Monday, April 29, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. April 29, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

My team has a SharePoint site where I post all the documents relevant to the project. But I still get Team Members complaining that I never sent them the document they need to make their decision. Or they missed something that was clearly on the status report. What can I do?

I told you so in Morristown, NJ

Dear I told you so,

Life was so easy when we typed up a status report and hand delivered it to our team members. We could look them in the eye and say, "I put it on your chair yesterday."

But that was before all these new technological ways of avoiding doing our jobs came along. First there were e-mails that could be deleted unread, now there is a SharePoint site that need never be opened.

There is a trend that moves us away from 'Push' communications to 'Pull.' We used to push the communications onto people. We told them the information they needed to know or we wrote it down and handed it to them. Now we update the SharePoint site and expect our Team Members to check it regularly.

But people haven't become more proactive in the meantime. We are all still busy and won't go out of our way to find extra work to do.

So push the communication onto them. Send them an e-mail with the link in big letters for them to click on to get the updates. And follow up on them. I don't know how they do it but Cadence knows whether or not I have downloaded the updated files they send to me because they will nag me if I haven't done it.

Don't hide behind technology. It is still your job to make sure everyone reads what they need to. If you've seen the communication model, I'll write a post about this soon, the key point is that the person communicating, you, must ensure that the communication is received as intended.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send me your questions at

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Electric car batteries smooth out power distribution

In a previous post I discussed the use of home water heaters to store excess electricity generated by wind farms. The problem is simple, Electric companies want to deliver to a constant demand of power at 60 cycles per second. But with wind and solar power generation being up to the whims of mother nature, supply is not so constant.

An unexpected solution to this is the growing numbers of electric cars that are plugged in to charging units during this unstable time. With the addition of a small gadget, these cars can send electricity back into the grid when needed. While the cars will still charge, they will do so in fits and starts, evening out the peaks and valleys of the power supply.

Why should electric car owners do this? Presumably it would take a little longer to bring the cars up to full charge and, if you unplug it after it has just discharged some power, you may be starting off with less than a full charge. The answer, as always, is money. Cars with the gadget added will earn $5 a day. That adds up to $1,800 a year for a gadget that costs $400.

This won't work until there are a lot of electric cars out there with this capability but pilot programs are starting up. Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Electric Cab Project in New York

New York want to experiment with replacing their fleet of yellow cabs with electric versions in a continuing effort to make the city greener. As this article presents, they will start this week with six but hope to convert 1/3 of the fleet by 2020.

Since NY cabbies want to maximize the time they spend driving during their shift, the Limousine commission needs to encourage these drivers to make up for the 60 - 90 minutes they will be charging their cabs. They have done that by reducing the daily rental rate and allowing them to decline fares that put them out of range of charging units when they are nearing the end of a charge.

The big surprise I received when reading this article is that a typical cab only drives about 100 miles in a typical day. Since the car goes 80 miles on a charge, only one charge a day is expected.

One cabbie suggested placing charging units near restaurants with bathroom facilities so that the drivers can be efficient during their charging times.

It seems like a better solution would be to have 23 cabs for every 24 drivers and allow them to switch out one per hour with the car they are driving on a regular schedule. But maybe drivers are particular about which car they use.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dear PM Advisor, April 22, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I'm a Team Member on a couple of projects, plus I have a regular boss. That means I have three bosses! Sometimes they tell me to do opposite things. What should I do?"

Whipsawed in New Mexico.

Dear Whipsawed,

Even though this column is all about Project Management, I'm going to tell you to listen to your Functional Manager (FM), not your Project Manager (PM) whenever there is a conflict. First of all, the FM is the person who reviews you at the end of the year so think of her as the one who signs your paycheck. Secondly, the FM is the person with whom you will have the lasting relationship. She is responsible for developing your skills, mentoring you through difficult stretches and grooming you to take her job.

The PM, on the other hand, is a blood-sucking leech. All he wants to do is take your knowledge and skills and squeeze them out of you for the life of the project, then throw away your dried up husk when he's done. He has no loyalty to you and wants no long-lasting relationship. If you are really good, he might ask for you again on his next project but chances are that his next project doesn't need anyone with your skills.

So when there is a conflict, listen to your Functional Manager. Tell the PM that she must resolve the conflict with the FM then duck your head and get back to work.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fifty-eighth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          The boys had a happy reunion with Fred when they awoke and questioned him all about his new life with Heilin. After they had broken their fast, Gwilym prepared the room for his planning session. He and Fred laid out all the sheets, quills, ink and pieces of leather. He posted the charter on one of the walls and prepared scrolls titled Scope and Requirements.
          The crew entered and Gwilym had them all introduce themselves to everyone with their name and the role they would play on the project. Gwilym introduced Fred to the crew. He was surprised to find that many had met him already.
          Gwilym led the team through the planning steps that were becoming familiar to him by now. He read them the charter and asked about any stakeholders he didn’t know about yet. He led the team through a session where they determined the requirements of the tower. Then he led them through the scoping session, documenting everything on the appropriate scrolls and posting them on the walls when completed.
          Then he led them through the Work Breakdown Structure and Activity Definition sessions, obtaining all the leather pieces containing the drawings of the activities to be completed. The ‘Remove shit from palace’ piece received much laughter along with some concern about the immensity of it. When the activities were doled out, no-one wanted to volunteer for this job so Gwilym took it himself.
          When they were sure that all the activities had been documented, they laid them out on the large bull-hide in the order that made the most sense. While some work could continue while the palace was being mucked out, it became clear that this activity would have to be completed before early activities like digging the foundation hole could be started. The men became dejected on reflecting that the real work wouldn’t even start this year.
          Gwilym then asked the people who had volunteered to lead each activity to estimate its duration. He left the cleaning the palace activities until last. All the men looked at him to see when the real tower building activities would start.
          “All right. Let’s see. The duration of this activity will be one day. Now, what does–”
          He was interrupted by the cries of incredulity from his team.
          “How can you–”
          “That’s not poss–”
          “Are you kidd–”
          He held up his hands and the shouting stopped. He had everyone’s attention now. “Let’s make a deal. I promise to complete my activity on time if you promise to meet the duration of yours. Is that fair?”
          They all laughed at this and swaggered about, sure that they didn’t need to try too hard to finish their activities on time.
          They all broke for dinner at this point, some of them questioning Gwilym on how he intended to clean it out in one day by himself. He gave nothing away.
          After dinner, Gwilym worked with the men to determine the cost of the project. Each activity now had a responsible man, the other resources needed to complete it and the duration. This allowed Gwilym to assign a cost in man days to it. Some had material costs involved so Gwilym asked the locals the price of timbers, etc. and added that to the labor hours. Then Gwilym aggregated these costs to each deliverable and then to the overall project. Due to the low daily rate of the men, he saw that he would complete the project under budget. Of course, that assumed nothing went wrong. Something always did, so Gwilym had a reserve in hand.
          The men were dismissed and Gwilym transcribed the schedule onto the calendar. Fred asked to be dismissed. “What are you up to, man?” Gwilym asked.
          “All will be clear tomorrow, Gwilym.” Fred touched his nose and walked out. He returned after dark again.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cool Wheelchair car project

For those who are wheelchair-bound and don't want to spend a fortune for a wheelchair accessible van or hassle their friends and family to drive them around, here is a neat option for driving around town.

It only goes 25 miles per hour and has a range of 45 - 60 miles. But some advantages are that it only costs $25,000 and runs on electricity. But the big plus is the convenience. You simply wheel yourself in, harness up, grab the handlebars and drive. You can park at right angles to the curb so that you can wheel right out onto the sidewalk. So for running errands around town, the Kenguru is perfect.

The story behind the story is how this came to be. Stacy Zoern, who was wheelchair-bound and had just totaled her $80,000 van was Googling wheelchair vans and came across this company in Hungary who had just lost their funding. She made friends with the owner, got some financing and now they are being made in America.

Next up is a slightly larger one that will accommodate an electric wheelchair so that Stacy can finally have her own version.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Automatic Sheet Music Turner

Watching my son's concert last night I was surprised that the musicians still had to turn their sheets of music by hand. Especially the pianists, causing a brief stoppage of music. I asked my wife, "Why isn't there an app for that?"

This morning I saw that someone had invented a battery operated page turner but that seemed a little primitive. So I searched and found this App that almost does what I pictured.

While my idea had it scroll at a certain speed given the song's tempo, this app listens to you play and keeps track with when you need to turn the page. It follows along, even as you change tempo, make mistakes and pause. It can distinguish your playing above background noise and even other people playing music in the background.

The only problem is that the app still moves one page at a time. Can't someone create an app that scrolls down the lines so you always see the line you are working on, one above and two below? Or is everyone so used to pages of music that they cannot adjust to a scroll?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. April 14, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

What's TCPI?

Earned Value in Manhattan

Dear Earned Value,

Judging by your name, you are aware that TCPI is one of the calculations you use in Earned Value Management.It is pretty simply explained though a little more difficult to calculate. In general it means: What return do you need to get on your future project spends to ensure you complete the project on budget?

Let's look at a simple example.
Client is paying vendor $5,000 per document to create 10 documents over 10 weeks assuming 40 hours per week at $125 per hour.

5 weeks into the project, where are we? We expected 5 documents worth $25,000. Planned Value, PV = $25,000
However, only 4 documents turned over from vendor. Earned Value, EV = $20,000
And, the vendor billed client 240 hours for the generation of the four reports. Actual Cost, AC  = $30,000

So in this case we have a Cost variance, CV = EV - AC of $10,000
And we have a Schedule Variance, SV = EV - PV of $5,000

Cost Performance Index, the indication of how much value we are getting for every dollar spent is:
CPI = EV/AC = 20/25 = 0.80

In order for us to complete the project on budget, we need to have a To Complete Performance Index TCPI far enough above 1. The formula is: TCPI = (BAC-EV)/(BAC-AC) where BAC is Budget at Completion or the original project budget.

Let's see how this works in our example.
TCPI = (50-20)/(50-30) = 30/20 = 1.50

So on the above project, we need to get $1.50 for every future dollar spent to ensure we complete on budget. A tall order but one that sounds right given that we are already halfway through the project and spending a lot more than we were supposed to.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher saved England from itself

With the Euro zone splitting into the haves and have-nots it is interesting to see where England stands and why. The British never adopted the Euro largely due to Mrs. Thatcher's insistence that it would be dragged down by the weaker economies. She was right.

She was also responsible for fighting off the descent into socialism that has plagued some of the Southern European countries which are falling into default. By standing strong against budget deficits and the militant coal miners she pulled Britain through the austerity programs early enough to place the country on strong footing. More importantly she did not wait until it was too late, a lesson Greece and Spain could learn.

She had her detractors. "Ding Dong, the witch is dead'" is rising to the top spot in the British charts. But strong leaders do what's right for their countries, regardless of what is popular. And Britain stands financially firm due the programs she put in place. Give the woman her due.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. April 7, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

What's the difference between Theories X, Y and Z management styles?

Algebra in Waltham, MA

Dear Algebra,

I remember getting this one wrong when I took my PMP exam 15 years ago. I since learned that McGregor has Theory X and Y. Ouchi is responsible for Theory Z.

You can take the time to read the full books here.
Or just get the summaries on Wikipedia: X and Y or 

But, if all you want to do is pass the relevant questions on the PMP test, here is all you need:
Theory  Theorist              What is it?                                                                      
X: McGregor Managers have to stay on top of dishonest workers to make them work
Y: McGregor Workers are honest, managers can trust them to work unsupervised
Z: Ouchi         Provide workers with security and they will be loyal to management

You can remember this by the fact that the Japanese guy wants to treat workers like traditional Japanese companies did back in the 80's. And as far as X and Y is concerned, X is bad like when they X out bad singers in the Idol show.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fifty-seventh excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

     The next morning, Tollemache, the man who did most of the talking last night, took Gwilym to the palace. The cows had been led forth to feed in the hills. From this vantage point, Gwilym could see that the pasture land was on the hills further inland. The fields that led down to the shore looked sparse and poorly farmed.
     The stench from the old palace made Gwilym’s eyes water. The two men passed the palace, walked uphill to a smaller manor house, and knocked on an ornate door made of two contrasting woods, bound with brass. The door was opened by a shriveled old man. His bald and bulbous head was somehow supported by his thin smoked-beef neck. His clothes and skin looked as though he had never washed and the smell of him even overcame the strong smell of the yard. Gwilym blinked and introduced himself and his project.
Anian looked over the contract, examined the gold pieces and agreed to the price offered. “I’ll move my cows to other buildings. Have you seen the palace?”
     “Only from the outside.”
     “Then let me show you. You’re using the stone from the palace to build the tower. Make sure you don’t use any other stones of mine. I need them all.”
     As they entered the palace, Gwilym was stopped by a wall of smell. He had to hold his nose shut to walk in. The palace was a large, high-ceilinged room supported by pillars. On walking in they were soon climbing a ramp of what could only be trodden down cow-dung. The floor was raised at least four feet high with the waste. On top of the compressed dung were mounds of fresher dung, waist high in places, where the herds must push through to find places to lay down.
     Gwilym fought his way back to the entrance and took in a deep breath of the somewhat fresher air outside. “I think it will be easier to see things from out here!” he shouted back to Anian and Tollemache.         
     When they emerged, Tollemache also breathed easier but Anian seemed not to notice the stench. They toured the outside of the palace, Gwilym claiming stones for the tower and the two men agreeing on the best corner. A thick stone wall connected the palace walls to the other buildings in the settlement.From the constraints of the property and the sun’s position, Gwilym noted that the tower must be turned to face off the compass point, with one of the faces pointing straight back to Huish. Curious, indeed. Now he was second-guessing himself on which direction he would want to place the rune-stone cap. How did I decide the direction in the past? I don’t remember making a conscious decision. They just seemed right when I lowered them into position.
     Their tour completed and the money paid for the land, Anian asked when they would begin working. “I’ll be sending men up in two days to clear the palace,” he replied.
They went back to the village, breathing easier with each step away from the old palace. “You weren’t kidding about it being full of shit,” he remarked to Tollemache.

     Tollemache told him about the town. Salthouse had been an old Roman settlement that had been mostly abandoned when the Romans left. The name of the town came from the salt marshes that lay between the town and the sea. The original, British, land-owners farmed the rich fields uphill and inland from the sea. That left the Angles owning the poor sea-side lands with low yields due to the salty ocean spray. They made more money from fishing than farming. They were trying to fertilize their fields with fish bones but it was going to take a long time to make them productive. Some still boiled the marsh water to create salt bricks but these were only sold locally and in nearby Northwic. Whiter, continental salt was more in demand elsewhere. There was a strong bond between the British and Angles lately because men from both sides fought off the last Saxon invasion four years ago.

     Fred was in the tavern when they returned. Gwilym introduced him around. Then the two of them returned to the job site, discussing the problem. Gwilym followed the aqueduct upstream to the river that fed it, finding it swollen with late spring rains, roaring down the hill to empty into the marshes. The wooden sluice to the aqueduct was almost closed off, allowing a trickle in to water the cows back at the palace.
Gwilym turned to Fred and said, “I’m going to bet those men I can clear the stables of shit in one day!” He looked in triumph at Fred who was staring off into the distance, his thoughts on something else. “Thinking about Heilin, Fred?”
     “Yes I am. Can I have my wages for this job in advance please, Gwilym?”
     Gwilym was shocked at this unusual request but, trusting his friend, assented.
     “Please don’t tell anyone of thy aqueduct plan until tomorrow.”
As they walked back to the town, Gwilym’s mind went back to the problems he had ahead of him and started working out his project plan. This left Fred with his own thoughts. On arrival, Fred received his advance wages and walked off.
     The Angle villagers came to the tavern to sign up for work on the tower. Gwilym soon gathered his crew, telling them that he would need them at certain times and not others so they should be prepared to work on and off for the duration of the project, being paid a daily rate.
     “Ve are farmers! Ve cannot be called from our fields on a moment’s notice. Ve must haf some varning,” one protested.
     “That’s correct,” replied Gwilym. “Tomorrow we will plan out this whole project and learn when you will all be needed. I will keep this plan updated and you can come to the tavern any time to see when I will need you.”
     The men walked away, grumbling about the new ways of this foreigner. Bleddyn came in with his brothers and greeted his father, asking about the men’s complaints he had overheard.
     Gwilym smiled at his son and told him not to worry. “Men always distrust what is new. You have to prove to them that it will work better than their old ways and they’ll fight you while you do. But, once you’ve proven it, most will go to the new way. This has been a truth since Adam’s day.”
Llawen saw Fred’s pack in the corner of the tavern. “Where’s Fred, Da? I want to show him this big shell I found.”
     “He’s touring the town, Llawen. He’ll be back for supper, I’m sure.”
     Gwilym spent the rest of the afternoon preparing his papers for the planning session on the morrow. Fred did not return until well after dark. 

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. April 1st, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

We currently don't budget our internal projects. We keep track of neither dollars of internal resources or even hours. I brought this up to management and their response is that there is no need to since we are already paid. What's wrong with this argument? 

Free in Florida.

Dear Free,

Of course there's no need to account for your hours. Since the company pays you for your time already, you work for free. And that way they can give you thousands of projects because your time is free and you have infinite hours available.

April Fools!

This error is pretty common in many companies that have a low level of Project Management maturity. By not accounting for at a minimum the number of hours you work, your company is not accounting for the opportunity cost of you working on the new project. By piling more and more projects on top of your existing work the current projects fall further and further behind.

Start by accounting for the hours you are required to work for your project. Then account for the hours required by the other projects and the hours required by your ongoing operations. This should not add up to more than about 45 hours per week. If it does, you have no time for your family. And a proper work-life balance is the most important thing to have.

If it does add up to more than 45 hours per week, you need to prioritize your work so that you do the most important work first and the rest in order. Multitasking is not the answer. If your company does not prioritize your work, you need to do it yourself.

You are doing no-one any favors starting ten projects a year. You only add value to the company by finishing three projects a year.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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