Sunday, September 29, 2019

Your first project as PM

You've done a lot of projects as member of the project team, but you've never been the PM
Now you are one
And your first thought may be: "What do I need to know, and why do I need to know it?"
  • If I gather a bunch of data about what is going on, what do I do with it?
  • Didn't someone say: Don't measure what you are not going to manage?
  • And, very likely, someone said: Don't manage what's not important (or, meant to say: let the self-managing stuff manage itself)
How's it going?
I remember being asked early on: "How's it going?"
And my first thought was: what do you mean?
And, my second thought was: shouldn't I know what is meant by "how's it going"? And, gasp! how do I measure it? (Assuming I knew what "it" is)

Milestones are everything
If it's a big project, you may have an administrator or a team of administrators working schedules.
Yea for them!
Your job is to work value-milestones
  • What are the big chunks of value that need to be ready when
  • No one will long remember the details; but they will remember if you hit the big milestones, rollouts, and put value on the line as promised.
  • Even cost will be forgiven as a tactical necessity if you get the value-milestones right
What to measure and manage
And so, it comes down to barriers, inhibitors, risks, resources etc that will make or break a milestone.
That's the answer you should give to "how's it going" which is really "how's it going to the next milestone?"

Milestones are not self-managing; that's where you job comes in. Figure out what you need to measure to determine if you're going to make it, and then go measure it! From the data, determine a course of action to correct -- or maintain -- the path to success.


Buy them at any online book retailer!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Talking to not strangers

Here we go again; another of those bits about how to talk and listen. To wit: a conversation!
This one's on TED Talks: "How to have a better conversation".

Naturally, to have a conversation you have to be in the conversation. But with everyone staring at screens all day, and text more popular than talk, it's no small matter to actually have a conversation the old fashioned way: actually paying attention to another person, responding in a two-way conversation.

I heard the TED person say this, which somehow captures the idea:
"You don't need to learn how to pay attention if, in fact, you're paying attention"
Meaning, of course, that paying attention comes naturally if you're actually doing it; and if you're not, it's quite evident to the other person in the conversation.

And, here's another thing: it takes two to converse, but sometimes the least said the better.
Calvin Cooledge (former US President if you're not sure who that is) is quoted:
No man listened himself out of a job
 Meaning, of course, that a conversation where you are saying stupid stuff is probably not the conversation to have, even in text form

And, for the metrics among us, we are told:
The average speaker speaks 250 words per minute, but we are capable of understanding at twice that rate
Question: what are you doing with the whitespace? Mulitasking? Or, as Covey would have us do: listen with the intent of understanding

A good conversationalist is always prepared to be amazed! 

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Value shifting as we speak

I wrote "a" book on project value, "Managing Project Value", though I would like to say I wrote "the" book on project value .... but I won't go there. (See the cover image below)

Now, in that book I assert that "value" is commonly in two flavors:
  • Value as a system of beliefs, " .... are a moral and ethical code of sorts; collectively, they form culture ... "
  • Value as worth, " ...Value is the worth we place upon something for which we are willing to give up something else.  In other words, worth or worthiness has a transactional aspect, and thus we speak of ‘transactional value’ 
Business value begets project value
For decades, business value has been transactional, the ultimate purpose of which is to increase shareholder value in the business.

And so, we get this bit:
We posit that the best way project managers contribute to maximizing value is to deliver a “best value” outcome.

Best value is the most valuable set of outcomes possible for the available investment, risk, and constraints.

Best value is not necessarily best financial benefit; best value can be the best possible outcome of any scorecard metric.

Best value at the project level maximizes value at the business level
But, is all this still true?
Is "maximizing shareholder value" giving way to some other measurement or accountability?
And, can there be accountability without competition, the "Economist" editors ask.
Perhaps not
If not, then away with monopolies!

And to whom should there be accountability and for what?
Is this a new enlightenment?
Maybe the circle is widening; no longer mostly shareholders and shareholder value.
But, as I've written elsewhere, accountability to everyone is tantamount to accountability to no one. So, add carefully to shareholders those to whom you are to be accountable.

Project balance sheet
All then market, cultural, and political dynamics take us back to the project  balance sheet: business value in balance with project outcomes and risk. If one side is to change -- the  value proposition of business -- then so to must the other side.

To wit: stand by for change; stand by for challenges to project culture!

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Culture vs Strategy

Culture vs strategy? Put that way, it sounds like a competition
Hello! It is.
And: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day" (Unknown author)
Meaning: Change is hard! People are gounded in culture; it's foundational; it's a matter of security and well-being. Resist!

Bring your A-game
Any strategic idea that has to overcome culture better be a strong one. Come with your A-game! Expect losses (*). The cost will be greater than you estimate; and it will take longer.

Velocity will seem like you are dragging anchors (Actually, you probably are)
Don't expect popularity. In fact, you may not be a survivor ... but it's for a good cause!

Not particulary PC, but the expression used to be: "Shoot the first one; hang the second; the rest will follow"

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Crafting a value statement

Value, like quality, is elusive to define "they" say. In the eye of the beholder, etc.

Fair enough

What do we think of this manifesto (*)?
"The purpose of professional management is to serve clients, shareholders, workers and employees, as well as societies, to harmonize the different interests of stakeholders"
Certainly "professional management" includes professional project management. And, by extension the purpose (read: value) of projects is not different from the purpose of those who manage them.

Not so fast!

Some would rebut this thesis this way:
"Accountability to everyone means accountability to no one"
But some many years ago this overall issue was worked pretty hard; the outcome was the "Balanced Scorecard" which recognized that the interests of all parties did indeed need to be harmonized and provided a framework for accomplishing same.

However, lest we forget, the PMO gets measured by some, but not by all. And, say what you will, the measurers will be satisfied by the measurees before anyone else.

And that -- the interests of the measurers -- at the end of the day, is the value statement of the project.


(*) Davos manifesto of 1973 for the World Economic Forum

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Friday, September 13, 2019

microknowledge vs micromanagement

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... "
But, this stuff is not free.
Didn't Malcolm Gladwell say: 10,000 hours to be an expert?
Well, microknowledge should not be 10,000 hours worth; indeed: most Defense secretaries don't even serve 10,000 hours.

So: "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.

Understanding vs direction
In other words, you need to understand the traffic while you resist the impulse to direct the traffic -- others can do that for you. (*)

  • 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 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!

(*) 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

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The many flavors of scope creep

Can there be scope creep in Agile? 
Doesn't agile define creep away in a stroke: "Scope is whatever is prioritized in the backlog that fits within the budget (OPM, other people's money) and the time.

The backlog changes all the time, but that's not creep, it's just backlog management."

What I just wrote is a "best value" definition of scope. But, sometimes it doesn't sell.

I credit my agile students with these observations about "creep", to wit:

Project scope creep: it may be well and good that a true pure play on agile has no conception of scope creep, because the backlog is simply rebuilt as a zero-base-backlog (ZBB) after every iteration -- if not after each iteration, then certainly after every release.

Consequently, after every release, you should be able to stop and be satisfied you've delivered the best possible stack of high value objects. Amen!

Resource scope creep
On the other hand, if you can't get commitment for dedicated teams because the resources are needed elsewhere, then you are saddled with the overhead and inefficiency of rolling out and rolling in resources. This is resource scope creep -- spending more on resources' training, recruiting, and assimilation than the budget allows.

Clearly, this is a different flavor than project scope creep.

And, it's been around since forever!
Who's not heard of "resource plug-and-play"?
The plug-and-play process: just define a role, line up the role with appropriate resumes, pick one, plug him/her in, and you're off to the races!

  • For more on plug-and-play, see the work of F.W. Taylor and "management science"

Agile to the rescue!
The fix is in: a pure play in agile means having fully dedicated teams that use the inevitable white space in the team schedule to improve the product -- more testing, more refined refactoring, working completely through the technical debt -- but not to get off the team and go elsewhere, only to return later.

The idea of giving up on matrix and other plug-'n-play resource schemes is pretty much opposed by managers not willing to give real agile a try.

Shifting from input to output
Again, it's an input/output focus tension... managing the white space by moving resources around is an input focus; leaving resources in place to use the white space for quality is an output focus.

Traditional schemes often put resource managers in charge of finding resources for the project manager. Obviously, those resource guys are going to focus on getting their job done according to their metrics.

Agile schemes are a bit different: once the resource manager has given up the resource to an agile team, it's the team leader who's responsible for getting good productivity and managing the white space on behalf of a best-value product

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Let them figure it out

"Let them figure it out" is the mantra for small team management at its best.
I'm constantly amazed at how fast and successfully small teams converge to a local optimization, finding a methodology for doing whatever they are doing that maximizes their interests.

Local optimization
In several recent situations I was an observer and a participant as 20 or teams of anywhere from 2 to 6 people were given the same task, given the same instructions, given the same resources, and had the same strategic goal.

What happened?

There were about a half dozen unique methods that were synthesized in real time, tested, and the most advantageous selected. What I noticed were several dynamics working nearly simultaneously:
  • Self organization: who is going to do what -- mostly, a volunteer thing as to who does what, though informed by task, skill, and capability of the team members
  • Convergence: fail quick, fix, and retry til it's working well. You can feel it when the non-value add stuff dissipates and it's all about value-add
  • Local interests: Local interests are both personal and team oriented. Each person tends to maximize their own interests to the extent that they fit in the overall team envelop; and the team optimizes to max out their contribution to the strategic goal
And the PMO?
The PMO was there to set the strategic goal; put the resources in place, having recruited the teams; and knock down the issues that were not foreseen. And, lest it not be forgotten: to provide feedback during and after -- both a real-time incentive, and a after-action atta-boy

This stuff actually works!

Not so fast! Is virtual local?
But, did I mention virtual teams?
Virtual teams have less bandwidth and so their velocity is correspondingly less.
Convergence times are greater, etc. But, the principles apply

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Business literacy

In a recent essay, we learn that law students are now beginning to get courses and intern experience about running a real business. How novel! People who work for money acquiring an understanding of how money is made in a business.

Business and the PMBOK?
Now, looking through the PMBOK and similar guides and manuals, you'd be hard pressed to find much from a MBA agenda or even basic accounting for non-financial project managers. I'm constantly amazed at the blank stares I get when I talk about the general ledger and the chart of accounts for the project, or the balance sheet, or the cash flow analysis. Hello! Is there anyone home?

Usually there is some sign of life when you bring up NPV -- they say: "isn't that the effect of time on money?" (Actually, not exactly. It's the effect of risk experienced over time, but let's not quibble if life is stirring)

And, education is free!
And, there's actually no excuse anymore. You can find free downloads of ebooks of the dummies' guide to an MBA.

Or, gasp!.. go to a library.

Actually, in the downtown City of New York public library I recently observed that the reading rooms were full of young people staring at Mac's. (Off axis question: why are there no PCs in the reading rooms?). In fact, the NYC main library was about full... just sayin': people use libraries.

And, of course, talk to your finance-and-accounting person... I'll bet they'll explain the Chart of Accounts for your project quite readily

Let's banish business illiteracy!

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

About choice

I've been working on a couple of projects with my wife.
From her I get this little item in a text:

I wasn't laughing... honestly!

Buy them at any online book retailer!