Guiding Quote

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Uncertainty and the OODA Loop

This week I heard about two incidents that affected a good friend of mine all in the same week. In the first instance the project she was running had it's business analyst re-assigned at extremely short notice, less than a day. Now given her knowledge of the company's current activities she was annoyed, but not shocked. She'd been anticipating it for a week or more. So the only really uncertain element was the timing. She'd already formulated options for managing the situation. The individual had been asked to make sure certain key project artifacts were either completed or nearly finished. Here her reliance on the OODA loop stood her in good stead. She'd been Observing the environment and formulating her options. Working out what needed to be done, who needed to be consulted and what decisions needed to be taken by who. So, when it occurred she was able to quickly Orientate to the new situation and make Decisions and start to Act

The second instance involved a key team member on another project having emergency heart surgery: There one morning, in the the ER that afternoon. So now she's scrambling on a project that has major implications and whose sole expert is now out for at least two months. She's currently in the Orientate phase. She needs to bring together both her personal knowledge and her teams expertise to develop a new plan.

Uncertainty, in it's various guises, had occurred on her projects. Now if she was a deterministic type of person she'd be cursing her luck and running off to her manager asking for help and refusing to budge until guidance had been given. However she's a probabilistic type, understands that stuff happens and she's going to keep moving forward while waiting for some guidance from her managers.  She understands that uncertainty is the way of the world and that you embrace it and get on with it. Using the OODA loop mental set she's able to re-calibrate her expectations and her plans.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Reality based Project Management vs Matrix Management

 Matrix resource management is the main project structure in most large companies. With it comes a disconnect between project and business goals on one hand, and departmental priorities on the other. Matrix managers are more concerned with handling their budgets and keeping their bosses placated than they are with business and project goals. Now they will strenuously deny this, but, as always, their actions never lie.

In the matrix world reality cannot be allowed to intrude until all the possible alternatives, no matter how implausible, have been endless considered. Consuming time that puts even the reality based alternative in jeopardy. But the illusions of their superiors cannot be disturbed until it is politic to do so. During the Second World War when the allies surged ashore in Normandy the German reaction was hamstrung because vital reserves could not be moved with Hitler's express command, and he was asleep and no one dared to wake him! Times may have changed but human nature hasn't.

Now matrix world projects are always on schedule until it is politic to tell the truth - by which time it is too late to make any attempt to fix the problem. So when a PM creates a reality based project schedule that accounts for all resource constraints, queuing time in the system, and other obstacles that compose the friction of life, matrix managers are aghast. They don't want to change delivery dates from the previously published values, no matter how compelling the evidence is. They are the epitome of the "Bad news bears", you can tell them anything but the inconvenient truth!

I was laying out a project schedule and putting in a modest amount of queue time before development and QA. It was modest and nowhere near the real values, but since the management refused to admit there was queue time, never mind publish the values, it was the best one could hope for. Needless to say the owner of the project tried to push back on the delivery date and it took all my powers of persuasion to prevent it. In this case reality based scheduling prevailed, but in most cases it doesn't.

One thing must be understood, reality always comes through and when it does it usually bites, and bites hard.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Situations to Avoid: Dancing with the PM's

A popular reality TV show is "Dancing with the Stars" in which celebrities are partnered with a professional dancer and perform set dances each week. Depending on the ability, or otherwise, of the celebrity then the professional does more or less work. The flash comes from the 'Pro', the celebrity just has to stay upright! Recently I've come across a business version, real reality in fact. It could be called "Dancing with the PM!"

In this example the management decided that they would implement an application that they had no experience with, they would ask the already overworked members of the department to write the business requirements, they would give them five months to implement the application. The department manager then decided to make one of his staff the tech lead although he'd never managed any tech work before and the contract developers he's managing would be working remotely - 2000 miles and three time zones away.

Now this is we're the "Dancing with the PM" happens. Six weeks into the 20-week project they decide that they need an experienced PM to "help" with the project. He's also in the "New guy" stage of his employment.

I think you can guess the outcome. A team experienced in the particular application would have been hard pressed to make the planned date, this group of novices had no chance. Putting a famous classical conductor - Simon Rattle, Loren Maazel, Georg Solti - with an elementary school band is not going to guarantee great music.

The outcome was that the project missed its delivery date by an additional 16 weeks, the PM did however avoid the fall out, and the department manager did not! Now that was a surprise. Usually we take the fall. So the lesson from this example is that when you take over a project carry out a quick, but thorough, appraisal of your resources, communicate your findings/concerns, and make the necessary adjustments to the project plan.