Saturday, December 28, 2013

Seventy-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          Gwilym left to supervise the men as they ramped the stone into the cart, Gwilym saw that the design on this rune was of a stable. He kept glancing at the pavilion but Grainne never appeared. Soon the crew was ready to depart so he called his boys to him, said goodbye to Madoc and Brice and the family followed the cart back to the job site.
         It took the rest of that day to bring the capstone to the site and hoist it into place. The natural placement was with the rune pointing back towards Huish. While doing so, Gwilym thought about how all the other runes pointed directly at the next tower he was to build. He constructed a map in his head of Britain and the towers he had built since the first one. Huish, then north by northeast to Airmyn, south by southeast to Londinium, northwest to Caernarfon, east to Salthouse and southwest to Huish. The lines between each tower created a star! Not just any star but a pentagram. At least the star had a point facing north. That supposedly represented a good spell, not an evil one.

         How interesting! He hadn’t noticed it before. This was a serious spell they were casting. He must talk more with Grainne to find out what was happening. Grainne. Have I blown it? He missed her even more now. The ache in his arms and chest spread to his belly and his cheek. Why only my right cheek? Because that was the cheek she had stroked yesterday after they had made love.
         Why was she so angry with me? Because I presumed I had a right to share her bed? Probably. That was obnoxious of me. She likes to call the shots during the love-making sessions. And they weren’t love-making sessions, they were a ritual part of a spell. She cared nothing for me. Even yesterday’s session, when she had moved so languidly afterwards and had been in so much evident pleasure was just a casual fling for her. Much the way I made love casually before I married. And those women had loved me too. Had they felt like this?
         One of the crew woke him out of his reverie. “Do you need us any more, Gwilym?”
         He shook his head and realized that they needed their final payment. Gwilym walked around the job-site, happy with the way everything looked. These Angles like to keep things tidy. He lined them all up and gave out the last of their silver, thanking each member of the crew for their time. He missed having Fred with him at this ritual. In two days they would go back to Huish to see him. Or would they? There was a price on his head and a lot of people looking for him now. Should he risk his son’s lives for a glimpse of Fred’s child?

         Tomorrow was Beltane. Merlin would appear and give him more river jade. Grainne and he would make love on the capstone. And the next day they would go…where? Wherever Sir Kay ordered them. Kay was involved in the enchantment, deciding where the towers would go or being told by Merlin. And a representative of the Druids checked to see if the rune was placed correctly. That would be Mostyn with whom he’d chatted last year. What was Mostyn doing? Tracing the drawing on the rune? That could have been done before it was placed. Unless he hadn’t seen them before. Making sure they were ‘sanctified’? What did that mean? Was he looking for remnants of his and Grainne’s lovemaking? Disgusting! But stranger things had happened. Gwilym determined to watch the enchantment closer this time. When did the mists appear? They seemed to be growing stronger. He shook his head as he neared the tavern and readied himself to face the scrutiny of his sons, especially Bleddyn.
To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Elie Wiesel's plea to the world

Elie Wiesel, in an appeal to learn from the past, spoke out in a recent full-page ad in the New York Times. In the spirit of this time of peace, I think we can all learn from his words.

Below is the full text:

Iran Must Not Be Allowed to Remain Nuclear
If there is one lesson I hope the world has learned from the past it is that regimes rooted in brutality must never be trusted. And the words and actions of the leadership of Iran leave no doubt as to their intentions.
Should the civilized nations of the world trust a regime whose supreme leader said yet again last month that Israel is “doomed to annihilation,” and referred to my fellow Jewish Zionists as “rabid dogs?”
Should we who believe in human rights, trust a regime which in the 21st century stones women and hangs homosexuals?
Should we who believe in freedom trust a regime which murdered its own citizens in the streets of Tehran when the people protested a stolen election in the Green Revolution of Summer, 2009?
Should we who believe in the United States trust a regime whose parliament last month erupted in “Death to America” chants as they commemorated the 34th anniversary of the storming of our Embassy in Tehran?
Should we who believe in life trust a regime whom our own State Department lists as one of the world’s foremost sponsors of terrorism?
America, too, defines itself by its words and actions. America adopted me, as it did so many others, and gave me a home after my people were exterminated in the camps of Europe. And from the time of the founding fathers America has always stood up to tyrants. Our nation is morally compromised when it contemplates allowing a country calling for the destruction of the State of Israel to remain within reach of nuclear weapons.
Sanctions have come at a terrible economic cost for the people of Iran. But, unfortunately, sanctions are what have brought the Iranian regime to the negotiating table.
I appeal to President Obama and Congress to demand, as a condition of continued talks, the total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and the regime’s public and complete repudiation of all genocidal intent against Israel. And I appeal to the leaders of the United States Senate to go forward with their vote to strengthen sanctions against Iran until these conditions have been met.
I once wrote that history has taught us to trust the threats of our enemies more than the promises of our friends. Our enemies are making serious threats. It is time to take them seriously. It is time for our friends to keep their promises.
Elie Wiesel
Nobel Peace Laureate

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Dec. 23, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

Reading through your post about How to plan a project I like the way you get people to sign up for responsibility at a task level using dots and circle-dots. But what if a person owns a task but also contributes to it? Do they still get a circle-dot?

Dot in Morristown, NJ

Dear Dot,

The best way to conduct the Responsibility Matrix session is like this:

  1. Place all the tasks (Activities) on the x-axis
  2. Place all the Team members on the y-axis
  3. Ask those present: "Who is actively contributing to this task's completion?"
  4. Note those raising their hands
  5. Place dots at the intersections of those people's name and that task.
  6. Ask of those who contribute: "Which of you takes responsibility for the completion of this task?"
  7. Place a circle around that person's dot.
Notice that, using this method, the owner of each task must be a contributor as well. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Contingency plan for New Jersey's Superbowl

For the first time in many years, the Superbowl will be played in a winter city in January with no dome to protect the stadium. A project this large needs a massive contingency plan in case of snow. People paying $5,000 a ticket must be coddled, all the players, fans and media need to get to the stadium on time and God forbid there be a television delay.

This video shows a recent press conference highlighting the massive snow melting machine and all the reassuring New Jersey officials to make us feel like everything is under control:
Anyone but me wondering what happens to all the water that gushes out of this machine during freezing weather?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Dec 16, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

When I schedule my activities in MS-Project, should I use best-case or worst case? Should I let people add a buffer to their activity durations? 

Protecting myself in New Jersey

Dear Protecting,

  • Never use best case since projects are bound to have problems and you will miss the deadlines you promised your management. 
  • Never use worst case since your projects will always show due dates way beyond where management knows they should be.
  • Never allow people to add buffers to their activities since that will also result in completion dates too far in the future. 

So what does that leave you? Most-likely case with the buffer added in at the management level, not the team level. Let me explain. First we'll talk about the number of tasks you add to your Work Breakdown Structure.

Say one of your activities is the coding of some software or the creation of some document. Best case would have you code the software and sell it. That never happens. You code, test, fix, test, then approve. Sometimes you go through three or four rounds of test and fix before you are happy with it. Same with documents. So your Work Breakdown Structure  needs to include all these steps:

  • Draft, review, edit, review, edit, approve.
  • Code, test, repair, test, repair, test, repair, test, approve

Whatever is common practice at your company should be planned for the current project.

Now we need to talk about buffers. When someone estimates the duration of their activities, they should give you the most likely case without a buffer. You add these all up according to the network to determine the overall project timeline. You present this to management. Since you have added all the 'known unknowns' as represented by the redo activites, you are done. At this point, management adds a buffer to take into account all the 'unknown unknowns.' They may choose to add 10 - 20% to the overall time required by the project.

You, the Project Manager, own this buffer. If someone requires an extra day to complete a task, you take it out of your buffer. If someone finishes an activity two days ahead of shedule, notify the next person down the line of the change in schedule and add these days to your buffer. And when the bad thing happens to your project and you need those extra two weeks, you have them there in the buffer.

Another time I'll address the subject of maintaining control of the buffer.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Seventy-fifth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          The next day, as he rode in a heavy cart back to the clearing to recover the capstone, he struggled broaching the subject about his son’s half-brothers. He knew that Bleddyn knew about Grainne but he was unsure how the little ones would react.
          “Remember last year, as we drove to Huish and we talked about me getting you a new mother?” The boys all looked at him with serious expressions. “And Jac and Llawen wanted me to marry again but Bleddyn didn’t?” They all nodded. “How do you feel about it now?”
          The twins looked at Bleddyn who arced his head back in forth in a mixture of a yes and no. Jac and Llawen looked at their Dad and nodded yes.
          “Remember Grainne, the woman who saved you from the evil knight?” They all nodded. “I’m thinking of marrying her some day.”
          With wide open eyes they questioned their father. “What is she like? How old is she? Do you love her? Will she bring a dowry? Is she a princess? A witch?” Plus a hundred other questions that Bleddyn tried his best to answer.
          “She hasn’t told me she’ll marry me yet but while we’ve been thinking about it, we’ve created two brothers for you.”
          The boys stared at him. “Brothers?” asked Bleddyn.
          “Aye. Their names are Madoc and Brice. Madoc is about three and Brice is just one. They’re fine boys and you’ll meet them when we get to the clearing.”
          Jac and Llawen were jumping up and down with excitement. Jac tried to do a cartwheel and Bleddyn had to grab him before he fell out of the cart. Bleddyn looked at his father with a serious expression. He whispered to him, “Two years younger than the twins. You didn’t wait long after mother died.”
          “It’s complicated son. It’s not what you think. Can I explain it all to you tonight?”
          “When will you marry her, Da?” asked Jac.
          “Now that’s a serious question you need to leave between me and her. Please don’t mention marriage until I tell you it’s all right.”

          Bleddyn stepped down off the cart and walked alongside it in silence. Jac and Llawen continued peppering their father with questions about their brothers.

          When the group arrived at the clearing, Gwilym set the crew to retrieving the rune-stone. When they saw that it was partially buried, they questioned him about its suitability to meet the purpose. He reassured them and they set to work. All this time, the flaps of the pavilion had stayed down. While the crew was working to dig out the stone, Gwilym took his sons to the pavilion.
          He coughed and asked, “Grainne, are you awake?”
The flap opened down near the bottom and Brice’s face peered out at them. He took in the family and then disappeared. Jac and Llawen laughed at this. Llawen hugged Jac and said, “He looks just like you!” Gwilym looked at Bleddyn out of the corner of his eyes and saw a suppressed grin on his face.
          The flap moved again and this time Madoc’s face appeared. He examined all three boys, then glanced up at Gwilym and whispered, “Ma’s not awake yet. Come back later.” Then his head disappeared into the pavilion again.
          Gwilym nodded his head and said to his disappointed boys. “This clearing looks like a good place for some cartwheels. Why don’t you have some fun here while I check on my crew?”
          He walked back to the crew, looking with guilty pleasure at the tree Grainne had held as they made love yesterday. He watched the crew with one eye while he kept his attention on the boys outside the pavilion. Jac and Llawen did some cartwheels and somersaults. Bleddyn wrestled with them and played wheelbarrow with them. Within five minutes Madoc and Brice came out and played along. Before long, Madoc was on Bleddyn’s shoulders and Brice on Jac’s and they were racing. Then Bleddyn was holding Llawen by an arm and a leg and swinging him around while Madoc did the same with Brice. All the boys were shrieking with pleasure.
          Gwilym stepped inside the pavilion. When his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he saw a pile of blankets on the pallet and a tangle of red hair peeking out from underneath. The blankets rose and fell with her breathing. He felt an intense tenderness towards this woman with whom he had just now decided to spend his life. Really? Spend my life? But how else could he raise all those boys together while Grainne spent all her time with them?
          He sat down on the pallet and removed his boots. He took off his cloak and crawled under the covers with her. She fussed a little in her sleep and he took the opportunity to work one arm under her neck and drape the other over her waist. He watched her as she slowly awoke. Her face was wrinkled from the bed covers. Her expression was unlike any he had seen her wear. There was no guard on it; she seemed content for the first time. Then she opened her eyes.
          He smiled.
          She didn’t.
          “What are you doing in my bed!” she shouted. She pushed him hard in the chest and he rolled out. She glanced around the pavilion. “Where are my boys?”
          “They’re outside, playing with mine. I’m sorry. You looked so comfortable and warm and I wanted to be with you. I’ve never woken up with you before. I wanted to see how it felt.”
          “Don’t take liberties with me! My bed is not yours to share!”
          “I thought...after yesterday… we were something more than just Beltane lovers.”
          “There is something more. Sometimes I just want to fuck! You’re good for that. Don’t think you own me and can come into my bed in the middle of the night.”
          All the thoughts Gwilym had of them becoming one big family were dashed by her tirade. He put on his boots and cloak and walked back out into the clearing. The boys were still playing noisily and the crew was still working. He hoped no-one had heard Grainne’s outburst. Bleddyn met Gwilym’s eye and turned away. He moved towards his boys and watched them play for a while.
          Madoc ran to him. “Are you going to marry my Ma?” Gwilym looked at his boys and Llawen blushed and covered his mouth.
          “If she’ll have me. But I haven’t asked her yet. You know, son, asking a woman to marry you is one of the greatest moments of your life. It is wonderful to see the surprise in her face. Do you want your Ma to see that surprise when I ask her?”
          Madoc nodded.
          “Then, can I ask you to keep that secret for a while. Just until I ask her. Then you can tell her that you already knew. Is that fair?”
          Madoc nodded again with a serious expression on his face. “But I don’t think she can marry you. She’s a priestess of Avalon and they’re not allowed to marry. I think she’ll say no. Do you want me to ask her for you?”
          “No Madoc. I’d rather it be me.”
To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chicago changing pension obligations

As cities and states start to realize that there is no way they can continue to afford to pay their obligations to the government workers who have retired and believe they have pensions and free medical care for life because they put in their 20 years, some are starting to come forward and admit it.

After Detroit filed for bankruptcy, Chicago is promising a fight with its employees' union on pensions. Last week's Times had a great article giving lots of details. The bottom line is that Chicago changed the rules under which it operates to allow it to change public pension funds to stave off bankruptcy.

New Jersey has been neglecting to pay its share to the pension funds for years and is the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. When will it and other states make the changes that are needed to bring their fiscal houses into order? Or will they continue leaving a bigger mess for the 'next administration' to clean up?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. Dec 9, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

When I schedule activities in my Gantt chart, my boss likes to see all the deliverables as milestones. I'm used to showing them as summary tasks above all the activities. What do you recommend?

Stony in Morristown, NJ

Dear Stony,

Who writes your review at the end of the year? Who is responsible for any bonuses, promotions and career growth? Give that person what they want.

People have varying levels of comfort with MS-Project. Some like to see how long each deliverable takes, seeing it from the beginning of the first activity to the end of the last one. When you roll up a Gannt chart with the default settings, you will see this.

Others look at this and just see a bunch of bars and get confused. They just want pinpoints showing when each deliverable is completed. A nice diamond at the end of each deliverable works for them. When you roll up this type of Gantt chart, you can see all the diamonds.

Still another group wants to see both.

A fourth group, I count myself in this group, want to see the full summary task type deliverable bar with milestones indicated where they are important: Design Review Complete, Go-Live, things like that.

The bottom line is this: 90% of a Project Manager's job is communication. So communicate the way your stakeholders want to be communicated to. Especially if that stakeholder is your boss.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Friday, December 6, 2013

Last great African leader dies

Last year I wrote about the sad state of leadership in Africa and how the five million dollar Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa was not awarded for four of the last six years. The key requirement that failed was voluntarily leaving office.

Nelson Mandela was a great example of an Afican leader. He grew up within the Zulu royalty but chose to elevate his people rather than himself. He sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison to fight against the unfairness of Apartheid. Then, when elected as leader, sought forgiveness over revenge, progress over corruption, peace over war.

Read this excellent NY Times obituary for his whole remarkable story.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Factory Apprenticeship needed in the US

Interesting article in this week's Times about the lack of apprenticeship programs in the US that produce skilled workers for the high tech manufacturing plants here. According to the article, this is the norm in Germany, resulting in a steady stream of highly qualified workers to fuel their industries.

One of my big clients is building a steel mill in Alabama and they are receiving all sorts of help from the state including state-sponsored training programs to train the workers they are hiring. Once the state trains them, they will have their pick of the graduates.

The main reason my client chose to place their new plant in Alabama was the support they are receiving from the state of Alabama. It's time other states wised up and started providing similar support.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

College football conference graphic

Here's another great graphic and one I want to post so I can have access to it when I need it. It shows the shifting conferences that college football teams have experienced lately. The picture is pretty small but this link gets you to the web page from the NY Times that allows you to interactively highlight any team and see where it went. great job Times!