Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Clever project to block illegal tunnels

A Palestinian clearing a tunnel of sewage in Rafah, between Egypt and the southern Gaza StripBFARES AKRAM and   Published: February 20, 2013
For centuries, governments have fought against those trying to tunnel in or out of their installations. Whether it was sappers trying to tunnels under castles to knock down walls, prisoners escaping prison camps or drug smugglers sneaking into the US, there has been a one-upmanship battle between the tunnelers and those detecting them.

The latest battleground has been the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza used to smuggle weapons into this dangerous area. The Egyptians have come up with a simple but effective measure to fight them: Raw Sewage. Simple, but effective.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. February 25, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

What's the difference between Free Float and Total Float? 

Floater in New York, NY

Dear Floater,

I assume you know what float is. This is also known as slack, the amount of time an activity can be delayed without delaying the overall end-date of the project. Free Float is similar in that it is the amount of time an activity can be delayed without delaying the next activity.

American Eagle Group describes the difference quite well in this post. Look at the picture they use:

Notice that free float can only occur at the end of a series of non-critical path activities.

For those who love math, here are the formulae for Total Float and Free Float:

Total Float = LS - ES  or  LF - EF
Free Float = ESs - EFp - lag  (Where ESs means Early Start of the successor activity. EFp means Early Finish of the Predecessor activity)

(By the way, this last formula only works if you use the zero day method for calculating ES and EF. Otherwise you get the number 1 for Free Float on every activity.)

Looking at the network diagram above, you can see that total float is 0 for the critical path and 11 for activities C, D and E. Any time you delay one of these tasks, you eat up some of that Total Float.

Since you can start D right after C, even if C is delayed, there is no Free Float on C. Same reason there is no Free Float on D. But since you have to wait for Activity G to complete before you can start Activity H there is float on Activity E unless C, D and E delay more than 11 days. So the Free Float only appears on the last activity of this chain.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fifty-fourth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

He woke to the sound of someone clambering up the side of the capstone. Morning light shone on him. He covered himself with his clothes just before Bleddyn’s head appeared. “Go back down son. Wait until I can help you up so that you are safe. It’s dangerous to climb this by yourself.”
Bleddyn’s head dropped out of sight. Gwilym dressed and leaned over the side to give his hand to his son. “Were you comfortable here last night, Da?” he asked, looking around at the stone and his father.
“I slept like the dead,” replied Gwilym. “We should be able to see Sir Kay’s party arrive from up here. Would you like to be the watchman while I make sure everything is in order below?”
Bleddyn said he’d love to and promised not to come down until his father was there to assist him.
Gwilym walked through the tower one last time, cleaning up some last minute things and gathered his crew for a final speech. Along the way he had found no trace of Grainne. Infuriating woman!

Sir Kay and his three assistants arrived and inspected the site. Gwilym made a point, this time, of getting to know who these three were. The one who inspected the rune-stones that capped each structure was called Mostyn. He was close-lipped about the meaning of the runes or the origins of the stones. “I come only to see that they are installed correctly.”
Gwilym paused at this. “The stones and the towers are square, yet the runes on them have a design that can be read in one direction. Have I been turning them the correct way?”
“Of course you have,” replied Mostyn.
“Yet I put no thought into the direction when I placed them. Are they all facing the east? No, that’s impossible, the other towers were all facing off the compass points due to the wind or the angle of the town walls.”
“Which way did the rune face at Huish?”
“I turned the tower to avoid the prevailing wind which comes from slightly north of the west. Then I placed the rune so that when you looked at it you were facing north of northwest. Why that way? Because it was closest to north?”
“And Airmyn?”
“There the wind came down the river so I turned that tower almost completely to the north. But I faced the rune so that looking at it you were facing away from the river, almost due south.”
“I had to follow the angle of the tower which was lined up with the city walls and they were lined up with the bend in the river. The rune faced to the northwest.”
“And this one faces east. You were perfect.”
Gwilym thought for a moment, then his furrowed brow cleared. “They are all facing toward the next tower! I’m building my next tower due east of here.”
Mostyn smiled and continued tracing the designs of the rune on his paper.

Nantlais was the name of the man who checked the structure of Gwilym’s towers. He was in deep discussions with Arthfael when Gwilym arrived. They were talking about the recent attack by the Eirish on the castle walls and how the projecting tower would have made their jobs easier. He stopped to ask Gwilym a question. “You incorporated the castle stones into the walls by building them at the same time. That makes both structures stronger. Was that your intention?”
“Yes. Just as you never stack stones directly on top of each other when building a wall, I didn’t want to end the wall flush with the tower, I wanted to continue the pattern.”
“Good work. And make sure all future towers project beyond walls. Did you notice how that can help during the attack?”

Sir Kay was going over the accounts of this tower with Euros.
“You’ve done good work here again Gwilym. The tower will stand forever. Yet once again the costs were higher than planned. I thought you were going to take care of that.”
Gwilym was prepared for this question. “In order to meet the schedule I had to keep men around whose work wasn’t needed right then. I had them doing other work to speed up those activities but it wasn’t the most efficient use of their time. ”
“Couldn’t you have predicted this?” Sir Kay asked.
“We planned for the most likely scenario. Not the most optimistic or pessimistic. So the costs were mostly in line.”
“And yet you come asking me for more money. Next tower I want you to ask for the right amount the first time.”
“That may mean returning to you for the correct amount after we have planned the project.”
“Do so.”
“And the next tower is in the east?”
Kay gave Gwilym a sharp look. “Salthouse, on the east coast. It is a larger tower and requires a bit of preparation. You had better start there by next month.”
“What news of Palomides?”
“He has paid recompense for the damage he did in Huish.”
“Has he been told to leave off his intentions to steal from me?”
“He claims you stole the book from his house. If this were a dispute between two knights, you would fight it out and God would reward the knight telling the truth. Since you are no knight, that would be an unfair fight. I choose not to tell Palomides where you are.”

Viviane looked up from the well. “Their relationship is getting strained.”
“She cannot use that power against him anymore.”
“Grainne is impatient, it is her curse.”
“The last tower must be completed with love or the spell won’t work. Foster out her oldest.”
“She will be devastated.”
“She will still have the second son. Use it as a threat to make her do things right.”
“We still need her when the spell is done. This isn’t her last act. I’m still grooming her.”
“The spell is more important than her future. Keep her happy if you can but not at the cost of the spell.”

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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Are US workers spending too much time on the job?

Far be it for me to recommend US workers emulate the French who work 30 hours a week and have annual 17 week vacations but perhaps we are working too hard. The following two graphs from a recent New York Times article put things into perspective for me.

Why are we one of only eight countries that don't offer paid maternity leave? Being in the same club as Suriname and Liberia doesn't speak well for this country.
Recent NY Times article

And our work week hasn't dropped much along with the prosperity brought by the second half of the 20th century. Even the Japanese are working less than we are.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chinese Army hacking US infrastructure

The Chinese are becoming more aggressive in their computer attacks on the US. With attacks on major newspapers uncovered and power grids being pinged by the Chinese military we are looking vulnerable.

From a recent NY Times article
It makes me wonder why we allow computers to control the power grid to the extent that they do now. If we want to make our country less vulnerable, wouldn't it be smarter to dumb down these grids? After all, didn't we have power grids fifty years ago? Maybe they weren't as efficient as they are now with the networking. Still, how about a back-up system that takes the grids off-line and allows them to run, albeit slightly less efficiently when they perceive they are under cyber-attack?

Seems like a way to stay a little safer in a dangerous world.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. February 18, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

What's the difference between smoothing and avoiding and the difference between compromising and collaborating? There seems to be too many different conflict management techniques.

Compromiser in Connecticut.

Dear Compromiser,

I agree. What happened to the old days of conflict management when it was 'My way or the highway?' I've seen a lot of time wasted in consensus building and political correctness. But then I've never been known for my patience. Still, these conflict management techniques come up in the PMP exam so it's nice to know what they are. So let's look at them. I used the Personality Explorers website for their official definitions, examples, advantages and disadvantages. Click here for more details.

But the cheat-sheet answers appear below.

Forcing: Make other party use your solution
Collaborating: Solve root cause and find a solution that helps everyone (Win-win)
Compromising: Both parties give up something for solution
Withdrawing: Walk away from the conflict (Avoiding)
Smoothing: Give up. Let the other party win (Accommodating)

Each conflict management style has its pluses and minuses. It depends on if you want speed or long-lasting effects. Is this a big conflict or a small one? Do you want to work with this person again? You'll use a very different conflict management technique when asking for a raise from your boss than when negotiating for a car from a used car salesman.

Below I've plotted the speed of using each of these techniques versus the long- or short-term effectiveness of the solution. As expected, the quick methods result in the shortest lasting solutions. Sometimes, that's OK, like walking away when your opponent is getting overheated and coming back at another time when temperatures have cooled.

Read the full article for all the pluses and minuses and have all five of these techniques in your tool-kit to use at the right time.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Thursday, February 14, 2013

One Page Status Reports

A friend of mine just asked me what I thought of the 'One Page Project Manager' status reports. Since I hadn't heard of this I did some research and I'm pretty impressed. I like efficient use of graphics. Here is an example I pulled from this blog:

There's a lot of info here so you might be better off going to the link of the blog itself so you can zoom in better. By efficient use of two dimensions, major deliverables can be identified, the owners determined, the due dates displayed and the status shown in color codes.

The owner of this system sells books and has a great website.

The only problem I see is that there is so much info on the sheet that it needs to be printed out on a plotter. Which isn't bad if you then place it on the walls of the war-room and stand around it with the stakeholders going over the elements.

The system is different from the status report I've been using for a while that goes onto two letter sized pages. I use the journalistic approach so that the most important information is on top of the first page and the reader can find what he or she wants by drilling further down into the report.

My reports are big on words, small on graphics but I don't have to explain how to read them to my customers.

Here is an example of one of my status reports:
The second page show the deliverables, when they were due originally and when we expect them now and any comments. Lastly I show risks, issues and concerns.

Which style do you prefer?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. February 11, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I'm reading my PMBOK and it seems that every process has the same two inputs added to each: Enterprise Environmental Factors and Organizational Process Assets. As far as I can tell, these equate to Miscellaneous. What am I supposed to do with these? And how am I supposed to place these in my memory while I study for my PMP exam?

PMP Student in Manhattan, New York.

Dear PMP,

These two inputs are how PMI categorizes a lot of tools used within the organization and outside that are used on projects. The way you can think about them are that the Organizational Process Assets are tools that are stored within the Project Management Office (PMO) and  Enterprise Environmental Factors are stored outside this group. (My nemonic is Organizational = O = PMO and Enterpise = E = External)

What does this mean to you? Whenever there is a tool that should be stored by the PMO (assuming your company has such an entity or by some knowledgeable person if no PMO exists) this is an Organizational Process Asset. Examples of these would be templates for a Charter or Risk Register, WBS and Gantt charts from previous projects, lessons learned.

When the tool comes from outside the company, it's an Enterprise Environmental Factor. So government regulations, industry groups, etc. are clearly from this group. It gets confusing when it's a tool from within the company but outside the PMO, especially when you don't have a PMO. So picture yourself as a hoarder of project data, templates and processes. Would you keep this tool? If so, its an Organizational Process Asset. If not, it's an Enterprise Environmental Factor.

Another question that may come up on your PMP test regarding these may ask you if either of these is a tool in some process, an input in another or an output in a third. Remember that it is always an input. An output might be an update to one or more of these tools.
Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fifty-third excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

A week after the Eirish marauders left Caernarfon, Gwilym’s crew hoisted the capstone to the top of the tower and turned it until it fit the space. The crew was amazed that a rock found in the woods would fit the top of their tower perfectly. Gwilym sent them around to spruce up the tower for tomorrow’s inspection while he set to work cleaning the rune and placing the river jade between the cap and the tower.  Bleddyn joined him halfway through the job. “You’ve never shown me this part.”
Gwilym’s heart leaped at seeing his son standing on the tower roof. All his protective instincts clashed with his pride at seeing his son doing something so brave, so competently.
“No I haven’t. You see, the tower is designed to slowly shrink on itself as the wooden foundations lose their moisture. That means that the top walls of the tower will become smaller. The capstone is the only rock that spans the entire width of the tower. If it were attached to all the walls, it would hold the tower apart and cause stresses below. Instead, I place it on top with these pieces of river jade between. They are strong, yet smooth. Feel them. Over time, the tower walls will move towards each other and the capstone will overlap the tower on all sides.”
“This river jade is beautiful. Is it valuable?”
“It’s rare here. It comes from the east on caravans. I don’t know its value. Merlin gives it to me.”
“It looks like you’re almost done, Da. Will you join us tonight?”
“No son. I like to finish my tower by sleeping on top the first night.”
“I know what happens tonight.”
Alarm bells rang in Gwilym’s head. He knew? How could he know? “What happens tonight, son?”
“It’s Beltane. All the town’s men and women dance around the fires and …mate.”
“Not all of them.”
“Is that why you stay up here, Da. So no-one will want to mate with you? So you can stay true to Ma?” Hope filled Bleddyn’s face.
“There is a dedication of this tower that requires me and none of the rest of the team. It must take place on Beltane night. That is why I stay here.”
“Oh…” Bleddyn struggled with his emotions. “But…then…Oh…”
“Let me help you get back down, son. It’s harder doing that than getting up.”

Gwilym was determined to catch Grainne reaching the top of the capstone this year. Instead of paying close attention to the placement of the last piece of river jade, he did it by feel while watching the cap-stone behind him. Nothing. Then he tapped away at the first wedge, knocking it in so that the one on the other side of the river jade could be removed by his hand. Again, nothing to see. He took a chisel and placed it next to the last wedge, ready to knock it sideways and off the crenellation, leaving the capstone on nothing but river jade. He hammered the chisel twice, loosening the wedge then, scanning the whole capstone, gave it one more whack to knock it loose. The capstone settled onto the last piece of river jade and Grainne did not magically appear on the rune. Instead, he saw a flash of white as she flipped up from below and onto the capstone, landing nimbly on her feet. He had no idea she was an acrobat.
Gwilym stood and approached her with a broad smile. He had thought often about the way she had saved his children’s lives and realized that he had never thanked her properly. The almost full moon shone through her white shift, revealing her voluptuous curves.
“Welcome, Miss Grainne. How are you this fine evening?”
She strode up to him and hugged him tight, caressing his strong back and shoulders, then leaning back to feel his arms, chest and abdomen. He was bare-chested on this warm summer night so she leaned forward and kissed and sucked on his nipples, finishing each with a small nip followed by another kiss. His lust increased and he pulled her shift over her head. All she was wearing was a thin silver belt with a sickle-shaped knife in a scabbard on it. He remembered this from the last few times.
Gwilym caressed her breasts and noticed milk dripping from one nipple. So she had given birth again? Another child of mine? He knelt down and took her nipple into his mouth, sucking gently. She groaned as the sweet milk filled his mouth. His hands were caressing the backs of her thighs, her buttocks, her narrow waist. She shuddered and opened her legs to receive his caresses. Rubbing her wetness brought her to a quick climax and she rested her weight on his shoulders.
Gwilym stood and looked into her eyes. “Talk to me, Grainne. Why was I chosen for this task? I know my mother was Cambrian but I know nothing else about her. What do you know?”
“This is not the time for talking, Gwilym.” She reached between his legs and smiled when she found that he was not as impassive as his words suggested. “Now is the time for lovemaking.”
Gwilym stepped back from her, sorry to lose the warmth of her hands but insistent on controlling this situation. “I have a right to know!” he demanded.
Grainne seemed to grow in stature in front of his eyes. Her face grew regal and stern. Her eyes grew hard. Light emanated from within her. Her voice commanded him and he obeyed. “Take off your clothes! Venerate me! Love me!”
Gwilym complied, feeling like he was making love to a goddess, not a woman. His veneration allowed him to complete the sexual act regardless of his fear but it was the first time he had felt under someone else’s control during lovemaking since his first time with the Jerusalem prostitute. On reaching his climax he noticed that the mists appeared around them and completely obscured the surroundings.

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Are drones worthy of the US?

Being an immigrant to this country, I really bought into the metaphor of America being the 'Shining City on a Hill.' that the persistent strove to reach. America was the greatest country on earth. It was a hero to all struggling democracies. When I read Tolkien's stories where the eagles always came in at the last minute to save the world, I saw them as the American army rescuing Britain in World Wars I and II.

But look at us now. The eagles are crapping on the citizens of the plains. These drone strikes, while safer for US military personnel and more surgical than boots on the ground or aerial bombing attacks, make us look bad. We are flying above sovereign countries and zapping their citizens at will. The strikes are being made by members of the CIA with little oversight by other members of our government.

Is it just my bad memory or wasn't there a time when we used to say that the CIA didn't have the authority to assassinate people overseas?

It's tough for an old hawk like me to admit it but I don't like the way these drone strikes make our country look bad. I cannot imagine a kid in Yemen or Pakistan looking with pride and envy at America after a building next door explodes and some of his school-mates are killed just because they happen to be near an alleged terrorist.

The whole thing seems like Hercules' hydra to me. For every terrorist we 'surgically remove' three more are encouraged to take up arms against our country to avenge the insult to his pride.

The topic is becoming big news now with Brennan's confirmation. The Times recently ran an article about a Yemeni sheik who had just given a speech against Al Qaeda and was meeting them for talks when he was wiped out by a drone targeting the terrorists. Would have been nice to have his tribe on our side.

David Brooks wrote a nice editorial analyzing the Machiavellian thinking Obama is going through on this issue.

The Huffington Post has an emotional video showing the number of children killed by these drones on this post.

What do you think?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. February 4th, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

What is a 'Work Package?' Different people within my organization call it different things. Is it a part of an activity or a big collection of activities within the Work Breakdown Structure?

Two Minds in Brooklyn, New York.

Dear Two Minds,

The Project Management Institute has made a change in the last few years on its definition of a Work Package. The levels of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) used to be titled this from top to bottom:

Level 1: Project Name
Level 2: Tracks
Level 3: Deliverables
Level 4: Tasks
Level 5: Sub-tasks
Level 6: Work Packages

Now that they want you to conduct the Work Breakdown Structure and then define activities as a second step, here are the new levels:

Level 1: Project Name
Level 2: Tracks
Level 3: Deliverables
Level 4: Work Packages

Then you break down the Work Packages during Activity Definition into Activities. PMI doesn't want these activities showing up on the WBS so they define the Work Package as the lowest level on the WBS.

I'm not sure why they did this. But that's the way the PMI now wants it so, if you want to pass your PMP test, you need to know this terminology.

I still do my WBS the old fashioned way as shown above and do it in one shot unless the project is huge and needs to be broken down by different groups. Here's the method I use.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Al Qaeda in Mali

I would find it amusing to hear of barely educated Madrassah boys from Al-Qaeda telling the Islamic scholars of Timbuktu that they knew better what Islam was all about if it weren't for the destruction these savages caused. Fortunately, tens of thousands of priceless scrolls and documents were spirited away to protection before they were destroyed.

Too bad the people of Timbuktu had to endure Shariah law at the hands of these interlopers. This NY Times article details some of the hardships the residents had to face until they were liberated by French soldiers. Beatings of women who showed their faces, amputation of thieves' hands, executions.

Ripples from the Arab Spring are still hitting Saharan Africa in ways that frighten me. Which country will next feel the crushing blow of Hezbollah-financed hordes? Morocco?