Friday, March 30, 2012

Make your project assumptions visible

Have you ever been on a project and no problems surfaced to make your job difficult? If you answered yes, someone hid the problems from you. For those of us with actual project experience, problems with projects are inevitable. Without the ability to see into the future with perfect accuracy, no one can anticipate every obstacle and challenge that will arise from even the most well planned project. Here are a few common problem scenarios:

A task takes twice as long or costs three times as much as we planned. Why? Because the person who estimated that task had an assumption about their workload while estimating which turned out to be false.

The entire project runs into crisis because the research data was faulty. Or, the time to develop a solution was unrealistic. Key documents required to execute later steps in the project turn out to have poorer quality than assumed.

The effect of poor assumptions on project quality is usually negative. If deadlines and budget cannot be increased, the only remaining project variable - the scope and quality of the product - is reduced.

So how can you prevent these problems from affecting project or product quality? If you can’t hire someone to travel forwards in time and report back what happened, you are left with only one option: Good assumption management.

An assumption is something taken for granted, or accepted as true without proof.1
1 American Heritage College Dictionary. Third Edition Houghton Mifflin Company

During the project planning session, assumptions are rampant. When the project manager asks the team, “What are the tasks required to complete this deliverable?” the team members make assumptions like, “given this is that same type of project as I was in last year, given the regulations haven’t changed, and given our internal systems are the same as last time…” and then answer with a series of tasks.

When the project manager asks a team member, “How long will this task take?” the team member assumes, “given that I’m available 50% of my time to work on this project, and given that I am not on vacation or sick that week…” and then provides a duration.

Almost never are these assumptions stated out loud. And during all the talk surrounding the planning of the project, lots of assumptions are thrown around but rarely captured for posterity. When that part of the project goes into crisis, some people may remember the discussion, but few will remember the actual outcome of that discussion.

Below is a simple method to capture and apply assumptions to the Project Management Planning of any project.

Document your assumptions.

Before the project planning session gets under way, label a separate flipchart sheet with the title: “Issues/Risks/Assumptions.” The Project Manager must

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We need to stop buying Middle East Oil

In this recent article, the NY Times showed how we are becoming less dependent on foreign oil but its not fast enough for me.
Sources: Energy Information Administration; Bloomberg
As the graph above points out, we only curb our thirst for oil when the price goes up. Look what happens when I add the date 9/11/2001 to the above graph:

How many Saudi 911 hijackers were financed by us buying Saudi Oil which was then used to fund Pakistani madrassas dedicated to the overthrow of the US? How much Iranian oil money is going into buying nuclear technology? Finally we're boycotting this Iranian oil but China is picking up the slack.
Sources: Energy Information Administration; Bloomberg
I'd love to see the same energy put into rejecting 'blood oil' as is currently being put into 'blood diamonds'. I, for one, will pay an extra dollar a gallon for gas if I can be assured that none of it was bought from the Middle East. I'll buy it from Alaska, the Gulf, Mexico, Canada, even Venezuela but I don't want to continue funding the sworn enemies of the freedoms championed by the US.

Who will join me in paying extra for 'blood-free oil?'

Monday, March 26, 2012

Koran burning vs. massacre

Well, I gave it two sets of Friday prayers but there still have been no protests for the massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan approximating anything of those protests over the accidental burning of some Korans. After only a couple of weeks after the Koran burning incident, the nationwide rioting left at least 29 Afghans and 6 American soldiers dead.

But when an American soldier deliberately targets civilians, including children, it seems to be greeted with a collective yawn. What's up with that? 
Finally I read this article which seems to explain the problem:
When mullah Abdul Rahim Shah Ghaa thinks back to the day in February when a couple of Afghan employees at a U.S.-run detention center outside of Kabul yanked five partially burned Korans out of a trash incinerator, he shudders with anger and revulsion. “It is like a knife to my heart,” says the head of the provincial religious council. The March 11 slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone U.S Army staff sergeant named Robert Bales in Kandahar province, however, has left less of a scar. “Of course we condemn that act,” he says. “But it was only 16 people. Even if it were 1,000 people, it wouldn’t compare to harming one word of the Koran. If someone insults our holy book, it means that they insult our faith, our religion and everything that we have.”
By contrast, attacks on the Koran, whether accidental, as happened in February, or deliberate, as when a Florida pastor burned a Koran a year ago, are relatively rare. (As the result of the 2011 incident, protesters in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif stormed a U.N. office, killing seven foreigners in addition to four protesters.) And Afghans want to keep it that way. “It’s our red line,” says university student Basir Abdul. “If we don’t protest the burning of the Koran today, tomorrow the foreigners will enter our houses and rape our women.” Besides, he says, he doesn’t know anyone in Panjwai, “so the killings don’t affect me. But the Koran belongs to everyone.” In a country riven by tribal loyalties, Islam transcends ethnic identity. It’s the one thing all Afghans can agree upon.

The history of Islam is one of defending the faith, says Shah Ghaa. The Koran is not merely a book or just the word of God but a symbol of sacrifice akin to the Christian crucifix. Afghans see themselves as an integral part of Islam’s historic struggle against tyranny. “Since the time of the Prophet, there has been war to keep our religion alive,” says Shah Ghaa. An estimated 2 million Afghans died during the anti-Soviet jihad, he says. “Why? Because we had to defend our religion. Insulting the Koran is like insulting everyone who died in that struggle.”

Maybe this explains why there is such a cultural divide between our two countries. Americans will complain about an artist painting holy Christian images with elephant dung without deadly protests but you better not kill our children. On the other hand, Muslims will kill for any depiction of the prophet or insult to their Koran but deaths of children can be bought off with blood money.

Notice that the Obama administration recently paid the blood money:

My only remaining question is: Why was one of the protesters holding a Koran in his left hand? I thought that was strictly taboo.

Read more in this article:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Karma defeats Survivor Leader

Anyone who watched the latest season of Survivor must have formed an opinion of Colton. I'm sure mine is not the minority opinion: Mean, manipulative, selfish, lazy, whiny, I could go on. A self-proclaimed gay Republican who indeed has black people in his life: his Housekeeper.

I couldn't understand how anyone would allow themselves to be manipulated by this jerk. He's the kind of person I write off at first impression and never deal with other than to oust them from my life at the earliest opportunity.

This last episode showed him bonding with the evil woman on his tribe: Alicia
It was sickening watching these two bully the next person they had in their sights. Christina at least fought back and worked to drive a wedge between those being manipulated by Colton and the head. She probably would have convinced the other men to vote off Alicia.

But then, Karma struck with lovely force. Probably for overuse of the hair gel that has allowed his locks to remain salon-fresh after fifteen days in the jungle, he was struck by an acute case of Appendicitis and had to be medically evacuated out of there.

And in a final, selfish move, he took the immunity idol with him, refusing to even give it to Alicia, the one ally he had remaining in the game.

Please, Survivor producers, don't bring him back in some kind of an all-stars game. He just makes us sick to watch. Seeing him get dunked in a challenge and bawling for help was the only fun I had this season so far.

But this kind of payback is to be expected when you are a bad leader. It happened once in my career and I loved it. I was interviewing for my first job out of college and working as a night janitor to pay the rent.

Friday, March 23, 2012

New York Corruption

Reading an article like this makes me crazy. This is one of the main reasons I hate living in New Jersey. Here I am, paying enormous property taxes and high prices for consumer goods, just so that relatives of KNOWN CRIMINALS get $400,000 a year no-show jobs on the waterfront and in the state and county government offices. When asked about what these people do they shrug and say, “Influence”!

Here we are, in the 21st century, in a modern country and we still pay mobsters to keep the unions from striking on the waterfronts! We pay off the unions by paying THREE people to operate a crane that can only be operated by one, allowing people to milk overtime so they can “work” 27 hours a day.

My only hope is that these stupid mobsters kill the golden goose so that the work moves out of their control to docks elsewhere in the US. But are these other docks any any less tainted by their thieving influence?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


After seeing mentions of this video in the news, I was somewhat curious. But then my eleven year-old son was looking over my shoulder as I posted on Sunday and asked where I got my ideas for posts. I told him I read things in the paper, saw them on TV or the Internet. He then asked why I hadn't posted about Kony yet. So I watched the video and decided I also should take action.

Watch the video and try to keep a dry eye.

Sub-Saharan Africa is such a big mess with warlords and religious wars, failed states and piracy, rebels and armies committing atrocities, that it makes me just want to throw up my arms and wash my hands of the entire continent. After all, "What can I do?"

Well, this video answers that question quite succinctly. Force the US government to assist in the arrest of the number one war criminal at large. By the end of 2012. And he outlines the specific steps to achieve this end. They are steps that my children are willing to make. Why shouldn't I make them also?

Now there has been some negative publicity about this movement so let's spend a little time addressing it.
Sure, one of the founders was caught running around naked in San Diego but that was attributed to exhaustion and stress from the criticism. (And it did look like a nice, sunny day...)
There have been complaints that his approach is too simplistic for this complicated region and that the government Kony is fighting uses similar tactics. That's OK by me. Start at the top, capture criminal # 1 and then work our way down the list. DO NOT get involved in African politics.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the world looks like on the morning of April 21, 2012. Who's with me?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thirty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

She unwrapped a harp. As Gwilym walked out the tavern door, she started up a song. Her voice was clear and sharp.
The tower seemed as though it would be finished quite a bit early, because of this excellent team that had been forged through careful planning and serendipitous events. But the various problems that always plague a project reared their ugly heads. One was that a boat owner insisted on removing his boat from the stream to the river after the arch supports were in his way. Gwilym argued with the captain but to no avail. The captain insisted that he must deliver his cargo that week and could not wait until the arch supports were removed. He was not one of the boat-owners originally told about the bridge plans so he escalated his argument to the mayor of the town who forced Gwilym to help the man. Gwilym was forced to divert his men for two days to haul the boat out of the stream and over the arch, lowering it back down to the river on the other side.
As a result of these problems, Gwilym was struggling to place the capstone the day before Beltane. The runes on this stone seemed to match those on the previous two, even though this stone was original to the tower. He didn’t have the river jade to place under it and was about to use some granite when Merlin entered the jobsite with Grainne in tow. He bowed to them both, shook Merlin’s hand and kissed Grainne’s.
Merlin addressed him. “Another wonderful job, Gwilym and finished right on time. Almost as though the Goddess decreed that you place the final stones on Beltane.”
“Yes,” agreed Gwilym. “It’s quite the coincidence. Do you have any more of that river jade, Merlin? It worked well on the last two towers and I was hoping for some more on this one.”
Merlin nodded to a box behind him in the cart.
“Where did you get them, Merlin? They are quite fine and smooth and so strong. They can’t have been cheap.”
“Have you ever seen me use money, Gwilym?” was Merlin’s reply and this stopped Gwilym while he recollected all his memories of Merlin. No. He’d never seen the man even appear to hold money. ‘Strange indeed,’ he thought.
“I’d like to arrange a private audience with the lady Grainne when you can spare her, sir.”
Merlin replied, “When she is through with her duties, I’m sure she’ll find you.”
“No, sir,” Gwilym said. I’d like to speak with her sometime today, not tonight. And I’d like to talk with her over a meal, rather than on the job-site if possible.” He blushed, remembering his previous two encounters and wondering how much about them was known to Merlin.
“The lady speaks for herself, Gwilym” said Merlin.
Gwilym turned to meet Grainne’s frank look and asked her, “Could we have dinner in the tavern together? I have some questions for you.”
Grainne paused for a moment, considering, then said, “Yes. I’ll meet you there at Midday.”
Gwilym took the river jade and set about placing them under his capstone. The men were cleaning up the job-site for tomorrow’s ceremony with Sir Kay and were almost finished. He would send them home after dinner he decided. Let them celebrate as a team for a while.

Gwilym washed up and entered the tavern, finding Grainne already seated at a table. All the men in the tavern were staring at her hungrily. He sat down and ordered food to be brought. Bread, cheese and mushrooms plus some carrots and milk. They both ate heartily.
“Should I expect you at the top of the tower again tonight?” he asked.
“Of course you should, Gwilym. I want you as my Beltane lover again,” she replied.
“This is getting to be quite a pattern. Would you tell me what it’s all about. These capstones have some power and meaning and we seem to be consecrating them each Beltane. Add to that the river-jade that must separate them from the rest of the tower. There is certainly some old magic being done here.”
“All will be explained in good time, Gwilym. Are you not enjoying yourself?”
“I’ll not deny that I am enjoying myself. You felt my enjoyment as well as I. But there are consequences of these acts. Was it my child you were suckling last year?”
Grainne looked down and replied, “The Goddess gives children

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs

As soon as I saw this Op-Ed I cheered. Finally someone else like me who quits publically but with a much bigger bang than my resignation from Datascope. This guy had the balls to do it in the New York Times and is taking down the most powerful investment bank with him. Now that's leadership! Here is his resignation letter in full:

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.
I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.
When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.
Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.
How did we get here?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dignity for the dead

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Atsushi Chiba used Buddhist rituals in caring for nearly 1,000 bodies in Kamaishi. “It's a way to comfort the living,” he said.
Here's another example of the quiet leadership that took place during and after the Japanese tsunami.
One undertaker, Atsushi Chiba cared for almost 1,000 bodies in Kamaishi. Mr. Chiba, in his early 70s, raced to the temporary morgue on the day after the tsunami to look for friends and family, but was struck by the state of the mounting number of bodies there. Most were still clad in muddy clothes and wrapped in plastic, their rigid limbs jutting out and faces bruised by debris and contorted in agony.
“I thought that if the bodies were left this way, the families who came to claim them wouldn’t be able to bear it,” Mr. Chiba said Thursday in an interview. “Yes, they are dead. But in Japan, we treat the dead with respect, as if they are still alive. It’s a way to comfort the living.”
Mr. Chiba set to work. He became a fixture at the morgue, speaking to the bodies as he prepared them for viewing and then cremation. “You must be so cold and lonely, but your family is going to come for you soon so you’d better think of what you’re going to say to them when they arrive,” he recalled saying.
He also taught city workers at the morgue how to soothe limbs tense with rigor mortis, getting down on his knees and gently massaging them so the bodies looked less contorted. When the relatives of a middle-aged victim sobbed that her corpse looked gaunt, Mr. Chiba asked for some makeup and applied rouge and blush.
Mr. Chiba’s attempts to honor the dead quickly caught on. City workers put together old school desks to make a Buddhist altar. They lay the bodies of couples and of family members together. Each time a body was carried out, workers lined up with heads bowed to pay their last respects.
And at Mr. Chiba’s urging, Kamaishi became one of the only hard-hit communities to cremate all of its dead as called for by Japanese custom, enlisting the help of crematoriums as far as Akita, over 100 miles away.
In all, 888 of Kamaishi’s approximately 40,000 residents are known to have died; 158 more are listed as missing and presumed dead.
The priest, Enou Shibasaki, from the Senjuin Temple in the hills overlooking Kamaishi, remembers the change that came over the makeshift morgue as Mr. Chiba and other city workers tended to the bodies.
“Whether you are religious or not, mourning for the dead is a fundamental need,” Mr. Shibasaki said. “Mourning starts by taking care of the body. It’s the last you see of your loved one, and you want to remember them as beautiful as they were in life.”

Read the details of this story in a recent NY Times article

Here's a great slideshow with the faces of the tsunami:

If you were impressed with the graphics put together showing the before and after photos of the destruction caused by the tsunami,
this next graphic shows the progress that has been made repairing the damage. Click on this link to see. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Polls define leadership style nowadays

Obama aides in Chicago
Daniel Borris NY Times
 According to a recent article Obama has a 'Chief Scientist' who specializes in consumer behavior, and an “Analytics Department” monitoring voter trends. All in an attempt to get a few extra percentage points in the upcoming election. They sift through Facebook, test various messages sent to different profiles of Internet users to see which get the best responses in terms of commitments of money or time. Seems like they do everything but what used to matter in an election.

Remember when leaders used to stand up for what they believed and gather a following based on them and move into elections based on those beliefs? Then the people would vote and we'd get a referendum on what really matters in America. Freeing slaves, Prohibition, Civil Rights, Supply-side economics. Whatever happened to those days?

The Republicans are not much better, with Romney switching his views on abortion to match the voter's wishes. I'm sure he'll exit the Republican primaries becoming more moderate again.

Who out there has the courage to stand by his/her convictions and put them to the test in front of the electorate? If there are any, they seem to be encouraged by their aides to take the weasely way out. Too bad. Elections are getting to be a lot less fun nowadays.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Two different leaders on this season of 'Survivor'

Two very different leaders have emerged on this season of Survivor. On the men's team, the biggest misfit of them all, Colton, self-described gay, country-club Republican, has banded together the rest of the 'misfits' (his description of those who were not muscle-bound) into a strong alliance of five.

Look at the way Colton introduces himself:

At first, it seemed that Colton would be the first voted out. When the teams found out it would be men vs. women, he was devastated and kept on wandering over to the women's camp to chat and whine about needing the immunity idol. Shortly after Sabrina gave him one, he became so annoying the ladies had to ask him to leave. But Colton used the power of this idol to forge his alliance and proceeded to lord it over the rest of the men's tribe.

He would sit on his throne and summon his boys, casting judgement on them and wielding his power with impunity. Click on the link to this video to see the way he acts in camp and at tribal council. It makes me sick.

Meanwhile, Sabrina, a 33 year-old teacher, was elevated by the rest of her women's team to the leadership position. Look at her intro:

Her leadership style is much calmer. When two of her tribe argue, she intervenes, calms them down and gets them to move on and focus on their common enemy. Rather than voting to get rid of whoever she doesn't like, she moves to get rid of the one who is causing the most havoc in camp.

The big surprise is the way Colton's tribe follows this jerk. Even to the point of giving up tribal immunity so that he can vote off someone he doesn't like. It helps that you have nuts like Tarzan on there who wants to vote off Lief because he told Bill he was off next (even though this was perfectly obvious). And Lief decides to go meekly to a tribal council where he could be voted off rather than standing up for himself. Why?

The only possible reason is that a winning Survivor strategy is to align yourself with someone totally evil who gets rid of everyone else for you, then allows you to defeat them in the final vote. We can call that the Russell Hantz strategy. Unfortunately there is no correlation to this in real life. Aligning yourself with a dictator until democracy comes around only results in you going down with the dictator at the end.

I'll leave you with this scene from the first episode:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Plowing Snow by hand

I've often had to shovel snow off my driveway and tried to do it the way snowplows work but with no success. The snow falls off the back or piles up on the sides and generally I revert to bending, scooping and throwing the snow until I hurt my back. Then I send my sons out to do it.

This man has invented a way to do it properly. Check out the Shove it shovel.

With two hands you get the ability to push and angle the snow away from you, just the way a snow-plow would do it.

Here's the man's website.

He invented it while watching his son move big piles of snow using a conventional snowplow blade on the front of a truck. Meanwhile, Burke was clearing a walkway with the classic, straight-edge snow shovel — scooping, lifting, turning and throwing.

"Just looking at that snowplow, I thought, 'Why not make one of these that looks like a snowplow?' " Burke recalled. "Just to avoid coming home crooked at night from all the twisting."

So he began tinkering.
What he came up with puts the shovel blade on a pivot and gives the user two handles — one to push, one to steer. With one of the handles and the pivot, the user can turn the blade to the side at any angle desired, just like a snowplow, then use the other handle to push snow down the walk and to the side, keeping the blade on the ground.
Check out the video:

"I was actually kind of surprised that no one had come up with it before," Burke said.

The second part of this story is the struggle he went through to get a patent on his idea. Read an excerpt from the Denver Post article describing his travails:

Burke figured he ought to at least seek prot

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thirtieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym asked for a responsible person for each sub-task.
 Now that the men were no longer grumbling about their gambling losses, Gwilym expected lifted spirits. While this was true the first few days, pretty soon fights between the team-members seemed to get even worse, and many had to be broken up by Gwilym. They were arguing about the different tasks they were supposed to be doing. Gwilym surmised that removing Tarrant as a common enemy had surfaced these inter-team rivalries. He called a team meeting.
“Gentlemen! We are all working together to build a grand structure. We know what we have to do and how we are to do it. What are we arguing about?”
“’E’s supposed to ’ook the stones to the foundation afore Oi can build on ’em but ’e won’t do it!” accused one of the men, pointing at another.
“Oo said that were moi job?” retorted the one accused.
“You’re the lead mason, of course it’s your job!” replied the first.
More men started pointing fingers at others and a general uproar ensued. Gwilym listened carefully until the shouting drowned out the words and then he stood. He said nothing, but those looking at him quieted down and those not, noticing that others had quieted, looked around and shut up at seeing Gwilym. Finally only one pair of men was left arguing.
“You keep throwin’ your stone scraps off to the side instead of bringin’ them to me for moi road!”
“Well oi’m not yer bloody servant! Get the scraps yerself!” At that the two men noticed Gwilym looking at them and felt the eyes of the rest of the men. They both blushed and quieted down.
Gwilym thought for a moment and then spoke. “Do we agree that this book shows the way the tower should be built?” Reluctant nods of heads affirmed this.
“It tells us WHY, WHERE, HOW we are building it and WHAT we are building, right?” More heads nodded.
“But what it doesn’t tell us is WHO does what, right?”
This question was greeted with enthusiastic agreement; all the men shouting over each other how this question of WHO did WHAT was affecting their work.
“Alright then, nobody does any more work today until we figure it out.”
Gwilym placed the project book in the center of the table and opened it to the defined tasks and pointed to the first one. “This task is done. See how I’ve placed a check mark next to it?” The men nodded.
“So are all these tasks.” He showed a series of tasks, all accompanied by check marks. “Here is the next task that must be done. One of you must do it. It says, ‘Level foundation.’ Who, in this room, will take responsibility for that task?”
No one said a word. The men had been used to not volunteering for work since that only meant more work for them at the same pay.
“I need two things for every task: some materials and somebody to do something with those materials. Both are resources. What I’m trying to do now is estimate resources needed to complete each task. And for that I need you to step up and take responsibility that you will be that resource.”
Gwilym looked hard at Joseph. “Isn’t that your job, Joseph?”
“Aye, it be moi job a’roit. But ain’t it your ’sponsibility?”
“The entire project is my responsibility. But I cannot be responsible for all of these tasks. I’m not a master foundation builder like you, Joseph. Only you know when it is level and strong. You’re the one who told us we had to add piles into the river and add more rock to make it strong. So I ask again, who is responsible for leveling the foundation?”
“That be me,” Joseph admitted.
“Then I will write your name next to that task. Is that alright?”
“Good. The next task says: ‘Create notch templates.’ That’s my responsibility so I’ll place my name next to that task.” Gwilym signed his name.
“Now then, the next task says: ‘Cut first logs to length.’ Who is

Friday, March 2, 2012

Earned Value Case Study

Using the Earned Value method of monitoring and controlling budget as described in the previous post, I have had almost entirely positive experiences with my clients. One experience didn't start out so positive.

Our project was to validate a computer system. We proposed the project carefully, using past information but making some assumptions based on information given us by our client. One of these assumptions was that the requirements document was in good enough shape for us to write a functional specification. As always, we made these assumptions visible as part of the proposal. (I'll have to write a separate post about the importance of doing this but you'll see how it helped in this case study.)

When we started the project, we found that the specification couldn't be started because the requirements document was in no shape to use as a starting point. We would have to rewrite this and then move to the specification. This meant more time spent on the project and more money.

So, when I showed up at the first status meeting with the earned value numbers, I shocked the client by predicting that the project would end two weeks late and cost an extra $10,000. They were livid!
"You're one week into the project and already you're two weeks behind schedule and $10,000 over budget!" was their response.

They were used to vendors keeping quiet about the overages and schedule delays until the project was almost over and then asking for the extra time and money. My boss was angry at me also because, frankly, that was the way he was used to doing business and he had warned me that being open with the customers was a bad idea. He was afraid we'd be fired from the project.

I met with the customer and explained the situation. I told them it was a good thing to find this problem early because they had the power to do something about it now. By explaining the cause of the overage and delay, I gave them three choices on how to proceed:
  1. Continue as we were going. We would rewrite the requirements, then the specification and continue the project. The project would cost an extra $10,000 and take an extra two weeks.
  2. They could rewrite the requirements document while we stepped away from the project, then return to restart. This would take at least 2 weeks (the client was super busy) but would cost no extra money.
  3. We would rewrite the requirements but the client would take over some of the later tasks (when their workload had diminished) to recoup the $10,000. This would cost them no money or schedule but would take some of their people's time later.
My client was amazed. They were given options on what mattered most to them: time, money or internal resources. They chose option 3 and the project finished on time and on budget. They confided with me later that they were so appreciative of the transparency of our methodology and their ability to influence the course of the project; something they had never experienced with any other vendor. The customer is loyal to us to this day.