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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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Plans and improvisation

"As they say ... the best-thought-out battle plans fall apart as soon as the first shot is fired.
Then you improvise"
"Unless that first shot went through your head!"
Dialogue from Nelson DeMille's novel "The Deserter" 

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Monday, March 16, 2020

The unfolding course of events

"It is not given to human beings -- happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable -- to foresee or predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events"

Winston Churchill
Of course, project management can modify such a bit to tolerate some of the intolerable:
  • Simulations can add to the extent of foresight of unfolding events
  • Systems tests can reveal unforeseen hazards in the road ahead
  • Verification and validation can trap missing requirements satisfaction that will make itself known in the fullness of time.
 And, the PMO can make judgments regarding the cost of over reacting vs the cost of under reacting to unfolding events.
  • Protecting what you have vs foregoing a possible opportunity
  • In effect, judging opportunity cost for a course of events that is not entirely foreseeable.
Of course Donald Rumsfeld could have been thinking of Churchill; would he have been tolerable if he could have seen 18 years ahead?
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

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Friday, March 13, 2020

Responsibilty, authority, and power

How often do we hear: "You're responsible for this or that. You'll be held accountable!"
Less often we hear: "You're responsible and here's the authority to get it done"

Almost never: "You're responsible; you have the authority; and here's the power to enforce your authority"
So what have we got here?
We all understand that accountability without authority is a pretty weak hand
But try enforcing authority without power .... not too easy

The fact is, many times you have to invent the power you need
  • Fear is the easiest thing. Almost anyone can sell fear, and many can instill fear (*)
  • Positional power is somewhat fear-based. Your power comes from an acknowledged relationship with an even more powerful person who really is feared (or held in very high esteem) 
  • Perhaps the hardest power to develop is blind loyalty, but just before that comes leadership, born of high esteem and respect
Of all those, I've been most affected by effective leadership. Fear wears thin; positional power is often exposed for just playing politics. Real leadership is not only functional, but has the element of power needed to effect authority.

(*) In my organization, the ditty was:
  • Shoot the first one; hang the second; and all the rest will follow
You have to admit, that's a power statement 

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

About character and power

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. — Abraham Lincoln
And, thanks to Herdingcats for showing me this quote.

So, tough guys (gender neutral here) don't always have vision ... everything tactical ... but we know that from too many PMOs that seem shortsighted;

And and tough guys don't always use power effectively ... we see PMOs squandering opportunity and resources for little gain, and

Most worst of all, the timeless quote comes to mind:
Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely
We see PMOs riding roughshod over rules, skating too close to the edge, what General Michael Hayden has characterized as playing on the white chalk.

In my experience, I've seen corrupt practices in government contracting which landed some PMO "tough guys" in jail with big fines.

When you experience a person handling adversity with stand-up character, you know you are in the presence of a winner!

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Saturday, March 7, 2020

The collision of risk and politics

There have been a lot of very high profile examples that demonstrate what seems like the evitable progression of the collision of risk and politics.  The narrative seems to always fit this frame:
  • Conventional risk management processes identify a risky situation and assess the unfavorable outcomes
  • Mitigations are designed and briefed up the chain
  • Such mitigations are immediately clamped from the top by "policy" pronouncemnts or business goals
  • A lesser mitigation is imposed -- top down

  • Then, once in operation, the unfavorable forecast comes true
  • Everything hits the fan, often in public, but almost always with customers
  • The business pays ten-fold what the original mitigation would have cost
Sometimes the original risk managers are scapegoated; sometimes the top-down managers. More often it seems, the latter.

Project balance sheet
At other times I've described this narrative in terms of the "project balance sheet":
  • Business goals and policies are one side of the balance
  • Project scope, cost, schedule are the other side of the balance
  • Where there is imbalance, risk is added to affect balance (*)
  • At the end of the day, the PMO is tagged with managing the risk between each side
  • And, if it doesn't work out, the PMO is first on the firing line!
(*) Risk is often added to both the business goals on the one side, and project elements on the other side, but nonetheless the PMO is on the point of the spear for success.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Siberian dilemma

The Siberian dilemma has been around a long time. The narrative goes like this:
It's a seriously sub-zero day on a frozen lake
You're walking across the lake and fall through a weak spot in the ice

If you stay in the water, you'll die in 5 minutes;
If you get out the water, you'll die in 2 minutes.

The dilemma: stay in the water and live longer, or get out and die sooner?
Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

Risk management:
You could frame this as a case in risk management:
  • There's no risk to manage if you stay in the water. Circumstances and outcomes are fixed, so there's no opportunity for management intervention. It's like a coin toss with both sides tails.
  • There is limited opportunity for intervention if you get out the water. At least the circumstnaces of chance -- die in two minutes --are not fixed. Perhaps you could run around to generate body heat and circulate blood faster. Perhaps there is nearby shelter. 
Aggressive management 
The dilemma is mistated. A better rendering:
  • Stay in the water and accept a certain outcome, or get out and "do something" to change circumstances
"Do somethng" is always better than "do nothing".
Franklin Roosevelt had a take on this:
If it doesn't work, try something else; but always try!

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Sunday, March 1, 2020

Low tech war room for big bucks

Does this look like the dashboard for a 3-star running a zillion-billion dollar defense program?

That's Vice Admiral David Venlet in the photo, and that dashboard is the way he likes it: low tech, but informative.

Unfortunately for the Admiral-program manager, good and useful and timely program information does not necessarily beget good and timely program performance. This dashboard is for the F-35 fighter aircraft, operationally successful now but was a huge project headache. 

But, back to the dashboard. You can see from the panel on the left that there are many charts to show trend lines for measurements for several different metrics. Project flows are in the center panel, and then subsequent panels on the right document other project activities.

One unique aspect of this dashboard is that some of the data is for the design and development program for the aircraft, and some are for the production program. The acquisition strategy for the F-35 was to begin production as soon as there were design models that verified the likely performance. Simply put, that's a risky strategy. And if the assumptions break down all the dashboards in the war room can't put humpty dumpty back on the original track.

One metric that is on this dashboard is the sunk cost -- the actual cost to date. Some always say that the program must go forward so that the sunk cost is not a waste. Others say you shouldn't make a decision on the basis of sunk cost -- only the future is relevant. So far, it's been decided that the future is relevant and the program continues.

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