Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear PM Advisor July 30, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I'm learning to plan projects and am using a Work Breakdown Structure for the first time. My project is an R&D project that requires us to run many raw materials through the process steps of a steel mill. Can I make ingots of steel one of the deliverables in the WBS?

Peru Steeler

Dear Peru Steeler,

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a deliverables-based decomposition of project work. Deliverables are of two types:
  1. Operating Deliverables are the tangible items you have remaining when the project is over. These enter the ongoining operations environment when the project is over and you can touch them. (New equipment, processes, software, etc.)
  2. Project Deliverables are tangible elements of the project that are required during the project duration that won't enter the operating environment (Beta-test versions of software for example)
These deliverables are placed at level two of the WBS and are broken down further into activities.

Where do raw materials fit in the WBS? They may appear in the activities but never in the deliverables. Just like any other project that requires tests to be run, the product being run through the tests is never part of the WBS. Your deliverables may be items like: New Machinery, New Processes, New Procedures, Trained Operators. When you break down these deliverables you may end up with activities like: Develop new procedures, run ingots through machinery, analyze results, gather more materials, process ingots into bars, etc.

So the ingots and any other raw materials may be used in the project and appear as activities in the WBS but they do not belong in level 2 of the WBS: The deliverables.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony

After Beijing opened their government pocketbooks to throw an extravaganza four years ago, what could the understated English do to top their opening ceremony? Rather than trying to do so, they simply showed us the contributions made by the English to the rest of the world.

It started out very nice with a pastoral scene looked over by Glastonbury tor.
But shortly after this they showed the Industrial Revolution. Was I the only one who was reminded of Tolkein's Scouring of the Shire? I was horrified to see the pretty countryside ripped up and replaced with smokestacks and molten steel.
Then they went into some silly soap opera about a pair of kids dancing to the music of the sixties through the eighties. I got the connection to British music but maybe you have to be English to care about the kids involved. I did enjoy the scenes shot on the house but the camera rarely lingered there.

Finally they came to the greatest British contribution to the world: Humor. And who better to show it than the masterful Rowan Atkinson playing Mr. Bean in the orchestra? Wish the copyright Nazis would allow me to include the video here but I guess that will have to wait.

Overall this was a successful project that stayed on budget while delighting the audience. Good job Danny Boyle!

On a personal note, I was thrilled because Glastonbury Tor is the setting for the climax of both of my novels.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Free mobile neighborhood library

The Little Free Library on St. Marks Avenue in Prospect Heights aroused the curiosity of Elinor and Evan Bither.

Here's a cute idea, especially with bookstores and libraries being inundated with unwanted books these days. Give them away to neighborhoods for use as book-swaps. Using the 'Leave a book, take a book' process, people swap out books at hundreds of neighborhood book boxes built by volunteers.

According to this article, the box's housing was provided by the National Little Free Library organization, which estimates that there are 2,200 such places, across almost every state and about 30 countries. Each local library pays $25 to register with the group. About 20 percent buy the wood box from the national organization, which can cost a few hundred dollars. The rest, using materials like canoes or ovens, make them for themselves.

Another man is filling New York City phone booths with mobile libraries. Read his story here:
Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bicycle Superhighway in Denmark

Jan Grarup for The New York Times
With the delay of New York's bike sharing experiment, it's nice to see progress in other countries. Copenhagen, already boasting some of the highest bicycle commuting in the world has expanded its efforts. One of the organizers asked a very compelling question that all project managers should ask themselves: "How can we do better?"

“We are very good, but we want to be better,” said Brian Hansen, the head of Copenhagen’s traffic planning section.
He and his team saw potential in suburban commuters, most of whom use cars or public transportation to reach the city. “A typical cyclist uses the bicycle within five kilometers,” or about three miles, said Mr. Hansen, whose office keeps a coat rack of ponchos that bicycling employees can borrow in case of rain. “We thought: How do we get people to take longer bicycle rides?”

The answer was to build bike lanes that mimic some of the properties of freeways with right-of-way extended to the cyclists. Read the full article for all the great details of how they encourage bicycle commuting here. Solar-powered lights in forested trails, angled garbage bins, bike 'buses' to share the burden of blocking the wind, chocolates distributed to reward good bicycling habits.

It all makes me sad to have left bike-friendly Oregon for car crazy New Jersey.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dear PM Advisor July 23, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I am running a project that includes members off shore.  The Subject Matter Expert (SME) that was working with the off shore people has left the company so the one of the other SMEs is now responsible for the off-shore work getting completed.  However that SME does not have the confidence in the off-shore that the old SME did and feels he needs to redo all the work the off-shore person does.  How do you get one of your team members to have confidence in the other members?  Or is it a matter of time?  I'm not sure the project can wait until that happens.

Bad Karma in New Jersey

Dear Bad Karma,

This is why team building exercises and co-located project planning sessions are so valuable. You get the team to see each other in action and develop confidence in each other's abilities. Your problem isn't specific to off-shore workers though that helps aggravate things. Because the off-shore team members are not in the meetings to present their work, the SME is able to criticize it without a fair defense. It's your job to defend your team members. I don't believe you can directly get your SME to have confidence in the off-shore workers but you can get him to act as though he had that confidence.

Your SME may have a prejudice against the off-shore team members or he may have a legitimate gripe. Your problem is how to deal with it. Let's start with what not to do:
  1. Don't challenge him in the open forum of a team meeting. He will feel attacked and forced to justify his decisions.
  2. Don't let it go and hope that time will correct it. Few project problems go away on their own.
  3. Don't agree with the SME and have him repeat the off-shore work. Your project budget won't support this.
Instead, take the SME into an empty conference room and ask him to tell you what exactly is wrong with the quality of the work being done by the off-shore folks. Remember that any project is constrained by the following: Cost, Schedule, Scope, Quality, and Risk. Off-shore resources were assigned to a portion of the project with the assumption that they could perform this portion with a lower cost while maintaining the minimum quality standards. Those quality standards should be set on your project or may be found in your corporate policies.

If the SME can show you that the tasks being performed do not come up to those required quality standards, he has a point. Perrhaps the work does need to be revised or even redone. So reassign the work to a competent resource or have the off-shore people beef up the quality of their work before submitting it.

However, since neither you, nor the old SME had a problem with the work in the past, I suspect this is not the case. If the quality is fine, tell the SME that he is adding unnecessary cost to the project budget and perhaps even delaying it by redoing work that was already completed. Show him the negative impact his rework is having on the project's cost and schedule.

If that does not work, remind him that the final arbiter of the project quality is not him but the steering committee or sponsor or whoever is paying for this project, not him. He hay be in the position of determining if the task meets the quality expected when the project was planned but he does not have the authority to add project cost or schedule to bring it up to a higher level of quality that satisfies only him. The implied threat here is that the negative impact you showed him he is having on the project will be shown, by you, to the project sponsor at the next opportunity.

He should back off at this point. Most people are only trying to do the right thing. They forget that they are spending the corporation's money when they try to improve the project they are working on. He's probably a perfectionist at heart and takes this to work. If he doesn't back off, follow through on your threat in the next meeting. Don't throw him under the bus, simply ask the steering committee this question: Should we add x weeks and y thousands of dollars to increase task quality to z or do we maintain the cost and schedule and the original requested quality level? (Any bets on what their answer will be?) Then use their authority to get the SME to trust the off-shore resources.

The last possibility is that the SME has a deep-seated prejudice against the off-shore resources and declares it in your meeting with him. If that happens, it's time to report him to Human Resources to give him a little free education.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fortieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

He turned around and saw Bleddyn was holding tight to his arm. His boys huddled between a pair of tree trunks with Grainne. He hugged them, assured himself that they were all unharmed and tried to pull them towards town and safety.
Grainne looked at him and with a wry smile said, “We are much safer here. Let’s wait until the knight is further into the woods before we leave.”
“That knight is dangerous. He could come back at any time and we are standing here in the open like a group of frightened partridges.”
“Are you so sure we are in the open, Gwilym? Why don’t you step back and see for yourself?”
Incredulous at her calm, Gwilym released his children’s hands and walked back two steps, watching his family smiling at him. In the near distance he still heard Palomides’ horse, crashing through the undergrowth.  One more step back and his family disappeared, replaced by the huge trunk of the old oak he had run around before he was grabbed by Bleddyn. A step forward and they re-appeared, standing in between two smaller oaks. Blood rushed to his head and chills trickled down his spine as the magic became apparent.
He heard a snort and jumped back to the side of his children as the knight crashed back into the clearing and stood looking in their direction. Then he blundered off into another part of the woods. They huddled together until the sounds of the knight lessened as he moved deeper into the forest.
“What happened?” asked Gwilym of his sons.
“We were playing with Tegid and then Miss Grainne came,” replied Bleddyn.  “She told Tegid to go back to town and took us into the woods. She said we were in danger. I didn’t believe her at first but then I remembered what she did for your leg and for Ma and then I saw the knight coming, so we ran. The knight was right behind us as we ran into the forest and then Miss Grainne pulled us here and said some words and the knight ran past us. I was surprised like you, Da, when I saw the spell."
“Thank you Grainne! I prayed you would hear me. How did you know to come?”
“I was on my way to visit you, as I had promised in Londinium. As I neared the village I received your sending and came to protect your children.”
“My sending?” inquired Gwilym.
“I saw the vision you sent me of your children playing on the beach and the knight coming to threaten them. I ran to the beach and brought your children to the safety of the oak grove.”
Gwilym’s brow furrowed as he took in these facts. He had somehow communicated a vision to Grainne who had cast a protection spell in this forest and saved his children. He had seen magic surrounding Grainne and it made him uncomfortable while thrilling him inside.While grateful for the benefits, he struggled to reconcile it with his religious beliefs.
“Why does that knight pursue you, Gwilym?” she asked.
“He has followed me for many years. I have a book that he wants for his own evil purposes. It may have to do with the prophesy I told you about this spring. He chased me out of many cities in the east: Damascus, Tyre, Cairo and Jerusalem. I have watched the way he treats men and boys who are in his power. He likes to cause pain. I thought I had lost him when I left Jerusalem eleven years ago, but he has found me here. Tarrant is mixed up with him and I know that man does not wish me well.”
Eventually the sounds of the knight faded away as he blundered off into the thickest part of the forest. Grainne waved her arms about with a purpose and Gwilym felt the breeze blowing through the woods again. He hadn’t noticed until then that the protection spell had kept even the wind from their hiding place.
“We must run before he returns!” whispered Gwilym.
"That knight will be lost for a week in those woods. I have taken care of that,” said Grainne.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Research Project for fighting fires

Firefighting tactics developed hundreds of years ago may not apply today when furniture is no longer made primarily of wood. Fires that smolder on plastic furniture become suddenly energized when a firefighter smashes a hole in the roof to 'cool' the flames.

But how do you overturn scores of years of experience by following a hunch? You don't. Instead, you carefully light a series of fires under similar conditions and fight them using different techniques.

NIST researchers participated in a series of wind-driven fire experiments in a seven-story building on Governors Island, New York, in February 2008. Photo credit: NIST. 
This series of fires was lit a few weeks ago on Governor's Island under the supervision of NIST. The units were old barracks, providing the uniformity  needed for the test. The testers used the same furniture in each unit and started the fires in the same place with the only variables being where and when to vent the area, when to add water and from which direction, roof or window?

The results are being analyzed and we will hopefully find less firefighters losing their lives using old, unsafe tactics. What a great experiment! Can't wait for the answer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bus Driver Invention

The Steffi Crossing Enhancer, invented by Lake Shore bus driver Victoria DeCarlo
School buses already have the Betsy Gate, the swing arm that forces children who cross in front of a bus to walk far in front in order to ensure that the driver sees them and doesn't accidentally run them over. The name is used in Washington and was inspired by Betsy Anderson who died May 29, 1990. Many other children have died in similar accidents.

This latest safety invention, the Steffi, thankfully is not named after a dead child. Hopefully it will come into general use before children die. When children must cross from the far side of the road to board the bus, they need to wait until the bus driver indicates that it is safe before doing so. The bus driver has better visibility and, when they see that the road is clear, they must signal the child with a hand signal. Sometimes, given darkness or bad weather, the children cannot see the signal and cross at their own risk.

Victoria DeCarlo, a 19-year-veteran Lake Shore Central School District bus driver invented the simple device which is no more than a glove made from reflective vest material. She made the prototype during her time off of work and named it after what she refers to as one of the most dangerous stops along her bus route.

“There is a road called Steffi Drive, off of Herr Road, which was one stop that was quite the issue for me in the mornings. I went into the office and told my boss that I just had a bad feeling about Steffi Drive, and he said that maybe there was something I could do with the reflective tape from my safety vest. He suggested that maybe I could sew it around a glove or something to make the hand signals easier to see. Well, on my downtime, I used a Cheez-It box as a stencil and made pretty much a prototype Steffi.”

“It’s already saved a life. There was a boy and his sister, and everyday he would cross himself, sometimes without even looking at me. I had enough of it and showed him the Steffi and said, ‘if you don’t see this, you don’t cross.’ After about a week and a half or so of crossing perfectly with the Steffi, one day I saw an oncoming vehicle coming to a stop. But I followed my gut and my gut told me something was wrong, so I shook my head no and didn’t cross the child. That car accelerated and went over on the shoulder of the road, which the child did not see. The car ended up almost hitting him, and actually hit the lacrosse stick he was holding. The car ended blowing two stops signs after it blew by my bus. I just started shaking and the child told me it was because of the Steffi he didn’t cross.”
To learn more about the product, visit
Check out the article for more details.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dear PM Advisor July 16, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

Managing projects typically requires dealing with some level of change to what was initially planned and this is usually handled with a change management process. I have trouble handling items that come up as meeting action items or other small increments of change during the project that don't seem to warrant a change request. Do you always add these to the project schedule or do you keep them separate in an action list?


Delta PM

Dear Delta PM,

There is definitely a whole continuum of changes expected on any project. Since no-one can exactly predict the future, change is expected. So what do you do with these changes as they become apparent. As with anything else, this depends. Let's look at what it depends upon:

  1. We find a better way to do work that costs less money, takes less time or increases scope without affecting any of the other constraints. Great! Just do it and report the good results in the next status report.
  2. Tasks are not affected in duration, cost or scope, we simply determined a different way to do it or discovered a few more sub-tasks required. Your Gantt chart should be at the task, not the sub-task level so don't add anything here. The task owner can adjust their sub-task list which may be in their head or written down.
  3. Tasks are negatively affected by the change but the critical path and the project budget are not affected. You need to report this but add that the overall project constraints are not affected. As a Project Manager you have the authority to take steps to manage these changes within the constraints given you by the Project Sponsor. They gave you enough time and money to complete the given scope. So manage this within the team and report to the Project Steering Committee. Note how this is different to the next situation. Do make changes to your Gantt chart.
  4. Changes cause the Project Scope, Quality, Schedule or Cost to change negatively. This is where you have exceeded your authority. Hopefully you have a Change Management Process in place that you can use to deal with changes of this type. You need to get the team together and work the change through the change control system. Determine the options the management team can take and the effect each option has on the Cost, Schedule, Quality, Risk and Scope of the project. Determine the team's recommendation for change. Recommend that to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee may or may not agree with your recommendation. That is their right. Your job is to stick to the authority given you. Change your Gantt chart to reflect the change the Steering Committee came up with. Click on this link to see what happened to the hero of my book when he forgot this basic point.
So the bottom line is this. If the change does not negatively affect any of the project constraints, don't fill out a change request. You are managing within your bounds of authority. But report everything in your status reports, the more significant the change, the higher it should appear in your status report. Change your Gantt chart only at the task level, not the sub-task.

PM Advisor

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Crawford Slip Technique

I have used the Crawford Slip technique many times on projects to gather ideas fairly and efficiently from my teams. I've taught the technique to many people with great results. But when I searched the Web for an official description of the technique, I was disappointed in the paucity of details. So I'll describe the technique below by pulling an excerpt from my novel. I'd love to at least point you to the Wikipedia page of the founder of this technique: Dr. C.C. Crawford, but it doesn't exist. Anyway, check out the technique as described below and use it in your brainstorming sessions. If you're confused about the characters in the story, click here for the full story.

After supper, Gwilym addressed them. “We are gathered this evening to identify all the bad things, however unlikely, that could happen during this project. Things that could make the project take extra time or cost extra money. We have a way to sort these risks into those that we can ignore and those we need to deal with but that will be done during the next session. Right now, the goal is to get as many ideas from as many people as possible.”
One of the more outgoing monks, one who had participated fully during the earlier planning sessions spoke up, “It may rain for many days, making it impossible to dig the foundations.”
“Good!” said Gwilym, writing this down.
“Or there might be an extended freeze, causing the concrete to not cure.” This was the same monk.
Gwilym was shocked by the word concrete. “Do you have the recipe for Roman concrete?”
The monks looked surprised. “Why, of course,” they replied.
A smile grew over Gwilym’s face who had assumed this recipe was forgotten in this country. “Excellent!” he responded. He shook his head, “What other risks?”
Two other monks chimed in with ideas:
“It could be unseasonably hot, forcing us to take refuge from the sun.”
“There could be high winds, blowing down the steeple before it is properly put together.”
“An earthquake!”
“Good,” said Gwilym, writing them all down. “What about risks to the project other than weather.”
They all thought for a while. Then the first monk spoke up again, “Fire in the village could spread to the new steeple.”
“Or fire could start on the job site.”
“Or fire could be in the village but that would make us have to leave the job and repair the village.”
It was the same three monks talking while the rest watched. Gwilym was getting concerned. He knew they were all equally bright but three were dominating the brainstorming session and the rest were standing there in silence. He tried calling on one of the quiet monks. “What about you, brother, what risks do you foresee?”
The quiet monk blushed red and mumbled that he was trying to think of one. Then the loud one chimed in with an idea about injury which started the other two with variations on this new theme. After half an hour of this, Gwilym tried a new strategy.
“I’m concerned that we are getting the use of only some of the brainpower in this room. Friar Dan has many great ideas about risk and others are building on his ideas. But I feel that there are many other monks who are equally smart who are not speaking up, simply because they are more contemplative types who don’t like to shout out ideas in a crowded room.” Many heads nodded at this.
“So here is my new idea. I am going to point at you, one at a time, in the order you are standing around this room.” Gwilym pointed at their generally semi-circular pattern. “When I do so, you either tell me an idea or say ‘Pass.’ I keep going around the room until I have had three circuits with everyone saying ‘Pass’ and that will indicate to me that the entire group is out of ideas.”
The monks looked dubious but, after getting a nod from Abbot Crawford, they looked expectantly at Gwilym for him to begin. Gwilym pointed at the first monk and received a risk. He pointed at the next and the next, receiving one risk after another. This worked for about three rounds until monks started saying ‘Pass.’
As more and more monks said ‘Pass’ on their turn and three or four monks always had new ideas, Gwilym sensed the discomfort in the room. Those who were saying ‘Pass’ were feeling stupid when others came up with new ideas and resentment toward these outgoing types was growing. Also, Gwilym suspected the quiet ones had ideas that they were just not willing to share in front of everyone. More importantly, the session dragged with seventeen people saying an uncomfortable ‘Pass’ while three came up with increasingly rarer risks. It was a battle of wills with some refusing to speak and others refusing to stop.
Gwilym looked at Abbot Crawford who was pleading him with his eyes to call a halt. He took the hint and announced. “My good brothers, it is almost time for Compline. You have had a busy day. Why don’t you get ready for services? We’ll meet again tomorrow after Prime.”
There was an audible sigh of relief as they filed out of the room, leaving Abbot Crawford with Gwilym. Fred and Bleddyn started cleaning up the room and preparing for tomorrow.
“Ye are an excellent Project Planner, Gwilym!” remarked the Abbot. “I really liked the way ye set out all our tasks for the next nine months.”
Gwilym waited for the other shoe to drop.
“Is this the first time ye have tried to plan for risks?” asked the Abbot.
Gwilym smiled to himself. ‘How polite this man was.’ “Yes, father. And it doesn’t seem to be going particularly well. The outgoing monks are dominating the ideas and I feel I am alienating the more introspective monks by trying to make them speak up. Have you any ideas?”
“Since I took over as Abbot, I have had one rule. Meetings are usually a waste of time. I have a technique that I have used in the past to speed up meetings that I think will work here. The monks call it the ‘Crawford slip’ technique. Why don’t ye try it?”
He explained the technique to Gwilym.
Gwilym was pleased at first but then he raised one objection. “But then they cannot build off each other’s ideas the way they are now.”
Abbot Crawford then explained the second phase and Gwilym’s fears were allayed. He thanked the Abbot and promised to try the idea on the morrow.

The next morning, as the monks filed in, Gwilym handed each a stack of ten small pieces of papyrus and a quill. There were ink jars standing around the room. They all smiled in recognition of the Crawford slip technique. When they were all ready with an ink-filled quill in their hand, Gwilym spoke:
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
The monks all dutifully wrote down a risk, then looked back up at Gwilym. After half a minute had elapsed, he spoke again.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
They all wrote another risk down on their second sheets. Another half minute elapsed.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
They wrote down a third one.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
At this point there were some groans but they all complied.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
Some shook their heads, others racked their brains while pulling lower lips or fidgeting with their fingers but eventually, all wrote down another risk.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
Groans of frustration but then ideas visibly reached them as they scribbled on the pieces of papyrus.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
More scribbling.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
This time there was some serious brain-wracking going on. Most wrote something down but some seemed genuinely stumped. Either way, after half a minute had expired Gwilym again told them:
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
There were some whimpers now from those who were one risk behind the others but they came up with ideas and scribbled down two in order to catch up.
“Write down one risk associated with building this steeple.”
All of the monks were dragging through the depths of their brains at this point but, one by one, they all wrote something down. During this entire session, the only person who spoke was Gwilym.
“All right, brothers. You know the drill. Put them on the table in groups without speaking.” Gwilym watched, fascinated. This technique was new to him and seemed to be working perfectly. Twenty monks had come up with two hundred ideas in five minutes and were now sorting them out for him. Gwilym had immediately understood the first technique and appreciated its efficiency. The Abbot had explained this second technique and Gwilym had asked why there was no talking allowed. ‘Was it part of the monk’s code of silence?’
Gwilym had liked the Abbot’s reply. “We have no code of silence on this island. During certain services we use silent prayer or monks may take the code for a period to feel closer to God. No, the silence during the Affinity Diagram session is designed so that everyone has an equal voice. That way, the more outgoing members are put on even footing with the quieter ones and cannot overpower them.”
He watched carefully. The first monk placed his risks down singly or in groups of his choosing. The next monk placed his with the first monk’s groups. Some he placed directly on top of other risks. That was because they were essentially identical. Others were grouped due to obvious similarities, like weather, acts of God, etc. When the third and fourth monks added their risks, some of the groups were split or combined. By the time most of the monks had added their risks to the table, the original groupings had been changed dramatically.
An amusing incident happened. One monk moved a risk from one group to another, then a different monk moved it back. They were not allowed to speak so one mimed an action and would hold the risk next to some of the other risks in a group to show the similarity. Gwilym looked to the Abbot who smiled calmly. After the risk had passed back and forth three times, the Abbot simply wrote the same risk on another sheet of papyrus and put one in each group. That seemed to satisfy the two monks.
Finally, all the monks were done moving the risks around and looked in satisfaction at the Abbot. Gwilym glanced outside and realized that less than half an hour had passed and more than 150 unique risks had been identified and grouped in complete silence. He was impressed.
He thanked the monks and took some small pieces of papyrus himself. “What is the name of this group?” he asked.
“Weather related risks,” they replied.
“Good!” said Gwilym, writing that on his piece of papyrus and placing that above the group. He went through all the groups, naming them and enjoying the way their minds had all come to similar conclusions with other people’s risks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dear PM Advisor July 9th 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

Recently I had a new client ask me to estimate resources for a project; my estimate was 5 times larger than they expected. The client actually laughed when they saw my estimate, and my credibility suffered. Two months later, as the project progressed, the client realized that I was right all along. 

My experience is this is a common issue, where a client wants a 2-year project completed in 6 months, for example, and they won’t consider changes to scope or resources. What’s the best way to handle presenting a resource or schedule estimate to a client when you know that estimate is significantly larger than the client imagines?

Perplexed PM in New York

Dear Perplexed PM,

It's hard for consultants to tell our clients "I told you so." Especially if we want to keep our jobs. And our jobs can be summarized by one sentence: Make the client look good.

That often conflicts with what they are telling us to do: in your case, determine a realistic estimate for a project. You provided it and the client didn't want to hear it at that time, even though the estimate was correct.

I had a similar experience when a client asked me to estimate how long it would take to put all their Design History Files in order, including creating all the data that was missing. I used careful parametric and analogous estimates to determine that this would take 20 man-years to complete. I was also not believed, the project ended and several years later an employee was hired and given this task. His estimate: 5 people for 4 years!

So what can you do? You are being paid good money to use your expertise to estimate a project. You come up with a number using all your skills. You believe this is a higher number than your client is expecting. What are your options?
  1. Tell them a number that meets their expectations. This will work on the short term but will always cause trouble for you and the client in the long term. Unless you are six months from retirement and don't care about your reputation, steer clear of this tempting option.
  2. Reveal the true number with a flourish in front of a lot of people, including your client's boss. This is a surefire way to embarrass the client and get yourself fired.
  3. Get grass-roots support for your estimate before showing it to the client. Build support amongst the people who agree with your analysis and will have to do the work when it comes along, then go to the client with them backing you up. Wow! That sounds like an even easier way to get fired for being a trouble-maker
No, here is what I recommend:

Show the client your analysis in a safe setting. Sit down with the client and you and a lot of data. Avoid the 'bottom line' until the end. Sit down with them and show the assumptions you used to come up with your estimate, getting agreement or corrections to these assumptions as you proceed. This will require you to have your presentation in such a state that you can make these corrections as you go along. After the client has agreed to all the assumptions, show her what this adds up to. The bottom line that the two of you created together.

If she disagrees with the answer, ask her which assumptions were incorrect. If she believes certain tasks take less time or effort than you estimated, bring her with you to the source of those estimates.

You also need to give her a face-saving way out of this awkward situation. Does this huge project mean that other priorities won't be worked on this year. Does it blow her entire budget? Think of ways that she can work on part of the project now and save other parts for later. Can the scope be cut dramatically to meet the budget she had in mind.

When you are proven right in the long run, someone will remember and your reputation will remain solid. And that's really what matters, isn't it?

PM Advisor

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thirty-ninth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym’s legs were turning to lead from the long run and the lack of oxygen. Again he was forced to rest, holding his exhausted hands behind his head to pull air into his lungs. He knew that Palomides must have reached the village by now and he was miles away, unable to protect his sons. He stumbled to his knees crying, “God help me! Somebody help me! Protect my boys!”
He struggled back to his feet, tears streaming and ran on through the pain, remembering.

Four years after he escaped Mecca, Gwilym snuck back in to retrieve his father’s book. At sixteen he was taller than most adults and his years of hard work had made him a strong and independent man. He watched the sheik’s family compound until it appeared safe and then broke in. Sneaking through the house, he made his way to the room he had shared with his father four years prior.
He moved to the fireplace and shoved the wood to one corner, then brushed away the ashes. With his knife, he worked at the dust between one stone and the others until he had pried it up. Still hidden underneath was his father’s book, wrapped in protective leather. Gwilym filled the hole with ashes and replaced the stone, covering it up again with ashes, then the firewood, just the way his father had taught him. As he walked out of the room he bumped into Palomides.
Palomides was now a twelve year old young man, well through puberty. “Welcome back, my old friend. Have you come to see me?” asked Palomides. His eyes swept up and down over Gwilym, making him uncomfortable. As a lone boy in Jerusalem, Gwilym had been forced to fend off sexual predators and recognized the lustful look on Palomides’ face. His mind raced. The outside door was twenty feet away and he could force his way past Palomides and escape, but he may not be so lucky escaping Mecca this time as last. The family who had harbored him last time had moved to Jerusalem. Better to bargain with Palomides and escape using words rather than force.
“Yes,” replied Gwilym. “Your father still wants me dead so I can’t stay long but I wanted to say hello to you while I was visiting your town.”
“Well, give me a kiss then, Gwilym.”
Gwilym clapped his arm around the younger boy’s shoulders and kissed his cheek twice, in the Arab style. Palomides grasped Gwilym’s face and kissed his lips, hard. The almond smell gave way to an unpleasant clove taste on his lips. Gwilym pulled away, wiped his mouth and protested, “Not like that, Palomides!”
A cruel smile crossed Palomides’ face and he replied, “You sneak into my house, assuredly to steal our gold and you have the nerve to refuse my kisses. Perhaps I should shout for my father instead.”
Gwilym’s mind raced through his options. Force past the boy, kill the boy, kiss the boy. None of these options seemed palatable. The last one was nauseating, seeing the look of triumph in Palomides face as he sensed that Gwilym was in his power. But there was something in the words of Palomides that gave him a hint. ‘Perhaps.’ Why hadn’t Palomides called his father immediately? Because he wanted to force himself on Gwilym while he held the power. But if his father were here, Gwilym would be killed. And yet…
“Yes. Let’s call your father and tell him how would like to kiss me.”
Fear replaced triumph on Palomides’ face.
“Or should we keep that kiss of yours our little secret?” said Gwilym and he shouldered past the scared boy and walked out into the street. He left town on a caravan to Damascus.

Racing through the outskirts of Huish, Gwilym grew fearful. Townsfolk were wandering around in a daze. A villager saw him and told him to hide, “There is an angry knight looking for tha, Gwilym!”
“Where are my boys?” Gwilym demanded of the townsfolk as he ran to the beach. He ran past a knot of villagers gathered around a decapitated old man. Reaching the sand, he soon saw the tracks of Palomides’ warhorse making their way along the beach to where he had left his children. He saw the tracks mixing with the destroyed sand-castles and tracks of the bare feet of his boys and another set. Tegid’s? Running in the sand was laborious; he felt like he was being dragged down into it.
Sick with fear, he followed the tracks into the woods south of town. In the distance he could hear a horse stomping around. At each glade he was gratified at not seeing the bodies of his sons. After entering one thicket and making his way around the trunk of a huge oak, he was shocked out of his skin by having his arm grabbed.
To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Projects need People

I just finished this excellent book. I highly recommend it for anybody wanting to learn about leadership. It is full of advice-laden anecdotes, sorted by category, rather than chronologically.

His closing words really hit home for the projects I'm currently involved in. He quotes Admiral Rickover: Organizations don't get things done. Plans and programs don't get things done. Only people get things done."

Then he quotes his own speeches to White House Fellows: "No good idea succeeds simply because it is a good idea. Good ideas must have champions - people willing to believe in them, push for them, fight for them, gain adherents and other champions, and press until they succeed. I follow up with a related truth: Bad ideas don't simply die because they are intrinsically bad. You need people who will stand up and fight for them, put themselves at risk, point out the weaknesses and drive stakes through their hearts."

These last words have inspired me to be more courageous in the organizations I work for. I've been pretty good at standing up for my own or other people's good ideas. But I look back at times in the past when I have seen bad ideas, shrugged and said to myself, "They'll find out before long they are going down the wrong path," rather than standing up and fighting against the bad ideas when I could have changed things.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dear PM Advisor July 2nd, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

What % of resources on a project should typically be allocated to Project Management?  For example, if I plan a project with 2000 hours of work, how many additional hours should be allocated for project management?

Planning in New Jersey

Dear Planning,

There's a quick question with a long answer.

Start by taking off the technical work that the 'Project Manager' will do on this project. Quite often we wear two hats: that of the PM and that of a technical expert of some aspect of the project. That second part will vary greatly with the project but I'm sure you're already planning for those activities anyway. That leaves you with the pure Project Management activities that will take time.

Let's split these activities up:
  1. Planning the project. This depends on how many similar projects you've planned. One project I'm currently running simply required me to pull out the previous Gantt chart and run through it with three key team members for two hours. Other projects require planning from scratch. A 2,000 hour project can be planned using the methodology I teach in about two days. So add these hours in at the beginning. (16 hours so far)
  2. Running Status meetings. These require planning, scheduling and preparing as well as the time required to run them. While I keep the actual meeting to 30 minutes, they take an average of 30 more minutes of my time to prepare everything to make it run smoothly for the participants. Run these on a weekly basis until the project is running smoothly, then cut it back to every two weeks during the long stretches when not much happens. Then back to weekly during the busy moments again. If your project lasts 6 months, pretty typical for a 2,000 hour project, plan on about 18 meetings for another 18 hours. (That's 34 hours to date)
  3. Putting out status reports. If you use a good template, the first one will take some time but after that, you should be able to update the template and send it to the distribution list in about an hour, less if you're not doing Earned Value reporting. Do one per status meeting for another 18 hours (We're up to 52 hours)
  4. Managing the Project. This is the most variable part of the equation. How much management will this project actually require? How reliable are your people? How new is the work being done? How stretched are your resources? How many ad-hoc meetings will you have to set up to resolve project issues? How much time will you have to spend doing Risk Management, Stakeholder Management, etc? The simple project I'm managing, the one where I just dusted off the old Gantt, requires no more than one phone call on average per week. The other two I manage, where we are doing things from scratch, requires my presence about 10 hours per week. The range is so large, I'm not sure I can give you a percentage. So let's break it down further into a menu you can pick and choose from:
    1. Risk Management. If your project is formal enough to require this, Risk Identification can take place at the end of a couple of status meetings using the Crawford slip method, then two hours for you to sort these out. Add two session on Risk Qualification for another four hours of your time plus four more hours of Risk Management. (That's 10 hours)
    2. Stakeholder Management. Meet with your team for about an hour to identify your Stakeholders and  to decide how to deal with them. Your dealings with stakeholders shouldn't add any time to what's listed above and below, but it may add to the complexity and variety of your communications. (One hour)
    3. Managing regular tasks. Walking around, ensuring tasks are going according to plan, warning people when their tasks are coming up. This should be bout an hour a day for projects that require your management, zero for those that don't (0 - 130 hours)
    4. Removing Obstacles. This is entirely dependent on how many problems your project is likely to face. The more times you've managed a similar project, the fewer problems. Let's figure 1% of the project time on average. (20 hours)
So what does that all add up to? 72 hours minimum on a 2000 hour project with another 11 for risk and stakeholder management and up to another 130 for managing a newer project or team. Doing the math brings it to 4% for a known project and 10% for a new project with an untried team.

Notice I have only counted up the time spent by the Project Manager. If you want to allocate time spent by team members in these activities, (Project Planning, Risk Management and Status Meetings) add them in multiplied by the number of team members attending. I usually don't. I allocate their time spent in PM tasks to the project tasks they are working on at the time.

Have I forgotten anything?

PM Advisor

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