Monday, October 29, 2012

Dear PM Advisor October 29, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

Next week I will begin planning a major new product development project of a Medical Device. Should I plan all the clinical and validation activities next week or should I wait for a couple of years when I have the actual team members present?

Eager in Mansfield, MA

Dear Eager,

While I'm sure your management would love to have you predict the future perfectly and come back to them in a month with every activity planned for this seven year project, and with the cost calculated to the penny and the end date carved in stone, we both know that this is unrealistic.

Every new product development project I worked on in the Medical Device Industry involved people coming on and off the project as their careers progressed and the companies restructured. Clinical studies changed locations and validation activities changed with new FDA regulations and new regulatory interpretations. This kind of uncertainty calls for Rolling Wave project planning.

The way this works is pretty simple. Plan the project the same way you would plan any other project. Determine the Objective, Scope, and the Deliverables level of the Work Breakdown Structure(WBS) in the usual way. Then sequence the deliverables in the WBS so that you isolate those deliverables that will be worked on during the first year of the project. Continue planning these deliverables, determining the activities, responsibilities, schedule, budget and risk for all of them.

What you are left with is a project planned to meticulous detail in the first year and a lot of deliverables that remain unplanned. You will need to go to people who know these deliverables fairly well and ask for a parametric estimate of the cost and duration of these deliverables. You will receive a range. Clinical studies for a new medical device can vary tremendously based on location, number of tests, amount of follow-up, etc. That's OK. Get the range and place that in your project plan.

Your project budget will now have a range that is made up of a bottom-up estimate of the detailed activities, plus parametric estimates of the long-range future deliverables. You quote your budget as $20 +/- $3 Million.

Your schedule will look like a partially rolled up Gantt chart with all the near-term activities opened up and the future deliverables showing up as long deliverable lines with a worst-case duration shown. If you want to get fancy you can display the duration range in MS-Project but that is a discussion for another time.

But your work is not done. One of the most stringent rules in Rolling Wave project planning is that the next six months of work must be planned to the high level of detail. So, every six months to a year, you need to reconvene the current team, (the membership will change depending on team member changes and deliverables ahead) and plan out the next few deliverables in high detail. Always try to have the next year's worth of work planned out so that you can work for six months before reconvening.

Finally getting to your answer, plan out the clinical and validation activities about a year before you are ready to do them. That way you should have your correct team and location and regulations in hand and you will be successful.

Good luck!

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Forty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Adrenaline surged through him, instincts took over and he sprinted for the stable door yelling at Fred to run for it. The image of what had jumped at him was seared into his mind. The hair on top of the head was smeared with dried blood. The eyes were bright red. The nose was pig-like. Hairy cheeks were smeared with fresh blood. The lower jaw stuck out from the upper, broken teeth jutting out as he snapped at Gwilym. There was blood and froth spilling out of his mouth and over the beard of the creature. The hands that had reached for him were filthy and the fingers sported long, dirty, broken fingernails. It was a man but it looked so much like a warthog that Gwilym, despite his terror, laughed inside at the local’s nickname.
Gwilym reached the stable door as he heard the stall door behind him slam open. He pushed Fred to the left, saying, “Help Siorys with the net! I’ll lead him to you!” He watched Fred swing around the left side of the stable toward the wall opening.
Gwilym stalled for a moment to ensure that the creature chased him rather than Fred. This moment allowed him to calm his jangling nerves and think about what must be done. He backed away from the door so that he would be ready to run while still able to see what he was faced with.
Arthog emerged into the light of day, and tripped over a loose rock. On all fours he charged around, blundering into stable walls and other debris. He stood and ran off to the left, not noticing Gwilym. Gwilym stooped for a rock and shouted as he threw it hard at the man. Arthog started at the shout and came right at Gwilym, ignoring the rock, which hit him in the shoulder. Gwilym stored this piece of information as he ran around the right side of the stable, away from the wall breech.
Gwilym observed Arthog’s behavior: his jaw was thrust further forward than seemed normal, he was eating raw horse, he was drooling too much and was sensitive to noise but not pain. From what he’d read, this added up to one thing: Hydrophobia. He felt better being in a castle surrounded by water on two sides.
Meanwhile, Arthog was pursuing him

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where do older workers live?

When I first saw this graph in last week's NY Times, I laughed at the stereotypical French laziness showing up. Barely 20% of 60 year-old Frenchmen work opposed to 60% of Americans. But is this, perhaps, an indication of overall unemployment rate there rather than will to work? I have my doubts since the Spanish and Portugese rates are higher but dropping with their unemployment.

I have no idea how these countries are going to maintain their social benefits while bringing in lower and lower taxes from their dwindling work forces. Greece will soon be followed by the rest of Southern Europe. The US needs to change their economic model to avoid going down the same drain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Awesome food label

I love a good graphic and there was a wonderful article in a recent NY Times showing the author's proposed food label.

Featuring red, yellow, green and big numbers, these labels would be obvious to all consumers the relative healthiness of the foods they were buying. 

Here's how it works for four imaginary foods:
Now isn't this a lot more understandable than the horrible labels we currently have?
Really, who even reads these anymore?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dear PM Advisor October 22, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

The Director I report to takes every project idea and goes directly to planning it. He doesn't look at the equipment limitations and mandates cost and schedule before the planning even starts.

Cautious in Alabama

Dear Cautious,

I've never met a person whose every idea is worthy of becoming a reality. And if I did, I'd suspect they were only telling me the cream of the crop and not telling me the mediocre ones that were worth considering.

In my opinion there should be a phased project approach that looks something like the Cadence life cycle.
An idea is generated and somebody spends a little time documenting it into a request for further consideration. If it is considered a good enough idea, a Sponsor is selected and the idea moves to the next phase. Here a few people join the idea generator to study it for a week or two to see if it is viable.
If so, the best alternative is selected and we move the next phase. Here we do some rigorous research on the idea and create a business case. If it survives this phase, we assign a PM and a team, plan the project and execute the work.

The process is that for every product that comes out the end of this process, two projects might be planned, four to six researched, twelve studied and twenty ideas generated. Mature project management companies go through this weeding out process to glean the best ideas out of the many.

Since little money or time is spent in these early phases, we waste little on those projects that were bad ideas in the first place.

If your company goes straight to planning every idea that is surfaced, one of two things is going wrong. Either people are extremely cautious about presenting radical ideas or you are wasting a lot of money and energy on ideas that should not reach the planning phase. Both are not good signs.

The phased approach shown above comes from Cadence but most companies I've worked or consulted for have a similar funnel that weeds out the bad ideas. Some combine the first three phases into two, some have even more rigorous early phases.

Your company needs this phased approach with clear goals for each phase. Equipment limitations should be considered in phase two when you are looking at alternatives and be resolved before you start planning.

Costs and schedules cannot be mandated before planning occurs unless you have done some early research. It is OK to develop a range of possible costs and schedules in the early phases so that the company can take these into account when deciding if the idea is worth pursuing. But this should be a RANGE that gets narrowed down as you continue to refine the idea. It is not unheard of to be within a range of +/- 20% before you enter the planning phase. But the number that is carved in stone should be developed in the planning phase with the full team present. And a mature management group will add a management reserve of ~10% for the things that go wrong while the project is being executed.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No great African leaders again this year

For the third time in four years, the five million dollar Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa was not awarded. The requirements are not too stringent:
  1. Be democratically elected
  2. Leave office in the last three years
  3. Demonstrate excellence in office
Why is this so hard a prize to award? Let's look at some African leaders who left office in the last few years: The Arab Spring saw many dictators leave but they miss criteria # 1.

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo challenged his democratic defeat and sparked a civil war. Senegal's Wade ignored term limits and ran for a third term. Neither demonstrated excellence.

On the other hand, those leaders who missed all three criteria are making billions of dollars a year in government corruption so the prize is probably little incentive.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dear PM Advisor October 15, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

Communications with a stakeholder is difficult because he is overbusy. The stakeholder is higher up in the organization and is doing things without informing the PM.

Left out in Reading, PA

Dear Left out,

It looks like you have two problems, the second one being more serious.

First of all you have a high level stakeholder with whom it is difficult to communicate because he is super busy. That is pretty typical and you just need to get on his calendar on a regular basis. Find out how he prefers to be communicated to and use voicemail, e-mail, phone calls, Webinars, face-to-face visits or whatever works best. Get to know his Administrative Assistant and get on his calendar. Remember: 90% of a Project Manager's job is communication. so do your job here.

Your bigger problem is that he does things without informing you. I can read between the lines and suppose that the things he is doing is hindering your progress on the project. And, since you mention the first problem you believe the two are related. The stakeholder is doing things that affect your project that he wouldn't do if you were able to communicate to him properly.

OK, so you now know some ways to improve your communication with the stakeholder, what can you do to ensure that he stops interfering?

I've found that project stakeholders respond well to impacts. Show them the impact their decisions and actions are having on the project constraints. Are they adding to the scope or risk? Are they increasing the schedule? Are they removing resources or reducing quality? Are they adding cost? It's possible he could be doing the opposite of all or any of these.

Show him, in graphical terms, what is happening to the project because of their actions. Emphasize that you, as the Project Manager, are the focus of the project and only you know the overall impact these actions have. Ask that he run these decisions or actions through you so that you can analyze the impact before they become reality. 

This is what I mean by graphical. Make it clear which alternative he should take by using scaled arrows and few words:

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Forty-fifth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

The following morning, Gwilym brought all his papers and writing implements into the Weary Pilgrim’s hall, a room entirely furnished in wicker. Stools, tables, chairs and even the bar were woven from this wood. The hard-beaten earth was covered in a fresh layer of thresh, held in by a polished stone thresh-hold.
Siorys had summoned the crew so a large crowd of men was awaiting them. The men introduced themselves all around and Gwilym checked off on his charter the men promised him by Sir Kay. While doing so, he realized that there was a difference between the number and type of men promised in the charter and what was likely needed during the project. He could benefit from a more formal approach to planning the people needed at certain times within the project. He remembered times on his previous three projects when men were doing nothing yet still receiving a day’s pay because he needed their particular skills later.
Gwilym gathered the men around the largest table and spread out the charter for all to see. He read it out loud, showed off the king’s signature and answered any questions. Then he told the men his method for planning the project: start by identifying the stakeholders, define the requirements and scope, create the work breakdown structure, define the activities and figure out who would staff each activity. Then he would ask the responsible person how long each activity would take and how they were linked to each other to figure out the most efficient way to do the whole project. The men nodded their heads in encouragement.
“First things first. Let’s take a tour of the job-site so that we can see what we will be dealing with.”
“Perhaps we should do those planning things first, sir,” said Siorys.
“No,” said Gwilym. “I have to see the site, and I’m sure you men want to see what you are expected to build and where you need to build it in order to plan properly.” As he looked around the room, none of the men would meet his eye.
“Well, sir,” said Siorys. “Today’s not a good day for touring the site. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”
“What are you not telling me?”
The men shifted their weight around, avoiding Gwilym’s gaze. Gwilym stood in front of Siorys and asked him, “What's happening today?”
“It’s Arthog sir. He’s gone mad in the head and is doing a bit of rampaging. It’s better we wait inside today.”
Gwilym looked at the men until they all met his gaze. “Please explain,” he said.
They all looked at Siorys who told the story.
“The king has a son who he loves beyond all measure. His name is Arthog and he is a brute. We call him Warthog behind his back.  He’s been cruel before, taken away girl’s maidenhoods, stolen or broken people’s property, fought with townsfolk and farmers. His father always forgives him and pays for the damages but never seems to punish his son. If you fight back against Arthog, you can expect real punishment from the king. He had locked men in his dungeons and even killed a man.”
“Yesterday was the worst he has been yet. He was running around town in torn clothes and a dagger. He was yelling at people and stabbing them at random. He killed two women and a man and stabbed many others before he ran off into the job-site. The mayor and the priest have complained to the king and he has told us to capture him alive and not hurt him.”
“Is he a big man?”
The men all yelled over each other at this point.
“He’s huge, sir!”
“As tall as you and twice as heavy!”
“Strong too!”
Gwilym looked at the room full of men and asked, “Could someone please fetch me a strong net. I’m sure there are fishermen in this town.” A young lad stepped outside.
“Who among you will join me in this capture?”
Fred stepped forward. The rest of the men shifted their weight from one foot to another, not meeting Gwilym’s gaze. “I’ll show you where he is and help you with the net,” said Siorys.

Net in hand, and stout clubs tucked in their belts, Gwilym and Fred followed Siorys down the street to the castle. The corner nearest the confluence of the two rivers was a pile of stones. “That’s where we must build our tower, sir. Warthog is somewhere in the castle grounds.”
“And the king?”
“Up in the hills at the summer residence.”
“Follow me then,” requested Gwilym. Fred followed Gwilym into the grounds but Siorys asked to stay here with the net. “Chase him this way and I’ll throw it.”
Gwilym and Fred walked into the castle grounds. Nothing grew in this rooted-up earth. The walls had stairs leading up to the top at intervals. There were four main buildings: the stables, the kitchens, the main dwelling of the king and some kind of workroom. Approaching the stables, they heard the whinnying and stomping hooves of a terrified horse.
It was dark inside, the little light that entered the door filtered through the dust motes being kicked up by the horse to show four stalls, the last one open. The noises of the horse emanated from the nearest stall. Gwilym told Fred to stay outside and stepped into the stable. He smelled the fresh blood that was scaring the horse. As he peered over the top of the stall, he saw the horse backed against the far wall, kicking out with its front feet at the door. Blood was seeping into his stall from the one next door. Gwilym opened the door and stood behind it while the horse bolted into the castle yard.
He tiptoed to the next stall and peered over this door and was greeted by a gruesome sight. The horse was lying on its side, its head almost severed from its neck and its sides torn open as though by a lion. Guts were strewn everywhere and huge chunks of meat had been torn from the body.
While sneaking to the third door, Gwilym kept a wary eye on the open fourth stall. Whatever had done this was most likely there and Gwilym was moving further and further from the safety of the open yard. He slowly raised his head to peer over the third stall door. At first, as the rear of the stall became visible, he saw the tail and rear of another downed horse. He saw the open wound in his side just like the last stall. As he raised his head fully, something huge jumped at him from the other side of the stall door.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bad leadership dooms Survivor group

Since day one of this season's Survivor, one group has failed in everything. Failed in making adequate shelter, failed in making fire, failed in every challenge, failed in finding the hidden immunity idol. Why?
Because their reluctant leader was a terrible leader. I already posted after the first episode my dissatisfaction with his leadership style. If the dumbest member of his team hadn't thrown himself under the bus after that first challenge, Russell Swan would have been voted off and his team could have stood a chance.

Instead, they stuck with him and his negativity around camp, his belief that he is some kind of superman who is only let down by his ailing body or weak team-mates. And they lost three more challenges. Finally, the two smartest members of his team decided to get rid of him, leaving us with a tight, optimistic team.I have hopes for them now.

People need to recognize when a team is being led by a destructive, egotistical leader and oust him/her immediately before further damage is done. But how often does that work in the business world?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One of my more obnoxious team members

This post is strictly for those on one of my current teams. They will know about whom I'm writing.

Who he thinks he is, while dodging responsibility:

What he acts like to the rest of his team:

And what he's thinking while he talks with us:

No 'I" in Team?

We've heard this saying a million times: There's no I in team.

I love it!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dear PM Advisor October 8th, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

Our company doesn't have an official prioritized list of active projects. People are working on too many projects. How do I motivate team members to work on my projects?

Entertainer in Massachusetts

Dear Entertainer,

You have the right idea. Keep them entertained and they will work on your projects. The problem, as you have figured out, resides above your pay grade with senior staff. They are the people who need to own the PM process and need to prioritize projects and fully resource the top priorities.

In the absence of this priority list, people will prioritize their work however they see fit. Some do work on a First In, First Out (FIFO) basis, some FILO. Some will prioritize alphabetically, some will refuse to work on projects sponsored by those who root for a different football team. Most will follow the squeaky wheel syndrome and will work on activities that they are being bugged about by vocal project managers.

You ask how to motivate your team members. That's easy. Get to know your team members. Take them out to lunch, do a 'beers and peers' session after work. Find out what motivates them. It will be different based on their personality type, their interests, their ambition. Then set out to keep them motivated in an individual way.

Try 'Reward' Power:
You have power as a Project Manager to motivate them with reward power by asking management for a certain percentage of the project budget to be doled out at your discretion for this purpose. Determine your team member's interests and get them gift certificates at their favorite restaurant, gallery openings or sporting events tickets that make them feel like you really know them. Then give these out when they "Go beyond the call of duty." Do this every couple of weeks or on a monthly basis for a long project. They word will get out that you care about your team members.

Try 'Expert' Power:
You were put in charge of this project because you were recognized as a competent manager. Share your knowledge with those team members who want to get ahead in the world. Mentor them, share books and advise on great courses you have attended. Share political knowledge about upper management.

Look at Maslow's needs pyramid:
Look at the below pyramid and decide where your team members are. If they are barely surviving, money will motivate. If they are beyond this, they may be better motivated with a challenge.

Be the squeaky wheel:
If you keep asking about the progress on a certain task, the easiest way for the team member to get you out of their office is to complete the activity. Do this sparingly where all other methods shown above have failed.

Don't use 'Coercive' Power:
Some PMs have authority to punish those who work on your project. This can be done with poor reviews, withholding project bonuses, even reprimands and firings. That may work on your current project but you'll have a hard time finding team members for your next project.

Any other ideas, readers?

Good luck!

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is financial aid to Egypt a good idea anymore?

A debate is going on in congress around the awarding of $450 Million in emergency financial aid to Egypt. The aid, designed to assist the emerging 'democracies' from the Arab Spring is being revisited in light of the recent attacks on US embassies after the anti-Muslim video.

Perhaps it's time to reconsider all this aid to countries that are becoming stridently anti-American. We provide $1.3 Billion to the Egyptian military every year. True, most of it comes back in weapons purchases but is that smart? Why are we arming countries run by people who consider the US their worst enemy. They despise our values and live to eradicate Israel. We've been doing this in many other countries with similar values: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Jordan to name a few. Only the aid to Israel seems to be fostering a democracy and values similar to our own.

During the days of the cold war, we were in a financial arms race with the Soviet Union, providing aid to 'our' countries while they supported 'theirs'. But with the cold war over, what are we doing arming countries that seek our destruction?

Egypt threatens to relook at the Camp David treaty with Israel every time we threaten to cut off aid. But that's just blackmail. I really don't see the Egyptian army having any success against Israel. It's time to call that bluff.

Financial aid should be directed towards the building of schools and infrastructure, not the buying of weapons. Right now, the split is $1.30 Billion to the military and $0.25 Billion to other purposes. I'd prefer to see a Greg Mortenson-type using the aid to make real progress in these countries. Educate the women and change the country for the better for good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dear PM Advisor October 1, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

You've mentioned in the past that, when constructing a WBS, 'Flatter is Better.' What do you do when you have a huge project that involves multiple phases like: Research, Pre-Clinical, Clinical Studies, etc.?

Pyramidic in Corning, NY.

Dear Pyramidic,

There are two kinds of pyramids in the world. Most people automatically think of the Egyptian style and build their Work Breakdown Structures in this way. Their work is spread through out the levels of the WBS and it becomes difficult to keep track. Work is easily forgotten. Work that doesn't end up on the WBS is not considered part of the project. So, during the execution phase, when you get around to remembering it, you already have your project's cost and schedule carved in stone and you are in trouble.

If you've been to Central America, you may have seen squared-off pyramids. They have a flat top. Use this style for your WBS. Start by thinking of all your deliverables in any order that makes sense to you. Place them at level two of the pyramid, right below the project name. The activities go right below this second level. This allows for much more visibility and deliverables are less likely to be forgotten.

It's all about ensuring that, during the planning, you capture all the work needed to complete your project. Using this style, it is easier to ensure you have done so.

You bring up the point of very large projects where the list of deliverables may become unwieldy. For these projects I recommend using Workstreams: groupings of deliverables that make sense. For these projects, move the deliverables down to level three of the WBS and title level two with your phases: R&D, Preclinical, Verification, Clinical, Regulatory Filings, etc. Other large projects may find different titles for workstreams that group the deliverables in a more logical way. When done, your team can look at each workstream and verify that the correct deliverables are in each before determining the activities that make up each deliverable.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at