Sunday, November 29, 2009

Open workspaces and communications

In the December 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review -- the theme of which is 'spotlight on innovation'--James B. Stryker has an interesting item in the magazine's Forethought section reporting on his research into the effectiveness of open workspace. He titles his work: "In Open Workplaces, Traffic Headcount Matters"

Everyone who's been around a while remembers the mid-80's push for quiet, private workspaces, many with hard walls and a door! Then came the boom and the age of osmosis, as Alistair Cockburn puts it, and the open workspace is ushered in. That's more or less where we are today, 10 or 15 years later, with low-rise cubicles, open areas, and lots of face time with our co-worker--that is, if you go to where the work is done, and you do if you are on a SCRUM, XP, or Crystal team.

Mr Stryker cites three parameters that are key to productivity in the open workplace:

  • Visibility

Here's a wow! If the space is on a main traffic route that gets lots of notice, 60% reported increased face time with team members. Lesson: don't locate in corners!

  • Density

More people, more communication--somewhat obvious, but Styker says 16 people in a 25-foot radius really works.  That's about 120+ square feet per person, counting all the public areas.  Generous by my experience.

  • Oasis

Now this is one I really like: 22 meeting spaces within 75-feet is a recommended figure.  My last project was rich with meeting places and it really makes a difference.

Overall, Stryker's article is worth a view, even at a coffee shop or bookstore where HBR is on the shelf!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Glen's Quote of the Day: schedule risk!

Glen Alleman comes up with some nice quotes of the day. One of my favorites is about the swooshing sound of milestones as they fly by:

I love deadlines; I especially like the SWOOSHING sound they make as they fly past
— Douglas Adams

Glen has a nice little post on this, and he mentions another favorite of mine: the Monte Carlo simulation to get a handle on schedule risk. The fact is, the statistical math is either not closed form or impractical to evaluate for any real schedule, so the only way to really see what is going on is with a simulation--and it's fast!

The Central Limit Theorem tells us the outcome distribution of a long term schedule with a lot of activities is going to be nearly symmetric--that is, about as many things are going to go right as not over a long term--but the confidence interval, in real numbers, for any particular schedule is only knowable with simulation. And simulation is the best way to get a fast read on the project manager's best friend in statistics: Expected Value

Give it a try!

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The People Puzzle: non linear devices!

One of the most prolific writers in the agile space of thought provoking ideas, and author of one my favorite articles is Alistair Cockburn, the inventor of the Crystal family of agile methods.

[Some of these links are a little slow to load, so patience is advised]

One of Cockburn's favorite subjects, at least measured by his passion, is people, and a worthy note he wrote is entitled  "Characterizing People as Non-linear, First Order Components in Software Development.

In this paper, Cockburn's premise is that people are 'active devices' in software development, and like all active devices, there are success and failure modes, primarily these four:

  1. People are communicating beings, doing best face-to-face, in person, with real-time question and answer.
  2. People have trouble acting consistently over time.
  3. People are highly variable, varying from day to day and place to place.
  4. People generally want to be good citizens, are good at looking around, taking initiative, and doing “whatever is needed” to get the project to work.
He also suggests that people have these general characteristics:

  • People need both think time and communicating opportunities 
  • People work well from examples 
  • People prefer to fail conservatively than to risk succeeding differently; prefer to invent than to research, can only keep a small amount in their heads, and do make mistakes, and find it hard to change their habits.
  • Individual personalities easily dominate a project.
  • A person’s personality profile strongly affects their ability to perform specific assignmen

There's actually a lot more in the paper that makes for thoughtful reading.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Project Managers: who owns the content?

In the course of a project, a lot of things get developed, much of it renderings of ideas in all manner of media.

Question: who owns the content?

Answer: it depends! If you are working under the rules of 'works made for hire' your employer probably owns the content--lock, stock, and barrel

But if you are not on a 'works made for hire' agreement, and you are the author, most likely you own the content under the principle of "original works of authorship" unless you have signed it over with a written document to someone else--at least that is true in the United States.

In the U.S., an idea can't be copyrighted, but an idea expressed in media is automatically copyrighted to the author, whether or not published, and no declaration or registration is required, ever!

Want to know more? There is a really good document, written clearly and in plain language, at the copyright office of the United States. Just click here to get it.

What about creative commons? What is that? Well, it is a means to share copyrighted material for purposes of innovation and content sharing. There are several sharing ideas under creative commons. Here's a good slideshare on the topic from Jennifer Dorman.

And what about 'free use'? Well, the courts have generally agreed that you can copy up to 250 contiquous words, or 400 words from an entire work, without getting a copyright release. But there are exceptions, especially when the 400 words is the essence of the copyrighted work. Read more at the government website on copyrights

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Subsidiarity Principle

What does the Catholic church have to do with project management? Well, do you remember the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII? If not, then to make a quick point, among other things, it postulated the concept of subsidiary function, also called subsidiarity, to differentiate responsibilities between the Vatican and other units of the church. However, the idea has spread far and wide and is embraced in modern business thinking and progressive project management--like agile methods.

In a word, what it means is push things down: more importantly, don't interfere with subordinates. Have faith they know what they are doing, and more likely they will do the right thing.

There are rights and responsibilities that come with this principle. The central authority has a right to expect responsible behavior of its subordinate, but retains thea right to verify performance— – to trust, but with verification— – and intervene to impose corrective action.

The subordinate unit has a right to expect a degree of autonomy, with reasonable inspection and verification, so long as the subordinate acts responsibly. The subordinate has a responsibility to act in its own interests and in the interests of the central authority, taking care to not over- optimize at a low level.

When the principle of subsidiary function principle is extended to project planning, the first planning criteria is that plans should not be unnecessarily obtrusive; in particular, an agile plan should not direct, prescribe, or otherwise limit maneuverability and activity beyond the establishment of acceptable norms and conventions.

In other words, planning is to be done by the most competent and responsible decentralized project unit that is competent and responsible.

For progressives, it's not hard to buy into subsidiarity!

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