energy after bad... it's just going be reflected right back at you.





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