Saturday, August 29, 2020

Empty suit

Back in the day, project leaders wore something more than 'business casual'. Both men and women dressed for their roles.

But, alas, some of these "suits" [including ladies' attire] were 'empty'. If there were informing principles that guided policy and decisions, they only seemed to emerge when the consensus was already formed.

It was frustrating to work for those people.
A line from the play "Hamilton" is apt, and the issue is centuries old:

If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?
Well, actually, there's no way of knowing the answer. And so these are not only frustrating people to work with, they can also be dangerous, pulling the rug out, failing to support, and reversing course without notice.

Where you sit
I think this is a bit different -- yet, not that much different -- from the similar adage: 
"Where you stand depends on where you sit".
That bit of wit is more about taking responsibility for consequences. When you don't have such, you can say anything. You may think you stand on principle, but it's harder when you're accountable for the consequences of your actions. You may find a tactical compromise will actually advance your strategic principle.

It's still frustrating, but we see it all the time. Responsibility, authority, and accountability shape things differently and bring realism to theory.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Pyramid v Funnel

In every book written about project management, the PMO is at the apex of a pyramid. Sometimes, as in Agile project methodology, the pyramid is flatter than most, but always there is an identifiable top figure.

Fair enough.

But Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary [and holder of many other government titles] writes that he often felt like the pyramid was inverted and thus took the look of a funnel. In the funnel model, the 'decider' is at the bottom of the funnel, with others pouring stuff in. 
Funnel v. Pyramid
How can it be that the top person is at the bottom, figuratively?

Gates explains: in the pyramid model, stuff is either pushed up for political cover, or because protocol demands that the decision lies higher, or because the apex person is pulling stuff up that they want control or inspection of

But in the funnel model, the top person is like the paper at the bottom of the bird cage: everything is pouring in from the top; and everybody on the project is busy doing the pouring. Fortunately, only a bit funnels all the way through, but gravity seems to be in charge. It's inexorable.

Filters in the funnel
Fortunately, the funnel can work like the pyramid, only with gravity. There can be and should be filters in the funnel. The minor stuff is trapped early and doesn't make it through. The top person -- at the end of the funnel -- can pull stuff "down", and there is some gravity effect: stuff naturally falls to the bottom for action.

And so for the PMO, the management points are:
  • In the funnel model, things move by default. There's an expectation on the part of anyone pouring stuff in at the top that it will eventually come to the attention of those 'at the bottom of the funnel'. Gravity is just the consequence of applying energy to get stuff up to the top of the funnel and pouring it in.

  • But in the pyramid model, gravity works against you. The default is: nothing moves to the top. If you want it to move up, there's work to be done!

If you like the idea of a funnel, how would you create it?
Just open your door! The funnel model is somewhat like "my door is always open" (even if virtual) ; anyone can "pour" something in. 
But, rather than "anyone can", you move to "everyone should" pour something in. As the 'decider' you don't have to pull very much in if you operate like a funnel; stuff will get to you. If you like the funnel effect, you say that's good.
Perhaps, but only if you have the methods, tools, discipline, and staff to sort it out.

If you don't, turn things upside down and operate like a pyramid. Gravity is your friend; a lot of stuff just won't rise to the top.

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

Join the project from your childhood bedroom

It seems bizarre to think about it, but newbies to the workforce, and thus new to the project, may be working from home from the very desk they used in the 7th grade.

This jarring possibility is discussed in a news article wherein some of the hazards we've all thought about are put in the context of working from the bedroom you grew up in.
  • There's a professional atmosphere that's missing if you're surrounded by your high school stuff (Suggestion: redecorate for adult business)
  • The 'welcome-on-board' ritual -- done virtually -- may be more limited and less engaging.
  • You may not meet your project or team leader in person for a long time (working in different cities, etc) -- or ever!
  • From your old bedroom, you may not appreciate or share a culture that others acquired when the workplace was physical. But not to worry: that "physical-dominated culture" will fade over time if virtual is the new normal.
  • Opportunities to connect personally and form relationships that will help your career and help shape your future may be deferred
  • You may have been a leader in high school, but opportunities to demonstrate leadership early on -- as a professional --  may be more limited
And, if you are sitting on your bed waiting on a government clearance:
Waiting alone rather than in a group can be not only boring in the extreme, but, as a practical matter, it will be hard to not fall through the crack with others with whom you should be connecting.

(Suggestion: show initiative and ask for an unclassified task to do, and a mentor with whom to work on the task)

Yikes! Is all this the new normal, or just a passing nightmare?

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Assessing risk

Most of us -- that is, all but the few formally trained in risk assessment -- really suck at risk assessment, a necessary first step toward managing risk.

Why so?
Bias, for one thing. Confirmation bias being a biggie: we all want confirmation that our thinking, experiences, and instincts are right for the situation we find ourselves in. But, of course, we know objectively, even if not internalized well, that confirmation bias is one we want to avoid.

Optimism, for another. We don't apply objective analysis very well. The "cone of uncertainty" that PMs read about so often is really a cone of optimism. The further out in time, the more we assess a risk optimistically. For one thing, objectively we can say there is more opportunity, given time, to do something to mitigate risk. So why not be optimistic?

Along with optimism and opportunity, add a sense of control. If there's time to react, to study alternatives, and to experiment with mitigation, then of course we can rightfully feel in control of the situation. The reality may be, however, that things are out of control and we just can't accept that idea.

Accept it, and move on
And, then of course, there is the number one thing you can do about a risk: ignore it! Most are inconsequential in the big picture, and so ignoring them is justifiable as a way of only keeping the important stuff in front of you.

And, so ignoring the risks in front of you, you may convince yourself you can live with the risk, as most of us do with most of what we confront day-to-day. But, of course, you could be quite wrong: living with the risk may well be the worst thing you can do.

You'll have to think it through to know, of course.

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Monday, August 17, 2020

National Research Cloud

From the press
Leading universities and major technology companies agreed on [in late June, 2020] to back a new project intended to give academics and other scientists access to the computing resources now available mainly to a few tech giants.

The initiative, the National Research Cloud, has received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. Lawmakers in both houses have proposed bills that would create a task force of government science leaders, academics and industry representatives to outline a plan to create and fund a national research cloud.

This program would give academic scientists access to the cloud data centers of the tech giants, and to public data sets for research

For many PMOs, a large-scale data warehouse of research artifacts is simply out of reach. Likewise, the large-scale computing power necessary for "deep" learning and training is often beyond the pale.

But, possibly no more.Whereas the largest tech companies can collectively spend billions on data centers and their operations, few outside that community can afford to participate.

Depending on how the rules are set up for access and payment, it may be possible for the lesser funded private and university labs to get in the game. Let's hope so!


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Friday, August 14, 2020

Need to know

Two questions:
  1. Do you need to know?
  2. Why do you need to know?

There are a lot of PMOs that deal with government classified specifications and classified contractor-agency relationships, or deal with private or proprietary information; or even legal client-attorney privileged information.  Sometimes it's privileged HR stuff. And sometimes, there is a combination of all of the above.

Fair enough; most of us have had some experience with such project security.

Don't you trust me?
But, here's the issue that can really strain the seams in the PMO:
  • Who gets to know; 
  • Who is in the know;
And, if you are not "in the know" what does that mean? Does it mean you don't trust me? Trust underpins every relationship in the PMO, so how could there be a working PMO if trust is in question?
It's not about trust
The short answer is: it's not about trust. I can trust you absolutely, but still not convey information you don't need.

Often, there is a clash between clearance, compartmentalization, channels, and trust.
  • Clearance: It's all about grading or classifying the harm, if information is disclosed. If you've got "clearance" for certain classifications of information, it means two things: first, you can be trusted to keep to yourself information with that level of harm (if disclosed), and, second, you're not vulnerable to attack by nefarious seekers.

    But, it doesn't mean anyone is going to give you that information just because "you are cleared". You have to get over the hurdle of "having a need to know".
  • Compartmentalization: It's all about controlling who gets to know by putting some information in a compartment or vault (virtual or physical) for which the entry is strictly by invitation.
    And, sometimes the compartment is "black", meaning its mere existence is "denied". You'll need a special decoder ring for this stuff. [With social distancing, secret handshakes are out!]
  • Channels: Compartmentalization often (usually) comes with specific norms, procedures, and channels by which the information can be communication among those that are in the compartment. And again, sometimes these channels are "black".
  • Trust: Trust is necessary, but not sufficient, to establish clearance, invitation to a compartment, and to work within certain channels.

    I trust you absolutely, but if there is no reason for you to have certain information, then you don't get the information even if you have clearance for a specific classification;  or you don't get entry to the compartment. Suck it up; that's the way it is.
Feeling left out
But, of course, the last point is where the rub is.
  • There's the "green door" that others can walk up to and open, but you can't. 
  • There is the meeting you can't go to; and 
  • Worst of all, there is meeting you are in where you are asked to leave so stuff "you're-not-cleared-for" can be discussed!
Yikes, it's like you're labeled as untrustworthy, but, of course, that's not it at all. You just don't have a need to know.

Why can't everyone know?
  • You can't negotiate sensitive matters in a fishbowl; there will be too many people offering opinions for which they don't have the responsibility for consequences.
  • Sources and methods will be compromised; valuable information will be cut off.
  • Competitors get benefits without cost, and may kill you in the market
  • Reputations may be damaged for transgressions already paid for
  • Moral hazard may not be avoidable; to wit: why can't I get the same deal they did?
Keeping a secret
When I worked with this stuff, we had this rule: if you want to keep a secret, don't tell anybody. And, if it's really sensitive, handle as "burn-before-reading". 

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

ROI on PMO dispersal

In the good ole days, say 2019 and before, PMO's invested in physical assets to gather the team efficiently: day care centers built-in; personal services provided; lots of great environment.

And, for that investment, the payback was more calories of the workforce individually paid into the project, to wit: more work per worker

Now comes dispersal 
Work from home, or some regional center, or from wherever, whenever
What's the ROI on dispersal investment: remote tools and such for the workforce? Other perks, but local?

In the short run:
In the short run, as I've posted before, some costs will be lower, so the ROI on dispersal may be quite favorable for a short time.

But, we may not get the return we are looking for

Some pundits say:
Some say corporate power will be more concentrated as the start-ups that depend on the opportunistic synergy of a loosely coupled but in-person workforce find it harder to, well: start up.

Some say that mobility will be re-invented like it was in the decades after WW II: just get up and go work anywhere. What does that say about investment in training etc, and loyalty to the team?

But others say that human-centric institutions, like our great universities, will be weakened and thereby the trained individuals they provide will be fewer (Yikes!)

So, who then pays?
Enter: more intern and OJT programs (probably not a bad thing). But, how do you get your money back? I guess you insist on an "enlistment" for the time it takes for the ROI to be at least break-even if not better

Culture at a fast pace: 
No doubt of it, we're on a fast pace to somewhere.

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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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