Friday, October 28, 2016

Delivering criticism

It was famously said, in a paraphrase: lead people, manage things. I buy into this advice, so I'm always on the alert for something that plays into it.

In a recent posting, I read some advice on delivering constructive criticism that seem pretty sensible, given my own experience of being on both the receiving end and the delivering side of such encounters. And, full disclosure: the first time I really had to do this, I really screwed it up!

So, the main points are:
  • Deliver the news in person, not on the phone, Facebook, or by tweet or email!. I once had a boss (vice president) who was fired by email... so chicken-crap by the guy who sent the email.
  • Focus on actionable things to do. Seems eminently sensible to be concrete, but often you get this: A friend was told he did not have the "leadership presence" for executive office. What do you do with that?
  • Bring praise. I always try to start with praise. In fact, my advice is never come without praise. No one is a complete dolt. Seems kind of backwards to me to start negative and then wind saying: "but you do a lot of stuff well".
  • Encourage problem solving, since folks who can see a problem and get it solved always have a job; and those that can't are 'takers' for the most part and always at risk for their job.
  • Provide a model. If you're asking for change, there should be a model for guidance. Afterall, if there's no direction to change to, how is one to know where the utility lies?

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Management tool -- lowest of the low tech

Can anyone image doing serious risk management without a checklist? (The answer, of course, is No) Actually, any procedural management can benefit from a checklist.

There's been whole books written about checklists. In fact, one of the more prominent books -- "The Checklist Manefesto" by Dr. A. Gawande -- entitles Chapter 1: "The Problem of Extreme Complexity", recognizing the contributors of breadth and depth and interdependencies (check on this before you do that....) are more than we can reasonably keep in mind.

PDM Heresy
Here's some heresy for the MSProject geeks among us: PDM(*) tools are great for laying out the schedule architecture and getting estimates -- via simulation -- of likely outcomes, but they suck at day-to-day management. Why so? In a word, complexity.

You can't practically put all the dependencies in the tools or the logic would be byzantine. No one could understand or follow it if you put it down (why did you do this? why did you do that?..). Some interactions are best left to the unit commander/team leader.

(*) precedence diagramming methods, PDM

What's a PM to do?
And, so how to manage those interactions and day-to-day requirements? Checklists! Check off on this and check off on that.... And, it's a great tool at a daily stand-up

Here's some specifics:
  • Small lists... No list too large; keep the near-future in sight
  • Lots of lists; make a new one every time the situation changes
  • Coordinated lists; I have this one.. do you have it's companion?
  • Reusable lists; once a list is validated by actual use, archive it for reuse
  • Validated lists; get SME input to validate the list... a list can be just as wrong as any other tool
  • EV lists; Don't put aside earned value... the sponsor and everyone involved wants output, and they want output commensurate with its value
  • Kanban lists; teams push things along through a sequence of steps... did everything get DONE?
Schedule and WBS
And now to application: checklists are found between the milestones.

Fair enough.

It's all about situational awareness, look-ahead strategies, and understanding the constituents of getting from here to there. There's no new scope; just go to the WBS for the parts and go to the schedule for the milestones. Then: checklists!

The end.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Leading with microknowledge

Robert Gates, former U.S. Defense Secretary, wrote in his memoirs that a strong and effective leader in a big and complex organization needs to put the time and energy into acquiring "microknowledge" but refrain from "micromanagement.

An interesting thought, to be sure. Let the emphasis lie on "... put in the time and energy... " This stuff is not free. Didn't Gladwell say: 10,000 hours to be an expert? Well, microknowledge is not 10,000 hours worth; indeed: most Defense secretaries don't even serve 10,000 hours.

On the other hand: "Microknowledge"? What's that?

  • Think of it as the knowledge you would need if you were to micromanage -- thus, it's the knowledge you use to assert leverage, influence, and legitimacy over those you do lead.

In other words, you need to understand the traffic while you resist the impulse to direct the traffic -- others can do that for you. (Think of the scene from the movie "Patton" when the General himself is standing in an intersection of tangled tank traffic directing their movements... you probably don't want to do that, even though with microknowledge you might be successful)

  • And, it's the knowledge you use to make decisions about delegation (this individual can likely to "this" but would not be good at "that"...) and assess performance.

But, of course, there's a dark side: microknowledge also what feeds the old saw:

"He/she knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be effective"

If this said about you, then you've crossed the line from legitimacy and leverage to nuisance and nemesis... Back off!

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Monday, October 17, 2016

The originals --- creative thinkers

Not necessarily first we learn, but certainly be the best and be different

In a TED talk, Adam Grant opines on what qualities or habits there are to look for in "the originals" -- as he calls them -- that lead to creatively different successes

Grant finds three habits:
  1. Modest procrastination: not pre-crastinators for sure -- those working far ahead of schedule -- but not so late as to be out of it either.
  2. Fearful of not trying; doubtful of the default
  3. Prolific with ideas, even as most of them will be bad
Grant concludes that such habits won't necessarily get you there first. So, if you are the project manager, don't be too obsessed with getting to market first. Just be different, and the best, when you do get there. Remember My Space was well into the market when Facebook came along, etc 
And, the worst thing is to not try; the next worst thing is to accept the default or status quo.
Be prolific! Lots and lots of ideas -- all but one won't make it. So what? You only need one!

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Metrics and unintended consequences

In the online "Cross Talk -- Journal of Defense Software Engineering" for Sept Oct 2016 there is a an article entitled "Positive Influences and Unintended Consequences" by Rob Ashmore and Mike Standish of the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

On the general topic of metrics, they make the point that generally all metrics have unintended consequences. (No news there; I think we can all agree with that. In my parlance: For every measure, there is a counter-measure. To which there is a counter-counter measure .... ) And to make their case, they cite observations by other researchers of U.K. public sector organizations that the consequences can be grouped into eight distinct types:

Tunnel vision, when management focuses on quantified aspects of performance rather than overall quality.
Sub-optimization, where narrow, local objectives are prioritized over the wider objectives of the organization as a whole.
Myopia, which involves the pursuit of short-term targets at the expense of legitimate long-term objectives or outcomes.
Measure fixation, where managers focus on the metric, rather than the objective for which the metric was developed.
Misrepresentation, where the reported metrics do not match the behavior on the ground.
Misinterpretation, where those to whom the metrics are reported make incorrect or inappropriate decisions.
Gaming, where behavior is deliberately altered so as to exploit loopholes in the measurement system.
Ossification, where an overly rigid measurement system prevents innovation.

To combat these phenomenon they introduce and explain a tool which is really just a cause-effect diagram that closes on itself -- closed loop. A "causal circle" of sorts. Read the article for more detail.

 I can't fault them on that idea. I've been preaching for years that closed loop systems are the only stable systems, and that goes for communications generally, measurements specifically.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

James Madison -- Federalist 51 and PMO

18th century political theorist James Madison was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, a group of essays about republican (small "r") government on a nation-scale, written and intended to sway public opinion toward ratification of the U.S. constitution.

He is the author of Federalist 51, one of the most famous and cited of the 85 essays. It's about checks and balances in the main, separation of powers, etc.

But, for the PMO, here is a passage from 51 that seems to hit directly on the need for project governance, but governance that has definitive checks and balances -- "auxiliary precautions" that "oblige it to control itself" in Madison's words.

In other words, the quality of governance -- not too much concentrated power and not too many intrusions -- should not be dependent exclusively on good will -- angels governing -- especially where there is a lot at stake that could lead to nefarious acts

"But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls would be necessary.

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this:
  • You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. 
A dependence on people is no doubt the primary control on government, but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions"
James Madison 
writing in Federalist 51, circa 1780's

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Friday, October 7, 2016

More about game theory -- and the PMO

Probably the greatest benefit of working with game theory arises from evaluating the consequences of each game step.
  • You do this ... your consequence
  • Your competitor or opposite number does something .... their consequence
The challenging game situation for the PMO is when your game opposite can't or won't collaborate with you, making the consequences for both potentially less optimum than if you collaborated
  • Adversaries across the table in a negotiation
  • Business partners that are really your nemesis
  • Win-lose situations ... often politically motivated (shocking!), but sometimes it's all about money (another shock) ... if the other guy gets it, you don't
Sort of win
Some people are stubborn; they insist on win-lose when sort of win - sort of win is available. In some circles, this is called compromising to get more than nothing.

Nash Equilibrium
Did you see the movie "A Beautiful Mind" or read the book about the Princeton mathematician, John Nash?
Nash was a game theorist. He devised something called the "Nash Equilibrium".

In practical terms, you and your non-collaborator have arrived at a Nash Equilibrium when simultaneously neither you nor your opposite has an alterative game move of greater benefit. Consequently, neither you or your non-collaborator is motivated or incentivized to change positions. To wit: you've arrived!

Ooops! There's a cost for being at equilibrium. In fact, you may have arrived at a sub-optimum point when looking through the lens of win-lose; but when taking the broader and more strategic view point ..... win-win .... you are at a good spot.

Strategic thinking
Why is win-win more strategic? Because today's competitor may be tomorrow's partner .... certainly that's the case in the technology contracting business. To win, you often have to fill a hole in your corporate resume. And that filler partner may have been your game competitor in the last competition.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Big data -- sorting this and that

Running a database project? Want to be agile and try different stuff quickly? Here's some stuff you can use, and it only takes 6 minutes to learn a few things

It's all about sorting "big data", to wit: millions of records. We've all sorted data on a spreadsheet -- a few thousand records at most -- but that happens at the blink of an eye. Big data takes a bit longer.

Here's a graphic video demonstration of 15 different sorting methodologies all applied to the same data set, one method at a time (and, set to music). The method is in the small type at the upper left of the video screen.
Sorts random shuffles of integers, with both speed and the number of items adapted to each algorithm's complexity.
The algorithms are:
  • selection sort, insertion sort, quick sort,
  • merge sort, heap sort, radix sort (LSD),
  • radix sort (MSD), std::sort (intro sort), std::stable_sort (adaptive merge sort),
  • shell sort, bubble sort, cocktail shaker sort,
  • gnome sort, bitonic sort and
  • bogo sort (30 seconds of it).

It's fun to watch -- but there's information here also. Take note of how fast one method works compared to another, and note the intermediate data patterns that emerge.

After each method completes, it will be obvious; a big green triangle appears -- you have to see it to know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, it's a fun 6 minutes:

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