Monday, September 29, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Sep 29, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, 

What are the ideal numbers of projects a PM should be conferred upon simultaneously to effectively manage the projects?

Overworked in Lagos

Dear Overworked,

The first answer to this question is: It depends. It depends on how big the projects are. If you are working on a huge new drug development project, this may be your only job for the next seven years and you may have a project coordinator/administrator who keeps track of status and updates your Gantt chart and budgets for you. 

If you are managing a self-sufficient team on a small project you may only require an hour a week to stay on top of this. 

Typically you are somewhere between these two extremes and you end up being placed on multiple projects. 

If you plan your projects properly, they Gantt chart should be able to show your manager how many hours of your time are required by each project on a weekly basis and that should be the primary indicator of how many projects you can work on. 

However, keeping all that information from getting mixed up in your head brings you to a practical upper limit of the amount of projects you can manage simultaneously: FIVE.

Don't let anyone assign you more than that.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Simplicity sells

I love Costco. Not just for the prices but for the simplicity. When I want to buy a product, I know that Costco has already narrowed down the many choices to the one or two top products and cut the margin down to a razor thin slice.

Products arrive in boxes and customers walk out with boxes full of products. Pallets are placed on warehouse shelves and it's up to the customers to pull out what they want to buy.

Because of this simplicity I am loyal to Costco and look for that simplicity in other companies. And I'm not the only one. Since 2010, Siegel and Gale has published the Global Brand Simplicity Index which rates companies globally and in the US, Germany and UK for this simplicity factor. Here's the latest list:
My father's favorite company, the German low price retail company, Aldi, heads the list, for many of the same reasons I love Costco.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Sep 22, 2014

Dear PM Advisor

In a small company where the PMO is absent, what should be the role for Project Manager?

Alone in Lahore

Dear Alone,

The Project Management Office has a lot of traditional roles, many of which can be taken over by a Project Manager in a company without the PMO. Let's look at them:

  1. Maintain the PM templates
  2. Keep all the project records
  3. Train the Project Managers
  4. Provide PMs to the organization
  5. Write the Project Management Guide
  6. Facilitate the steering committee
  7. Organize project prioritization 
  8. Decide on Project Organization style
So in your situation you can do roles 1 and 2, get yourself trained and be the PM for the organization. Writing the Project Management Guide should be done no matter what and you can have a streamlined guide in your current role. 

When it comes time to setting up a high-level steering committee and getting the organization to agree on project priorities, your success depends entirely on your personality.  

Deciding on the Organization Style is pretty simple. Your company has already decided on Functional, Projectized or Matrix. If Matrix, you cannot be strong since you don't have a PMO. If you are called a PM, it seems like you are, you are in a balanced matrix. If not, you're in a weak matrix structure.

Take advantage of the lack of structure to do whatever you want to make life as a PM easier. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor 

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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Reasonable Polish Woman

I enjoyed reading the words of Poland's incoming Prime Minister in today's NY Times. Ewa Kopacz likened her country to a 'Reasonable Polish Woman.'

Here she explains:

“You know, I’m a woman,” she said. “I can imagine what I would do if I saw a person waving a sharp tool or holding a gun. My first thought would be: Right behind me, there is my house and my children. So I’d rush back and protect my children.”

A man, she said, would react differently.

“He would think: I don’t have a decent stick at hand, but so what? Am I not going to stand up and beat them up just because they dared to come here and threaten my family?” she said.

This attitude has put her country in good stead with the Ukrainian crisis going on next door. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Sep 15, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

What improvements you have experienced with IT Projects using PMBOK as a reference?

Lighter side in Calcutta

Dear Lighter side,

While I can't claim to be there at the beginnings of PMI, I was one of the first people in my industry to have received the PMP credential. I have seen it become more familiar and progress to the point where people are requesting the credential amongst new hires and even long-term employees. 

Along with this change there there has, naturally, been a greater knowledge of and use of the PMBOK guide. More people are referring to the PMBOK and using the terminology within. So the biggest improvement I have found is the standardization of language. 

Remember that the PMBOK is not a methodology. It tells you what to do, not when to do it or how a particular tool should be used. So the greater improvement I have seen has come from the use of various Project Management methodologies. People go out for training or send their entire team out to the same course and they come back fired up with the way to make projects work more efficiently within their organization. Even better is when a methodology is brought in-house and taught to the entire organization at various levels. 

All these training courses seem to have embraced the PMI terminology so there is more consistency between the courses as to what they call each tool. 

So the real advantage is that PM knowledge transfers easily between companies and even industries due to the standardization of terms championed by the PMI. You can learn your PM skills at one company and move to another without encountering a huge learning curve in these skills. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Democrats can't win the House

Very interesting analysis by Nate Cohn in last week's New York Times that showed why Democrats are unlikely to win a majority in the House of Representatives while winning statewide majorities for Democrats.

Democratic voters are clustered in cities giving huge margins of victory to Democrats while leaving many more slim Republican majorities in more rural districts. Look at the voting pattern of a few states to see the situation:

So while Pennsylvania and Ohio will vote Democratic as a state, handing their electoral votes to the Presidential candidate and putting Democrats in the Senate, they will send more Republicans to the House than Democrats. Same goes for many other states, enough to hand the House to Republicans for many years to come.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Sep 8, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

In your Project Management experience, how do you manage the individual working styles? For example I worked in project where the development team is in the UK. The typical problem I faced was a team member who overwrites in my email and sends it back. I spend hours understanding what is his response to my email. 

Muddled in Mumbai

Dear Muddled,

Remember that 90% of Project Management is communiucation. Communication is difficult enough when we all speak the same language. Everyone has developed their own way of communicating and it rarely matches anyone elses. Witness almost every married couple for examples of how people who live together daily miscommunicate. 

It gets much harder on global projects where some use English as a second language. Here are some things I have done to help facilitate communication in these environments:
  1. When English is a struggle, require a translator with the group who uses English as a second language during status meetings
  2. Speak slowly and pause for translations during long speeches
  3. Use as little jargon as possible unless it is well-known by all participants
  4. Set up ground rules for e-mail communication, talking over each other, etc.
This last rule might help with your specific problem. What you are saying the team member does seems pretty reasonable to me not having seen the results. When I receive an e-mail with a lot of questions, I answer next to each question and write "Answers within your text for clarity' in the body of my response.

Perhaps your problem child doesn't format his answers obviously. I recommend using a different color, bold my responses and make sure there is a carriage return between each response. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dutch tolerance led to New York's greatness

Great op-ed by Russell Shorto in today's Times showing that the secret to New York's success lay in the roots of the Dutch 17th century tolerance for others. Here is the full essay but I'd like to pull some excerpts here:

 In founding New Amsterdam in the 1620s, the Dutch planted the seeds for the city’s remarkable flowering. Specifically, the Dutch brought two concepts that became part of New York’s foundation: tolerance of religious differences and an entrepreneurial, free-trading culture.
In the 17th century, when it was universally held elsewhere in Europe that a strong society required intolerance as official policy, the Dutch Republic was a melting pot. The Dutch codified the concept of tolerance of religious differences, built a vast commercial empire and spawned a golden age of science and art in part by turning the “problem” of their mixed society into an advantage. Dutch tolerance was transplanted to Manhattan: They were so welcoming that a reported 18 languages were spoken in New Amsterdam at a time when its population was only about 500.
While many economies elsewhere in Europe were still feudal, the Dutch pioneered an economic system based on individual ownership of real estate. That came about because the Dutch provinces occupied a vast river delta, in which land was at or below sea level and therefore constantly under threat. People in those communities banded together to build dams and dikes and reclaim land. The new land was not owned by a king or a church. Instead, the people who had created it divided it and began buying and selling parcels. That incentivized a whole society, fueled the growth of an empire, turned the Dutch into entrepreneurs and made them the envy of other Europeans.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Building a business from nothing

You've got to admire a person who can create a business out of nothing. Barton Steiner saw a potential in selling stuff that the Yankees had used to fans who want them. According to this article, he has talked the Yankees, and a lot of other sports teams, to sell him their used products, from bases to rakes to dirt, so that he can sell them to fans who are willing to pay well for this memorabilia.

So now Yankees groundskeepers change the bases several times a game so Barton can sell them to fans for hundreds of dollars. Very clever!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Sep 1, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I’ve been taking practice PMP tests and struggle with ones where they ask me something is a tool or technique in one of the processes. Other than memorizing every single tool, technique, input and output in every process, how am I supposed to know these?

Feeling like a tool in San Diego.

Dear Tool,

And I mean that in the nicest sense of the word. There are a few tricks I’ve discovered to help you with this problem. The first one is, as you’ve suggested, memorizing every input, tool, technique and output in every process. I have a cheat sheet that you can memorize linked here. It will take a normal person about five hours to do so. If you are willing to spend the time on this, bring it with you in your mind and spend the first 10 minutes of your four hours transcribing this on the pieces of paper they give you when you take your test. Then, when you are faced with these questions, look them up and you know you got another question right.

For those who’d rather spend their time doing other things, here are some hints:
  • Tools or techniques = doing something
  • Inputs or outputs = something you can hold

About half the time, the question will ask which of the following is or is not a tool or an input or an output.

Eg: Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis

Inputs = Risk mgmt plan
Scope baseline
Risk Register

Outputs = Project Doc updates

Tools = Risk prob and impact assessment
Prob & Impact matrix
Risk data qual assessment
Risk categorization
Risk Urgency assess
Expert Judgment

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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