Friday, May 31, 2013

Sixty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          “We need to see when we need how many people,” said Fred.
          “I agree. Let’s display how many we need based on the network diagram. Now we need lots of laborers for the demolition. Tomorrow we can still use some laborers to demolish the rest of the palace but we need foundation men to start digging out the foundation hole. Also we need Sawyers to be getting the right amount of wood for the tower and a Quarryman to decide how much extra stone we need and obtain that for us.”
          Fred had created a chart that was titled, ‘Laborers,’ and had written ‘Number’ on the y axis and ‘Day’ on the x axis. He placed marks indicating 1 through 12 on the y axis and was filling in ten units for how many men they were using on the first day. “How many laborers will we need tomorrow?”
          “I think some of the men acting as laborers today are really sawyers and foundation men so they will be coming off to do their jobs. But we could use as many as we could get to tear down the palace.”
          “But demolishin’ th’rest of th’palace is not on th’critical path, Gwilym.” Fred pointed this out on the network diagram.
          “You’re right, Fred! Why don’t we leave that work for filler work when our men are waiting around for something to do? That way they can focus on the critical path. What are you doing?”
          “I’m seeing how many we need of each type of people each day so tha can see when tha need to send extras home and when tha need to bring more on board.”
          “I like it!” exclaimed Gwilym. “Let’s fill it out.” They each took sheets of paper, titled with the various skill-sets and, using the network diagram and the calendar as a guide, filled out the resource requirements in what Gwilym called the resource histograms.
          They noticed two things:
          First, there were times that there was a greater need for a particular resource than they had. They indicated this by drawing a horizontal capacity line at the number of men they had on their crew with a particular skill. They chose not to do this on the laborer skill-set since they could add people there from other skills when they were not working.
          Second, there were occasions when the need for a particular skill was far lower than the number of people they had with that skill. “These will be times of furlough,” said Gwilym. “The men wanted warnings of when they would be furloughed so that they can tend to their farms. This will work for that.”
          “But what about times like these,” pointed out Fred, “when we have not enough carpenters?”

          “First we have to see which activities put that demand on. If they are on the critical path, we can’t delay them but there may be some demand coming from activities off the critical path. If that is the cause, we can delay those activities and see what that does to the schedule.”
          The two of them worked through that example and were able to put off some work which delayed another path of the plan and solved the carpenter resource problem. But now limited mason time caused another resource constraint. Plus it caused them to have to redo all the resource histograms; a lengthy and complicated process.
          “Let’s see how the men are doing while we think about a better way to handle this problem,” suggested Gwilym.

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NYC Bike Program kicks off

Finally! New York City's bike program has started and it seems to be a success. For now it is only open to the annual subscribers and only 6,000 bicycles are deployed but it will soon expand to the general public and boast 10,000 bikes.
Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, left, on Monday morning with Michele F. Imbasciani of Citibank, a sponsor of New York's new bike share program.
Times reporters raced around the city to see which was faster: bike, subway, cab or bus and the results are posted here:

Spoiler alert, the bike beat the subway and bus almost every time, and often the cab.
I've given Bloomberg his share of poor reviews in this blog but, to give the man credit, he pulled off this project and I wish it nothing but success.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. May 27, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

You have suggested creating an objective for every project that includes the cost, schedule and performance of the project. How can I do this first if we don't know that much about the project? Won't management hold my feet to the fire in meeting the cost and schedule constraints, even when I find out later that these constraints are unrealistic? 

Scared in Maryland.

Dear Scared,

You are right that I suggest the team create a Project Objective in the earliest stages of planning a project. In fact, I suggest that an objective be derived even earlier than that: before the idea has become a project, so that management can visualize what they are authorizing.

A good objective statement is a sentence of 25 words or less that contains the project's cost, schedule and performance. (Scope plus quality). This tool was developed over 50 years ago by NASA. I have used it on every project ever since I learned it almost 20 years ago.

You are also smart to be concerned about stating cost and schedule this early in the life-cycle of a project because you are afraid that these numbers will be carved in stone by management. So how do you prevent this from happening?

Remember that a project plan has a lot of elements, not the least of which is the section called: Issues, Risk and Assumptions. The reason you are nervous about committing to a schedule and budget is that you are in the earliest stages of a project and the questions that need to be answered, the assumptions that have yet to be proven and the issues and risks that have yet to be passed are at the greatest point. At the end of the project you won't be nearly as concerned.

So load up this section of your project plan and make sure that the people who are buying off on your other project constraints are also buying into the project's uncertainties.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. May 20, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

We don't currently use sponsors in our organization but I can see their value. What process should we use in picking them?

Unsponsored in Delaware.

Dear Unsponsored,

There are some key roles for the sponsors to fill on your project:
  1. Provide funding
  2. Remove obstacles above the Project Manager's pay-grade
  3. Mentor the Project Manager
  4. Provide political information to assist the Project Manager
When people see 'Provide Funding' they assume that the Sponsor must be the President of the company and make the mistake of calling this person the Sponsor for every project. That doesn't work. If you have the same \Sponsor for every project, nobody will fight for your particular project.

Best practice is that the Sponsor be at the VP level so that they can provide that mentorship and political knowledge and remove the significant obstacles. But it is best if the Sponsor is somewhat external tot he project. By this I mean that they can remain objective about the project's goals. You don't want the VP of R&D to be the sponsor of her pet development project. Instead, pull in the VP of Regulatory Affairs to apply that objective reason to this project.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sixtieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          The next day the team assembled and men started to demolish the corner of the palace where the tower was to be situated while others pulled down the rest of the palace and stacked up the stones for later use. Daylight revealed the beauty of the mosaic. Gwilym made a decision to try and rescue as much of this as possible for later use on the tower or for sale to other people. “We may need the extra money for unforeseen circumstances on this tower build.”
          Gwilym walked around with the calendar, checking off who was working and who was due to come tomorrow for laying out the foundations. He checked the way the crew were doing their jobs and made judgments on their level of various skills. Then he and Fred sat down at an easel with a blank sheet of paper and the network diagram showing all the activities and who was responsible for each and created a new document. “Let’s call this our ‘Human Resource Plan,’ Fred.”
          “We’ll list all the roles we have to fill for doing this project: Project Manager, Foreman, Sawyer, Mason, Foundation Man, Laborer, Carpenter, Quarryman, Road-builder. Then we list the names of all the men who fill those roles for us. Some can be used in two or more roles.”
          After they had done that, Gwilym took out another sheet of paper. “Some of the men were too happy day before yesterday volunteering for activities. We need to show this in a better way than just their names on activities in the network diagram. I think we’ll get some warning of their overuse if we plot the activities against the people.”
          Fred took a large sheet of paper, and wrote the names of the crew on the vertical axis. On the x axis he wrote the names of all the activities. Where they intersected he placed a letter R next to the person who volunteered to take responsibility for that activity. He placed a letter I if the person was involved with the activity. With Gwilym calling out the activities and Fred writing, they were soon finished.

          “Let’s add the role of the crew below their names so we can see which roles are overloaded,” said Gwilym. On doing so they saw that the foundation men seemed overloaded at first, then the masons, then the carpenters. That made some sense based on the nature of the work. 

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

PMBOK 4 versus 5

So the PMBOK standard changed again, like it does every four years. Any major differences?

Looks like they made it bigger, no surprise there. 618 versus 497 pages. But the big difference can be spotted on the map. The matrix that shows the processes in Process Groups versus Knowledge areas has changed: See the new one below:
PMBOK edition 5. 2013
Compare this to the fourth edition:
PMBOK edition 4. 2008
So they have decided to add another knowledge area: Stakeholder management along with a couple more processes within this knowledge area.

They also added the plan process for the knowledge areas that lacked this in the past: Scope, Time and Cost. So I suppose it has become more standardized though I question if all these planning activities were needed in the first place. Do we really need to plan how to plan?

They did change some of the names of the processes so that it's easier to see that they fall under Monitoring and Control. Control Quality, Control Communications and Control Procurements versus Perform, Report or Administer.

But the tools, inputs and outputs have been radically changed. See this link to a new cheat-sheet for studying for your PMP exam. They have added 'Meetings' to the list of tools in about half of the processes. Really? Like we don't already have too many meetings? 

Anyway, prepare to take the new test starting in August. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. May 13, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I have a team member , representing Finance, who is critical to the success of my project but her only activities appear at the beginning and end of the project. Is she a core team member? Does she need to attend every status meeting?

Disjointed in Delaware

Dear Disjointed,

A core team member is anyone who has active contributions to make on activities for the project but is not an extended team member. An extended team member contributes to the project but through an extended team leader (ETL) within their function. That ETL is the core team member and should attend all status meetings.

You have a typical project where some team members are with you through the thick and thin of the project and some only make occasional appearances.

Meeting my philosophy of never wasting anyone's time, I recommend talking with this occasional team member and telling her that she does not need to attend team meetings after she finishes her first activity until it is close to her next activity coming due. She should continue to read the status reports but she needn't waste her time in weekly meetings.

If she wants to attend the meetings, by all means allow her to do so. You don't want to alienate her. But show respect for the value of her time by allowing her to make that choice.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Friday, May 10, 2013

Efficiently turning Garbage into Energy

Brian Cliff Olguin for The New York Times
Trash piled nine yards high is converted to heat and electricity at a waste-to-energy incinerator in Oslo. By   Published: April 29, 2013
Oslo is so efficient in converting garbage to heat and energy that it is importing garbage from Sweden, England and Ireland and is even looking to import it from the US.

Why don't we import their technology and burn our own garbage?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Post Office Project coming to an end

Ruth Burns checks incoming mail at a Postal Service remote encoding center in Salt Lake City.
I always thought that local post office clerks looked at envelopes and determined what was written there to deliver it to the right address. So poor handwriting meant that the local clerk had to work a little harder. But according to this article, the Post Office has for years been using optical character recognition to determine addresses from people's handwriting.

Starting with a success rate of 35%, these machines have built up to a 98% success rate for hand-written addresses. That means that the 55 centers that used to do this work have been downsized to one center in Salt Lake City that deciphers all the mail that the computers can't handle.

With 700 people reading an image every 90 seconds 24/7/365, they have replaced the local clerks figuring everything out themselves. Efficiency, but at a cost. Now that the local people aren't doing this work, we get mistakes made by people 200 miles away choosing the most likely address.

Just like when my college cafeteria job switched from knowing the names of those who were permitted to eat to running cards through a scanner, the human element is lost. But it sure beats paying an extra penny per letter right? Or does it?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. May 6, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I'm trying to crash my project wherever possible but I'm seeing resistance in adding team members on tasks. I know the old adage of 'You can't ask nine women to give birth to a baby and complete it in one month,' but I'm not doing that. The tasks I'm crashing are things like writing and testing code, and conducting interviews. Where is the problem?

Crash victim in North Carolina.

Dear Crash Victim,

Crashing tasks, adding resources to complete it faster sometimes runs into the law of diminishing returns. This usually comes into play when your company constrains your project on cost. If 'Money is no Object' you can crash all you like and spend thousands of dollars reducing the timeline by a day. You don't have that luxury.

Here is a graph of the law:
The theory works like this. If you have a fixed piece of capital, like a machine, you can add workers to it to achieve higher returns. Run three shifts, run during breaks, run it on weekends and you get a better return on the investment. Of course, if you apply ten people to the machine, they will have to start lining up to take turns on it so the additional investment is providing you with a lower return. Even before that point, you stop having time to maintain the equipment and it breaks down.

How that applies to Project Management is this. If you initially assigned one person to code part-time for four weeks and that task ended up on the critical path, you can speed it up by assigning her full-time to the task. Because you lose the interruptions, the task can theoretically be completed in less than one week. So we are on the left side of the curve moving up the returns axis.

Adding a second person to the coding may move you further up the curve or over the other side, depending on your company culture. I met one company who always uses two people to a computer so that they are overseeing each other's work and learning from each other's style. Other companies believe that two programmers get in each other's way and recode unnecessarily costing more time. In that case they are moving down the right side of the curve.

Your job is to determine where that maximum point is and avoid going past that point. On the curve shown above, they recommend not wasting time trying for that last 10% of improvement. Just keep adding resources until the improvement slows and stay there.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fifty-ninth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          Before daybreak, Gwilym climbed the hill to the palace. He brought a rag to cover his nose and carried a few tools with him: a sledge hammer, a chisel, a shovel and a stiff broom. On reaching the palace at daybreak, he walked to the outside of the palace wall on the slope leading to the fields above town. He took the chisel and sledge hammer and broke holes in the wall. As the rocks fell out, so did some of the cow dung and a lot of the smell. He tied the rag over his mouth and nose.
          After making three holes in the wall, he was surprised to see Fred approaching from the fields below him bearing a shovel. Fred looked at the holes Gwilym made and started digging trenches from each to trenches he had already dug in the fields below. Looking further down at the fields Gwilym saw workers and a team of oxen digging ditches and dikes. Gwilym was starting to understand what Fred was up to but he was too busy to stop and verify. If he wanted to impress these men and get them to live up to their commitments, he must finish his job today.
          Gwilym moved around to the entrance of the palace and opened the end of the aqueduct there. Water rushed out and filled the courtyard in front of the palace. Some entered the palace but was stopped by the mounds of manure inside. The palace overlooked the sea and was positioned at the lowest point in the courtyard. Walls connected the palace to the other buildings so the water pooled up in front of the doorway and could not escape elsewhere.
          He jogged upstream along the aqueduct and reached the swollen river. Here he completely opened the sluice to the aqueduct. He ran back to the palace, watching in satisfaction as the water rushed by him in a torrent. On arrival he saw that the level of water in the courtyard was rising and was pouring in through the doors of the palace. He ran around to the back where he had opened the holes and saw some seeping out full of manure. He attacked these holes with his shovel. As he pulled hardened manure out, watery poop took its place and started gushing through. He attacked each hole in turn, freeing blockages as they came. When all were running freely, he opened two more holes and spent the next three hours keeping the watery manure flowing out of these holes. Fred dug trenches leading from the new holes. Gwilym shook his head in amazement at his foreman and they both smiled.
          Gwilym broke for dinner, washed his hands in the aqueduct and ate the bread and cheese the tavern-keeper had given him last night. After dinner he walked back around to the front of the palace and entered. Water was flowing through the palace in wide rivers, clearing off a beautiful mosaic that lay under all this. He toiled hard now, pushing manure into these piles with his shovel and watching it flow out of the holes. The water was doing most of the work, all Gwilym had to do was keep feeding the flow with fresh manure.
          After several hours, however, the water was going straight out the holes and Gwilym was expending all his strength chopping away at the old, compressed manure to knock chunks into the flow. He knew he had to soften it up. So he moved large sections of dried manure to cover the five exit holes and stepped out while the palace filled with manure. This gave him a chance to rest outside for an hour, wash his hands and have a snack. He then re-entered, moved the blocks and worked again with softened manure. He repeated this sequence several times.
          By an hour before nightfall he was pretty sure he could finish it all before tomorrow morning but realized it would be difficult in the dark. He would have to go back to the village and gather some brushes to light. He blocked up the exits again so that the manure would have a chance to soften again while he was gone.
          Walking out into the courtyard, he was surprised to see many villagers gathered watching his efforts. They broke into wild applause and clapped him on the shoulder when he approached. Tollemache said, “Ve knew you couldn’t do it viz just your strength. But you’ll need your strength as vell as your brains to finish dis today. Can ve help?”
          Gwilym shook his head. “I want to live up to my end of the bargain. I just need some lights so that I can continue.”
          “Not if ve help you finish ze job before dark.”
          The men went inside and wielded the shovels and brooms they were carrying and started breaking up the compressed manure.
          “Wait!” yelled Gwilym. “We have a bargain!”
          “You already von de bet!” yelled back Tollemache as the rest of the crew nodded in agreement. “I’m sure you vill help us finish our activities if you are not busy.”
          With the whole crew feeding the streams, the men cleaned out the last of the manure in an hour, then walked back to the tavern for drinks on Gwilym. He shouted for the tavern-keeper to ply the men with drinks, then went back outside to wash himself clean before re-entering. The men cheered him on arrival and Gwilym toasted them with ale.
          “Tomorrow we start laying out the tower!”
          Another cheer from the men and then Tollemache stood up to speak. “You and Fred vill make a lot of money from your plan. Ve congratulate you on outsmarting us.”
          “What did Fred do, hire some people to fertilize your fields and use the free manure to do it?”
          Tollemache roared. “No Gvilym! He is smarter zan zat! He bought ze fields below ze palace for almost nozing, and has been digging trenches all yesterday and today to spread out all ze free manure all over zem. He even has a holding pond up top so he can add manure later. He owns ze best fertilized fields in Salthouse right now. And a fertilizer farm.”
          A smile of realization had been spreading over Gwilym’s face during this speech and, seeing this, the men laughed even louder, seeing how their boss had been outsmarted by his foreman.
          “Good for Fred! Let’s have a toast for Fred and his new wife. May they live in prosperity!”
          “Prost!” cheered the men.
          Just then the men cheered even louder and Gwilym noticed that Fred had entered. The men all shook his hand and slapped his back and offered him drinks. Fred gave a shy smile and made his way to Gwilym.
          “Are tha mad at me, Gwilym? For taking advantage of tha. I were thinkin’ today, I should split the profits with tha. I couldn’t have done it without tha.”
          “Not at all Fred! My idea solved my problem. You took my waste and made something else for yourself. May you and Heilin be prosperous farmers here.”
          “Oh, no Gwilym! I’ve no wish to be a farmer. I’ll let the villagers get jealous of that good land and someone will offer to buy th’fields back from me at a good profit. My dream is to be a Project Manager like you. I just wanted th’profits to buy my Heilin a fine house to live in.”
          Both men were bone-tired from all the digging they had done that day and so they prepared their beds in the hall and were ready to sleep at the same time as the twins. Before closing his eyes Gwilym asked Fred, “What do you think of adding something to the project plan about gathering the team? Some kind of plan for getting the right kind of people at the right time to do the things we need. If we do that right, we can make sure that we don’t waste money having the wrong people on activities or sitting around when there is no work for them or have the project wait until we get those right people on the project.”
          “Sounds good, Gwilym. Let’s talk about it more on the morrow.”

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Danes rethinking Welfare State

According to a recent NY Times article, the people of Denmark are rethinking their welfare state. In this most generous of welfare states, the common people are asking if work ethic is being undermined.

The article examines a welfare mother who has been receiving $2,700 a month for the last 20 years.

Some of the benefits of this system boggled my mind.
  • Free health care
  • Free university education
  • Students are entitled to six years of stipends, about $990 a month, to complete a five-year degree
  • Hefty payouts to even the richest citizens
  • Parents in all income brackets get quarterly checks from the government to help defray child-care costs
  • The elderly get free maid service if they need it, even if they are wealthy
  • Short work hours 
  • Long vacations
  • Lengthy paid maternity leaves
  • A de facto minimum wage approaching $20 an hour
  • 9 percent of the potential work force have lifetime disability status
How do they pay for this? First of all there is a marginal tax rate of 56.8% on incomes greater than $80,000. Yikes! But the system is still not sustainable as the population ages.
The work force has far more older people to support. About 18 percent of Denmark’s population is over 65, compared with 13 percent in the United States.
Only 3 of Denmark’s 98 municipalities will have a majority of residents working in 2013. This is a significant reduction from 2009, when 59 municipalities could boast that a majority of residents had jobs.

This system has to change. Already there are signs of frugality creeping in: The unemployed used to be able to collect benefits for up to four years. Now it is two. Still a long way from the six months we get in the US.

Will this country, like many US states and municipalities, cut costs before they go broke?