Guiding Quote

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's all about priorities, stupid!

Over previous posts I've bemoaned the incapacity of executives to prioritize projects. Too often like small children in the proverbial candy store they want it all. They are great at willing the ends, but lousy at providing the means. When tasked about this the usual response is to trot out glib sayings: be creative, think outside the box, work smarter not harder. All of which carry the sub-text of: "don't bother me with details that's what I hired you for."

Recently a project I'm working on was hit a by a resources conflict with another pressing project. In all truth the other project had a more compelling case in the short term. What was required was a realization that both could not be delivered has scheduled and that my project's schedule needed to be re-planned. Simple really.

Not so fast my logical project manager, was the reply. We need your project to finish on time. Just tell us what you need to manage this problem and we'll make it happen. Give us the information and we'll escalate with senior management. Sounded promising.

Well five weeks passed and nothing has happened. We are now at a point where action will be futile. The damage is done and can't be undone. The schedule has slipped but in an uncontrolled manner, with lots of confusion interspersed with bouts of frustration. We can manage most things, but stupidity can only be endured.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Experience of working has a team matters more than the sum of the parts.

The longest battle of the Second World War was the Battle of the Atlantic. It lasted from September 1939 until May 1945, thousands of seamen died and millions of tons of shipping was sunk. The combat between the allied convoys and the U-boats ebbed and flowed, with first one side on top and then the other. Technology and tactics evolved at a startling rate, British innovation and American manufacturing capacity ultimately triumphed, but not without many travails and setbacks.

One of the key findings that the navies discovered was that if a convoy escort group - usually four to six warships - had worked together previously the lower the loss rate of merchantmen from the convoy. Even escort groups comprising ships from different navies performed significantly better than those that had ships from the same navy. It was the experience of working together that was important not the common tradition or language. 

This was such a key factor that the British Admiralty insisted that all escort groups undertake a realistic three day training exercise before every convoy sailing from British ports, even if they had worked together before.

So what does this mean from a project viewpoint? Well it confirms what last blog stressed; that teams are better than ad hoc groupings cobbled together under the matrix management rubric. That time spent by the team familiarizing themselves with the task and how it will be addressed before the project starts is time well spent. A lot of projects do have a Kick Off event, these are only valuable if they address the launch of the project and who's doing what etc. However some are just glorified management ego trips - 'look at how smart we are to have got this project approved. Now don't you workers go and screw it up, we'll be watching!' is their tone.

So get your project's shake down cruise - naval term - done as soon as possible and if you can't have the same team always try to have a comprehensive launch event and activities. Remember Briers law: it is never to soon to start failing!