Saturday, November 30, 2013

Seventy-fourth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          Gwilym’s heart leapt at this. I have two more sons. What are they like? Grainne held his hand in hers as they walked to the pavilion. She opened the flap and Gwilym saw a straw pallet on the ground next to a pair of saddle bags and a small harp. The boys were sitting on the pallet playing some quiet game when they entered.
          “Madoc, Brice, I want you to meet your father.”
          They both looked up at Gwilym with puzzled expressions. Madoc was just over three; Gwilym calculated that Brice must be about 15 months.
          “We don’t have fathers in Avalon,” said Madoc.
Grainne stepped over to the pallet and sat next to them, Brice crawling into her lap. She stroked Madoc’s hair. “Every living thing has a father. Some father’s stay with their children like robins, some go away like deer. In Avalon, we are like the deer. The mother stays with the children, the fathers go away.”
          “Why Ma? In the villages, the fathers stay with the children. I like that better.”
          “Avalon is a special place. Men can’t live there.”
          “Meagan says that boys have to leave Avalon when they are three. Am I ever going back?”
Grainne’s face crumpled in on itself like an empty falling sack. Tears started to flow from Madoc’s eyes. Brice stroked his mother’s cheeks. Gwilym was frozen by Madoc’s words and the raw emotions in the pavilion. Grainne was the first to speak. “Madoc. You are my most precious thing. I won’t let you go. I will fight for you. If you have to leave Avalon, Brice and I will come with you.”
          “Thanks, Ma.” Both boys clung to her. She looked at Gwilym with tear-filled eyes.
          Gwilym squatted on his haunches in front of the group. He held out his hand to each boy in turn. “It’s very nice to meet you. My name is Gwilym. I am a builder of towers.” With wide eyes they shook his hand in turn.
          “You must be Madoc and you turned three a few months ago.” Madoc nodded.
          “And you must be Brice and you had your first birthday around the same time.”
          “The same day!” shouted Madoc. “We share the same birthday.”
          “How curious,” said Gwilym meeting Grainne’s eyes. Her tears dried up as she sensed what he hinted at. A wry smile crossed her face.
          “I have an idea,” he said. “I’ll tell you three interesting things about myself. Two will be the truth and one will be a lie. You have to judge which one is the lie. Then it will be your mother’s turn, then Madoc’s, then Madoc can tell us two truths and a lie about Brice. Fair?”
          They all nodded, Brice because he saw his brother’s interest.
          “All right then. I am six and a half feet tall. I can read five languages and I have traveled all the way to China.”
          The boys stared at him with open mouths. “Remember, one of those stories is a lie.”
          “Ma says we should never lie,” said Madoc.
          “A lie is all right if it is a story and we tell the truth right after,” said Grainne. “I know you are six and a half feet tall and I know you have traveled so I guess that you cannot read all those languages.”
          “Me too!” shouted Madoc. Brice nodded.
          “No,” said Gwilym. “I do read those languages. British, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Aramaic. Also some Saxon and Angle. I have traveled, but never further east than Mecca. I thought about joining a caravan once but decided against it. Your turn, Grainne.”
          Grainne pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “I can sing a thousand songs, I am very good at Mathematics and I have a pet dog called Tessa.”
          “I know!” shouted Madoc. Grainne smiled and told him, “Guests first.”
          Gwilym looked around the pavilion. “I can see the harp and I’ve heard your singing. I hope you’ll share more of your thousand songs with me soon. Both your sons’ eyes opened when you said Tessa so I’m sure that’s true. I guess you’re not good with Mathematics.”
          “Ha!” exclaimed Madoc and Brice clapped his hands.
          Grainne smiled. “Just like a man to assume I’m no good at Mathematics. As it happens, I’m excellent at the subject. You, on the other hand, are lacking. Does it make sense that I would know one thousand songs at my age? At any age?”
          Gwilym shook his head and smiled to himself. “You got me there. What about you Madoc? What can you tell me about yourself?”
          Madoc was ready and the words burst forth from him. “I love my dog. I love cake. I can climb the tallest trees.” Then he rolled back on the pallet and laughed out loud.
          Gwilym looked impressed. “Such a brave boy, climbing the tallest trees at 3 years old.”
          Madoc stopped laughing and looked at Gwilym with open mouth. “How did you know?”
          “But which one is the lie? I saw your eyes widen when your mother talked of Tessa so I can’t believe you don’t love your dog. That means you must be just like your Dad. You don’t like cake but you love pie.”
          “Yes!” he yelled. Then he jumped off the pallet and ran to Gwilym, giving him a fierce hug. Gwilym was shocked, then returned the hug with his powerful arms. My son!
          “What about Brice? Can you tell us two truths and a lie about him, Madoc?” asked Gwilym.
Madoc held Brice’s face, stared at him and thought for a long time. Grainne met Gwilym’s eye and they both smiled at this tableau. Such cute boys! Then Madoc announced he was ready.
          “Brice poops in his clothes. He loves green vegetables. He is always nice to Tessa.” He sat back and rubbed his hands together with delight. Grainne looked on him with evident pride.
          Gwilym answered. “I think I can smell from here that he still poops in his clothes. So did I at his age.” Madoc burst out laughing.
          “No boy likes green vegetables at his age.” Madoc jumped up and down but held his hand over his mouth to keep from speaking.
          “And I know he loves his dog so he always is nice to Tessa. So the story about the vegetables must be the lie.”
          Madoc let go of the hand and shouted in delight, “No! He loves vegetables. He’s so weird! More than pie even. Yuck! But sometimes he pulls Tessa’s tail and Tessa doesn’t like that. I tricked you! I tricked you!” He came back over and hugged Gwilym and then snuggled in again with his mother.
          Gwilym was shaking his head slowly back and forth. The emotions within him were so strong that tears started to fall down his cheeks. Pride in his sons. Learning about them. Seeing how Grainne acted with them. The knowledge that they had to leave Avalon. Curiosity if they would be fostered with him. Lust over Grainne. Wonder about Grainne’s statement that she would never leave her children even if ordered to by Avalon. Love for Grainne. Love for Grainne? Yes.
          His vision blurred as the tears fell. He felt a boy’s arms around his neck and he hugged the boy back. From the size of him, he realized with surprise that it was Brice, not Madoc who was hugging him. Then he felt another set of arms around him from behind and he reached an arm around to pat Madoc. Then Grainne wrapped them all up with her arms.
          Madoc said. “It’s all right, Father. You only got two wrong. I’m sorry I made Brice’s questions so hard.”
          Gwilym laughed then and told the boy, “I’m crying because I’m happy. I’m so happy to meet you. My boys!”
          “Come Madoc, help me gather some mistletoe,” announced Grainne, standing up. Madoc and Brice followed her to the base of an old oak tree where she looked up and pointed to the parasite in the high branches. She asked Gwilym to help her to the lowest branches. From there, she scrambled nimbly up from branch to branch until she reached the mistletoe. Gwilym watched her reach under her shift and pull out a silver sickle. With the inside edge of this, she sliced the mistletoe from the tree and dropped them down into Madoc’s waiting arms. Holding the sickle in her teeth, she clambered down and dropped to her feet right in front of Gwilym.
          “That’s a nice trick,” declared Gwilym, as Madoc and Brice carried the mistletoe back to her pavilion.
Holding his gaze, she shrugged her shift off her shoulders and slipped the sickle into a silver sheath on a chain around her waist. Gwilym was inflamed with lust at her naked breasts but she lifted her shift back up and turned to follow her sons. He followed her back to the pavilion and she climbed in, picking up a harp.
          Grainne started playing. The boys sat down on the pallet. Madoc patted the space between them and asked Gwilym to sit. When he did so, Brice crawled into his lap and Madoc curled against his side.
          After a pause in playing, Grainne started up a new tune and started singing. Her voice broke out clear and perfect with no warming up. Her notes were like bells on a clear winter day. They filled the tent and clutched at his heart. He stared at her, surprised that her husky talking voice could be transformed into this set of perfect bells ringing out this song. Never missing a note, no sliding up and down to reach the highs or lows.
          The song was a happy one about the fairies living in Britain before the arrival of the big folk. It told of feasts and festivals, kings and queens, the love of the princess for a handsome commoner.
          When the song ended the boys all called for another and she indulged them for two more. Madoc demanded a song called ‘Student of the Master’ which was about a young Druidic apprentice who outsmarts his teacher. She sang a few verses of this, then said it was time for Gwilym to go. “We’ll see him tomorrow when he brings his men here for the capstone.” The boys whined but Gwilym noticed, on leaving the pavilion, that it was almost sunset and his other sons would be wondering where he was.
          Gwilym kissed Grainne then, in front of their sons, and told them all he would return right after sunrise. He hugged the boys in turn and told them, “How would you like to meet your other three brothers?”
          Madoc looked shocked and Brice copied his mood. Gwilym hastened to console them. “I’m sure you’ll love them. Their names are Bleddyn, Jac and Llawen. Bleddyn is 12 and Jac and Llawen are about a year and a half older than you, Madoc.”
          Madoc burst out crying. “Is that why you took me here, Ma? Do you give all your boys to him when they are three?”
          Gwilym was mortified that he had given the boy the wrong impression. Grainne knelt down, pursed her lips and took him in her arms. “No Madoc. Gwilym’s other sons were by a different mother. I don’t want to give you up. I’m sure you’ll be with me until you are grown men: 15 or 16. Don’t cry, son. I have met your brothers and they are nice boys.”

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Nov 25, 2013

Dear PM Adisor,

During last week's post you showed some rules of thumb for breaking down a deliverable into the activities that comprise it. Got any more? I often get told I'm breaking it down too far.

Anal in Austin, TX

Dear Anal,

I have some rules of thumb but remember they are here for the breaking. Use them when you are unsure of how far to break down your work but don't feel constrained by any of them so that you rely solely on the 'rule.'

  • 3 - 15 activities per deliverable - If you have less than 3, you either didn't break down the deliverable enough or these are activities that belong under a different deliverable. If you have more than 15, you are either breaking the deliverable down too far or you have more than one deliverable here.
  • The 'If it's easier to manage' rule - If a deliverable changes hands often, break it down so that different people will own different activities within it. For example, one person may be responsible for drafting a document or writing code but another person may be responsible for reviewing or testing it. Break that down into two separate activities.
  • The '8/80 hour' rule- If an activity takes more than 80 hours of effort, it's not broken down enough. If an activity takes less than 8 hours of effort, it's broken down too far. (Careful with this last one. Reviewing a doc the second time may take only an hour of time but it is a separate activity from the modification activity above it so the 'If it's easier to manage' rule takes precedence.) 
Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Nov 18, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I've been working with the same team members on the last three similar projects and they gave me some disturbing feedback lately. They say that the level of detail I get down to in the Work Breakdown Structure is too much. They say it made sense a few years ago but they know how to do the work and don't need to be micro-managed. 

I told them that this was the process and we were successful before so we should stick with it. 

Any advice?

Pedantic in Atlanta

Dear Pedantic,

I love that you stick to a methodology that works but project management requires flexibility. If you have a deliverable that is fairly straightforward and highly experienced team members, you don't need to manage that deliverable as tightly as those more complex deliverables, especially if your team members are less experienced.

Remember that you don't have enough time to manage every activity. The Pareto principle states that 20% of the activities will cause 80% of the delays. Use the below rule of thumb to focus on those activities that are most likely to cause delays.

Here's a rule of thumb for breaking down deliverables into activities when you conduct your Work Breakdown Structure session:

Complex Deliverable/Low experienced team members: 11 - 15 activities
Medium Deliverable/Medium experienced team members: 6 - 10 activities
Simple Deliverable/Highly experienced team members: 3 - 5 activities

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Seventy-third excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          After losing Kaitlyn, he thought this romantic life was over. Even after laying with Grainne four times, he still held his love for Kaitlyn deep in his heart. Grainne had been all about sex and magic and lust and Beltane. Everything but romantic love. Yet she had saved his boys’ lives and here was this familiar ache in his arms and chest, an ache he hadn’t felt since he was courting Kaitlyn.
          Was it possible he was in love with this infuriating Beltane priestess, this sorceress? They didn’t even share a religion. Although Gwilym was respectful of her religion, she often expressed her disdain for Christianity.
          Then there was the way she had treated him last time they had met. Using her priestess powers to force him to venerate her! Infuriating! Yet somewhat exciting. But not at all fair. He was already attracted to her; she didn’t need to use those powers. She was impatient. He’d had questions. He felt emasculated by the process. Or did he? In fact, remembering the scene, he grew hard, his manhood insisting on attention. He looked around, wondering if he should relieve himself here.
          He stepped into a forest clearing and was bumped into by a little, toddling, tow-headed boy being chased by a taller red-haired boy. They looked up at him in astonishment. Gwilym dropped his jaw as he stared at what could only be Jac at age one. The red-head looked a little like Llawen but with red hair and freckles. “Sorry sir,” said the older boy taking the younger by the hand and leading him away. There was a pavilion set up on the far side of the clearing. The boys walked that way, the younger one looking back over his shoulder at Gwilym. “Come Brice,” said the older boy, pulling gently on his arm. “Let’s go to mother.”
          Gwilym had a sudden idea. “Madoc!” he shouted. Both boys turned around. He walked towards them and knelt down. “Are you Madoc?” he asked the older boy. He nodded with wide eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, Gwilym saw the flap in the pavilion open and a woman appear. He knew who it was before he looked there.
          “Madoc, Brice, come here!” she said, looking straight at Gwilym. They scampered to her and Gwilym followed the boys at a distance. She swept them into their arms and ushered them inside the pavilion, closing the flap as Gwilym approached. He stopped in front of her and declared, “Two beautiful boys.”
Grainne smiled broadly, her pride evident. “Yes they are. So you came, Gwilym.”
          “I’ve been thinking about you for a long time. I miss you, Grainne.”

She smirked and walked away. “Are you sure it’s not this you’re missing, this you’ve been thinking about for a long time?” He followed her, watching her hips swinging, her buttocks bunching up and relaxing as she walked and thinking to himself, Well, that’s certainly part of it. He held vivid memories of their lovemaking sessions and the pleasure he had gained from that beautiful ass.
          Grainne stopped in front of a partially buried stone and he realized that this was what she had been referring to. The capstone lay right there on the edge of the clearing. She turned in triumph and he could tell from her impish smile that she had meant the double-entendre. He laughed at the way she had done this and remembered the times in the past when she had used this technique. You’ve built a fine tower. Another wonderful erection.
          She stared without shame at the swelling in his loins, stirring back to life at the sight and memories of her. She stepped up to close the space between them. She placed one hand around his neck, lowering his head and kissing him deeply. She placed her other hand on his swelling crotch, squeezing the shaft rhythmically. “It’s been too long Gwilym, take me here and now.”
          “The boys–” he began.
          “–will stay in the pavilion.” She removed her shift with one shrug and kissed him again, hard on the lips, her tongue probing. Her hand loosened his clothing and released his sex. She pumped it to a steely hardness. She turned from him and leaned over, holding onto a tree trunk and arching her back to thrust her buttocks towards him. Gwilym didn’t hesitate. He grasped her by the narrow waist, his thumb and forefingers meeting each other while the palms of his hands spread along the swelling of her buttocks. He marveled at the softness of her, the white skin decorated by occasional freckles. He entered her warm wetness, eliciting a moan of pleasure. He withdrew slowly, and then thrust in hard, each time receiving verbal confirmation that this was just how she wanted it. Her moans built to a crescendo and he timed his climax to match hers. Her legs quivered in excitement, she lost muscle control and he had to hold her weight by the waist to keep her from collapsing.
          He withdrew and redressed, thankful that her boys had obeyed her and stayed in the pavilion. His boys. Their boys! Grainne dressed herself and then hugged him, hanging from his shoulders. “That was wonderful, Gwilym. I can wait until Beltane now that you’ve tempered the fire in me a little. Where did you learn how to make love to a woman?”
          “I was a married man for ten years.”
          “That’s not where you learned how to make love. Who was she? How old were you? How old was she? Give me details.”
          “The name she used was Fatima. She never told anyone her real name. She was a Jerusalem prostitute who took a fancy to me. I was fifteen. She must have been about 35. She taught me what women like. She showed me everything. Literally. I was so embarrassed when she opened herself up to me but she wanted me to know what a woman looks like inside. She showed me where to touch, what to do, when to be gentle, when to be harsh. She taught me how to read a woman’s signs and how to follow them.”
          “How long were you with her?”
          “At first for six months. Then off and on until I married Kaitlyn 12 years later”
          “And she never charged you, all those times?”
          “She charged me a few times.”
          Grainne’s eyebrows arched. “A few times. Why?”
          Gwilym gave a rueful smile. “She charged me whenever she felt I took from her. If the lovemaking was respectful and giving and her needs were attended to, she never charged me. I was a poor child so I learned quickly.”
          Grainne’s face broke into a wide smile. “I think I’ll start that policy myself. There have been a few times that I felt I should have been paid for what some lover did to me. Not you, though. That’s why I wondered who taught you. Now, let’s meet your sons.”

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Nov 11, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I'm currently unemployed and want to boost my resume to increase my chances of being hired as a Project Manager. The state of New Jersey is offering me money to get some training. Would you suggest taking a training course in Project Management or a PMP prep course?

Novice in Morristown, NJ

Dear Novice,

The two different courses you mention serve two very different purposes. I teach both so I can provide a perspective.

A PMP Prep class will help you memorize the terminology, tools, inputs and outputs, processes and knowledge areas that comprise Project Management accourding to the Project Management Institute, (PMI). While you'll learn a lot of cool stuff, you won't know when to use the tools. More and more companies are asking for the certification so it will look good on your resume.

A course in Project Management will tell you when to use the tools and give you practice in using them. A good course will use all the PMI terminology so there is no confusion when you use the terminology with others. When you're hired as a Project Manager, you will be expected to know these skills.

If you are fortunate, you can take both courses. In that case, take the PM course first and learn how to use the tools, then add those formal training hours to those you need to sit for your PMP test. Then take the PMP prep course, pass the PMP exam and your resume should be ready. You will not only have the certification but the knowledge of how to use the tools.

If you only have money for one or the other, take the PM course. It will help you more in the long run if you know how to use the tools than it will to have the certification but not the knowledge how to use the tools. You can always tell future employers that you are working on your certification. Then take the PMP Prep course later.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Great leader in crisis dies

A great leader in a crisis that surfaced 30 years ago died today. Read his obituary in the Times for details of how Lawrence Foster helped restore confidence in Tylenol after 7 people were poisoned to death in Chicago back in 1982.

Invoking Robert Wood Johnson's famous credo whose first line refers to responsibility to patients using their products, Foster said: ‘This is the principle we’re going to follow. We’re going to tell them what we know, and we’re not going to tell them what we don’t know. We’ll tell them we don’t know, and we’ll get back to them when we do know.’ 

Then he proceeded to do the right thing, regardless of the cost, always thinking of his customers. Read what the Times obit had to say:

The strategy, which was widely viewed as a model of corporate crisis management, was to put consumer safety first, to respond to the media with alacrity and to be entirely honest.
The company suspended all advertising for Tylenol and issued a national recall of Extra Strength Tylenol capsules — more than 30 million bottles — spending more than $100 million in the process. Mr. Burke appeared on television to explain the steps the company had taken.
The plan succeeded, and though many thought consumers would never trust Tylenol again, its manufacturer, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer Products, reintroduced the brand two months later in new, ostensibly tamper-proof packaging. Within a year, Tylenol’s share of the $1.2 billion analgesic market, which had dived after the poisoning to 7 percent from 37 percent, had climbed back to 30 percent.
 What a relief, seeing a leader who didn't try to cover-up, obfuscate or weasel out of a crisis. Too bad I had to go back 30 years to find this example.

Here's the credo:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Art of Project Management - Chapter Four

Having recently read Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' I saw many similarities between war and managing projects. Call the enemies risk and chaos and most of the 2,500 year old advice applies quite well. So I am going to dedicate a few posts to what I humbly call: 'The Art of Project Management.' I give Sun Tzu full credit for his observations. I simply paraphrase him to shift the advice to my field.
 Chapter Four
1. Sun Tzu said: The control of a large project is the same in principle as the control of a small project: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.
2. Executing with a large team under your control is nowise different from executing with a small team: it is merely a question of organizing your project schedule.
3. To ensure that your project may withstand the brunt of the risks and chaos of the real world and remain unshaken - this is effected by calendars, durations and networks.
4. That the impact of your project may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg - this is effected by the science of critical and non-critical paths.
5. In all Project Management, calendars may be used for execution, but networks will be needed in order to secure success.
6. Networks, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flows of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combination of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen.
9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
10. In Project Management there are not more than three scheduling elements - calendars, durations and networks; yet these three in combination give rise to an endless series of schedules.
11. Calenders, durations and networks lead to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle - you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination? 
12. The onset of execution is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course. 
13. The quality of a decision os like the well-times swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
14. Therefore the good Project Manager will be terrible in his execution, and prompt in his decision.
15. Scheduling may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision to the releasing of a trigger.
16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of execution, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your team may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Obamacare Project Doomed to fail

The online sign-up portion of the Affordable Care Act, affectionally known as Obamacare, was rolled out last week to a resounding failure. Why did it fail? It was set up to do so by the government. Let's look at some key strategies for failure.

  1. Force participation by people from every congressional district so that there is no clear leadership
  2. Put it on hold during the sequestration crisis
  3. Maintain an artificial deadline that is linked to elections, not the likely date that the system is actually ready to go
  4. Put it on hold again during the goverment shutdown
  5. Have half your stakeholders working to force it to fail so that they will feel vindicated by its failure (I love this great example of negative stakeholders to use during my training classes)
  6. Refuse to delay the go-live despite to all the previous delays
  7. Cut the testing time to a couple of weeks to ensure the go-live occurs on time
The company I work for now spends a lot of effort doing computer system validations. While I usually stay above the fray, concentrating on the project management aspects, I recently jumped in to assist in the testing phase of a moderate computer system at a small pharmaceutical company. This testing phase will take four months when complete. How did anyone expect Obamacare to be tested in a matter of weeks?

I'm glad to see the Project Manager taking responsibility for the failure. I only wish she had stuck up for her team and refused to honor the artificial deadline imposed by the president. It would have been late but it would have been properly tested. A poor roll-out spoils the program for future users. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Nov 4, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I was taking a PMP Prep course recently and a question used the term: "Max Crash Days." This was on a question about decreasing the critical path of a project using crashing and fast tracking. How does one determine Max Crash Days? Shouldn't you be able to crash further?

Crasher in Washington D.C.

Dear Crasher,

Crashing is the process of adding resources to an activity in the hopes of decreasing the duration. This works to a certain extent but not infinitely. The classic example is asking nine women to reach full term pregnancy in one month. Real examples are the addition of a person and another lathe to a metal shaping activity which can halve the duration but eventually you run out of people, or lathes or shifts and you reach that max crash state.

Other tasks are delayed by adding resources. Creation of a document can be an example of this where two minds add inefficency to the activity.

For the purpose of the PMP test, they need to tell you the max crash since they usually don't specify the actual activity and you just look at Activity B and say to yourself: "Let's double the resources and halve the time."

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Seventy-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          January snows and spring thaws caused a lot of delays to the tower building and Gwilym became concerned that he had given the men so much good building time off around Christmas. The men were in high spirits, however, and they pushed through each delay. Gwilym was able to use the extra money earned from selling the mosaic to buy the supplies and extra manpower he needed to push through the delays. Fred left two weeks before his child was due.
          As Beltane approached, Gwilym spent some of his spare time scouring the countryside for the capstone for this tower. He knew that it would be placed so that the design pointed back to Huish. But where was it? In Huish it had appeared next to the tower through the use of some magic. He suspected Merlin. At Airmyn it was lying under all the supplies as if it had been purchased for the job. In Londinium, the capstone was already in place and just had to be removed and replaced on the rebuilt tower. And in Caernarfon he had sat on it after capturing the prince. What was the pattern?
          He knew there was magic involved. His hair had stood on end at the appearance of the first stone. He recognized that he needed to leave this activity to Merlin and Grainne to accomplish, even though he had taken responsibility for it on the Network Diagram.
          Two days before Beltane and all was ready but the cap-stone. The crew all gathered around Gwilym looking expectant. They had cleaned every last part of the tower and grounds, built the road and tidied up the remains of the palace. Gwilym could think of nothing else to keep them busy. Tollemache asked the obvious question. “Vere is de capstone, Gvilym?”
          “The capstone is being delivered by two friends of mine who will arrive in the next two days. When it comes, we will gather together, pull it into place and the tower will be finished. Until then, you are all on Holiday!”
          The men cheered and ran to the tavern. “But stay close so I can call you when the stone arrives!” Gwilym shouted.

          Gwilym found himself walking down the road heading to the south, the direction from which he expected Merlin and Grainne to come. He was surprised to find his excitement rising. He tried to tell himself it was because he was nervous about the stone but he knew, deep in his heart, that he missed Grainne. She had infuriated him at their last meeting, calling on the Goddess to make him venerate her. Yet he missed her and found he could forgive her this act.
          He felt a strange aching on the inside of his arms. The last time he had felt this was when he had realized he had fallen in love with Kaitlyn. The only thing that removed that ache was to hold her in his arms, her body fitting against that place in his arms. This time he felt it in his chest also, an emptiness where Grainne belonged.
          But how can that be? I hardly know her. This relationship was completely upside down. Their meetings had been all in the wrong order. The first time she was the mother, had nursed me back to health while I lay unconscious. The second time she was the death-crone, telling me about my dead wife. Then she was the maiden, seducing me on the rune capstone of the first tower. The same thing happened again at Airmyn and Londinium although I managed to snatch a brief conversation with her: a conversation that turned into a serious religious argument. Then she had saved my children’s lives when I needed her the most. Then another sexual encounter on a capstone. What kind of a basis was this for love?
          He compared this to his first love, Kaitlyn. He had seen her first walking through the warrens of Jerusalem in a group of foreigners. He had been captured by her dark looks, her haunted eyes and then, that smile. All the people surrounding her reacted to her smile. Gwilym saw that they all loved her. They were old and young, man and woman, but they all were drawn to her like bees to the honey cakes in the market. Gwilym followed the group, tying to see more of her.
          Following close enough to hear their words, he recognized some Cambrian words his father had taught him when he was a boy. Gwilym’s mother was Cambrian. Short and dark, with milky white skin and full red lips. Gwilym had asked his father why he had left his mother. And one night, Willem had told his son everything he would ever say about her. “I met her in Glastonbury, on my search for Joseph’s Gospel. You were a child of the Beltane fires. While she loved you, her duties meant that she had to foster you out. She sent you to me.”
          Gwilym had imagined his mother since then but this was the first time he had seen someone whose looks fit his image. Of course, this girl was too young, younger than Gwilym, even. But she had captured his heart in an instant with that smile and he had to talk with her.
          He offered his assistance to the group, telling them he spoke their language and knew all the Holy Sites. He was careful to address the oldest man in the group but he watched Kaitlyn out of the corner of his eye. On seeing him, she shrunk back and covered her mouth, not quickly enough to stifle the slight scream. Gwilym was astonished and looked back at the leader of this group for an explanation.
          “It’s not your fault, son,” he said in the lilting style of the Cambrian. “She fears you because you look like the men who plundered her town and murdered her family.”
          Gwilym’s heart had sunk at this, seeing the fear he had caused and regretting the consternation he had put on her face. He regretted most of all the loss of that smile. He pointed the leader in the direction of the Temple wall, bowed his head and walked off. But he could not forget her so he followed the group at a discrete distance.
          He made a fool of himself for the next three days, walking past the group for a brief glimpse of her, then circling through the back streets at a run to walk past them again. He would wander past them as they toured the mount of Calvary, the Garden of Gethsemene, Herod’s palace. Each time he would try to see her without her seeing him. The other members of the group figured out what he was doing and would laugh amongst themselves whenever he made an appearance. He overheard one say to the girl, “Kaitlyn, that Saxon has fallen for you.” So her name was Kaitlyn; lovely.
          On the third day a miracle happened. They were walking by the tomb from which Jesus had been raised and he was making his third pass by the group. Kaitlyn reached out her hand and stopped him. “I’m not scared of you anymore. You can stop running past me. Tell me your name.”
          They talked then, and Gwilym showed the group around the city, to the places he loved, the honest traders, the secret pools and gardens, the tall towers and cool churches. He used the knowledge his father had given him to have them walk in Jesus’ footsteps, from His teaching in the temple to His triumphant entrance to His crucifixion. He knew his craft well, having done it many times in the past for money. This time he refused all payment.
          They told him that they were going from here to see the rest of the Holy Sites and Gwilym offered to accompany them as their guide. They agreed and he toured with them for three months, from the Cedars of Lebanon to the Pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he learned all about the beautiful Kaitlyn’s tragic story.
She had been hiding in the forest with the children, old men and women when Saxon warriors had attacked their village. She had climbed a tree and watched as they defeated the men and looted the town. Then a group had charged the forest and overtook the frightened villagers. She had watched from above in mute terror as her mother and sister were raped and carried off. Her brother was slain before her eyes. She thanked God that they hadn’t looked up and she vowed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to pray for her family and villager’s souls and to thank Him for her safety. She had joined this group of pilgrims and had walked here the whole way from Cambria.
          She was 16 and not romantically attached to any of the men in her party. It was clear to Gwilym that they were all in love with her. While they were happy with his guidance through the Holy Land, once they realized that he was making progress with Kaitlyn, they tried to get rid of him. But Gwilym was resourceful and used his connections to remain valuable to the group and his charm to cause Kaitlyn to beg the others that he remain their guide.
          When the pilgrims had seen everything, they made plans to return to Cambria. On the night before they were all to leave Gwilym expressed his love to Kaitlyn and received a short laugh in reply. This broke his heart but she had squeezed his arm and told him, “I’m laughing because I’m nervous. I think you are wonderful but I don’t love you. You barely know me and I don’t know you. You say you love me. Men say that to me all the time. Is it because they all want to get under my skirts?”
          “Kaitlyn, believe me, when men say that to you, it’s true. I’ve never seen a woman who inspires so much good in the men who meet her. Plenty of women inspire men to want to get inside their skirts; that’s no great talent. You inspire them to want to marry you, to be with them until they’re old, to bear children for them. You have something special, Kaitlyn, something the Visigoths call ‘Gracia,’ something I’ve read about, but never seen. I love you, and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to protect you from all harm, to have children with you and raise them well, to grow old with you, and to protect you from the fears of old age. I want to build you a strong house that will keep you warm and comfortable. I want to read to you and play with you and travel with you.”
          “Gwilym.” Kaitlyn wept softly and pointed at the statues surrounding them. “You have me up on a pedestal like one of these statues. What will happen if you marry me and find out that I am a mere mortal who cannot live up to your ideal image of me? What will happen when I fart in your hearing?”
          Gwilym burst out laughing at this unexpected comment, the gas that he had been holding in during this long day with her releasing with a loud BRAPP! She looked at him with wide eyes and open mouth and laughed too. Looking at each other, they lost all control and their laughter increased. Then Gwilym thought he heard a little fart from her and he stopped in surprise. She blushed red and held her breath, waiting for Gwilym’s reaction. He hugged her then for the first time and lifted her off her feet. This contact was new and unexpected and combined with the release of tension and the tight squeeze she received released another, louder, fart and they both burst out laughing again. “Well, I guess now you know how I’ll react. I love you Kaitlyn.”
          On telling this story to his sons he had gotten different reactions. Llawen had laughed at the image but Jac had seemed confused at the laughter. He held an idealized image of his mother in his mind and couldn’t understand why Llawen and his father found it so funny that: “All you two did was laugh and fart.”
          What Jac missed was that it was a tender moment, when barriers broke down and they saw the humanity in each other and decided that they would get to know each other better. Kaitlyn stayed behind, much to the consternation of the rest of the group. She had money and was able to stay in a pilgrim’s inn so they needn’t worry about her chastity. The two spent the next few months learning all about each other. The romance blossomed. Gwilym worked as a tour guide for different groups of pilgrims, amazing her with his grasp of different tongues and his in-depth knowledge of the life of Jesus and the prophets.
          On agreeing to marry, he asked her where, expecting that she wanted to return home. But she had no family there so they married in Cana for the sake of the name. They toured Constantinople for their honeymoon and she soon became pregnant with Bleddyn. Then she wanted to return to Cambria so they continued back along the pilgrim trail, arriving a couple of months before the birth.

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