Saturday, August 8, 2020

Velocity is not what it used to be

Yes, velocity is rate that the project can produce "throughput" [the stuff that is valuable to the customer, not the detrius of project paperwork]

Some things are running a bit slower than it used to be:
  • Supply systems are more choked because workers and materials are missing and limited along the way
  • People on H1B's are MIA
  • Relationships are slower to develop virtually, robbed as they are of the bonding experience of informal interaction
  • Processes are being redesigned -- and debugged -- on the fly to accommodate virtualness
  • Metrics and measurements are not entirely relevant the way they used to be; changes are required to get relevant again
  • Lack of office and campus perks are pushing the labor force to less efficient workdays
Ah, but some things may be better -- or run faster -- where there is less:
  • Complexity of communications declines exponentially with fewer participants [there are 8 ways to arrange communications between three people, but 15 ways with four people]
  • Lean may be in for a new renaissance: we just don't need some stuff, and so pitch it!
  • Some costs may be less as physical space is used less
But then there are hazards that could be velocity speed bumps, some new, some more intense:
  • Your pay may become "localized" to where you are. If you're in the country, you may not lose any salary, but you may be capped
  • Culture changes may go to quick-step. Can you keep up?
  • Cyber security is on everybody's list. Working remotely provides entry for all manner of hazards
  • Lack of spontaneous interaction, which is the seed corn for innovation, may slow down new ideas, but then: who would know if the idea never pops up?

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Don't ask for data if ...

The first rule of data:
  • Don't ask for data if you don't know what you are going to do with it
Or, said another way (same rule)
  • Don't ask for data which you can not use or act upon
 And, your reaction might be: Of course! 
But, alas, in the PMO there are too many incidents of reports, data accumulation, measurements, etc for which there actually is no plan for what to do with it. Sometimes, it just curiosity; sometimes it's just blind compliance with a data regulation; sometimes it's just to have a justification for an analyst job.
The test:
 If someone says they need data, the first question is how does it add value to what you are doing, and do you have a plan to effectuate that value-add?
Do you have a notion of data limits: enough, but not too much to be statistically significant, and control limits for useful -- or not -- metrics.

And information?
Well, the usual definition is that information is data, perhaps multiple data, integrated with context and perhaps interpreted for the current situation.

So, the rule can be extended: if there are not means to process data into information, is the data necessary to be collected?

Bottom line: To state the obvious: always test for value-add before spending resources

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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Looking for the unique

"When I plan a project, the first thing I do is make a list of what's unique  .... what will my new and untried experiences be for myself and my team, and what's new for the customer: will they see the value?"
Not actually me, but others whom I respect say this
It strikes me that what is said above is just common sense; profound in its plainspoken words
But, then what?

Having identified the unique, and made the list, one must go on to prioritize the importance of dealing with each. There are matters of risk management, cost-to-benefit, and the simple fact that managing more than a dozen objects in a class is just beyond the pail for most.

Of course, you can distribute the load and delegate to others to take on their dozen objects, and thereby get more breadth and perhaps depth.

Kano Analysis
At this point, there is something to be said for Kano Analysis. The value of unique -- as viewed from the customer side (an Agile principle applicable to all projects) -- has multiple characteristics:
  • Some truly unique outcomes will be ignored by customers; they are "indifferent" about them, and perhaps only if missing do they cause a customer to fuss
  • Other unique stuff is the real ah-hah! of the project. This the customer reacts to strongly
  • And then there that which is somewhere between indifferent and ah-hah!
Allocating scarcity
The first rule of resources is there's never enough. And so, to the unique there must be allocations of scarce resources, and thus the PMO is paid the big bucks to manage who gets what.

At the end of the day, if done "right" as judged by sponsors and customers, the PMO is rewarded with the chance to do it all over in the next project. How swell!

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Mapping project value-add

To get things in the right sequence, let's define "value-add" before talking about mapping value-add

Simply put, insofar as one-time projects are concerned (setting aside repetitive services, etc):
Value-add is anything you can make out of stuff -- to include intangible stuff -- that is ultimately delivered to the customer, or makes the deliverable a good thing in the customer's eyes.
And so, the mission for the PMO becomes: build and deliver value to the customer. Such implies a process to acquire "stuff". Then to mix, modify, and assemble; test, package, and deliver.

Fair enough
And so, how to lay out this process?
Enter: Value stream mapping

Value stream mapping
Value stream mapping may look like a new label on old wine. But even if that is so, the wine ages well. In the old days, we simply called it process mapping.
  • Activities are usually arranged in finish-to-start precedence; 
  • Feedback loops are established to promote stability; 
  • Points of control, and control limits are established; and
  • Value is accumulated, step by step.
Some would call this an earned-value view of value mapping. Fine with me.

Getting lean
Value stream mapping derives from the Lean community, where of course the focus is on leaning out non-value add. So, in value stream mapping, each activity, to include workflow steps, and other governance and ancillary activities, like a trouble report or a status report, are evaluated for value-add. Presumably, such an evaluation leans out the unnecessary detail and complexity of too many rules.

A lot of governance would not fit the value-add definition directly, but most indirect activities don't. Nevertheless, most practical organizations can't live without some non-value overhead that goes along with everything.

The map
One thing I do like about value stream mapping is the clarity of the diagramming. Take a look at this diagram:

If you're interested in more, this diagram came from a nice post at LeadingAnswers

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Three C's of PM

Usually, I say the 'three C's' of PM are:
  • Communicate
  • Communicate 
  • Communicate
Which, in actionable terms are:
  • Tell them what you're going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you told them
But, as I view the PMO through the lens of a small business, I'm wondering if the daily thought of a PM doesn't go to:
  • Capital (meaning project financing)
  • Community (largely virtual these days)
  • Connections (business, political, and functional)

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Trusting vs interests

After dinner, [Churchill said] that he had only one single purpose – the destruction of Hitler – and his life was much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell he would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil!
Suffice to say, a colorful way of saying that there are circumstances in which we agree that we have common interests to cooperate and solve a problem, but don't ask me to trust you, at least not without independent verification

And so one wonders: every PM text on teamwork in a project has a chapter on trust and trust worthiness.
Fair enough
But, is is possible to run a project successfully on the basis of aligned interests where there might not be trust in all its dimensions?

I submit that in the domain I worked most -- building systems for the US military and its agencies -- that often was the time I was aligned with a competitor to do a job jointly, while on the next job competing fiercely with that same competitor.

Did we trust them? Sure, to some extent, but warily. Alignment of interests requires some level of trust, but wariness and demand for verification is allowed, if not demanded.


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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Good process; good outcome

Good process improves the chance of good outcomes and reduces unforced errors ....
Robert Gates, former US Defense Secretary
This bit of wisdom seems obviously good on the surface, except that some of our PMO and project leaders are just not process-people.

They don't think in terms of finish-to-start order, merging of parallel paths of investigation or action, or even of allocation of resources in non-conflicting manner.

And some of most esteemed political leaders are famously not process oriented, Franklin Roosevelt perhaps the poster-boy for disorganized governance.

Error containment
And so, what to do if your guy is not a process person, no matter their other talents?
Enter: systems of containment, even if subtle. Example: General George Marshall, who ran the military side of WW II, refused to meet with Roosevelt except officially, and always with an agenda.

Ah, if only the world could fit neatly on a process map!

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Changing the culture

To change culture ...... you have to have continuous training, systems of accountability, and consequences.
J. Scott Thomson
It's hard to argue with the formula; in fact, no argument taken

However, perhaps Mr Thomson assumed the obvious: you have to have a vision of the future state of culture in order to orient and align training to that vision.

And, there are always errors of alignment in any system. So, establishing tolerable error bounds, as in any process, is necessary. One should think of consequences allotted on a sliding scale depending on compliance --  from perfection on one end to completely unacceptable on the other.

Of course accountability is a tricky matter as well: there's personal accountability for one's own actions, thoughts, deeds; to wit: self-control as well as internalized conceptions. But, then there's accountability of others for the actions of others, whether voluntary or managerial. (See: if you see something, say something).

The former doesn't fit into an accountability system so well, but the latter surely does.

Also left unsaid by Mr Thomson is something I'm sure he knows well: it takes a lot of time to internalize what might be known instantly intellectually. And, physical systems that might have to change have their own inertia, to say nothing of the laws of physics and money.

Tricky business this; but time to get started

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Remote working and the tax man

Working from home? Never done that before? Guess what: If you're working remotely from a State different from your usual workplace, beware the remote-working tax man.

Work in; work from:
Except for a few States, like Florida, Texas, and Washington, others have -- or may have -- income taxes that apply if you work in -- or from -- those States, in some cases: as little as one day.

And, even Florida, Texas, and Washington have business taxes that might apply.

The only constant is change
Thus, with the pandemic and the shift of work location, the tax situation may also be shifting. Some States are waiving income taxes for workers who have been directed to work from home; other states have made no decision about that, as yet.

So, check it out! Your employer may make it right for you by grossing up your compensation for the change in your tax situation, especially if work-from-home is not optional.

What?! Another sheriff?
In any event, among many new sheriffs in town, add the tax man!

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Ruts vs grooves

Are you "in the groove", making good time and product, or are you in a rut?
How to tell?
  • A rut is about 6" deeper than a groove
  • It's easy to see over to the next groove -- it may be better -- and you can change grooves if you need to
  • In a rut, you often can't see out for other opportunities
  • A rut sometimes just gets deeper the more you're doing
Alex Walton, 3PM
In a rut, the first rule of holes often applies: just stop digging!

Beyond platitudes:
Most people would prefer not to be in a rut; it's not stimulating and rewarding
  • Like never before, self-help is the first step out. And the internet is the primo source of self-help.
  • Summoning the courage to take a risk is probably step two. Even if you're just moving into a groove in familiar space, that sometimes requires some risk-taking
  • Asking others for an evaluation of your profile is an important risk step. Park your ego and your pride long enough to take in the data and process it.
  • You may have to outright quit and start over, maybe even entry level. Or, if you're entrepreneurial (and everyone isn't), you can start your own 
But the most important thing is to overcome inertia and "do something". If it doesn't work, try again. Ruts are not permanent.

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

What flavor is your 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 just 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 that 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 them 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

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Hiring for skills

The thesis is simple enough: when you need a job done, hire a skillful person [setting aside, for the moment: robots]
Who's not referred to Angie's List from time to time to find a plumber?

Bachelor's hegemony
But in the project business, there has been for a long time the hegemony of the bachelor's degree ... which is not to be denigrated in any way (I've got one) .... but there are alternatives.

Let's hear it for skills
And so the "skills development" industry has gone into high gear .... shifting now to mostly online ... with much corporate help [Microsoft, among many others] to make it possible for millions who have lost retail and hospitality jobs to move in the direction of filling the pre-pandemic 12M openings for alternatively skilled staff, usually at a higher compensation.

Now, ours is a business that has put emphasis on either/and a bachelor's degree or a PM credential from PMI or others. Our local university has a very robust program in project management that is available to the public.

But there's no reason that for the myriad of project jobs -- not necessarily the PMO -- that the hiring principle should not be 'skills-first'.

What do you get?
  • Usually bootstrappers who've shown personal initiative and have got other work and life experience; they appreciate the opportunity to dig into a good opportunity
  • Not too much baggage that requires re-training. In many cases it's a green field for both culture and job-specific skills
  • Opportunity to be a 'good corporate citizen' for the local community
  • A few that can't make it in your context .... HR issues around tenure, etc

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Good writing, and a well-chosen word

What does one learn when reading great ..... writings? That well-chosen words are the way by which past deeds acquire meaning and future deeds acquire purpose.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” are the only false notes in the Gettysburg Address. The Battle of Gettysburg is etched in national memory less for its military significance than because Lincoln reinvented the goals of the Civil War in that speech — and, in doing so, reimagined the possibilities .....

[Great] writing doesn’t just provide meaning and purpose. It also offers determination, hope and instruction.
Bret Stephens
Now, I think it's reasonable to say that most writing coming forth from the PMO doesn't rise to the level of the Gettysburg Address in eloquence or conciseness, or engender the profound effect the Address has had on generations since.

Nonetheless, if the bar is more reasonably set at the level of "good writing" --- clear, concise, unambiguous, and purposeful --- then we should take to heart in all project communications that words do matter, and that choosing the right words should not be a task taken lightly.

I've often said that "good writing is not written, it is re-written", meaning: the first draft is just that: a draft. The published version is -- or should be -- more likely the draft re-written. [See: take a moment before you send that text or email]

But the point here is not so much to lecture about writing well; rather it is to make the point that in executing the first job of the PMO --- to communicate -- the PM should bear in mind the three big steps:
  1. Tell them what you are going tell them
  2. Tell them (enter: a well-chosen word)
  3. Tell them what you told them
Said another way:
  1. Establish the background, explain how the past got us here
  2. Lay out the task ahead
  3. Connect the dots to future goals
 "That well-chosen words are the way by which past deeds acquire meaning and future deeds acquire purpose"  ..... Well said!

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Out-of-the-office worker-traveler

Following up on my last posting, here's some other insights to the out-of-office worker and traveler, as quoted from the recent press*

[C.E.O. read: project executive]

“A C.E.O. who does not meet people in person is a captive to the aperture of a camera lens rather than the aperture of her eyesight. .... —Bill Perlstein, Washington

• “The office doesn’t matter for the C.E.O. (who travels a lot anyway) or any other executive. What matters is what they accomplish. If you think about it, the office environment is an expensive artificial structure ....”—Joe Carlin, Cary, N.C.

• “As a former director of research ... , the best ideas came from colleagues talking over coffee or at lunch about some pie in the sky idea or discussing a problem they could not solve.” —Emily Jones, Rochester, N.Y.

• “I am an ‘outbound C.E.O.’ That means over 50 percent of my time is spent outside of the office constructing high-value relationships ... An ‘inbound C.E.O.’ spends over 50 percent of their time in the office and builds value by management of the company processes. ”—Steve Baird, Vancouver, Wash.

•  I would say that being on-site was essential. I felt responsible for creating a positive work environment and for maintaining a caring office culture. I don’t see how I could have met those objectives remotely.”—Erica Moeser, Madison, Wisc
*New York Times, May 28th, 2020

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Maybe you shouldn't work from home

From press clippings we get these bits about not working from home, which I've paraphrased:

What about social capital? 
The relationships currently sustaining business [and project offices] were built from face-to-face meetings before the lockdown. This "capital" that has been banked, to think in Stephen Covey terms, will erode over time if not refreshed. The longer people are apart, the weaker those bonds become.
So, how to build up the bank account will be a topic for the near future.

Remote hiring:

How would any new hire acquire the project [or business] culture; how would they made to feel connected? How do you do remote mentoring?

Of course, virtual teams have been dealing with this problem for years, so many protocols are already well developed for the new-but-remote person on the team

And, what about personal goals? 
Some predict a potentially destabilizing divide between workers who get ahead by going into the office and those who work remotely and miss out on career opportunities. “Everyone who wants to manage, to run things, to influence, to jockey, to make friends, to build a network — they will clamor to work in the office,” David Pogue writes. “Almost every single ambitious person in a company will be demanding a desk at HQ.”

I agree: when I worked for the military in Berlin, it was all about who could get closest to the flagpole.

What about the power relationships?

Like it or not, proximity to power is important, so if a project executive promotes a remote-first approach but then works mostly in the office, what's the power message there? And, ref to the above, who stays home while others get close?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

About ignorance

Ordinarily, we don't put much value on ignorance -- or being ignorant.

It's said that in the pre-modern world, say before the enlightenment in Europe in the middle of the first millennium, that all you needed to know was pretty much what could be learned from history.

If it wasn't known, then you didn't need to know it, in the same way your forebears didn't know it either.

History is limiting
But, thankfully, we came to understand that history -- if that's all you know -- is quite limiting. The enlightened figured out that there is a case for ignorance -- that is: recognizing you are ignorant of something. And, then setting about with a project to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks
And, you might notice, guys like Newton and daVinci brought the concepts of observations and mathematics into the battle of ignorance. Indeed, for the longest time before, math was considered "philosophy".

And then we have Bayes, somewhat a contemporary of Newton, with his version of continuous improvement: form a hypothesis based on assumed conditions; make observations; then adjust assumptions about conditions to conform to observations.

And so, that's the idea here:
  • Know, going in, that you are likely ignorant
  • Recognize the value of theorizing and observing to overcome ignorance
  • Don't assume history has all the answers -- it doesn't
  • Appreciate that improvement doesn't just come from reorganizing what you know(*); sometimes new facts are more powerful (See: Newton)
  • Repeat 
(*) Pre-Newton methodology which actually carried on in some forms until the industrial revolution

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

A leadership personality

Exasperating, but generally forgiven. A combination of charm, audacity, imagination, optimism, and energy
Historian Arthur Schlesinger describing William Donovan, the leader of the clandestine spy agency, OSS, in WW II

And, to put a point on it, Donovan was considered a mediocre administrator and manager.

Noteworthy: Donovan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in WW I, and then was a successful Wall Street attorney, politically a Republican, who served FDR, a Democrat, throughout the war.


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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

About organization

"Organization is the enemy of improvisation
It is a long jump from knowing to doing
Committees take the punch out ...."

Lord Beaverbook, Minister of Aircraft Production for Britain in WW II

So, about "organization" Max Beaverbrook is really speaking of bureaucracy that is encumbered by rules designed to put accountability with the institution rather than the individual (just following the rules ....) and thereby contain or restrain those that would go outside the rules.

But wait!

Along comes an emergency and the rules go out the window. Now, risk-taking and entrepreneurship are in, and the organizational pyramid is a shambles. Ad hoc relationship meshes form that connect all the right people, regardless of where they ordinarily fit in the structure.

It's no small matter how flat and responsive an organization can get when the circumstances are dire.
One wonders why it takes an emergency .....

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Value system as a business doctrine

Consider, if you will, this value system arranged as a Belief and an Operating Principle, adapted from "Maximizing Project Value" Chapter 1 (one of my books):

  • Quality is free: We value doing the right job (value adding) in the right way (training and skill development) the first time (correct systemic errors).
  • There is no substitute for ethical, honest, and transparent transactions: As leaders of (entity), we (establish and promote a culture to) conduct business legally, with good order and protection for staff, according to reasonable and customary conventions.
  • Community partnership is good business: As members of (community), (entity) is a willingly good steward of the environment and a committed partner in promoting the welfare of the community
  •   Employees are inherently trustworthy: We (establish and promote a culture to) trust first, then verify, to avoid deliberate obfuscation, ambiguity, and duplicity

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