Wednesday, April 27, 2022

To command, or is it just a comment?

Now, the word 'command' is probably a no-no among many. For those who dissent from 'command', it's more likely all about synergy and shared commitment, etc. 

Can PM work without a culture of 'command'?
But on projects of any scale, and businesses of scale, there will always be people 'on the commanding heights', in a command situation, and with command responsibility. 

Don't believe it? Check in with the C-suite and see what they say.
So, that said, we arrive at today's topic: If on the 'commanding heights', is a word spoken always a command, or can it be merely a comment? Indeed, are 'commanders' allowed the freedom and informality to just make a comment? 

Which is which is sometimes vexing, but does it matter?
Actually, Yes, it can matter a lot. Consider some of these situations and outcomes:
  • A PM is not promoted for lack of 'command presence' in their communications. What is that? See below.
  • 'Commands' are given (in the civilian world) but for lack of follow-though the permanent bureaucracy all but ignores them
  • A casual comment is understood -- in context -- to mean "get it done"
  • A casual comment is misunderstood to be a command, when it reality it was just a casual comment

So what's going on here?

Command presence: You know it when you see it. A confident aura that invites -- rather than demands -- followership. Obviously, no empty suit!

Sloppy communication. The "one in command" is careless about a comment, not understanding or observing the reaction that surrounds it

Underlings too eager to please. These guys make the most of reflected and proximate power -- power and authority absorbed simply because they are in close proximity to the throne.

Bureaucrats understand the impracticality or incompleteness of the command.  And so it is ignored or modified on the spot. Actually, this is a very common consequence of "flow down of goals and objectives" and also of assuming operating detail will be filled in below by the people who actually have to do the work.
So, don't be surprised to see how a command actually materializes!

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Friday, April 22, 2022

Zooming at the office

Wow! I read a piece by Daniel Miessler wherein he opined that people are going to the office, only then to sit on Zoom calls! 
  • Actually, if you're doing that, you can do it from home. 
  • But, if you're doing that ... if you have to do that ... hopefully the community advantage of going to the office to have face-to-face with colleagues, influencers, bosses, and others is also part of your day.
In fact, there are a lot of reasons to go to office, but to sit on a Zoom call should be low on the list, even if unavoidable. Probably on everybody's list are these:
  • You have got to get out of the house or the coffee shop!
  • You need, or want, the community of real people that you can't get even at the coffee shop
  • There are tools and capabilities that are only accessible at the office
  • The company culture may be shifting; you need to catch up on that
  • There may be a science experiment in your old coffee cup if you didn't clean it really well
  • Zoom works better from the office than from the home
And then there's office politics:
It helps to get close the flag pole if you want an opportunity for a seat at the table and a chance to be an influencer yourself. And by close, I mean: in the room, not on the screen, whenever possible.

But, if it's about a need for 'talking truth to power', person-person is the most influential way to do it. In the old days you might write a supporting memo; now: a supporting email. But never social media!

Influencer: Someone who is a respected expert; someone who is just a bit crazy and attracts attention with provocative speech or behavior; someone who can persuade others to a course of action

Of course, vacation requests and appeals for a better job or compensation all work better in person. On the other hand, we hear about people getting fired by email. Yuk! (If you are going to fire someone, go the office to do it!)

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Monday, April 18, 2022

"T" people vs "I" people

"T" people: lots of breadth; collaborative across disciplines; depth in one or two 

"I" people: deep and narrow; the experts

Bastien Rieck explains all of this in a posting about recruiting. He says this about software people specifically:
Given the state of the art in the software industry, T-shaped people are a sought-for commodity: the current ‘framework du jour’ might be obsolete in a few years, but the horizontal bar of a T-shaped person ensures that they can also contribute to other aspects of a project, and quite likely will develop new vertical bars, i.e. new expertise over time

He goes on to talk about Ts as multipliers

Throughout my career, the most impactful projects always had a T-shaped person onboard. This person would usually not be an expert in the subject matter, but would be able to provide the direly-needed scaffolding and foundation of a project that is all too often ignored in the initial phase, until it comes back later on with full swing to wreak havoc. This includes, for instance: 
  • Setting up a suitable build system. 
  • Writing some unit tests for the code. 
  • Creating a skeleton of the models that are to be developed. 
  • Designing nice mock-ups or logos. 
  • Creating animations or graphics for presentations.

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Threats, vulnerabilities, and risks

Daniel Messiler has an interesting essay about threats, vulnerabilities, and risks that is worth a quick read.

He summarizes this way:
  •  A Threat is a negative scenario you want to avoid
  • A Threat Actor is the agent that makes a Threat happen
  • A Vulnerability is a weakness that can be exploited in order to attack you
  • A Risk is a negative scenario you want to avoid, combined with its probability and its impact
  • The difference between a Threat and a Risk is that a Threat is a negative event by itself, where a Risk is the negative event combined with its probability and its impact

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Sunday, April 10, 2022

From the desk of Nasim Taleb

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Nasim Taleb

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Useful history, or not?

Is keeping project history valuable? Doesn't every project office have at least cost history? Isn't all parametric pricing based on history?

  • Yes, Maybe, Yes .... respectively, to the above! 
  • And, could there be parametric estimating without history (*)? No, definitely not.
  • Or, could there be project, event, or risk statistics without history? (**) No!

Ooops, perhaps everyone does not agree:
"History can not be explained deterministically and it can not be predicted because it is chaotic.

So many forces are at work and their interactions are so complex that extremely small variations in the strength of forces and the way they interact predict huge differences in outcomes....

Not only that, but history is what is called a level two chaotic system (***). ...  Level two chaos is chaos that reacts to predictions about it, and therefore can never be predicted accurately"
Yuval Harari

And, so the take away on this is what? 
That history is useless for predicting an outcome? Or, that one historical outcome could easily have been another, quite different, except for some favorable interactions -- thus, who knows what might happen the next time around?

Or, even more intriguing is the last point: a prediction actually changes the predicted outcome. Somewhat like the oft encountered conundrum that a measurement or observation may change that which is measured or observed. (****)

And, of course, there is the timeless nemesis: causation vs correlation vs coincidence.
  • Causation: A causes C
  • Correlation: A causes some reaction in B which causes some reaction in C (correlation has a third party in most cases, though B may be hidden and hard to discern)
  • Coincidence: Stuff happens
Ultimate take away: history is problematic, even if it is very instructive. Predictor be aware!

(*) Parametric estimating: $X per page; $X per line of code; $X per linear foot, etc 
(**) A statistic is a calculation made from observed or measured values, like the average of all the salaries on a team. Statistics are 'backward' looking in the sense that all the data in the calculation comes from history.
(***) There are two main classifications of chaos, explains Daniel Miessler:
First Order Chaos doesn’t respond to prediction. The example [ ] is the weather. If you predict the weather to some level of accuracy that prediction will hold because the weather doesn’t adjust based on the prediction itself.

Second Order Chaos is infinitely less predictable because it does respond to prediction. Examples include things like stocks and politics.
(****) As an example, when probing sensitive electronic circuits, the probe itself can change the performance of the circuit.

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Sunday, April 3, 2022

The influencer thing

Energy dissipates as the square of the distance from the emitter to the receiver -- if the distance increases by a factor of 2, the energy decreases by a factor of 4. (*)
The fact is, even an enormous energy source may have little effect at long distance, and increasingly less as the distance lengthens.
So that's the physics for the day.
How do these physics apply to the PMO? 

Influence at a distance
The plain fact is: if you want to maximize your influence, you have to be close to the flag pole -- be at the center of decision making and in the room, at the table, where your energy is maximum.

And, of course, you have to have something of substance to say. But, I'll leave the content effect on influence to another posting.

Now you say, remote video conferences are all the rage, and so how does distance make a difference?
And I say:
  • No virtual conference setting is as clear as being there; there are losses
  • A good deal of communication is lost in the restricted bandwidth, particularly the informal communications during breaks and the body language exchanged off camera
  • If you're really far away, everyone knows you can't get to the flag pole in a hurry, so your influence is discounted
  • All the power of the "casual" encounter at just the right moment is lost
So, how to have influence at a distance
  • Create intimacy and familiarity by being a frequent communicator
  • Be up front and noisy about your points of view
  • Give feedback on everything so they know you are listening and thinking
  • Be a contributor; be consequential -- get things done. Avoid the empty suit "all talk"
  • Innovate where possible. Be the source, rather than the sink for energy


(*) The dissipation can be disturbed by many environmental factors, so the square-effect assumes ideal conditions for the energy to travel outward.

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