Saturday, May 30, 2020

Risk management: hierarchy v. mesh

Almost anyone who's been around projects for a few years has experienced hierarchy: it's like a pyramid, with one person at the apex and a number of layers spreading out below, interconnected, for the most part, top-down.

On the other hand, another structure is like a mesh, wired for the most part peer-to-peer, and mostly flat -- few hierarchical titles and few top-down controls, and lots of spread.

And now comes risk management:
  • If you need to understand everything coming at you .... go mesh
  • If you need to allocate scarcity ... go hierarchial
  • If you need reaction speed ... go mesh
  • If you need a coordinated response with maximum efficiency .... go hierarchial
  • If you need to be anti-fragile and immune to risk failures ... go mesh
  • If you need a lot of redundant efforts on risk containment (looking for something that will work) ... go mesh
  • If you need a consistent relationship with outsiders ... go hierarchial
  • If you can't afford to depend on one person or team ... go mesh
Got it? Are we clear?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

There's a new tension in town ....

There's a new tension in town .... Remote v Local
  • 30M+ Americans have jobs and are working from home (the Remotes)
  • 60M+ Americans can't work from home (the Locals), and 50% of them may not have jobs
If that's not enough to amp the tension between the haves and have-nots, then consider the risk management regime of each:
  • The Remotes have a much lower risk environment from Covid-19, but also from every other hazard, not least of which is simply driving to work
  • The Remotes have a good deal of personal control over their environment, and personal control over how they manage the risk .... who to see and when and where
 And then there is the disparity between the cost-of-work borne personally by each:
  • The Remotes personal "cost-of-work" is much lower (parking, gas, clothes, lunch are all less .... in some cases much less) but their compensation is usually the same as before:
  • The Locals continue paying the higher work costs, usually also working for a lower compensation because, generally, Local jobs pay less
Managing these tensions may be a new task in the PM's job jar, and may be a management task well beyond the PM's reach and authority, but nonetheless this tension will invade the project, effecting productivity and relationships.

And, what's going to happen when the Remotes abandon their nirvana and rejoin the Locals who have all along borne the risks and costs? How is that going to work?

Good luck with all that!

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

The oldest technique in risk management

The oldest technique in the book, indeed before there were even books, is "acceptance"
  • To drive a car is to accept the risk that the other driver isn't too drunk, too sleepy, too unskilled, too distracted, too whatever
  • To take on debt is to accept the risk that you'll have the means to repay without bankrupting yourself
  • To take on unsecured credit is to accept the risk (trust, really) that you'll be repaid
  • To live with another person ......
  • To be a whistle-blower (even though there are some risk management elements built into law) ...
And, so it will be with medical pandemics, financial melt-downs, and sadly, climate changes, we'll learn to accept the risk .....

Because we have to.
  • Agriculture was a risk if you were a hunter-gatherer
  • Industry was a risk if you were a farmer
  • Change is a risk, no matter ...
  • And, now we've got living together is a risk. But that risk will be accepted, in time

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Your baseline is crushed

With the pandemic effects on project offices, supply chains, capital funding, customers, and cultural changes (how long before it's the same again?), a lot of projects will shut down ... permanently. Their business case crushed in the effects

Rebaseline in two steps:
  1. Declare the "old" project ended; collect the actuals and variances and record them in the ledger. Collect all the inventory for future use: WIP; finished but not delivered product
  2. Invent a new project; transfer in all the WIP and other inventory. Start a new plan with the checklist below
Inventing a new baseline
  • Forget your baseline ... that's all in the history file. Plan a restart as if new
  • Plan for a go-forward velocity that is going to be slower, slogging through a myriad of restrictions, broken links, missing supplies, etc
  • Plan to spend on technology that you probably didn't think you needed before, but you do now
  • Re-calibrate customer needs and wants, functions, features, convenience, safety, security (how did Zoom zoom into our lives?)
  • Can you visit your customer? Should you visit you customer? Is a virtual visit good enough to understand the requirements?
  • Factor in the changed culture .... some values have changed for what you're inventing, I'll bet
  • Evaluate risks with a revised calibration .... where does social fear factor in? 
  • Plan for a medical protocol overlay. Masks, social distancing etc?
What could possibly go wrong?!

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Saying it visually

Visual communications, or communicating visually, are all the more important as the virtual workplace becomes the "new normal". There's a skill to be learned for effective communications with visual as the centerpiece.

Got these needs?
  • Proposal
  • Message
  • ESL audience
  • Virtual meeting?
Then this Khan Academy series on visual language is a place to start.
There's power in framing, stretching, shaping .... not to mention color, contrast, shading.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

The biases come out

Under stress, the biases come out
Not only do the risks change, but risk attitudes change as well
The stakes may be higher; the consequences greater.

Now is the time to revisit the best book ever written on risk management -- in my opinion

"Against the Gods, The remarkable story of Risk" by Peter L. Bernstein is an excellent read and ambitious premise well delivered.

Perhaps the best general history of risk -- and presentation of the major concepts of risk -- that is understandable by all practitioners at any level.

The content is presented in a general historical order in major sections by epoch. The first being from the ancients to 1200, then the middle ages and Renaissance. Finally, then into the industrial revolution, and modern era.

Along the way, Bernstein recounts not only the emerging understanding of risk per se, but also the allied concepts of counting, numbers, chance, and of course, business management.

No math! (Almost no math)
There is not much math or statistics to trip up the qualitative mind! (Yea for that) But, the presentation of the evolution of our understanding of chance introduces many of the main characters and demonstrates their contributions with just enough math/quantitative examples to make it interesting.

Mystical and Divine... pressing on!
Much of this material describes the period 1700 - 1900 when much of the modern underpinnings of chance, probability, and statistics were developed and made understandable to the general business population. We learn, for instance, that it was in this period that the notion of risk in the modern sense emerged from the mystical and divine to the cause-effect concept.

While the parallel developments of mathematics, business practises--like insurance--and a math/cause-effect foundation for risk are presented with a storyteller's gift, I found Bernstein's recounting of the ideas that developed after 1900 to be the most interesting and insightful.

Along comes the psychologists
Of course, the story in this book ends just about the time that the ideas of Amos Trversky and Daniel Kahneman, first developed in the 1970's, are gaining popular acclaim in the 90's. Thus, in this part of the book we get a great explanation of the expansion of utility theory first developed in the 1700's but advanced into Prospect Theory by Tversky and Kahneman.

There is also excellent explanations of various biases and other cognitive maladies that intrude on the rational and objective. We learn a good deal about the failure of invariance--the idea that same manager can be risk averse and risk seeking depending on not only the point of view presented (glass half full/half empty) but also whether there is a sure loss or a sure win at stake.

Someone else likes it
Bernstein's expertise is in the financial world. John Kenneth Galbraith wrote of "Against the Gods": "Nothing like it will come out of the financial world this year or ever. I speak carefully; no one should miss it".

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Shut down, start up

There's a lot of this stuff going around: "Shut down, start up".

You get a "stop work" order; if you're a government contractor, you may have strict protocols to follow, or worse, you may have a lot of expenses to secure the project for which there is no immediate cash flow.
  • Select a skeleton staff for the shut-down work
  • Work with HR to furlough the redundant staff; ditto "security" if there are cleared people involved
  • Figure out the physical and electronic security for the partial product and inventory
  • Some stuff may have a shelf-life. Who is to run the maintenance on that?
  • Who has the ownership or title to the intellectual property? You may need some legal help to secure the project's IP
  • Set up an archive for project records; assume the original staff may not return, so where is everything to be found?
  • Set up billing codes in the chart of accounts for the shut-down work
  • Bill-out whatever you can; some stuff may not be billable overhead and may come off the bottom line.
And then you get a "restart work" order. But, restart with whom, how, where?
  • Is the business case still valid? Is there a modified business case going forward? Revisiting customers and business sponsors should be on your list
  • Green field staffing? You may want to reorganize the staffing, not rehire everyone, and recruit for others. Is there an HR policy issue here? Perhaps you don't have the flexibility to restaff from a green field.
  • Green cards: are they still around? No? What now?
  • Incentives? Some may require an incentive to return. Where does that fit into policy and finance?
  • Where to set up shop? Your project space may no longer be available; maybe the building has been shuttered
  • Restart virtually? Do it with a "gig" staff? How do you cover the cost of 'gig' turnover?
  • IP? How will you redistribute the intellectual property of the project? Indeed, do you even have a clear title to the IP? Did some of it walk out with the shut-down?
  • Cost-schedule-scope: And, with the experience base changed, the baseline going forward will be different. Costs and schedules will be different.
This stuff is hard!

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Saturday, May 9, 2020

Virtual conferencing ... a lot in the market

Yikes: the products and services for virtual conferencing and teamwork are jumping out of the woodwork:
  • Here's a nice comparison of Zoom and Blue Jeans
  • Microsoft TEAMS which is integrated with Office 365 now has a home version as well
  • And, of course, there are the established WebEX, Skype, etc
  • Google is not to be left out, nor is Slack
Here's a collection of 10 articles on collaboration tools with a number of feature comparisons

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Re-starting costs

Re-starting (aka reopening) a project comes at a cost
Who pays?

It depends ....

There are these major cost elements to consider:
  1. Re-hiring, replacing, and/or retraining staff
  2. Reconstituting the supply chain: termination costs for contracts that are null; solicitation costs to replace terminated or non-operative contracts and source new materials or services
  3. Restructuring the workplace to comply with new safety protocols
  4. Planning for outcomes not normally expected: excessive staff turnover and absence; unscheduled stops and starts; unexpected defaults
  5. Mixing in more redundancy and inefficiency to increase project anti-fragilism
If the original business case didn't have much cost-benefit margin, these costs could swamp the benefits, making the project a business loser .... thus, RIP

A restructured business case
A restructured business case -- with the restart costs factored in -- might be the answer to a project rescue.
Although harsh, a restructured business case might include some housekeeping that is long overdue.

And, a restructured business case might attract new investors with a different risk attitude.
It might be possible to not only improve the balance sheet in the short term, but establish a business cash flow that's eventually favorable when viewed through a different risk-attitude lens.

Bottom line: Good luck!

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Fission and Fusion

In the book "Unbound", author Richard Currier, has described group behaviors as fission-like -- meaning the group members move apart -- and fusion-like -- meaning the group members coalesce together.

And, he says, fission-fusion tendencies coexist in the same groups somewhat continuously.
Now, until quite recently, in the context of the PMO:
  • Disparate team members "fused" at the office to form cooperating work groups
  • And then, at the end of the work, they 'fissioned': moved apart to return to their "other life"
Indeed, teamwork (day job) and 'other life' couldn't happen if not for instincts for both collective and private time. Currier writes:
Human society as we know it would not exist were it not for the innate primate passion for group identity and solidarity combined with the flexibility of the fission-fusion society.

Our instinct for group identity allows us to form groups with enough coherence to stick together with a feeling of solidarity and to work together to achieve common goals.

Our instinct for both fissioning and fusing allows many groups to proliferate within a single society, each defined in a different way, and each meeting a different set of social needs 
But now we may be moving to a new normal: 'social distancing' on an industrial scale, at least until the fear subsides and the medical remedies are in place.

Consequently, whereas in the last ten years or so we've called project members back in from home to work more closely ... thereby to harvest the informal interaction that can be the seed of innovation ...  now we may be more about fission than fusion.

Indeed, Currier again (substitute 'project' and some number that corresponds to your project):
Modern nations and political movements include thousands or millions of members, most of whom have never met and never will meet, yet they collectively identify themselves as belonging to the same group and living within a single circle of trust. 
"... Never met, and never will meet ..." that's profound for a PMO
A new normal?

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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Stressed leadership

Well, here in the Spring of 2020, leaders are stressed; and circumstances are somewhat chaotic (meaning not only disorganized and counterproductive, but small effects are highly leveraged by exponential responses)

And so one wonders: are our best leaders in crises and chaos likely to have been trained in the military where the 'fog of war' is all too real?

Yes, but no.

Our military schools and for the last 20 years our anti-terror wars have provided ample opportunity to train and experience a large cadre of crises-tested leaders. On the other hand, many such trained people have been summarily relieved for not making the grade.

Indeed, this is no different from wars past: Lincoln famously went through four major commanders before he found his general in Grant. The others were relieved with prejudice. Forward to WW II: ditto: hundreds of combat generals and colonels were relieved for lack of leadership skills in one form or another

On the other hand:
Lincoln was certainly a leader in crises and chaos and never was a military person
Same for Franklin Roosevelt

And the same for many of the squad leaders and battalion chiefs of FDNY that led their men into the Twin Towers; many were not military alumni

And now we have the triage crises in the medical centers making life and death decisions all day long; many not military

And, then there's biology:
Under stress, you're not the same person:
  •  Heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline all change
  • The brain, already a 40% consumer of the body's energy, steps up its energy demand, thereby starving physical functionality and leading to premature exhaustion and other effects (*)
And if you've never really tried to lead under such biological stress, there could be panic attacks. Thus, there is a case for experiencing these effects before you face them in a real leadership demand

What does this have to do with your PMO?
All the following exist in most PMOs in one form or another

  • Many elements of leadership can be taught, and thus learned, as part of the project experience
  • Some other experience of true high-stress is needed, if only for fending off panic attacks
  • Many elements of culture inform leadership: trust, integrity, optimism, to name a few
  • Many leaders emerge when the crises builds (so called opportunity model)
  • Many leaders instinctively manage risk effectively ... a skill that is not easily taught
  • Many leaders manage human relations instinctively ... the right word, and the right emotion to the right target is another hard-to-teach skill
If then you layer on pressure, crises, and chaos to that context, you may get the leader you need.

(*) I always tell my ski classes: if your hands are cold, get a warmer hat!

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Monday, April 27, 2020

About Exponentials

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function
- Albert A. Bartlett, The Essential Exponential! For the Future of Our Planet
Sounds profound; what does it mean to the PMO?

Consider communications:
the number of ways that N people (or systems or interfaces) can communicate is N*(N - 1), which for large N is approximately N-squared (an exponential)

Consider project finance:
The present value of future benefits of a project are discounted, exponentially, by the expected risk

Consider the so-called "bell curve" of natural clustering around the mean
The actual formula for the curve is complex, but it's core is the the 'natural number 'e'' raised to an exponential that involves the mean and standard deviation

Consider the decay of natural materials
This also is exponential

Consider the arrival rate of independent actors (events)
Again, an exponential, and an important concept in certain elements of risk management. 

It never ends!
Exponential increases, where the exponent is positive, may work to your advantage, but when the exponent is negative, the phenomenon is decreasing exponentially. Is this good for your project?
Perhaps, but, not so fast!
If the exponent is less than -1, there is a great flattening of the tail, to the point that the thing never ends! Yikes, will this ever be done? (*)

If you look up Bartlett's book, you'll find most of the chapters are available free in pdf format
Shout-out to herdingcats for the quotation

(*) Consider the natural number 'e' with exponents 0, 1, -1, -0.1, -0.001, respectively
The values, corresponding, are: 1.0, 2.7 ascending with positive exponent, then descending with negative exponents, respectively: 0.37, 0.9, 0.99, approaching but never reaching 1.0

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Game theory in risk management

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. —Theodore Roosevelt

Actually, that's Teddy's version of cousin FDR's famous "Try something!"

But what if it's all about a threat -- something external -- for which you have no experience?
  • Call in your PMO team and brainstorm? Perhaps
  • Ask the question -- what's the other guy -- the guy doing the threatening -- going to do?
And, if the other guy does X, what's your next move? With that question, you've arrived at 'game theory'

Game Theory and Project Management

Here's the set-up for game theory and project management: As project managers, we may find ourselves challenged and entangled with sponsors, stakeholders, and customers, and facing situations like the following which some may find threatening:
  • Adversarial (or competing) parties find themselves entangled in a decision-making process that has material impact on project objectives.
  • Adversarial parties have parochial interests in decision outcomes that have different payoffs and risks for each party.
  • External parties, like legislators, regulators, or financiers, make decisions that are out of our control but nonetheless affect our project.
  • The success of one party—success in the sense of payoff—may depend upon the choices of another.
  • Neither party has the ability or the license to collaborate with the other about choices.
  • Choices are between value-based strategies for payoff
Game theory is a helpful tool for addressing such challenges.

Specifically, game theory is a tool for looking at one payoff (benefit or risk) strategy versus another and then asking what the counter-party (adversarial, competing, or threat party) is likely to do in each case.

In the game metaphor, “choice” is tantamount to a “move” on a game board, and like a game, one move is followed by another; choices are influenced by:
  • A strategic conception of how to achieve specific goals
  • Beliefs in certain values and commitment to related principles
  • Rational evaluation of expected value to maximize a favorable outcome—that is, a risk-weighted outcome
Tricks and traps
If you look into some of the issues raised by game theory, there are two that are important for project managers
  1.  Because you don't know for certain what the other guy is going to do, your tendency is to optimize the balance between your risks and benefits, assuming (or hypothesizing) the other guy has a similar motivation: to optimize risk v. benefit conditioned on what you do.
    In this case, "you update your priors" as new insight into the competition becomes visible.

    Actually, this situation is not altogether stable for you, as you've made yourself somewhat hostage to the other guy. And, the other guy likewise. Everything stays in motion.
  2. Or, you may arrive at a spot, called a Nash Equilibrium, where your choices are irrelevant to the other guy's choices. Thus, the other's choices provide no incentive for you to change your mind.
Challenge yourself to a game
To see how this stuff actually works, challenge yourself to a game. Tricks and traps #1 is demonstrated with this video, "The prisoner's dilemma", and then #2 is the next video in the same series that explains the Nash Equilibrium 

Oh, did I mention this is also Chapter 12 of my book, "Managing Project Value"?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

PMO in the construction domain

I don't write about construction projects all that often, but lately that's been my thing: construction... roofing, HVAC, electrical, even some plumbing and floors, etc

The PMO construction extension to the PMBOK is pretty much a non-starter in my opinion.

The place to start is the AIA -- -- the American Institute of Architects. And, it's not just for architects: general contractors, contract managers, and PM's all find really good stuff.

And,you don't have to be an AIA member to take advantage of a lot of the stuff, including sample contract documents, of which they have dozens, if not several dozens. However, be watchful of the copyright claims

Here's the thing. There are these important points to grasp:
  1. There are generally four day-to-day players in construction: the architect (or engineer), general contractor, attorney, and owner (or buyer). Read any AIA contract template and you'll find "the architect shall...; the GC shall..., etc)
  2. At a strategic level, you've got the regulators, construction code authorities, and the permitting authorities (And, the latter are often at the bottom of the political food chain involving public planning, zoning, waivers, etc)
  3. Often, the owner and the general contractor (GC) both will have project managers, though sometimes the architect or the GC plays the role of PM for the owner. So, which one are you?
With four major players day-to-day, you'd think the communication channels would be about 15 (using the N-squared minus 1 rule, where N is the number of communicators). That's a lot of cross-talk.

But no! My observation and experience is that communications in a construction environment is not a mesh; the communications architecture is hub-and-spoke.

And, guess who is at the hub; guess who is the risk manager managing all the sequences and buffers among players? Right! You are, if you are the PMO for the owners (or possibly the GC if the owner is contracting "turn key" with the GC)
  • It's almost childish the way the various independents and independent contractors insist on communicating through the hub. If a conference is needed, only the PM can call for it, it seems.
  • And, since most of the construction industry multiplexes the white space among many jobs, to maintain any kind of project schedule requires constant attention to sequences of who works when
  • And, did I mention the supply chain? Everyone seems to work "just in time", maintaining minimum inventory, and thereby pushing buffers and sequencing to the limit! 
Conclusion: the number one skill of a construction PMO is communication ... far and wide, and often!
  • Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you told them!

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Virtual agile teams?

Somebody asked: can a virtual team do Agile?
  • 20 years ago, at the dawn of Agile, the answer might have been no. 
  • 15 years ago, more less at the peak of the AOL texting app Instant Messenger and the dawn of the smart phone and smart-phone personal networking and conferencing, the answer might have been yes, but with reservations. 
  • Now, the answer is "Of course", with some adjustments. 
Here are my thoughts on this.

The communications channel:

Virtual teams often begin by emulating the behavior and circumstances of co-located teams. But can they?

The first thought is communications. Co-located teams can handle a much greater N-squared (*) communication intensity because much communication is person-to-person, and much of person-to-person communication is non-verbal.

(*) What is N-squared?  It's the approximate number of ways objects (people, systems) can communicate. The real formula is N*(N-1). As an example: There are 5*4 ways 5 people can talk among themselves.

Non-verbal face-to-face is a very high bandwidth channel -- speed of light really -- capable of communicating a large information message instantly, although the messages are often highly encoded and subject to inaccurate decoding among strangers or nearly strangers.

Nonetheless, it's much easier to sort out the cacophony of discussion if you can put face and voice and context together. (Anyone who's participated in a large video conference knows the difficulty of segregating voices and getting them associated correctly)

Consequently, when planning for virtual teams, bear in mind that virtual teams don't have the luxury of infinite bandwidth. Even with up to date AV conferencing, the non-verbal is communicated in a lossy channel.

And here's the thing: you don't know how much is lost; one of those known unknowns

Thus, virtual teams need more time in the schedule to compensate for the bandwidth constraints of not being face-to-face.

Velocity impacts:

Some teams relish the hub-bub of real time communications, and others do not. Good practice is to benchmark the virtual velocity before beginning the first iteration. Look for virtual velocity to be slower, and productivity less. 

Perhaps the virtual team needs to be larger, or given smaller bites to work on. (Ooops: Adding people to a slow team makes it slower ... Read: "The Mythical Man month, 20th anniversary edition")

Assigning team work:

Assigning work to virtual teams should follow this simple rule: partition work according to its natural boundaries that minimize and simplify interfaces.

Albert Einstein has been quoted to the effect: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not too simple".

But over simplification is hazardous also. Who's got the "big picture" in mind? The solution can lose cohesion and the bigger picture becomes so obscured that effective solutions are not possible to build from the too-small parts.

Iteration Planning and tracking:

The iteration planning meeting is the agile mechanism for assigning work. All the team's complement attends. The same applies to a virtual team.

Tracking progress and identifying problems:

Only the daily stand-up meeting is affected by the communications unique to virtual teams. The less efficient electronic channels may have to be compensated by extending the time-box of the daily stand-up.

The burn-down and trending data is part of the team scorecard posted electronically as opposed to marking a whiteboard in a team space.

Will it work?
I end where I started:  "Of course", with some adjustments.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

When leadership is autocratic

Autocrates and autocratic leadership -- on the one hand -- and the classic risk management on the other hand .... is the latter pointless in the context of the former?

And we ask this because:
From essayist Eric Grill writing in the leadership blog of St Thomas University we learn that:
Autocratic leaders typically make all major decisions on their own, with little or no input from others.
Extreme authoritarian leaders often insist on making even minor decisions.
Of course, it shocks the sensibilities to imagine "extreme authoritarian leaders" in a PMO, so for this discussion we'll set micromanagement aside.

But here's an eye opener, also from Mr Grill:
..... autocratic leadership works well in environments that require near-perfect accuracy .....
Software need not apply! The software guys can usually get by with any number of bugs... there's always v2.0

But the other thing is speed:
According to Grill, "Leonard D. Schaeffer considered himself an autocratic leader when he became CEO of Blue Cross of California, saying  'When a business needs to change relatively quickly, it’s much more important to just make a decision and get people moving than it is to take the time to conduct a thorough analysis and attempt to influence others to come around to your way of thinking.' "

Moving on to risk management
The RMO (risk management officer or office), especially in larger projects, is often "staff", and often required by policy rather than a perceived necessity. And, RM comes with these built-in ills:
  • RM is not accurate, steeped as it is in statistics and caveats and assumptions, etc
  • RM is not speedy, driven as it is by the need to identify threats, develop collection protocols and senors to gather data, analyze, and integrate assessments with context 
  • RM is often an opinion by those who don't have the responsibility for outcomes and consequences
  • RM is often self-conflicting, given that many have an opinion or an interpretation of the data
  • RM, even if correct, often does not alter outcomes
And so, the autocrat, valuing speed, results, precision (in many cases), through-put, and supremely self-confident ignores many staff inputs,  risk management among them (what difference does it make? asks the autocrat)

Or worse, the autocrat can't handle an opinion that differs from their set point of view, having some kind of psychological barrier.  The worst of these are "advisors" who form an opinion and then can't bring themselves to change their mind when new information comes along.

And so what to do if you're the RMO?
  • Work on the perceived RM ills (listed above)
  • Focus on risks that make a measurable difference to organizational success
  • Be persistent pressing your case
  • Speak truth to power (if you're inhibited by the autocrat, spend your time on your resume)

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

State of the practice: Agile

I was looking back at some prior essays on Agile and came across the April 2012 PMNetwork magazine. Specifically I was attracted (again) to page 58 for an interview with some agilists on the state of the practice.

Here are a couple of quotes from Jim Highsmith worth tucking away:

Agile project management embraces both “doing” agile and “being” agile—and the latter is the hardest. It defines a different management style: one of facilitation, collaboration, goal- and boundary-setting, and flexibility.

... agile is changing the way organizations measure success, moving from the traditional iron triangle of scope, schedule and cost to an agile triangle of value, quality and constraints.

My take:
Doing agile and being agile: Good insight, but these ideas are certainly agile but not unique to Agile.
  • To my way of thinking, all enlightened project managers have been doing this all along, or they should have been.
Now, I certainly agree: Agile calls for a reset of manager's and management's approach (aka style) to projects.
  • Fixed price, for a fixed scope, in a fixed schedule is ok if you're in "we've done it before" or some kind of production, but not if you are trying to cure cancer, etc.

Value shift: Agile shifts the discussion from fixed value to best value. And, what is best value?
It's the best the team can do, with the resources committed, towards achieving project goals that will ultimately lead to business success.

Who says what's "best"? In the Agile space, that is a collaboration of the project team, the sponsor, and whoever holds the customer/user's proxy. That's the key:
  • The customer/user--through their proxy--gets an input to the value proposition because they may use or buy the outcomes, but the customer/user has no money at stake; it's other people's money, OPM
  • The sponsor also gets an input  because it is their money at stake. (The sponsor may be a contracting office, as in the public sector)
  • The project team gets an input because they are in the best place to judge feasibility.

Measuring success: Highsmith's second idea is certainly Agile, but it may be too agile for some. Why so? First, there's still "other people's money (OPM)".... . you can't work with OPM and not have metrics of performance to stack up against the money. So, the cost-schedule-scope tension may be hard to manage, but at least there are metrics.

I don't have a problem with another paradigm, say Highsmith's value, quality and constraints, so long as they come with metrics that align with the value that sponsors put on money.

That's why I associate myself with best value: It's OPM with metrics that align with a value proposition leading not only to project success but to business success as well.

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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Small data is the project norm

I've written before that the PMO is the world of 1-sigma; 6-sigma need not apply. Why so? One-time projects don't generate enough data for real statistical process controls to be valid.  To wit: projects are the domain of small data. (Usually)

And so, small data drives most projects; after all, we're not in a production environment. Small data is why we approximate, but approximation is not all bad. You can drive a lot of results from approximation.

Sometimes small data is really small.  Sometimes, we only have one observation; only one data point. Other times, perhaps a handful at best.

How do we make decisions, form estimates, and  work effectively with small data? (Aren't we told all the magic is in Big Data?)

Consider this estimating or reasoning scenario:
First, an observation: "Well, look at that! Would you believe that? How likely is that?"
Second, reasoning backward: "How could that have happened? What would have been the circumstances; initial conditions; and influences?"
Third, a hypothesis shaped by experience: "Well, if 'this or that' (aka, hypothesis) were the situation, then I can see how the observed outcome might have occurred"
Fourth, wonderment about the hypothesis: "I wonder how likely 'this or that' is?
Fifth, hypothesis married to observation: The certainty of the next outcome is influenced by both likelihoods: how likely is the hypothesis to be true, and how likely is the hypothesis -- if it is true -- to produce the outcome?

If you've ever gone through such a thought process, then you've followed Bayes Rule, and you reason like a Bayesian!

And, that's a good thing. Bayes Rule is for the small data crowd. It's how we reason with all the uncertainty of only having a few data points. The key is this: to have sufficient prior knowledge, experience, judgment to form a likely hypothesis that could conceivably match our observations.

In Bayes-speak, this is called having an "informed prior".  With an informed prior, we can synthesize the conditional likelihoods of hypothesis and outcome. And, with each outcome, we can improve upon, or modify, the hypothesis, tuning it as it were for the specifics of our project.

But, of course, we may be in uncharted territory. What about when we have no experience to work from? We could still imagine hypotheses -- probably more than one -- but now we are working with "uninformed priors". In the face of no knowledge, the validity of the hypothesis can be no better than 50-50.  

Bottom line: Bayes Rule rules! 

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Monday, April 6, 2020

When the facts change ...

"When the facts change, I update my priors"
Dr Bill Hanage of Harvard, as quoted in the press

And so what exactly is he talking about?
Answer: Bayesian statistical methods

The essential matter in Bayes, as different from traditional frequency-of-occurrence statistics is that the starting point is a "guess" leavened by hypothesized or observed conditions.
  • The probability of event A, given the apriori conditions of B existing, has a dependency not only probability of B existing, but also the probability of A itself, and the probability that B can exist in the event of A 
  • Now, the conditioning of A by the existence or likely existence of B is what is called the "priors"
  • If by observation or otherwise it becomes evident that your understanding of B has changed, then an "update to priors" is required, thus bringing about a different understanding of A conditioned on B
That's a lot of words for what is essentially common sense: when the circumstance change, you should change with them, or at least understand the impact if you don't change.

"Update your priors": it's only common sense!

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Risk management: what's to know?

If you only know one thing about Risk Management, know this:
Schedule slack is your most powerful tool
Poorly developed instincts and skills in the use of this most powerful tool are leading causes of poor risk management

If you are a Systems person --- a strategic thinker; an integrator; a "it all has to work" person -- you'll translate schedule slack into to "loose coupling"

Loose coupling is your most powerful tool
This all sounds like schedule, but the side effects are profound (slack is like a nail; it works everywhere):
  • Time is lost to effect design, manufacturing, or delivery mitigation
  • Pressures mount to "do something"
  • Short-cuts are taken
  • The thing may not work at the end (oops, that's career limiting)
And, the list of slack misuse is relatively short, so everyone should be able to keep these bullets in mind:
  •  It shall be: All schedules require slack; a schedule without slack is but a hope, and is risky all the way
  • At the end: Slack is always sequenced after a risky event is to occur. NEVER put the slack first, hoping it will all go away
  • Don't add risk unwittingly: Unnecessary coupling (to wit: bundling) just adds risk where there was none. Decouple everything; don't purposely couple anything. 
If you bundle (tightly couple) the statistics are against you:
  • If two independent events have a 9-in-10 chance of success, then when tightly coupled and no slack between them, success of the pair is only 8-in-10, a loss of 10 points
  • It gets worse fast: a pair with 7-in-10 chance of success degrades to less than 1-in-2. A loss of 20 points.  Good grief!
The effect of slack? NO loss of points .... a cheap way to fight  

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Virtual teams ... now is the time

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work.” Thomas P. Wise, "Trust in Virtual Teams"

Thomas P. Wise is probably correct that virtual teams are more about "how" than "where", but as the covid-19 virus is about as I write this, everyone is scrambling for the playbook on virtual teams, and turning to the chapter on "how" without question. We know the "where": tucked away at home or some other remote location

By Wise's take, these are the main determinants of whether a team is really virtual:
  • Geography
  • Communications
  • Culture

The culture thing
I line up big time on the culture thing.
I've always said: You can't push culture through the Internet cable all that well.

Commonly, you've got two identities: Remote and Local. And each identity has a personality and behavior that fits the either the local or remote culture. (Will the "real" you come forward?)

In this moment of crises, project teams suddenly made virtual carry their project culture home, so it's not like hiring virtual staff and hoping the culture will seep through the Internet.

So, values, customs, loyalties, and trusting relationships -- all components of the culture -- will persist for the relatively short time this event will be with us. The question will be: what's the tail on this? How will it be different when we all gather back together?
It's an unknown, or better yet: a known unknown.

Geography and Communications
But, the the others are important. For instance, if in the long run, this sudden surge of virtual teams returns to perhaps working from home a day a week pretty much means just a geographic separation: you're not going to lose your culture (beliefs and norms) in just a day at the house. But, given enough time in a remote geography, and you're going to "go native" as they say.

And, of course, if you can't effectively communicate visually, then there goes the body language and probably half your communications input.
Conference calls -- voice only -- are the worst in this regard (just put it on mute and go the kitchen for a snack ... will you be missed? Will you miss anything? And, how would you or anyone know?)

The good news: all kinds of communication apps are popping up. The bad news: in the short run, the physical channels in the Internet are stressed.

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Saturday, March 28, 2020


"Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Even to the end"
Harry Hopkins to Winston Churchill, February, 1941

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Who said 'evidence'?

Did you see this witicism at herdingcats?
A skeptic will question claims, then embrace the evidence. A denier will question claims, then reject the evidence. - Neil deGrase Tyson

Think of this whenever there is a conjecture that has no testable evidence of the claim. And think ever more when those making the conjectured claim refuse to provide evidence. When that is the case, it is appropriate to ignore the conjecture all together 
And, of course, think of this when office or business politics is made superior to evidence. Particularly the collision of politics and risk management

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Project Management ... my definition

When it comes to defining project management, there certainly is a "book" answer, and most would go to the PMBoK, the body of knowledge published by PMI.

Fair enough.

But, I beg to differ a bit. My idea of how PM should be defined is in the chart below.

My idea
Book Answer
WIP, Test, V&V
Executing, Controlling
Partial delivery
(Closing is at the very end)
Influencers and discriminators
Specific goals
Specific success criteria

And what, you might ask, are "influencers and discriminators"? The executive summary is below, but read all about it here.

Money, staff, infrastructure, intellectual property or access
Real, virtual, remote, dedicated or shared
Calendar, duration, milestones, value-add points
Client deliverables; business deliverables; project debris
Agile CUD: create, update, delete agility
Fitness to use; fitness to standards; fitness to “best value”
Risk to the client; risk to the business.
Impact and likelihood. Black swan effects

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