Saturday, November 16, 2019

Confidence that feels like knowledge

Going back a bit to 1999, psychologist David Dunning, PhD, and his graduate student, Justin Kruger, published their research that in their own words revealed, "incompetent people ... cannot recognize just how incompetent they are."

Now, this isn't to suggest that most, or even a lot of us, are incompetent. That's not the point. The point is we all suffer from cognitive bias. We all believe we are smarter and more capable than we really are. (*)

Incompetence doesn't leave individuals with empty thoughts. They don't feel disillusioned or even cautious. [editorial: Yikes! incompetent and not cautious .... bad karma!]

Stephens goes on:

Inappropriate confidence
Dunning explained that instead, the incompetent are filled with inappropriate confidence that feels to them like knowledge.

The result is people tend to overestimate their skill. They fail to recognize their own mistakes or lack of skill.

They are also poor judges of genuine skill or the expertise of others

Sum it up
So, let's see. If your manager or leader is "full of knowledge", not cautious about risky adventure, and seems to pick poorly equipped or skilled people, then you conclude: Incompetent!

(*) Extracted from an article on "MedPage Today" by Phillip Stephens, DHSC, PA-C

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Micrometers, chalk, and axes

On a recent aircraft restoration project I learned this 3-step process of mechanics (who knew? You can't make this stuff up!), which in three short statements illustrates the axiom that a process, viewed end-to-end, is not better than it's worst component, and also ...

Precision and accuracy, no matter how diligent, are wasted on the poorest resolution of the process
  1. Measure with a micrometer
  2. Mark it with chalk (in our case, Sharpie marking pens), and
  3. Cut it with an axe! (in our case, shears of one kind or another, or (gasp!) the band saw)
The high precision guess
Ooops! This very process shows up in project management. See: accuracy vs resolution and the spreadsheet -- estimates that are just a bit better than a guess (the axe) are entered into cells with zillions of digits of resolution (the micrometer). Nonsense.

Domain distortion
And, we see it as domain distortion when the defined process crowd with six sigma control limits wants to port their ideas into the domain of the one sigma program office. Again, nonsense (except for the problems defining process in six sigma that is quite portable and worthy)

Small stuff gets washed out in the big picture
It seems I'm constantly explaining why/how the precision of a estimate in a work package more or less washes out at the PMO level in a Monte Carlo simulation of all the work package effects.

Monte Carlo is the 3-step process micrometer-chalk-axe writ large:
  1. Agonize over every work package estimate (micrometer, but the WP manager does this step)
  2. Enter all the WP data into a simulation package using 3-point estimates and benchmarks (chalk, likely applied by the project analyst)
  3. Run the simulation to get the "big picture" (axe)
What I find is those in the PMO wielding the axe seem to get inordinately excited about an outlier estimate here or there. If you're the axe-person, don't sweat the micrometers!

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Thoughts on "change"

I ran into a blog item on change the other day, at a blog site called Rule of Thumb.

The posting entitled "The Change Curve", depicts a project management adaption of the change model proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying" when she described the "Five Stages of Grief"

Rule of Thumb proposes this adaptation for project management of the Five Stages into these six ideas:

•Satisfaction: Example – “I'm happy as I am.”
•Denial: Example – “This isn’t relevant to my work.”
•Resistance: Example – “I’m not having this.”
•Exploration: Example – “Could this work for me?”
•Hope: Example – “I can see how I make this work for me.”
•Commitment: Example – “This works for me and my colleagues.”

Of course there are many other models of both change and change resistance. One useful model of change (not change resistance) is by Kurt Lewin; I like it because it's similar to Deming's PDCA (plan, do, check, act). Lewin's model is three steps:
  1. Unfreeze previous ideas, attitudes, or legacy
  2. Act to make the change
  3. Freeze the new way in order to institutionalize the change.
And, A.J. Schuler, a psychologist, has his 10 reasons about why change is resisted in a paper entitled "Overcoming Resistance to Change: Top Ten Reasons for Change Resistance". His lead-off idea is "doing nothing" is often perceived as less risky than "do something"--in other words, Plan A (do nothing) trumps Plan B (do something). 

But the one I like is that people fear the hidden agenda behind the reformers ideas! Amen to that one.

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Friday, November 8, 2019

Backlog management

Yikes! My backlog is blocked! How can this be? We're agile... or maybe we've become de-agiled. Can that happen?

Ah yes, we're agile, but perhaps not everything in the portfolio is agile; indeed, perhaps not everything in the project is agile.

In the event, coupling the culprit

Coupling? Coupling is system engineering speak for transferring one effect onto another, or causing an effect by some process or outcome elsewhere. The coupling can be loose or tight.
  • Loose coupling: there is some effect transferrence, but not a lot. Think of double-pane windows decoupling the exterior environment from the interior
  • Tight coupling: there is almost complete transferrence of one effect onto another. Think of how a cyclist puts (couples) energy into moving the chain; almost none is lost flexing the frame.

In the PM domain, it's coupling of dependencies: we tend to think of strong or weak corresponding roughly to tight or loose.

The most common remedy is to buffer between effects. The effect has to carry across the buffer. See Goldratt's  Critical Chain method for more about decoupling with buffers

But buffers may not do the trick. We need to think of objects, temporary or permanent, that can loosen the coupling from one backlog to another (agile-on-agile), or from the agile backlog to structured requirements (agile-on-traditional).

With loose coupling, we get the window pane effect: stuff can go on in environment A without strongly influencing environment B; this is sort of a "us vs them" approach, some might say stovepiping.

Obviously then, there are some risks with loose coupling in the architecture that bear against the opportunity to keep the backlog moving, to wit: we want to maintain pretty tight coupling on communication among project teams while at the same time we loosen the coupling between their deliverables.

There are two approaches:
  • Invent a temporary object to be a surrogate or stand-in for the partner project/process/object. In other words, we 'stub out' the effect into a temporary effect absorber.
  • Invent a service object (like a window pane) to provide the 'services' to get from one environment to another.
Of course, you might recognize the second approach as a middle layer, or the service operating system of a service-oriented-architecture (SOA), or just an active interface that does transformation and processing (coupling) from one object/process to another.

With all this, you might see the advantages of an architect on the agile team!

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Communication, communicating

"They" say that the three most important tasks of project management are:
  1. Communicate
  2. Communicate, and
  3. Communicate
To that end, I recently had an opportunity to try out my skills. My neighbor, a very nice young woman, had to travel on business and asked me to keep watch on her cat.

After a few days she called from the road to check on the cat:
She asked: "How is Millie doing?"
I responded: "Millie is dead"

A pause

She scolded: "You could have let me down more easily; you could've said Millie is on the roof. 
Then later you could tell me she fell off the roof and died"
With contrition, I responded: "Yes, I was insensitive. A lesson learned, to be sure"

A pause

She asked: "And, how is my mother?"
Confidently, I responded: "She's on the roof!"

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