Monday, July 29, 2019

Critiquing behaviors

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.

So here's a distillation of best practice for delivering criticism. 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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Friday, July 26, 2019

Grand strategy -- an illusion?

Every enterprise engages in strategy.
  • It's a matter of routine to some: Driven by the calendar, it's now time to do the "strategic plan".
  • To others, it's another name for how to engage with risk -- a risk might be a tactical failure, but at the same time, it could be a strategic success: The other guy won today, but he killed himself doing it.
And, of course, there is always self-interest: To be accused of not thinking strategically is a definite career limiter.

An illusion?
But, is grand strategy an illusion? I think not! But, consider these pro-illusion ideas from a recent essay on just that point:*
"It makes sense to put stock in strategy if:
  • The [enterprise] has consistent preferences, if 
  • It can assess the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action (and make decisions more or less rationally), and if 
  • It has the capacity to follow through on its strategic choices.
But [perhaps] none of this is possible, and thus strategy is an illusion .....

In the complex and highly uncertain world of [big project and big enterprise] politics, it is all but impossible to identify the ideal strategy ahead of time. The [enterprise or project] lacks full knowledge about the threats it confronts, in part because [other businesses and markets] act [in private] and in part because their interests change over time. As a result, the consequences of [strategic] policy are consistently unpredictable.

The strategizing ritual contributes to a .... sense of insecurity. Psychological blinders, moreover, make strategizing still more difficult.
  • People suffer from all sorts of cognitive limitations that hinder decision-making—in particular, a tendency to rationalize. 
  • Instead of acting on the basis of ... beliefs, we revise our beliefs to make sense of our improvisations. 
  • We avoid identifying priorities and the tradeoffs among them.
  • Moreover, businesses are not unitary actors, and bureaucratic battles impede strategic planning and consistency.
This sounds like the "noestimates" version of "nostrategy": As a result, the consequences of [strategic] policy are consistently unpredictable.

I'm not buying the thesis that not thinking about a future that has a discriminating difference with the present is somehow a good thing. Just because -- the future is unpredictable with precision and there are unknowns and unknowables that will drive us off course -- is no reason not to tackle the hard stuff

*David M. Edelstein and Ronald R. Krebsein, writing in the Nov-Dec 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"Little Data"

"Big Data" is the meme du jour, but most projects run on "little data", the sort of data that fits into the constraints of spreadsheets like Excel. It's everyday stuff that drives estimates, scorecards, dashboards, task assignments, and all manner of project analytics.

Let's Excel
So, assuming you using Excel as a spreadsheet for doing actual calculations and data entry, you will find that you need to do some analytics and data analysis from time to time.

"Little Data" spreadsheet tools
Filters are one of the most useful "little data" tools in spreadsheets. Filter is the Excel name for the process and tool, but which the database people -- familiar with SQL for row by column -- would call a query. 

Pivot tables are another spreadsheet data query tool, but they are not the discussion today.

"Comments" -- those text annotations to a cell -- are not analysis tools, but they can be very useful regarding the context of the data. It's amazing how many people ignore adding comments to a spreadsheet.

How to filter
And so, how to do a filter in Excel, something practical for the project manager? There are YouTube clips galore on the subject, but here's a neat, step by step, illustrated process that goes from the simple to the advanced.

Just what the PMO need to get into the data business

Some other rules
Beyond what you will read in the linked article, there are a few data rules that will make life simpler
  • Every column should have a header or title that is unique, even if just column1, column2, etc
  • Only one data value in a cell. Thus, first and last names should be in separate columns; so also city and state. But maybe also captain and ship's names. This is called "normalizing" the data
  • Keep the static data in separate row/column areas from the data that changes. So, if a ship sails to San Francisco on a certain date, the ship's description goes in one area; the city description in another; but the city/date/ship is dynamic and belongs in a third area.
  • Don't put 'word processing' paragraphs or labels in the middle of the data. In other words, maintain the integrity of row by column
  • It's good to have at least one column that is guaranteed to be uniquely valued in each cell, like a row ID
  • If you can avoid using "spaces" in the data, that's good. It makes the query more sure. So, "column1" instead of "column 1"

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Kanban, WIP, etc

Kanban, WIP, and three others are what I frame as "five tools for managing"

I've put it together in this presentation (*):


(*) See: for all of my online stuff .... free for download, but an attribution would be appreciated

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Soccer for 3 year-olds

Ever been to a soccer match with 3 year-olds on the field?

All go for the ball all the time; it's just a herd moving around the field (*), more or less with ball the center of attention. But, little is done except to kick at the ball. And certainly no one is ready for the breakout.

And this applies to project management how?

The best example is email with the dozen addressees. Everyone gets the "ball" but actually no one gets the ball. "Hey, everyone was supposed to do something!" But actually, no one did anything but kick it around.

It's like 3 year-olds playing soccer!

(*) field = pitch to some

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Oceans to fly

Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know boundaries?
Amelia Earhart

This month we celebrate the Apollo program and the flight of Apollo 11 specifically, the first man-to-land-on-moon mission completed 50 years ago this month. (*)

Surely Apollo was our ocean of the times, 50 years ago.

And, coming only 11 years after the U.S. launch its first satellite in January, 1958 -- the so called "grapefruit" -- Apollo was certainly reckless in a certain kind of way, myriad risks taken in order to meet the timeline set by President Kennedy to get to the moon by the end of the 1960's.

(*) Launched July 11, 1969; moon landing July 20, 1969

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Monday, July 8, 2019

A historical perspective

The future may not repeat history, but it rhymes
No linearity
Another way to understand the opening witticism is that activities guided by people aren't amenable to linear -- that is, straight line -- projections and forecasts. But they are often close

Fair enough ... most would agree. Experience keeps us between the lines, as it were.

The upshot is that using the facts of history to forecast the randomness of the future requires the forecast to be probabilistic -- that is: needs to allow for a range of outcomes, subject to the biases, experience, pressures, and circumstances that inform human activity -- in the moment.

Repeat vs Rhyme
Linear projections of the past history or performance into the future usually are wide of the mark. Why? Because the very projection itself stimulates a counter-strategy. Thus no repeat!

But, projects are rarely a green field, so there are historically defined limits -- process, culture, experience. Thus, the future rhymes with the past, even if not repeated.

Project manager's mission:
Among several possible mission statements is this one (*):

The mission of the project manager is to defeat forecasts that imperil delivering expected value within the bounds of reasonable risk 
Perhaps you can see the rhyming effect of that statement .....

(*) See page 2 of this blog for a more complete explanation of the project manager's mission

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

4th of July

This office is closed on 4 July due to circumstances beyond our control
Sign on British Consulate in the USA

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Sacred but not immutable

There are a lot of project principles, and processes built on those principles, we think of as immutable: stationary--and proven--with time, experience, context.

Somewhat like the speed of light: Every observer or practitioner in any frame would see them the same way

Not so fast!

Sacred indeed! To be respected? Yes! Defaults that are best practice? Absolutely
But immutable? No.

Unlike the speed of light, Planck's constant, the G-gravitational constant, and a few others, everything else is subject to interpretation, framing, circumstances and context, and the advance of process improvement.

To be immutable in the project context is to be on the edge of denying "new physics" that might move the PMO to a more effective plane

New under the Sun
Just during my professional PM time, I've witnessed:
  • Theory of Constraints
  • TQM in multiple forms, largely abandoned
  • Critical chains
  • Agile methods
  • Monte Carlo simulations into the main stream
  • PERT dismissed
  • Iron triangles, parallelograms, and other interdependencies
  • Black Swans and other physics of the unknown (chaos, fragile systems etc)
  • Risk matrix
  • Etc

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