Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Celebrating Roger Fisher, author of 'Getting to Yes.'

A giant in the world of negotiating died on Saturday. This Harvard professor was so confident in his negotiating abilities that he flew around, uninvited, to trouble spots and got himself into the middle of the fray, helping negotiate agreements to the world's most contracted disputes.

From hostage crises in Peru and Iran to the Camp David accords, Professor Fisher was a master at resolving conflicts. His best-selling book: Getting to Yes, is a treasure trove of advice for project managers and leaders trying to succeed.
Buy the book
In his obituary was the following quote. Whenever I thought, ‘Someone should do something about this,’ it eased my conscience to learn that Roger was already working on it.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear PM Advisor Aug 27, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I was just given a global project to manage and notice how you advise that all team members should be present during the planning session. But my management are notorious skinflints. How can I justify the expense of bringing the three Japanese and European team members to Chicago for the two days of planning?

Local in Chicago

Dear Local,

It's been my experience that few global projects have a budget of less than $250,000; most run into the millions. But let's assume yours is worst case. Let's compare the cost of bringing in the non-local team members to the overall budget. Three overseas flights at about $5,000 each. Three night's accommodations plus meals and taxis in Chicago can't cost more than $1,000 each. You're talking about $18,000 total. That represents 7% of the budget, less if the budget is greater. That's the cost.

Now let's look at the benefit. Having the entire team present during planning is huge! The team building aspects aside, you get every team member seeing what each other does, seeing how their activities lead into another member's activities. They see the critical path being built in front of them, work together to refine the timeline to crash that path. They identify potential risks together and start on early problem removal, they identify all the tasks on the WBS, rather than forgetting those tasks the out of towners would have brought.

All of these things bring about a huge improvement in the planning plus the team building that takes place, the ownership of activities in front of their peers and the camaraderie, all bring about benefits that easily outstrip the 7% deficit you started with.

So run the numbers and determine the exact % of budget that this travel represents. Then show the benefits you will achieve as I've outlined above. If they still object, do the project anyway but keep track of each instance of misstep that could have been avoided if the planning had been done properly. Compile all these mistakes in your project's final report. Maybe your next project will be planned properly.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Friday, August 24, 2012

Leadership over the ages

I was cruising around one of my favorite sites: I love charts, and found this excellent chart showing the effect various cultures had on their times. For a more readable copy, go to the host website where you can actually purchase the chart. It is also interesting to see which cultures clashed with others, where some emerged from etc.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Does time off make you more productive?

Vidhya Nagarajan

I read an interesting article a few days ago that suggested that software engineers are more productive in the long run if their schedules are adjusted for the seasons. Jason Fried, the CEO of 37signals has instituted some revolutionary work hours in his company and it is paying off dividends.

Work from May to October is 32 hours a week, spread over four days. He finds that better work gets done in these four days than in a traditional five day work week. Why? Because people waste less time. They focus on getting the projects completed because there is less time to spend together.

In June they give every employee a month to work on whatever they want. These independent ideas are presented in July and result in the greatest burst of creativity all year. In addition to a huge morale boost, productivity spikes.

What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dear PM Advisor August 20, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

I've been told by my mentor to convert my 'Start to Start' relationships to 'Finish to Finish'. I don't understand why. I am testing my software and then recoding it based on my tests. I start recoding a couple of days after I start retesting. That sounds like a 'Start to Start' relationship to me. What am I doing wrong?

Depending on you from New York

Dear Depending,

Yours is a common misconception. Logically, the relationship between the two activities appears to be 'Start to Start' with a lag. Planning the project that way seems correct. You would give both activities the same duration, say 20 days, and set up the relationship as SS+2days indicating a two day lag between the start of the testing activity and the start of the recoding activity. So the recoding activity will finish two days after the testing activity. All looks good right?

But what happens when things progress and you will take an extra week completing the testing activity. You will update the Gantt chart by changing the duration of the testing activity. Now it will complete on day 25 instead of day 20. But since the relationship is SS, the finish date of the recoding activity will not change automatically. It will still finish on day 22.

So, even though the relationship appears to be 'Start to Start', think of the end of the activity. You cannot finish the recoding activity until you have finished the testing activity. So the real relationship is 'Finish to Finish'. And when you set it up this way and adjust the duration of the testing activity, the end date of the recoding activity will adjust automatically.

Not all 'Start to Start' relationships are 'Finish to Finish'. Examine each one with an eye to what would happen if the first activity was delayed. Then yo ushould be able to determine the real relationship.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Forty-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

After two nights on the road, the group lodged their cart, horses and belongings at the same inn they had stayed in last time and made their way through the castle gates to the office of the seneschal. Sir Kay was not there but they met with his squire who told them: “Sir Kay is in the great hall. I will ask him if you can interrupt.”
The boy returned a few minutes later and asked them to follow him. “You can leave the little ones with me.”
“Not on your life, son,” said Gwilym, much to the delight of Jac and Llawen.
On entering the great hall they saw a huge, round table dominating the room. It was so big that the sides touched two of the walls of the room. Bleddyn stifled a laugh as he saw a knight seated within this enclosed arc climb on a bench, then over the table and off again to get out.
Servants were operating within the center of this table. Gwilym had heard rumors of this round table and had assumed that the top was one big circle, not a pair of circumferences that allowed people to stand in the middle. This was convenient for serving, but he wondered how the servants reached the central area from the kitchens. Climbed over it, he suspected. Clearly this table was not made for this room.
The atmosphere of the great hall had changed from the last time he entered. Rather than a squalling cave of men and dogs, it possessed the relative calm of a church at Christmas Mass. There were no dogs and no wrestling men, those eating were doing so with forced gentility and sounds of quiet conversation were all one heard. The bare walls had been hung with tapestries and banners to brighten the space and four large candelabra hung over the table, illuminating everything.
There was no head of this round table, but the most favorable seats, closest to the fire and easiest to access, seemed to be occupied by the head party. King Arthur sat there, and next to him was seated what could only be his wife, Gwenevere: a frail beauty with golden hair and pale white skin. Next to her sat Launcelot, one of the few in the room to notice the family’s approach. Surrounding this group were many knights, some of whom Gwilym remembered from his last visit. Sir Gawain was on Arthur’s right, and next to him was Sir Kay.
“Our master mason has returned!” exclaimed Launcelot with a broad smile. “Welcome to the new Caerleon. A land smiled upon by the beauty of its queen, the lady Gwenevere.” At this he stood and bowed to the queen who blushed and then looked back at her husband, then at Gwilym.
Gwilym was shocked at this flirtation being expressed right in front of the king and wondered if Launcelot was already well into his cups this early in the day. But King Arthur gave Gwilym a blithe smile and also wished him welcome.
“And how is my master puzzle-maker, Bleddyn, this day? I must show you how fast I can build that tower you gave me on your last visit.” The king stood and shook the boy’s hand. He then looked shocked at the twins and asked Bleddyn “Who are these strong young squires by your side?”
Bleddyn struggled to speak through the stretched lips of his smile as he introduced Jac and Llawen to the king. King Arthur made them feel welcome by asking a large servant to bring them sweetmeats and showing them the great hall. “As you can see, this hall is too small for the wedding gift my wife’s father gave me. So we are building a new castle close to where you live in Huish. It will be big enough to hold this table and have room to move around it.” Gwilym was impressed with the ease at which the king could make his guests feel welcome.
When he introduced the boys to Gwenevere, Gwilym noticed something disconcerting. While the queen doted on the boys as most women did and the rest of the knights watched the tableau with indulgence, Launcelot used the opportunity to stare hungrily at the queen. A servant approached the queen and the two spoke. He looked at the family and then walked off into the back rooms.
After indulging the boys, the king turned to Gwilym and said, “Welcome back, Gwilym. I have been hearing good reports of your works. Sir Kay thinks highly of you. Is this your foreman?”
Gwilym introduced Fred who shook the king’s hand. “I couldn’t complete the works without him.” Fred blushed crimson and tried to stammer out his thanks.
Gwilym covered up his friend’s embarrassment by asking about the new castle. “Have you picked your master mason for your new castle yet?”
King Arthur laughed. “Ever the ambitious builder! I did ask Kay about using you for this job but he told me he had more important plans for you.”
Sir Kay had approached at this question. “Gwilym, I have an important watch-tower planned for you to watch for Irish marauders. I had planned to send for you this week so I thank you for saving me the time.”
The king noticed the deflation in Gwilym’s body at this news and sought to console the man. “These watchtowers are the most important buildings you can create for Britain. They protect the entire country. Why are you disappointed?”
Gwilym composed himself. “As a young lad, wandering around in the great cities of the east, seeing the majestic temples and cathedrals and palaces, I dreamed that one day I would add my creation to that list. A place that would inspire some other young boy to become a builder. No one looks in wonder at a watch-tower.”
Sir Kay placed his hand on Gwilym’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. Gwilym felt another hand on his other shoulder and one on his back. As he glanced around he saw that King Arthur and Launcelot were touching him in what seemed almost like a benediction.
Kay spoke. “The towers that you build are protecting Britain not only from the Saxons but from all future enemies. Although little boys may not be awed by them, little boys will be alive because of them and will be able to look at other buildings to inspire them.”
Gwilym felt warmth spread through him from the three hands. He felt like weeping but controlled himself. It was not from sadness but the raw emotion emanating from the three knights.

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

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Printouts that transfer data electronically

Wow! This is the coolest printer. With chips built into the paper, not only can you print wirelessly, but the electronic content you are printing out is conserved so that you can take the printout with you and plop it on your i-Pad, i-Pod or computer and listen to the music, watch the movie or get to the website you printed out. Watch the video or check out the website.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Babushkis lead village revival

The Eurovision competition is always fun. Often the winner is one of the more esoteric acts as people from each country cannot vote for their own country's acts so they vote for the weird ones so that the act from their rival country won't win. This year, one of the favorites was a group of Russian women in full babushka costume, singing 'Come on and Dance!'

They are all deeply pious women who used the winnings to rebuild their church which had been destroyed during the Soviet era. A clever project using today's technology to solve their problems.

Watch the old dears rock out below:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Leaders must represent their followers' best interests

The title above seems like a no-brainer in a democratic society but it is often not the case. Rogue CEOs bring down companies but they are not re-elected year after year. Today I'm writing about school boards.

For those readers outside the United States, let me explain how schools are funded here. Parents move to affluent areas if they can afford it and pay higher property taxes because that is what pays for the schools. Taxes pay for bonds that build new school buildings, teacher salaries come out of the taxes and so does everything else. I pay about $14,000 a year in property taxes, the majority of which goes to fund schools in my county.

When election time comes around, people running for the school board positions usually take care to present their credentials: showing how their three children are in the district or have recently graduated from the district or they themselves are products of the schools. That usually weighs highly in voters minds since they want the school board members to have the school district's best interests in mind.

Now there are some parents who send their children to private schools. They still pay the property taxes in addition to the amount they spend for tuition. And there are some who home school their children. There is always grumbling from these people who complain that their tax dollars are not being spent on their own children. But that's another argument. Most of those who send their children to private schools do so for religious reasons. In most school districts these parents have no say on the school board.

But what happens when the majority of children in one town go to private schools? This is happening now in East Ramapo, NY school district where 8,000 children attend public school while 19,000 attend private school. This group has hijacked the school board by voting as a block and now holds seven of the nine seats.

They have sold elementary schools to their private schools for below market value, suggested cutting graduations as a 'Superfluous expense' and are cutting kindergarten. Read about all the details in this article. Parents of public school children are trying force out the five who have been on this school board the longest using a Federal lawsuit.

East Ramapo, NY School Board
Complications arise due to racial tensions. 85% of the public school students are Black or Hispanic, the rogue school board members are Orthodox Jewish. The president of the board, Daniel Schwartz, ranted about the interference:
“We are headed on a crisis, a horrible, horrible crisis,” Mr. Schwartz began. He referred to Auschwitz and Treblinka, and to statements against the board and Jews that he said had been made by district students.
“If you don’t like it, find yourself another place to live,” he said.
In the interview, Mr. Schwartz said it was insulting to contend that Orthodox Jews did not have an interest in excellent public schools.
“What they are suggesting is that Orthodox Jews as a whole are an entire subgroup that doesn’t give a damn about anyone else,” he said.

He does raise an interesting point, though. They do represent the majority of voters and were elected fairly. But they were elected to represent the students who attend the public schools. They probably read some kind of oath of office that committed them to represent those children. Shouldn't they obey that oath, rather than their own children's best interests?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear PM Advisor August 6, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

How do you best manage R&D projects where the scope and requirements are fuzzy and change is a common-place occurrence?

Stumped Scientist

Dear Stumped Scientist,

As an R&D engineer for fifteen years, I struggled with the same question. Before I fell into Project Management I used to laugh at PMs who tried to predict when we would reach a successful conclusion to our experiments. I even had a Director who's favorite saying was: "You can't predict discovery."

But if a company is going to be successful, it must be able to manage R&D projects in a similar manner to Development or Process or any other project. That means the steering committee must be able to promise a certain amount of time and money to an R&D group in exchange for an agreed upon scope. So how do you do that when you don't know when your experiments are going to yield the results you're searching for?

My take on my old Director's quote is: "You can't predict discovery but you CAN manage it." I'll show you how to manage it.

Let's divide up R&D into the two functions: Research and Development. In pure Research you are given x dollars per year to play around in your field and spit out things that the Development group can turn into products. This is an ongoing operation and does not fall into the realm of Project Management.

Development projects can be further broken into projects that have a defined scope that can be managed like any other project and those that still require a lot of testing. So let's focus on this last group. How do you manage these?

I'll give you an example of a project of my own that I had to manage in this way. I was working for a company that made vascular grafts out of Dacron. DuPont used to sell us the fiber but they wanted to get out of the Medical Device business due to the risks they perceived from silicone breast implant lawsuits. We found a new vendor willing to supply us the raw yarn but we had to prove to the FDA that the grafts we made out of this material were equivalent to those we'd been manufacturing for years. The process of converting raw yarn into complete Medical Devices took about eight weeks.

We would have to run this yarn through the full process, sterilize the products and then test them before we would find out how they did. We didn't expect them to pass the first time. We would test the products, make adjustments to the formula, then run the process again. While we could plan every activity in the eight week process in exquisite detail, we had no idea how many rounds of this process would be required. I talked to the technical expert and he hoped that we might find the answer in about five iterations.

What I decided to do was plan for six iterations, each eight weeks long, with a two week analysis time between each. I presented this to the steering committee, asking for 1.6 million dollars and two years to reach completion. They asked me to promise that I would succeed in six iterations. I couldn't do so. I told them I would keep them informed of the results of each analysis so they could see that the team was making progress. In the end, they had to agree to the terms of the project.

So that's how you manage research projects. Plan all the steps you can and manage the rest. Make sure they understand your assumptions, especially the important one about how many iterations it will take to reach success. Understand that the steering committee may well say no to your project and choose to invest their project dollars elsewhere.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Forty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Re-entering Huish, Gwilym apologized to every resident he saw for bringing this disaster upon them. He joined the townsfolk at the body of the old man and heard the story. Palomides had heard nothing from the townsfolk where Gwilym was so he had held the man’s daughter at sword-point, threatening to kill her if the man didn’t reveal the secret. After the old man had told him that Gwilym’s family was at the beach, the knight had cut off the man’s head and galloped to the beach.
Gwilym saw the look of distrust returning to the townsfolk’s faces when they talked with him. It was the same look he had seen many times when entering a new place and he accepted with sorrow that this town was no longer home for him. He told the townsfolk he was leaving and that they needn’t worry about betraying him.
“Tell anyone who asks that I have gone to Londinium,” he said as he brought his family to his house to pack up. Grainne gave him the box of river jade from Merlin. “This is for your next tower,” she said.
The boys hugged her. Gwilym shook her hand and then pulled her into a hug. “I can never thank you enough for my children’s safety. I was helpless and you did for them what I could not, even if I had been there.”
Grainne winked at Gwilym and said, “I’ll see you at Beltane,” and walked off towards Avalon.
The next morning, as they packed the last of their belongings in the cart, Father Drew arrived to say his farewells. “I have been moved to Glastonbury, Gwilym. I start there next month. If you need any information from here, use me as a go-between.”
“Is it a promotion, father?”
“It is more than that, Gwilym. I have been granted my wish to serve under some of the older priests who follow the original British church: the men who are rumored to resist the influence of Rome over Christianity. Perhaps I can find out more about this Gospel of Joseph for you there.”
“God be with you, Father.”
“And you too, son.” The priest took his leave.
Just then, Fred stepped up with his belongings on his back
“Fred!” exclaimed Gwilym. “I’m not going off to a job site. I’m leaving for parts unknown, with three children and no job. You can’t come with me.”
“Of course I’m comin’ with you. We still have towers to build. I still have words to learn. You still don’t know how to handle a horse. Shove over and give me t’reins.”
“But Fred, what about Heilin? I thought you two were getting serious.”
“Oh we’re serious all right. But a married man needs work and I believe I’ll find it easier with tha than here in Huish. I’ve said my goodbyes and I can visit when I have money for a wedding. So, which way do we ride?”
Gwilym looked shocked but happy. “We take the road to Londinium. At least until we are out of town.”
They took the road south and then east toward Calleva. At those cross-roads, Fred steered the cart north toward Corinium at Gwilym’s instructions. “We must travel to Caerleon to ask of Sir Kay where our next project will be.”
Fred’s eyes grew wide with this prospect.

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

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mars Lander Project

NASA, via Associated Press
An artist's rendering of NASA's new Mars rover, Curiosity
Wouldn't it be cool to work on a project like this? One where there is a huge, complicated timeline that goes for years but punctuated with a few tight, second-by-second timelines where everything has to go exactly right. That's what I love about NASA projects. There are those tight timelines around launch and landing that must be planned meticulously with all sorts of back-up plans and contingencies in place to ensure that the billion-dollar investment isn't lost.

This Monday, NASA lands a new rover on Mars to explore the planet. The steps to slow the descent of the spaceship from 13,000 miles per hour to a soft landing have been dramatized in an awesome video called  'Seven minutes of terror. ' Click on the link above to view this video.

Let's hope this project is successful and doesn't have the problems of a previous NASA project where the difference between Metric and US units doomed an orbiter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Free WBS Software

A friend told me about a free web-based Work Breakdown Structure tool so I gave it a shot. It's pretty good. Looks nice when printed out and exports well to MS-Project for scheduling. Check out their Web site.

Here's what it looks like when it's exported to Project: