Thursday, February 29, 2024

Responding to an RFP .... Steps1 and 2

Are you a proposal leader tasked with responding to a competitive RFP?
  • An RFP from a private sector customer or from the public sector?
  • And if from the public sector, local, state, or federal?
  • And if from the federals, defense or non-defense?
Every one of those customer groups will have their own style, culture, and constraining rules, regulations, and statutes. But even so, there are two steps, everyone must follow:

Step 1, Read the RFP
Step 1 is to read the entire RFP, but most particularly read the "instructions to offerors", or words to that effect. This seems like such an obvious first step that it does not bear mentioning, but actually it does because the devil is in the detail. 

Follow instructions
If you can't follow instructions as simple as how to submit the proposal, or worse: you are too lazy or arrogant to read and follow the instructions, then you've made an unforced error which could cast a pawl over you whole proposal. 

Take note of Customer dictates
Many submission requirements require "click to sign" certifications (which brings workflow and signature authority into the frame), and they require online submissions of content segmented by "attach here" this or that. Consequently, you may need a tool or submission facility that is not your norm. Action required to get the tools the customer uses!

Avoid disqualification.
Or, worst case, if you don't follow instructions, including "don't be late", you could be disqualified for an unresponsive submission. 

Step 2, Have an Answer for everything
Step 2 is build a tracking matrix (or table, or several tables by category) for every little thing that is in the RFP. Use the tracking matrix (or table) to organize and direct where in your proposal the customer is going to find answers. 

Don't disdain a customer's laundry list which looks like the customer just threw mud at the wall. Everything goes in a tracking matrix. Some of that mud has may have an influential sponsor; you won't really know who's looking for an answer, so answer everything. 

There are two objectives to be satisfied with these tracking tables:
  1. Assure completeness, which is part and parcel to your first demonstration to the customer of your appreciation of quality assurance.
    The customer will notice omissions more readily than inclusions.
    That is simple utility theory which posits asymmetry of value: the missing is more grievous than the satisfaction of inclusions.

  2. Make it easy for the customer to find the answers. A frustrated customer, looking here and there but not finding, or not finding easily, will take it out on your score.
    Making it easy are the easiest evaluation points you can earn. Don't give them away. 

    Remember this: If the customer can't find what they want in your proposal, it's not their fault!  (Corollary: If it's not their fault, then it must be yours!) You can't admonish them for not being able to read and easily digest your responses.

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Monday, February 26, 2024

Chief A.I. Officer

So it didn't take long. 
AI has invaded the C-Suite, the latest title being Chief A.I. Officer, aka CAIO.
The job description is partly directed at technology, partly directed at culture, and partly directed at functional impacts, like HR, recruiting, and intellectual property.

What does it mean to project management?
In the PMO, the CAIO is going to be there to help you! (I'm from HQ, and I'm here to help)
  • Safety and security: Every project's use or application of AI has safety and security on the project risk register or project agenda. Safety insofar as user's experiences are concerned re exposure to unintended content or performance or functionality. Security insofar as exposing user's to security holes for what seems like an ever expanding range of attacks.

  • HR effects: Predictions are that AI tools will be more threatening to white collar college educated professionals than Joe-the-plumber and other hands-on trades which are not robotic. So will you be under pressure to replace your favorite project professionals with an AI device?

  • Recruiting: What do you tell recruits about your project and enterprise culture re the oncoming AI thing? The fact is: whatever you say today is open to changes tomorrow. Stability and predictability in the job description is going to be a chancy thing.

  • Intellectual property: IP is the source of a lot of enterprise value. But in the AI world, who owns what, especially derivatives from "fair use". And, of course, the patent mess, and the local, state, and federal statutory baseline (admittedly, slow moving, but moving nonetheless; got to keep up!) 
Suffice to say: It's not your father's PMO anymore!

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

3 E's drive success

Lee Cockerell, a retired Disney executive and author of several successful business books, says this about the people you want on your project: 
  • Hire and retain people who value "reliability" in commitments and relationships, and 
  • Hire and retain people who value the "3 E's" (or maybe it's 4 E's)

Education + Exposure + Experience = Excellence
Cockerell's points should be self evident:
  • People who are committed to their task, organization, or even to their colleagues and supervisors show that commitment by deed, to wit: they show up, on time in the right place, in a state of readiness to do the work of the day. And they make an effort to be a reliable, contributing partner during the work process.

  • Education (and the related professional credentials) are not enough. It's also not enough to work (and even live) in the same company, job, and location for a career. Of course, who does that anymore? Exposure to other lifestyles, culture, work environments ... foreign and domestic ... in combination with the experience of actually doing the job is that leads to "excellence".

  • And the most successful among us are those who place great importance and value on "excellence". And so continuing education ... formal and informal ... purposeful exposure, and time-over-target (experience) are the 'work-on-everyday' elements of achieving excellence.

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Monday, February 19, 2024

10,000 project interns

David Miessiler has this idea about AI tools that are "good enough" to make a real project impact. He says, in part:

To me .... in both offensive and defensive security use cases, the main advantage of AI will not be its exceptional (superhuman) capabilities, but rather the ability to apply pretty-good-intern or moderate-SME level expertise to billions more analysis points than before.

In large companies or government/military applications, we often don’t need AGI [artificial general intelligence]. What we need is 10, 100, or 100,000 extra interns.

Talk about job elimination! It could happen. 

But the impact on testing, especially those rare use cases that nobody wants to test for because there's never enough time and money for the 6-sigma outcomes, will be profound! Quality should go up faster than the cost of quality (which is, of course, "free") 

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Andreessen opines AI

When Marc Andreessen speaks, it's worth your time to listen. He says this about AI

[A] short description of what AI is: The application of mathematics and software code to teach computers how to understand, synthesize, and generate knowledge in ways similar to how people do it.

AI is a computer program like any other – it runs, takes input, processes, and generates output. AI’s output is useful across a wide range of fields, ranging from coding to medicine to law to the creative arts.

It is owned by people and controlled by people, like any other technology.

An even shorter description of what AI could be:
A way to make everything we care about better.

He goes on:
The most validated core conclusion of social science across many decades and thousands of studies is that human intelligence makes a very broad range of life outcomes better..... 

 Further, human intelligence is the lever that we have used for millennia to create the world we live in today: science, technology, math, physics, chemistry, medicine, energy, construction, transportation, communication, art, music, culture, philosophy, ethics, morality..... 

 What AI offers us is the opportunity to profoundly augment human intelligence to make all of these outcomes of intelligence – and many others .... much, much better from here.

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Sunday, February 11, 2024

Doing a bit of strategy

Consider this military wit, and put it in the context of a PMO.  

"There is an old—and misleading—bit of conventional military wisdom which holds that “amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics.”

The truth is that amateurs study only tactics or logistics, while professionals study both simultaneously.

The most brilliant tactics ever devised are pointless when the supplies needed to execute them do not exist, while all the supplies in the world are useless when a commanding officer has no idea how to effectively employ them."

Quote from "Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel"
by Daniel Allen Butler
Are you the professional or the amateur?
Consider what are "logistics" in the project domain:
  • Supplies and materials, of course
  • Utilities, communications, and facilities (you gotta sit somewhere)
  • Tools and training
  • Supporting activity from Finance and Accounting (they have the money!) 
  • Supporting activity from purchasing, inventory management, and receiving (they have the goods!)
  • Supporting activities from the various "ilities"
If you can get that wagon train all connected and working for you, then of course there is the small matter of strategy:
  • How strategic are you? Anything less than a year probably qualifies as tactics. Anything over three years and you should build in some tolerance for some business instability.
  • What is the lay-line to your strategic goal, and of course, what is your goal?
  • How much deviation from the lay-line can you tolerate for agile tactics (zig and zag along the lay-line)
  • Can you be strategic on some elements of the 'balanced scorecard' and simultaneously tactical on others(*)?
Got all of the above together? 
Good. Now(!) you can entertain tactical moves, knowing the support is there.

(*) Balanced scorecard: Finance, Customer, Product, and Operating Efficiency

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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Risk Management and AI

The U.S. NIST has issued, after long discussion and drafts reviewed, their risk management framework (RMF) for A.I. You can read it here.

NIST says:
 The AI RMF refers to an AI system as an engineered or machine-based system that can, for a given set of objectives, generate outputs such as predictions, recommendations, or decisions influencing real or virtual environments. AI systems are designed to operate with varying levels of autonomy (Adapted from: OECD Recommendation on AI:2019; ISO/IEC 22989:2022). 

Not everything is new cloth; a lot has been drawn from ISO risk management standards, as well as other Agency risk management guides.

Other opinions
If you want a good overview of A.I. risks as seen by an expert pseudo skeptic, then read Gary Marcus.(*)  He, with co-authors, have written multiple papers and a well respected book entitled: 
"Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust"

Not surprisingly, Marcus sees great risk in the acceptance of the outcomes of neural-net models that interrogate very large data sets, because, as he says, without context connectivity to symbolic A.I models (the kind you get with symbol algorithms, like that in algebra), there are few ways (as yet) to validate "truth". 

He says the risk of systems like those recently introduced by OpenAI and others is that with these tools the cost of producing nonsense will be driven to nearly zero, making it easy to swamp the internet and social networks with falsehoods for both economic and political gain.

(*) Or, start with a podcast or transcript of Marcus' interview with podcaster Ezra Klein which can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

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Sunday, February 4, 2024

Do you work "turn key"?

You may say -- you may have heard -- "make a 'turn-key' project".
Fair enough.
What does that mean? 

Actually, there are a few things built into that expression:
  • You're throwing off risk by pushing scope and cost to someone else, presumably with a proven track record of expertise and performance.
  • You probably mean 'fixed price' for a 'fixed scope' of work. There's no 'bring me a rock' uncertainty; you know exactly what rock you want, and 'they' understand and commit to deliver it.

  • "Call me when its done". You expect them to handle their work like a black box; the internal details are unknown to you, or even if not, you've given up all executive supervision.
  • They carry the insurance. Liability, property damage, workman's compensation, OSHA penalties, and the like are all on them. Of course, there's no free lunch, so the cost of those insurance plans are built into the price you pay for the 'turn-key'.

  • Cash flow is largely their problem, though you make be asked for a down payment, and you may be asked for progress (aka, earned value) payments. As cash flow is their problem, so is credit with lower tier suppliers, financiers, and the like.
  • Capital investment for special tools and facilities, and expense for special training (and these day, recruitment and retention) are all on them. These financial details will come back to you, proportionately, as part of their overhead figured into their fixed price for the job.

That all sounds swell as a way to offload issues onto others. But, at the end of the day, you as PM for the overall project still are accountable to your project sponsors. No relief on that score!

Here are a few of the risks to you should be aware of:
  • Contractors have biased interests also. The contractor may prioritize some part of the project to serve their interests more so than yours. So, don't be blind to that possibility
  • Fixed price is not always a fixed price. Any small change in scope or schedule can be leveraged to the advantage of the contractor for them to 'get well' from a poorly estimated base contract.

  • Scarcity provides leverage: If they've got it and you need it, and there is a scarcity of supply, your contractor is at an advantage. 
  • Cash talks: Cost of capital is often no small matter to a contractor. The cash customer is always favored; the customer with a short invoice-to-payment cycle is favored. When you need a contractor for a turn-key, cash talks.

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