Guiding Quote

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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

OODA Loop and Multi-tasking

In today's multitasking world project managers are often running three or more projects. These may be small in nature but like a juggler with many balls in the air you need to keep an eye on them all. You cannot focus on one or two to the exclusion of the others. 

How do you do it?

The Orientate part of the OODA loop (Observe Orientate Decide Act) has to have constant feedback from the Observe part of the loop. You have to be regularly reviewing each of your projects to ensure nothing gets missed. This particularly important when a more pressing task is superimposed on your regular workload. The tendency is to focus intently on the urgent, the immediate, at the expense of the overall picture.

One method to counteract this tendency to over focus on the immediate is to mind map all your projects every week. ( ) Create and re-create all your projects on one big mind map. The very task of drawing all your projects and their tasks - high level - will act as an antidote to project myopia: A condition we all can suffer from, particularly when under pressure from our leaders.

It's a sad fact of life that when a juggler drops a ball we don't marvel at the four still in motion, we focus on the one sitting motionless on the floor. Mind mapping won't make managing your projects any easier, but it will give you an early indication if you're about to drop the ball. Then you can Orientate to that problem and decide what to do. Even it's only to tell your boss that a ball is about to drop. A juggler who passes out the ball to his assistant before it drops is considered skillful, so is a project manager!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Project Managers and the A team conjuncture.

One of the enduring memes in management is that if we can only get the best practitioners on a problem - the so called A team - then all problems, no matter how difficult will be solved. In the project world the client always insists at the contract signing that they want the vendors "A - team" on the job. The vendor solemnly promises to do just that, "a team". The change from upper to lower case is of course very significant.

But the myth of creating a team of super performers that will deliver success has often been proved false in the field where it can be readily tested: Sports teams.

The history of sports is littered with teams whose performance wasn't even the sum of its parts. In soccer the Real Madrid teams of the mid 2000's, the era of the galacticos, were long on stars and short on results. Everyone wanted the adulation, no one wanted to run hard and defend well.

An example of what happens when you recruit super stars and ignore team chemistry can be found in the movie "the Miracle at Oxford". The movie recounts a true story about what happened to the Oxford boat crew when, in 1987, they decided to steal a march on their rivals, Cambridge, by recruiting top American international calibre rowers for their men's eight.

A slight digression is in order to explain the context of this situation. Every spring since 1856 the universities of Oxford And Cambridge have had a race on the River Thames in the heart of London. Each university puts out a crew in a Racing eight - that means eight rowers and a cox - to race over four and a quarter miles on the winding tidal river complete with bridges, eddies etc. This is in direct contrast to normal International competitions which are held on lakes, are dead straight, a third of the distance, and raced in clearly defined lanes. In other words it is a completely unique race, in a unique, almost eccentric, setting. Plus the race and its rowing community have the weight of decades of tradition on their shoulders.

Into this unique environment, with a coach who has won 10 out of the last 11 races, are transplanted five American world-class rowers, with egos to match. Well it goes wrong, there's a rebellion/ mutiny and they are thrown off the crew. The coach then puts together a crew from the loyal members of the crew plus rowers from the B team. He balances out the strengths of the remaining rowers and in appalling conditions   - it is not unknown for one of the boats to sink - they triumph against what on paper was a better crew.

The learning lessons from this movie are that getting the best in the business does not mean that teamwork will occur. In some cases it will never occur. Super stars have super egos and a sense of entitlement to match. Also a lesser stressed point in the movie is that to make a racing eight fly across the water requires a level of coordination and timing that is easy to state and hard to achieve. A racing eight has its rowers alternately rowing left then right. So if the four rowers who are pulling the right side oars are stronger then the left side rowers then the boat is going to veer sharply to one side. Timing is crucial, all the oars should enter and leave the water at the same time, all the time. Many great rowers cannot row effectively in an eight. So the coach doesn't just have to pick the best rowers, he has to pick the ones that can harmonize best, can last the full course, and he has to place them in the right seat in the boat.

Sounds just like a project team. You need good performers who can work with others, aren't going to behavior like diva's, and who have the capacity to last for the length of the project.

So if you want an entertaining movie, with management lessons, watch Miracle at Oxford. Unless of course youre a Cambridge fan, in which case you know the story already.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Project Managers and "an Annoyance" of Auditors

One of the more recent developments in the corporate world is the advent of internal IT auditors - they even have their own institute! I think they should also have a group noun - I would offer up 'an Annoyance'. 

Once restricted to the accounting world they have recently migrated, infested might be a better description, to the IT domain. Like some invasive species they have been introduced by the bean counters into an foreign clime and they have flourished. How could they not!

The IT world does not sit well in the realm of tight controls and methodology. Developers are loath to accept tight controls, they need the calming interface/buffer that a project manager affords to relate to the outside world. "Deal with the client/ customer, I just want to code", is their typical mantra. One of the main rationales for the spread of Agile methods in IT has been the manifest deficiency in requirements gathering processes and the fast pace of modern development needs. Speed, velocity, responsiveness, flexibility are the new watchwords. Not words that one necessarily associates with auditors. The oft quoted description of an auditor is a person who couldn't handle the excitement of accounting! The same could be said of an IT auditor, a guy who couldn't handle the excitement of being a methodologist!

Now I'm not saying that auditing our processes has no value: Far from it. Anything that constrains the cowboy developers is to be welcomed. Proper version control and release management is a pre-requisite for a mature development shop. However the unholy alliance of an over prescriptive methodology and a pedant auditor can cause havoc. The result of the union of two zealots is always fanaticism. To paraphrase Oscar Wild "to have one zealot might be considered unfortunate, to have two can only be described as carelessness!"

The usual result is that your development team will become bogged down in requests for information and may event become paranoid. Afraid to commit to anything and demanding everything be signed off in triplicate before anything is started. One thing that will happen is that productivity will be reduced and flexibility will be minimized.

So how do you handle this threat?

Well the one thing you don't do is take them head on in the early stages. You aren't going to win that fight. Not at first. The right response is patience. Fanatics always overstep the mark. Nothing is ever enough, their appetite for more and more information just keeps on growing. So feed them the information, keep good records and detail all the productivity hits this work is causing. At some stage the business leaders will realize that their responsiveness to the market is being compromised by the workload associated with the internal audit.

Remember internal audits are self-imposed costs, they differ from external audits in that they are discretionary. They can go away or be scaled back at anytime. So patience is the byword and good record keeping is the method. There's no profit in auditing and bosses are judged by profits.