Guiding Quote

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

PM Education and Briers law:

A good friend of mine on hearing me utter for the umpteenth time my advice that for projects: “its never too early to start failing” sarcastically named it Briers Law. Well what applies to projects also applies to the profession and particularly its education courses. The main examples are the Introduction to Project Management ones given to executives and consultants, usually the only course on Project Management that they ever take.

These courses are specifically designed to give their attendees a simplified explanation of what happens on a project. In fact in many cases the courses are not merely simplified they are made simple, as in Project Management for Morons!

The attention challenged executives and consultants in fact demand short, the shorter the better, simplistic courses because they don’t have the time to spend on a detailed course. In other words they don’t want to be educated, never mind seek a deep understanding of the process.

During the simplification of course material all the uncertainty associated with projects is swept under the carpet. Complexity is expunged from the process and the sequential process of waterfall is explained in terms an average eight year old could understand. The aim is not to create a sense of unease in the attendees by exposing them to the realities of life, but rather to give them a sense of comfort that project management is not that difficult.

From this education they take away the certainty that definite, deterministic end dates can be derived and managed to, irrespective of project scope and complexity. And that a project budget can likewise have a definite value that can be baked into company financial plans with all the permanence of a tombstone carving.  

So from the very start of our project management education curriculum we open up the possibility that some, maybe many, of our executive students gain incorrect expectations about what they can expect from project management processes. And in doing so make life very difficult project managers who work with them. Truly a fine example of Briers Law: It’s never too soon to start failing.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Project Measurements: Standard versus Specific

A common question for all project managers is:  "Am I measuring the right things in order to gauge my project's health?" We all know about earned value, burn rate, project velocity, issue resolution, days outstanding on bugs, but these are general terms that can be applied to any project. In many cases they may mislead you as to your projects progress, earned value certainly can hide issues until it's too late for the project to recover. 

The dangers of only relying on a standard set of measurements were brought home to me during my recent cardiac experience. During my visit to the Emergency Room the medical staff measured my: pulse, blood pressure, and took snapshots of my EKG readings. All were very good, all in the range for an excellent heart condition. In fact at one stage my wife and I were getting concerned that they would say there was nothing to worry about!

However the medical staff was not treating me as someone who needed to have his heart monitored, they were treating someone complaining of medical problems. So they also ran specific tests that would investigate the reported symptoms, one of which was a blood enzyme test that indicated that I had in deed had a heart attack. Good for me that they did, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this entry.

So what as this to do with projects? The answer is quite a lot. You can't treat all projects as being the identical and run them just using a set of standard metrics and expect everything to turn out fine every time. You have to be listening to the project team members, to be monitoring the interfaces with other work groups, to be using situational awareness, to be checking the symptoms of your project's health. The standard metrics are the minimum you need to use, not the only metrics.

So listen to your team, look for abnormal items and that way you end up paying for a cardiac surgeon rather than an undertaker. They cost about the same but only one has an upside to their profession!