Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Project Managers and Social Media: To tweet or Not to tweet?

Hardly a day goes by without the tabloid press feasting on the latest tweet from some celebrity, sportsman providing a cornucopia of loose talk. This of course gives us plenty of entertainment and, depending on our sensibilities, a sense of outrage at the more expletive laden ones.

However the popularity of social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, et al, does have major implications for project managers. The inability of younger colleagues: Gen X, millenniums, or whatever new grouping the sociologists dream up, to clearly delineate what is confidential and what can be shared is a major risk for PM's. Be it giving away development plans by telling their "friends" what they are working on, or making derogatory comments about clients, co-workers, or us it can create a major problem. They may have an expectation of privacy, but there are no guarantees and once on the web always on the web. Last year's funny but now embarrassing photo of a beer bust or wet T-shirt competition is still out there.

As a project manager you have to establish - if your company hasn't - clear guidelines about what is permissible to mention on social media and what isn't. Prudence dictates that you apply tough guidelines - basically you cannot mention any project related activities on social media. Nothing, Nada, Zllch.

It may make you appear as a curmudgeon, a dinosaur, but it'll save you having to explain away your team's indiscretions.

So the answer to the question "to tweet or not to tweet?" is: "Not on my project, dude!" 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Project Managers and Disaster Recovery - Operation Cerebus

Operation Cerebus was the German code name for the naval operation, on February 12th 1942, that saw three capital warships: Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prince Eugen, race through the English Channel in broad daylight.

This daring coup de main was partially failitated by a cock-up on the British side. (There were lots of cock-ups that day, this one has educational benefits.) The British did have a plan in the event of a naval excursion into the English Channel. In fact it was a very detailed response, and as such it was a secret. A secret so precious that only copy in Dover, the main port on the Channel Coast, was kept locked in a safe.

On the day the plan was needed it just so happened that the officer who had the key to the safe was on leave in the South West of England, with the key! So the response to this daring foray was delayed whilst people made up a response on the spare of the moment.  The resulting actions therefore were poorly coordinated and ultimately unsuccessful.

This piece of history has implications and warnings for project managers who have responsibility for disaster recovery plans. Too often these plans are outdated and nobody knows who has copies and where they are stored. Often the plans are stored on the very computer they are supposed to recover! An unavailable plan is the same as no plan!

So it is essential that you make sure everyone knows where the plans are, that they are accessible 24/7, and the correct people and their empowered deputies are available: Disasters don't recognize holidays, Public or otherwise. 

Also the plans must be reviewed and walked through regularly. You don't want debates about what the plan means when your business is circling the drain. As a colleague of mine once said, "smoke coming out of a bank's data center is never a good sign".

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Project Managers and Risks: Assumptions

The recent problems associated with my daughter's wedding (see post on October 8th) in part revolved around various assumptions made by different people: Daughter number 2 always flies on Southwest Airlines, GPS always gets you there, and people from the UK will have mobile phones that work in the US. All wrong!

The derogatory definition of ASSUME is that it makes and ASS out of U and ME. It definitely does have that consequence if what we assume is either based on false premises or is not accepted by other parties. When the assumption is based on these poor foundations then it very quickly turns into a risk, in fact a very dangerous type of risk, because we tend not to reconsider our assumptions. We deem them to be a given.

History is full of assumptions that were not only wrong, but disastrously so.

In WWII the French assumed in June of 1940 that the Ardennes region of the Franco- German border was impassable to tanks. Well the Germans didn't and France was defeated in six weeks.

Wall Street financiers and economists, at least in public, used the assumption that the financial markets were self-correcting and the "invisible hand" would prevent a financial meltdown. Well the hand was "invisible" as in not there! Just has it had been missing in action in 1837, 1907, 1929, and of course 2008. Unfortunately they are still preaching the same assumption.

In 2008 Lehman Brothers assumed that they would be bailed when their speculations turned sour, and the US authorities assumed that they could let them go bust with no affect upon the global economy. Wrong and wrong, the bank went bust and the global economy sized up in a massive credit crunch. One wrong assumption can get you in trouble, for havoc you need at least two.

Projects get in trouble as in when people in the developed world assume that everyone had broadband Internet access, or ready access to international telephone lines. Rarely the case in BRIC countries.

As these examples illustrate assumptions are dangerous because they condition behavior and plans. They become the ground upon which great endeavors are built and so errors undermine those foundations and destroy the grandiose structures built upon them. 

We project managers have enough problems to handle without being ambushed by false premises. A good rule of thumb would be to enter every, and I do mean every, assumption into your risk analysis and keep it there. You must review them all the time. Things do change and you need either to change with them or at least adapt to them. As the great economist John Maynard Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my opinion".

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Project Managers and Boss Types: The Looter

This type is not difficult to spot. Basically he’s out to make as much bonus as he can in a given year and he’ll do anything, anything, to get to the figures that will achieve it. All he’s interested in is the bottom line, his bottom line. He’s in the business of maximizing extractable value for himself. The long term interests of the department or the firm are of no concern to him. He wants to make his pile while the going is good. Let someone else sort out the mess tomorrow. Examples of this type litter the financial services sector; Wall Street is their breeding ground. Cashing in multi-million dollar bonuses while their company and the international economy was blown up!

So, how to handle them?

Well, appealing to their integrity and laying out the long term needs of the company are just a waste of time. Selfish moneygrubbers are in the instant gratification business; I want my reward and I want it now!

If you know that their attitude is not shared by either their boss, or key stakeholders then you can inform them of the risky behavior and use them to control the person.

If their superior is of the same mind set then it’s either time to bail out – in other words find another job - or go along for the ride, but with your eyes wide open. Don’t expect it to last, make sure there’s a paper trail that exonerates you – legal fees can be costly, and don’t have any of your pension fund money invested in the company. Remember Enron, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers.