Monday, December 31, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 31, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

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

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

Scrumster in Dallas

Dear Scrumster,

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

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

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

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

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fiftieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

SEC Discourages Crowdfunding

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Time for leadership on shooting deaths

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what I found instead:

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 18, 2012

Dear PM Adivsor,

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

Cadence man in Latrobe, PA.

Dear Cadence,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Queen Noor concerned about women's rights in Arab World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

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

Job Security in Fairfield, NJ

Dear Job Security,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Forty-ninth excerpt of 'Twelve Towers'

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Seattle's Big Dig

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor December 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

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

Backwards in Corning, NY

Dear Backwards,

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

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

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

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

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Saturday, December 1, 2012