Monday, December 31, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 31, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

We use a modified SCRUM methodology at work and it requires us to have continuous contact with our end users. After the 4th prototype the users made a major change to the infrastructure of the product. This new requirement almost changed the entire use case and affected the way every user would interface with the software. We anticipated this “new” scenario while conducting our initial interviews, but the users were adamant that it was never going to happen. 

Fast forward to the 4th prototype, the users decided that we needed to support that situation.  Note that there are not a limited number of prototypes, but we are moving to production in just a couple of months. How do I get users to identify these changes earlier in the project and should we have accommodated the late request? 

Scrumster in Dallas

Dear Scrumster,

I don't claim to be an expert in Agile or Prince II but your problem seems to be something that goes across PM methodologies. You start a project with a set of user requirements and plan accordingly, only to have the customer change those requirements significantly near the end of the project. You were even a little ahead of the game and identified the change early on, only to have that risk come true when it was a little late. 

Here's how I would have handled it using my methodology. Let me know via a comment if this works in the scrum methodology you use. 

When a member of my team identifies a risk, we analyze it for probability and severity and then determine how we are going to deal with it in case the risk event becomes reality. This risk would have rated high on both probability and severity and should have been addressed. Since the entity who had the most impact on whether or not this risk occurred was the customer, you would have discussed it with them. Sounds like you did that. Perhaps you needed to emphasize the impact this change would have on the project in terms of time and money required to implement it at each prototype. 

You could have had them look at this impact and agree that, after the second prototype, the train had left the station and this change would not be allowed to occur on this version of the software. It's been my experience that users, when faced with the reality of the impact their changes have on the project, behave responsibly. They either agree to extend the production deadline or decide not to implement the change. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fiftieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym updated the calendar almost daily as events changed, sequences were altered, activities finished earlier or later than expected. But having the network diagram and calendar handy allowed him to ensure that no-one was standing around waiting for work. He could see where the skills of that idle man could be best used next to speed up some future activity or have him work outside his skill-set and help on a present activity. Some men grumbled at working on things ‘below their station’ but, with encouragement from Gwilym and Fred, they ended up enjoying themselves and learning new skills.

Jac and Llawen were learning their native language after growing up in a Saxon land and then Londinium. They fell easily into the Cambrian speech and were enjoying hearing about the foods and customs of their mother’s native land. One warm late summer day, the landlady tried to take the boys to the beach but Jac screamed in terror at the idea. Gwilym heard the outcry and approached. “What’s the matter son?” he asked. “You love digging in the sand!”
Jac was hysterical and it took Gwilym a long time to calm him down to explain his fear. “The mean knight who likes to hurt little boys will get me and Llawen!” he sobbed.
Gwilym was surprised to realize how much the boy had overheard of his conversation about Palomides with Grainne, let alone understood. “That knight can’t find you any easier on the beach than right here.”
As soon as these words passed his lips he regretted them. The terror that Jac faced going to the beach was now extended to being right here with his father. “What can we do, Da? We have to keep running away!”
“It’s all right Jac,” he consoled. “He can’t see you on the beach just like he can’t see you here. Miss Grainne cast a spell on that knight. You are invisible to him for five years. You’ve nothing to fear today.”
As Jac calmed down, Gwilym felt guilty for lying to his son. But the fact remained that there was nothing Gwilym could do other than keep his eyes and ears open about Palomides’ whereabouts. And lying to his son allowed the boy to enjoy his youth. But why had he said five years? Why not forever? The words had slipped out.

By Christmas, the tower was ahead of schedule. The short, wet days were making the men

Thursday, December 27, 2012

SEC Discourages Crowdfunding

I'm a big fan of, a way for entrepreneurs to get funding for their projects without giving the store to venture capitalists. As shown in this earlier post, the companies promise early product at a discount to customers who advance the money needed to make the product.

The next logical step is what's known as 'Crowdfunding.' Thousands of small investors will pledge small amounts of money in exchange for stock in a small company. is another example of a company who want to get into the business. Rather than get an investment bank involved with their millions in fees and huge profits for their early IPO investors, the company would offer shares to ordinary people like you and me without the middleman. A typical Internet phenomenon.

'Not so fast,' said the Securities and Exchange Commission. Back in April they pledged to draft rules for this source of funding but 270 days later, the year looks like it will end without the rules being put in place.

Granted, there should be rules in place to protect investors and companies from unscrupulous people and plain mistakes but really? 270 days? Sounds like typical government mismanagement to me.

The Times had a good article about this in today's paper. In it, one of the advocated of crowdfunding makes a good quote: He urged regulators to tread lightly. “There’s a lot to do here, but why not let the industry figure it out?” he said. “Along the way there will be some ups and downs, but in the long run, like the Internet, we’ll have created an amazing industry.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Time for leadership on shooting deaths

This time it was a Connecticut elementary school. What's next? I'm getting tired of people shaking their heads and not knowing what to do. Why? Is it the number of guns we Americans own? While we rank number one in the world for gun ownership at around 90 guns per hundred people, there is no correlation between number of guns and number of homicides. The Serbians and Swiss have half as many guns but a fifth the suicides. The Jamaicans have one tenth the guns and fifteen times the homicides.

I looked at the statistics on gun ownership and homicides and split it up many ways. It became rapidly clear that we are not like a European nation. In most European nations the ratio between gun ownership per hundred people and homicides per 100,000 is around 100: 1.
We have more in common with Latin American nations in this ratio of about 30:1. (A lower number is worse) Chile was a remarkable exception to this region with a ratio of 176:1.
But this regional breakdown wasn't helping much. It did seem to highlight the areas with the lowest ratios and it seemed like these were all areas where automatic weapons are readily available.

So the answer seemed obvious. It's the access to automatic weapons. There are whack jobs in other countries who try mass murder but with knives, like in China, they are just not that efficient. The same day as Sandy Hook, the latest madman in China stabbed 22 schoolchildren but only seven were admitted into a hospital and none were seriously injured. With an automatic weapon followed by Glock handguns and special ammunition, there was only one wounded survivor in Connecticut.

Why do we allow so many guns to be available in this country? I can understand rifles and shotguns for hunting but handguns and automatic weapons are designed for one thing: killing people.

Simple answer right? But then, being the good engineer, I started to look at the statistics. I plotted 'Gun Freedom Index'  versus my ratio, expecting to find a nice correlation.

Here's what I found instead:

Rats! Looks like a completely random scattergram. I found that extremely repressive governments have low homicide rates but who wants to live in China or Qaddafi-led Libya? (Wow! I sound like an NRA backer now)

I'd like our homicide rates to drop to those in Northern Europe. Of course you still whackos there killing off Prime Ministers and camping socialists but the overall number is a tenth as high as here.

It seems like some smarter people than I need to look into this seriously, find the cause and bring this country up to those standards.

But let's start by not publishing the names of these killers. The New York Times just listed the top shootings in America like it was a roll of honor with a column dedicated to the killers. There are enough crazies out there who'd like to get on that list. Let's not give them any more incentive. For the same reason, why do we know the first, last AND MIDDLE names of all the Presidential assassins? Let's keep them listed as shameful killers, nothing more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 18, 2012

Dear PM Adivsor,

I use the Cadence methodology to determine responsibility and contribution level on each activity. When it's time to enter the people's level of effort into the Gantt chart, how do I enter different levels of effort for the different people involved? Especially with the Project Manager who gets a dot on every task but may spend only five minutes on the task when others are spending twenty hours. 

Cadence man in Latrobe, PA.

Dear Cadence,

I like the Cadence Methodology and use it to plan all my projects. Then I go further and enter all the people's effort into the Gantt chart and it is certainly difficult. See this post for entering level of effort into Gantt charts in general and then I'll show you how to modify this method for the case when you have several people working on a task at different levels of effort.

First of all, I only enter the PM as a resource on a task if they are the responsible party or their effort is more than just monitoring the task for completeness.

When the remaining people on the task are working around about the same level of effort, just combine the hours and type in the duration and MS-Project will calculate the %Complete roughly correctly.

Then you are left with those tasks where you have wildly different amounts of effort: One person working 20 hours, one working 10 and one working 5 for example. What you do is double click on the task and then open the resource tab. Calculate in your head what 20 hours over the duration is in terms of percentage. Let's say it is a week long task so the % of time spent on the task is 50%.

  • Type 50% next to the person who is working the 20 hours. 
  • Then type 25% for the person working 10 hours. 
  • Finally type 13% next to the one working 5 hours. 
  • Then add up the total hours and type 35 hours in the work column.
  • Type one week in the duration column. 

In my experience MS-Project won't calculate the percentages perfectly but it will be close. If you need better performance from your Project Management software, better choose some other program like Primavera for this.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Queen Noor concerned about women's rights in Arab World

A recent New York Times article revealed the concerns Queen Noor of Jordan has about the lack of progress towards Women's Rights in the wake of the Arab Spring. While women were active participants in the revolutions that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, it appears that, as in Iran, political Islam has hijacked the revolution and is working to install Sharia Law with the restrictions this imposes.

“It appears again that women’s rights are once again at risk even as revolution progresses,” she said.

In the same conference where Queen Noor made her comments there were other concerns.

Julia Lalla-Maharajh, the founder of the Orchid Project, which is based in London and campaigns to end female genital cutting, said Egypt had “one of the highest prevalences in the world of female genital cutting: according to Unicef statistics, more than 9 out of 10 women are affected.”
“There are worrying reports that have suggested that female genital cutting is on the rise, with one call in Parliament for a ban on it to be overturned,” she said.

There were warnings about women’s rights in Western nations, as well. Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for the northwest of England, said he had dealt with more than 50 so-called honor killings.
“One after another,” he said, “I was seeing these stories of people who were being killed because they had a boyfriend, they kissed somebody in public, they wanted to learn to drive, they wanted to go to school.”

It's hard for me to watch the bright light of revolution over brutal dictators being co-opted by religious fundamentalists who threaten to take the women of this region backwards in time. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I was told to resource level my Gantt chart so I pressed the automatic leveling button and now it says my project will finish in the year 2035! I know it is likely to come in later than next September but 2035 seems excessive. What did I do wrong?

Job Security in Fairfield, NJ

Dear Job Security,

That's a dangerous button to press. And I don't think there is an undo from that unless later versions of MS Project have fixed that error. I recommend never allowing MS-Project to level your project for you. It thinks like a machine, not a person. However, you were told to level your project so let me take you through the steps required to do so.

First thing you need to do is determine how much effort is required on a task by task basis. Ask the person who is responsible for each task (and hopefully gave you the duration of said task) how many hours of effort she will put in during that time. Also, you need to find out who else will be working on that task and how many hours they will put in.

This number is the total hours they will put into the task regardless of its duration. Sometimes it will be 40 hours over a one week duration, other times it will be only two hours over the same duration. That person is promising that they will do those two hours of work sometime during the course of that week. Or there may be 120 hours spread over six days if multiple people are working on the task.

There are two ways to enter this effort. I like to insert a column before duration called 'Work' and enter the hours here then enter the duration. Project will then calculate % time worked on that task. For more details on this, check out this post on determining % complete on projects. It gets complicated when you need to have multiple people putting in different numbers of hours on tasks. It is doable and I'll deal with this issue on another post.

Once you have done this, you have solved most of the problem that the auto level button caused because, until you entered the correct amount of effort, MS-Project assumed everyone associated with a task was working 100% of their time on each task. Now pressing auto-level will have your project finishing only twice as long as it should rather than twenty times. But you can do better.

Take a look at the Resource Usage choice under Views. This will allow you to find times when your people are working above their capacity. Compare the amount of hours worked per day with the amount their manager has promised you they are available on your project. Whenever this exceeds that capacity, you have a problem.

When this situation occurs, find tasks that are not on the critical path during that time and increase their duration or delay their start date so that you free up time for the resource to work on the critical path activities. Or shift the task to another resource. Then look at what this did to future constraints.

You have to do this by hand so that you are aware of what you are doing and the effect your decisions have on the rest of the project. There are going to be some crunch times when people are working overtime or weekends to get through a rough patch. That's life. Just make sure they get some comp. time shortly after so they don't get burned out and stop caring about your project.

When you've done this, your project will be a little delayed but not like it was when you asked MS-Project to do it automatically.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Forty-ninth excerpt of 'Twelve Towers'

Bleddyn was spending half his days with his father, learning project management, but would often beg off to assist the master carpenter in learning that trade. Gwilym wandered over one day to see him at work. He saw Bleddyn watching the carpenter in fascination as he explained a particular aspect then demonstrated it to the boy. Bleddyn then took out his tools and replicated the work the carpenter had taught him. The carpenter admired the job Bleddyn had done and complimented him. Bleddyn blushed in pride and continued the task with obvious joy.
Gwilym was filled with conflicting emotions. While his son was good at managing projects and had shown his intelligence at solving project problems, he had never seen him this engaged in the work Gwilym had given him. The boy had a passion for carpentry. Gwilym remembered his own fascination with architecture and his promise to himself that he would build great palaces or churches one day. He was happy that the boy had found his passion but was sad that it would be spent with someone else. The boy was growing up and must one day leave him. He was surprised to find his cheeks wet.

When the team had dug the foundation hole, Arthfael visited the site. Gwilym welcomed him, and asked about his son.
“He died yesterday. It was a horrible death. I should have listened to the mayor and put him out of his misery but my wife fears for my immortal soul.” The king was weeping. Gwilym placed his hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Thank you for bringing him back to me, Gwilym. And for letting his mother say her farewells to him. I believe she would have died if you had brought back a dead body.”
When Arthfael had composed himself, Gwilym showed him the project plan that had been developed. The king admired the drawings and the Work Breakdown Structure, seemed puzzled by the Network Diagram but understood the calendar. But his next words sunk Gwilym’s spirits. “You have to make the tower bigger.”
“Why, my lord?”
“I have been studying the latest ideas in castle protection. They say that a tower should project beyond the walls allowing archers to fire along the walls and protect them from attacking troops. Therefore the tower must be bigger.”
Gwilym thought for a little. “King Arthur only gave me enough money and time to make the tower this size. You can provide the extra money and people so that we can build the tower bigger. Or I could project the tower out by moving it further out and building the walls a little longer to reach it. That won’t take any extra time and we should have enough stone for the walls.”
“Show me your plan for moving the tower.”
Gwilym drew a careful sketch of the castle with the existing tower projecting two feet beyond the walls. The king was satisfied.
On telling the men to dig the foundation walls an extra two feet there was some grumbling until Gwilym told him what the king had originally asked for. “Thank God we found out now, rather than later.”

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Seattle's Big Dig

Just as Boston was cut off from the harbor by a freeway, Seattle has long been cut off from the Puget sound by the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After the big 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, this elevated highway was assessed and declared unfit to survive a large local quake. Since then, even after being retrofitted for additional strength, there have been many plans to replace it which are finally coming to fruition. And what a project it is!

They are tunneling 200 feet below the surface to replace the through traffic with a highway, redoing the 80 year old sea wall, creating a fish-friendly beach and replacing the old highway with a tree-lined surface street for local traffic. In a lot of ways it should resemble the new Boston whose project, while way over budget and time, revitalized the downtown area and reconnected it with the waterfront.

There are lots more photos of the project on this website:

Here's a link to the construction cam if you want to see what's happening in real time.

And here's a picture to make Tim Taylor grunt in appreciation. The cutter bit for the tunnel boring machine is 55 feet in diameter and the Seattle citizens are going to name it:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I was planning my project and had been told when certain deliverables were due in the future. So I started with when those tasks were due and back-scheduled from there. When the Project Manager looked at these tasks he blanched and told me I had done it wrong. Can you explain? I enclose the Gantt chart.

Backwards in Corning, NY

Dear Backwards,

Many years ago I took an advanced MS-Project class and one of the key messages I took from here was to watch out for the little calendar icons that show up in the Indicators column. Your Gantt chart is full of them. I didn't want to expose any of your secrets so I opened up one of the basic deliverables:

Notice those icons in the left-most column? Those are your red flags. They show up when you type dates into your start or finish column rather than link up your tasks. What they indicate is that this task can start no earlier than or finish no later than a certain date. The problem with this is that when things previous to this task changes, (as it almost certainly will) this task will not move. Watch when I decrease the duration of a task within this group:
Notice that while task 24 finishes now on 5/10, the subsequent task still is planned to start on 5/15. That is because you told MS-Project that it cannot start any earlier than 5/15.

Now this may be a reality, if the task is connected to a fixed outside date, for example, but this is usually a rare event. So treat these icons like the red flags they are.

How do you fix this Gantt chart? It's actually pretty easy. Select all the tasks where you have this problem, then open up the task information window. Press the Advanced tab, click on the constraint pull-down menu and select As Soon As Possible.
Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Soccer Ball Project

The One World Futbol stays inflated, even when used on concrete in El Salvador.

By Published: November 8, 2012

A few years back I was impressed when the winner of the third season of Survivor, Ethan, used his money to provide soccer balls for kids in needy countries. I had heard that these kids used bags full of trash in place of the real thing and was happy to know that some kids were getting the real thing.

Recently, reading this NY Times article, I found that those balls typically last only 24 hours in the rough conditions of third world neighborhoods. The ground and walls are too rough on inflated leather.

Mr. Jahnigen of Berkeley, California decided to do something about it and found a material called popfoam which would remain durable, providing a ball that could last 30 years. Out of this product he created the oneworld futbal. At first they were expensive to build and cost $40, which allowed you to buy one and donate another to a needy village. Unicef buys 30,000 a year but has to pay $30 each because of the high production costs.

Here's a video about the ball's construction.

They are truly impressive. The article discusses some of the stress tests he put the ball through:
To test the balls’ durability, Mr. Jahnigen sent them to places like Rwanda, where they were used at a camp for former child soldiers. A lion at the Johannesburg Zoo, who would go through six regular balls a day, played with two balls. A German shepherd spent a year biting on a ball. In every case, the balls withstood the abuse.

Still, there was the problem with price and size. They cannot be shipped uninflated. But recently, Chevrolet commissioned 1.5 million balls to be donated. Here's a plug for this worthy cause:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dear PM Advisor, November 26, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

My solution to the many project demands on my time has been to heavily multitask. Yet I seem to fall further and further behind. What am I doing wrong?

Running in circles in Princeton, NJ

Dear Running,

Ahh, the evils of multitasking. A few years back I saw a great presentation on this subject and have added it to my repertoir. Let me see if I can reproduce the theory.

Multitasking is a great idea when you cannot go further with one task and move to another rather than wait around until you can continue with the first task. Or if the two tasks do not interfere, like listening to books on CD while driving to work and back.

Where multitasking falls apart is when people have to stop one task to start another. Like when completing tasks on projects.

Take our typical poor team member who is working on three projects and is responsible for several tasks on each. Every PM wants her to work on his tasks first so they harass the team member operating on the squeaky wheel gets oiled theory. Teh Team member responds by dropping one task to work on the other until a new PM comes by griping. Let's look at this situation graphically.

I'll even make it less complex by assuming each PM only needs one task completed this week. (Wouldn't that be nice?) So our team member promised each PM to complete the tasks in a couple of days, knowing each should only take a day and a half. Left to her own devices, she could complete the tasks like this and leave early on Friday:

Unfortunately, she keeps getting bugged by the PMs and changes her strategy to switch from one task to the other, so that she is able to tell PMs, "I'm 1/3 done with your task, 2/3 done with yours etc."

Look at what this accomplishes, however:

Note that task 1, instead of being complete on Tuesdsay afternoon is now completing on Thursday afternoon. Task 2 goes from Thursday morning to Friday morning and task 3 completes at the same time. We can assume that each task has someone waiting on it to get started on their own task so each one of those tasks has now been delayed. Only task 3 finishes at the same time. This replicates throughout the organization causing massive delays.

But even this is optimistic. There is a lack of efficiency when you drop one task and pick up another. At a minimum you are closing one file, looking for and opening up another then finding your place again. Here's what this looks like:
Now we see that every task loses by multitasking.

We need to change people's attitude from: 'How many tasks have I started?' to 'How many tasks have I finished?' For exactly the same reason as why we want management to change their attitude from: 'How many projects have I started?' to 'How many projects have I finished?' We gain value from finishing tasks, just as we gain value from completing projects.

So what is my practical advice to you? Determine, hopefully from some published project priority list within your organization, which projects are most important to the organization. If no list exists, make up your own priority list. Then determine, by asking the PMs, which tasks you are doing fall on the critical path of each project. Using this information, prioritize your tasks for the week as shown in the top diagram. Then perform the tasks as prioritized. Only switch tasks if you are forced to halt one task by outside forces.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Forty-eighth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Next morning they inspected the site which had been almost cleared by the full team. Fred joined Gwilym and Bleddyn transferring the activities to a calendar. The first thing they did was mark off every Sunday and Holy Day from the calendar they had gotten from Father Drew. Then they wrote down, on each working day, which activities would be worked on that day. When they were done, they found that by following the plan they would be finished two weeks after Beltane.
Gwilym returned his gaze to the network diagram. “There are some activities here that could be sped up by taking men from other activities and putting them to work there.”
“But won’t that only slow down th’activities you take them from?”
“Aye, it will. But look at this.” He pointed out two strings of activities that both led to one common activity. “See how this first set of activities finishes on day 6 but the string below finishes on day 8. That means that this activity cannot start until day 9 because they both have to finish before we can do that one. So if I take men from the short string and add them to the longer one, maybe I can finish both strings in day 7. That will cut 1 day from the end of the project.”
“Where else can tha do that?”
“Let’s find all the places where strings come together and see.
The three identified all these activities of confluence and noted, in each case, which preceding string of activities finished last. Gwilym noted each one with a red dot. In one case he saw that the string he had noted led to an activity that was part of a string that later on was not colored red. That was because a different string leading to that same activity of confluence was longer still. He pointed this out to Fred and Bleddyn.

“There can be only one path that defines the length of the project. Look what happens if we go backwards. We start at the end, come to the first activity of confluence and follow the red dots to the second activity of confluence, then follow the red dots backwards all the way until we get to the start activity. All those other red dots don’t matter. We need to focus on this path. It is the critical path that defines the length of the project.”
“But Da, if you decrease the length of this ‘critical path’ won’t some of these other paths become critical?”
“Good point lad! We’ll have to keep an eye on them. But first, let’s look at the activities on the critical path and see which ones are most likely to be able to be sped up by adding more people.”
They noted some candidates.

When the crew came in for dinner, they asked them how the work was progressing. All the men seemed upbeat and Siorys estimated that they would be done by the end of today. After eating, some men gathered at the network diagram to find their activities. They asked what the red dots meant. Gwilym explained and the men nodded their agreement. “You stone masons always hold up my work,” groused one of the men.
“Our project must be finished by Beltane. The way we have it planned makes it finish two weeks late. We have to find ways to reduce the duration of some of these critical activities. Can we add men who are not being used at this time to these five critical activities to speed them up?”
The men gathered around and talked amongst themselves. “I’ll not be busy during that time,” volunteered one. “Perhaps so, but you’ll gum up the works,” joked another. The men talked it over with Gwilym and agreed that by adding men they could ‘crash’ parts of the project to bring the end date in closer to Beltane.
When the men returned to work, Fred helped Gwilym change the numbers on the network diagram and redo the calendar. This time they were only a day after Beltane.
“That’s all right, then Gwilym. They’re going to finish th’clearing a day early so we’ll be fine.”
“It’s too tight. Something always goes wrong in these projects and I’d like some room to move the project when that happens. We need a safety zone, a buffer. What else can we do?”
Fred studied the network diagram. “Here is a long string of activities that needs to be shortened. Do they all have to go after each other. Couldn’t we move one to the string above?”
“You mean do the activity in parallel instead of in series? Let’s see.”
The two men were joined by Bleddyn staring at the long string of activities.
“Building the stairs is slowing down a lot of activities. We can’t start it until the outside of the tower is built but we can’t do a lot of other activities until the stairs are in place. Can we build them independently of the tower and then move them in later?”
Fred laughed at this, then, seeing Gwilym’s expression, quieted and grew thoughtful. “We couldn’t build th’entire set of stairs outside th’tower but we could build all th’flights outside and then put them together inside. That would save a lot of time.”
Gwilym smiled and said, “Let’s ask the carpenter.”
The carpenter agreed and the new plan predicted them finishing a week before Beltane. Gwilym obtained a new hide and asked Fred to transfer the activities to this new sheet, making a clean copy of the plan they could use to build the tower.
“What do tha call these new tools, Gwilym?” asked Fred as he worked, humming his song.
Gwilym smiled. “What words are easy to rhyme with?”
“I can rhyme wi’ anything. Tell me what you call those tools.”
“Let’s see. First we estimated the duration of each activity, then we placed them in sequence, then we developed the schedule. We used a Network Diagram to visualize the schedule, then placed the activities on a calendar to manage them on a daily basis. Adding resources to an activity to speed it up is ‘Crashing’ and running two activities in series that are usually done in parallel is  ‘Fast-tracking’”
Fred went back to work amusing Gwilym with occasional outbursts of “Network, Get work, Duration, Damnation, Nation, Sequence, Frequents.”

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Inventions from the hurricane

Every disaster spawns inventions and this latest Hurricane was no exception. Those I feature here were in process already, spawned by previous disasters but they will ring true to anyone in New York who recently had to deal with flooding and disrupted subway service.

How about a balloon that opens within a subway tunnel to block the water flow enough to allow any leakage to be pumped out?

 An  inflatable device that could save tunnels from flooding. By  
As shown in this article, this project has been around for a few years with successes and failures but it recently got new life after many of NYC subways were inundated and millions of commuters were shuttled onto ferries and buses.

A bigger potential problem deals with rising sea levels and the fact that Manhattan is barely above current sea levels. How do you protect a whole metropolis?

The Netherlands has been struggling with this problem for its entire existence. Here are the flood gates that close periodically to protect Rotterdam from the ravages of the North Sea:
Tineke Dijkstra/Hollandse Hoogte
London has gates to protect from surges up the Thames:
A flood barrier on the Thames by
Read more in this recent Times article.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dear PM Advisor November 19, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I've been told that while we can use PERT to estimate the duration of an uncertain activity, the reason for the uncertainty doesn't go away. Can you please explain?

Uncertain in Jersey City

Dear Uncertain,

PERT, or Program Evaluation Review Technique, is a nice way to take into account the uncertainties in cost and/or schedule of activities and derive a figure that takes those uncertainties into account. By using the below formula, you end up with a duration (or cost) that is pretty realistic. For this example I'll use duration though the same applies to cost.

Duration = (Optimistic + Pessimistic + 4 x Most Likely)/6

So, take for example a situation on a critical project that will last only a few days where one of the activities is to drive a package to Kennedy airport from your location in Jersey city in the middle of February next year. How long will that take?

Optimistically, 40 minutes. Pessimistically, with snow on the ground at rush hour on a work day, 4 hours. Most likely, 90 minutes. Using the formula, we get:

Duration = (40 + 240 + 4 x 90)/6 = 107 minutes

So, by giving yourself 107 minutes for this activity  you are likely to complete it on time. But you have not removed the underlying uncertainty behind the activity. It may still snow, there may be car accidents or rush hour, all those bad things might still occur.

The only thing you have done is taken statistics into account and provided a duration that should allow you to finish your project on schedule. Not every possible bad thing will happen so, even if it does snow for this activity, some other activity will hit the optimistic duration and you will be back on track.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

With all the data generated in the recent US election, some very clever people found ways to use them to explain what America tis thinking.

This graph was awesome on a full-page spread of the paper, it's not as impressive in the blog but here's a link to the data. It shows that in most counties there was a shift to the right, shown by a red arrow, but this was not enough to deny Obama re-election.

Here's a link to a graphic that shows the lessening of support Obama received from various groups.

In this link we see how the youth vote helped in the swing states.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dear PM Advisor, November 12, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

How do I maintain on myself as the project focus  when my many team members do what they want and talk around me to each other?

Ignored in Massachusetts.

Dear Ignored,

Some people's initial response to your concern might be, "Wow! Need the spotlight much?" but your concern is completely valid. A properly set up team has the Project Manager in the center, surrounded by her core team who represents the various functions required by the project. On larger projects, there are extneded team members assisting the core team in one or many of these functions. On really huge projects, there could be additional layers of extended teams. The theory is that no-one can effectively manage more than twelve people.

So when you have one of these large teams, there is a large number of possible communication channels. Let's examine that. Between two people, there is one communication channel. Between three, there are three, once you get to six people on your team, there are fifteen ways people can talk to each other. You can draw these channels like this:

If you have a team with seventeen members, how many different ways can people communicate with each other? For those who want to do the math, the formula is at the end of this post. The answer is that there are 136 possible communication channels among this team. And the odds are good that few of these channels are made up of people who know all there is to know on the project. And most of these channels bypass the Project Manager.

You, as the PM must show this logic to your team and then insist that all Communication passes through you. You may be aware of a complication that QA might have on a solution proposed between R&D and manufacturing. You must be the focus of all communication.

Practically, what you need to do is establish a set of ground rules for the team at the first meeting, covering meeting times, talking over each other during meetings, etc, and ensure that this set of ground rules includes the communication channel story. Then ensure that all communications work through you, as shown below:

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Oh, and that formula. Here it is: # Channels = n(n-1)/2  where n = the number of people on the team.
Send me your questions at

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Forty-seventh excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

He turned as he heard the approach of Fred with the cart. On the cart with him were Siorys and three of the crew. They hefted the prince into the cart, tied him down and drove him to the summer residence of Artfael. Along the way they were joined by the mayor and the chief priest. The mayor and priest remained behind to ensure that the king did not release the son back into the town. The priest confirmed Gwilym’s suspicion of rabies. The king was grateful at the return of his son but devastated by the prognosis. “Rabies?! Is anything to be done?”
The priest related the symptoms, which had become all too common in this district. “He has been possessed by a fiend. It will throw his body around, freeze him up, cause him to spit at people and say terrible things, then kill him when done. It always ends in a terrible death. I’m sorry.”
“You can make his death painless, my lord,” spoke up the mayor. “And kill the fiend before it escapes to another man.”
The priest broke in to argue against this sin. Gwilym motioned to his crew and they set off back toward the town.

The next morning the crew walked over the site, comparing it to the charter, and discussed the scope and the requirements. Then they retired to the nearby tavern where they documented these last two. Next they developed a Work Breakdown Structure and the men volunteered for each activity until they were all accounted for. That took them to the end of the day so Gwilym dismissed the men and asked Fred and Bleddyn to stay behind.
“Bleddyn. Would you please stitch those activities to the hide so that we have a permanent record of the Work Breakdown Structure? Fred, help me write the activities of the Work Breakdown Structure on new pieces of leather so that tomorrow we can figure out how long they take and what they’re waiting on. Leave space for me to write down how long each activity takes.”
The three worked together for two hours, Fred often asking what a word meant while spelling it out to Bleddyn.
The next day, the crew entered the Sleepy Pilgrim’s hall to find that a full bull-hide had been clamped onto the two tables. On the wall was displayed another hide with the Work Breakdown Structure stitched to it. The charter, the scope and the requirements documents were nailed to the walls. The men walked around the room, marveling at this show of organization.
When they had settled down, Gwilym said, “We know WHY and WHERE this tower is to be built. We know WHAT is to be built and HOW it will be built. We know WHO will do what to build it. All we are lacking is WHEN it will be done. When do each of these activities need to be done? What is the most efficient sequence? How can we keep people from getting into each other’s way?”
He directed the men to the Work Breakdown Structure and asked them. “Which is the first activity?”
There was some discussion until the men agreed that staking out the foundation needed to be done first. Fred, who had the duplicate Work Breakdown Structure on the chair in front of him, fished out this activity and placed it on the new hide. Gwilym moved it to the top left of the hide and asked the man who had taken responsibility for it. “Is there anything stopping you from starting this activity tomorrow?”
The man shook his head and Gwilym asked him, “How many days will this activity take?”
“It will take a couple of hours, I expect.”
Gwilym wrote down ¼ in the space left for activity duration. “What’s the next activity?”
“Hey! What about this activity under the deliverable of road that says ‘Clear the site?’ Shouldn’t that be the first activity?” asked one of the junior members of the team.
The rest looked embarrassed and agreed with him.
Gwilym looked at the man responsible for the staking out activity. “Does the site need to be cleared before you stake it out?”
Gwilym moved the first activity to the right and took the clearing activity Fred had fished out for him and placed it to that activity’s left. “How long?” he asked of the responsible person.
“Three days,” was the response. Gwilym wrote this on the leather. “What’s the next activity?”
“Dig the foundation hole.”
“Buy the timber.”
“Measure for timber.”
“Bring up the stones.”
“All sound like early activities” said Gwilym. “Do any of them wait on any other activities?”
“Got to measure for timber and stone before we buy them and bring them up,” replied one.
“No sense bringing the stone up now. It will get in everyone’s way!”
“But if we wait too long we’ll be running short and delaying everything.”
Gwilym raised his hands. “Can we agree that measuring for timber and stone is the next activity?”
All nodded their heads and Gwilym moved this activity into place. “Buy timber?”
Again they agreed and Gwilym placed this next to the previous activity. “How about order stone?”
They nodded and Gwilym placed this activity below the ‘Buy timber’ activity.
This caused some discussion. “Why did you put the activity there?” asked one of the crew.
“This means it can be done at the same time as buying the timber but by a different person at a different place. Now, how long do these activities take?”
The men gave their durations and Gwilym wrote these numbers on the activities.
The team continued in this way, placing and rearranging activities on the bull hide and writing durations on the activities. The intricate structure of the work revealed itself to the team. Some activities were added during this session and other activities were determined to be unnecessary when looked at in the light of the overall project. When this happened, Fred made the appropriate adjustments to the Work Breakdown Structure.
At some points, the men took a while deciding on the duration of an activity. The first time Gwilym saw a man struggling, he asked “What’s going on inside your head right now?”
“Well,” replied the man. “I’m thinking about the last time I did this job and how long that took. It was eight days. But this job is about twice as big so perhaps it’s sixteen. But the weather was horrible last time and this time it looks like we’ll be doing it in June, not December. So I have to make adjustments for that. So I’ll say twelve days.”
Gwilym broke out into a broad smile and turned to the rest of the men. “See what he did there? That’s exactly what I want you to do. If you’ve done the activity before, and remember how long it took, use that as an example for how long this new activity will take. And don’t forget to make adjustments like Frank here did based on the realities. That is called…” he turned to Fred, “Analogous Estimating.”
When the time came to decide how long it took to build the main walls of the tower, the head carpenter talked out loud. “Each log will take an hour of carving to get the notches just right but we can do that with one group of men while the other places the previous log. So the time to do this activity is the time it takes to place each log properly in the tower. That will be pretty quick for the first few logs but will take longer as we have to start using winches to put them in place. So the ground level logs will take one hour apiece because we have to wait for the notches, then the higher logs will take about two hours a piece so that we’re careful not to drop them.”
“Good,” said Gwilym. “How many hours does that make it all together?”
The man calculated in his head. “Four logs per level, four high before we need to start using the winch, so it’s sixteen hours for the first eight feet. That’s two days with expected problems and setting up the winch for day three. Then it’s two hours per log after that, that’s one day per two foot layer. That’s sixteen more days. So a total of eighteen days to raise the logs to the top.”
Fred asked, “That’s different than ‘Analogous Estimating’ right? What do tha call it?”
“He’s using parameters and multiplying them by the number of units. Let’s call it “Parametric Estimating.”
One time the carpenters were arguing about the duration for building the stairs. As usual, Gwilym asked them to state the assumptions they were using to get to their estimates. One was assuming warm weather, the other was assuming cold and rainy weather. Since the stairs looked like they would be built in the early spring, it was unclear which assumption was most likely. Gwilym suggested a compromise. “Let’s assume first that the weather is perfect the entire time. How long would it take to build the stairs?” The two arguing men agreed on twelve days.
“Now we’ll assume it is cold and rainy the entire time, maybe even snow. Then how long will it take?” The men talked amongst themselves for a while and came up with a duration of forty days.
“Now we’ll take the most likely estimate. Assume a typical spring, with some nice days, some rainy, one day of snow. Now how long will it take?” The two men agreed on sixteen days.
“Good!” said Gwilym, writing these three numbers on the wall. “Now we do some mathematics. We take the optimistic estimate, add to it the pessimistic estimate and four times the most likely estimate and divide the result by six. So we have 12, plus 40 plus 4 times 16 equals 116. Divide that by 6 and we get a little over 19. So let’s estimate 20 days for this activity.”
The men appeared impressed. Fred asked him, “What do tha call that one, Gwilym?”
“Three-point estimating,” he replied. “They use that technique for calculating caravan journey times in the east.”
By dinnertime, the men were satisfied that the project had been fully planned. Fred and Gwilym started organizing the activities while the men helped themselves to dinner. “What do tha call this, Gwilym?” Fred asked.
“Sequence Activities,” he replied.
“Nay, not th’whole thing. I mean th’way tha decides one activity comes afore a nother?”
“Oh,” Gwilym thought for a while. “One activity depends on another so we should call it something like Dependency Determination. Does that sound formal enough for your song?”
While they ate, standing around with their trenchers in their hands, looking at the network diagram, Gwilym asked them each to find their own first activity. Then he said, “After dinner, the only people who can work are those who are working on the ‘clear the site’ activity for three days. The rest of you can go home.”
On hearing the expected sounds of disappointment emanating from the team, he said, “Unless you’d rather get in each other’s way and slow down the whole project.”
There was some grumbling until Siorys said, “How about if we all help with the clearing activity?” Then it’ll be done quicker and we can start our activities earlier and still be paid for the day.”
The other men perked up at this suggestion and looked hopefully at Gwilym. He seemed to consider this idea and then agreed to it. The men were all excited now and gulped down their meal to begin working.
As the men rushed out to clear the site and Gwilym stayed behind with Fred to stitch the activities into the bull hide, Fred looked long at Gwilym. “That was thy idea weren’t it? Having them all volunteer to clear th’site together? You made it seem like their idea but tha led them to it.”
Gwilym smiled, winked and touched the side of his nose. Then he looked at the project schedule. He drew arrows connecting all the activities together. Some activities moved in steady series, others were linked to more than one activity resulting in an intricate network of activities.

That evening, Gwilym, Fred and Bleddyn looked over the network diagram and started adding up the durations to try to predict the end date of the project. But as the network increased in complexity due to the multiple pathways he kept losing track. Bleddyn suggested he write the start and finish dates above each activity. So, he started at the first activity writing that as day one and finishing on day three, then went to the four activities that stemmed from this and had them all start on day four. Depending on their durations, they finished on different days.
One of these activities was predicted to take five days and, as he wrote a finish date of day eight, Bleddyn interrupted. “But what about Sunday, Da? The men won’t work on Sunday. Do we have to add a day for that?”
Gwilym thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Right now we’ll just figure out the number of days. Then, when we transfer the work to a calendar, we’ll take Sundays and other Holy Days into account. It’ll be too confusing trying to do it without the calendar.”
The difficulty came in when several activities converged on one and the start date depended on the finish of the last predecessor activity. But the men soon got used to it and were working together in unison adding up the days until they determined the total time required to complete the project.

Fred sighed and said, “That were confusin’. I’m used to addin’ five to four and comin’ up wi’ nine, not eight.”
Gwilym furrowed his brow and asked Fred to explain.
“We said that an activity starts on day four and takes five days. So tha think it will end on day nine. But it ends on day eight.”
Gwilym cleared his brow and smiled. “What’s the answer, Bleddyn?” he asked.
Bleddyn replied, “Sunup to sundown is on the same day even if a day’s work is done. So starting at sunup on day four and finishing at sundown on day eight is five day’s work.” He counted on his fingers: Day four, day five, day six, day seven, day eight. “Notice that the next activity starts on day nine. So if you look at the start of this activity and the start of the next activity, five days have gone by.”
Fred clapped the boy on his shoulder and flashed a broad smile. “Tha were always a clever boy, Bleddyn. Tha take after thy father.”

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hurricane Photos

Between Google's satellite photos and NOAA's aerial photos and some clever matching, we now have the ability to scroll over before and after pictures of this recent hurricane damage in New York, New Jersey. I show some stills below but encourage you to use this link to get to the photos that you can scroll between. Sobering indeed. 

Mantaloking beach where Mother Nature made it's own changes to this barrier island.

Breezy-Point section of Rockaway beach, where 111 homes burned as firefighters were kept away by floodwaters

Monday, November 5, 2012

Outage Outrage

This hurricane we recently experienced has revealed some very interesting lessons in Project Management and leadership. In the areas of leadership, we saw the resurgence of El Bloombito, Mayor Bloomberg's Spanish speaking persona, and the stardom of his deaf interpreter who clearly had no idea what Bloomberg was saying in his Spanglish.

Meanwhile tough-talking New Jersey Governor Christie was telling the truth and praising Obama for his efforts.


But what a project it must be, restoring electrical power to the entire state. How does one deal with all these stakeholders claiming to be highest priority? Do you restore the substations first, the refineries, the hospitals, those neighborhoods under water or the rich people who whine the loudest? How about the politically connected?

In my four street neighborhood, thankfully unaffected by water, we lost a lot of power poles and over twenty trees had to be cut down that were crossing the roads and dragging down lines.

We are still without power a week after the event and so I looked at my utility's restoration project plan. Check out this table showing the work plan to restore power to all their customers:
A tad hard to see so let me zoom in on what I wanted to highlight. You can go to the link to see the raw data for as long as the data is up on PSE&G's website.
Notice anything weird? I would have thought that getting people's power back on worked like a Pareto chart. 90% of the problems were caused by 10% of the errors. In electrical terms, 10% of the power poles, substations or circuits were out, causing 90% of the customers to lose power. So I would expect that there would be a reverse exponential curve on the data. On day one you might restore half the customer's power, day two half of the remaining set and so on until there were very few people left on day five.

Looking at the data I rarely see that. In most cases there is a straight line relationship from day to day showing how many customers in a particular area recovered their power. Now maybe it's just my lack of knowledge of how you restore power but I'm suspicious.

There are two major electricity suppliers in this state and they seem to have been taking a different approach to restoring power. Whenever there is a scrolling banner under the news pictures of the disaster they show power outages like this:
PSE&G estimates about 840,000 customers without power
JCP&L estimates about 763,659 customers without power
Makes you wonder which utility is taking things more seriously.

Look at the outage maps of the two utilities.
Here is the PSE&G map:

And here is the JCP&L map:

Lots more detail on this interactive map, down to exactly how many people are out per town.

Unfortunately I have no option of switching utilities. I am about 400 yards from the boundary. But now I understand why in previous storms, my power always went out while my neighbor, on the JCP&L side was fine.