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27 August 2005

Design for Quality - Melbourne Airshow

In a presentation a few weeks ago we were introduced to Doug Gadd, one of the project managers for the Melbourne International Airshow. He ran through the processes he went through to ensure his part of the job (facilities) was done properly.

A couple of points he raised is the unique characteristics of project managing events - such as the fixed deadline, and the lack of control you have while the event is actually running. I noted that there are other issues as well such as the importance of engaging stakeholders in the community.

Doug's main points he made in his presentation were about the importance of planning, remaining vigilant for problems and empowering the team members to get things done.
This article on managing people is quite interesting. It compares the importance of technical skills to interpersonal skills within the project management environment. It talks breaks interpersonal skills into 3 groups:
  • Soft skills
  • Personal commitment, and
  • Values
Soft skills are defined as communication, expectations and relationships, and the article discusses how these affect our ability to get things done effectively in a project. For example the meanings of words and the importance of seeing the context around an issue are discussed. A similar approach is taken to the other aspects of interpersonal skills.
Given the challenges around getting specifications right and managing stakeholders expectations this seems to me to be right on the money.

Design for Quality and BPR

This week's Design for Quality class was on Business Process Re-engineering. I have worked on, in, around and under BPR for years and feel I am familiar with it as much as anything I know in the business world. So I guess now I can type a few words out and display my ignorance for the world.

My first port of call when learning about BPR was back in the early 90's when I was doing my bachelor of business and studying management 101. Names like Taylor (right), Mayo, Herzberg, Hammer and Deming were talked about. As an undergrad with no real work experience I wasn't paying that much attention. What I did pick up was that continuous improvement and BPR seemed to be popular and effective ways to improve performance.

At the time continuous Improvement, or TQM and BPR seemed like different aspects of the same thing. A few years later I was managing a BPR team and training business people about the difference between the two. I still think it's splitting hairs to define each process by the scale of the change they introduce. One company's continuous improvement is another's BPR.

I used to work at a phone company and manage a team of a dozen analysts and change agents who's job it was to manage changes into the business, and in their spare time identify opportunities for change and make it happen. The scale of some of the changes made affected whole teams in every way they worked. To the board this was business as usual, constantly improving operations. I am a director of a small business with less people working in it, and if we implemented changes of this scale the would be fundamental changes to the way the organization operates - BPR.

Anyway, sitting in the lecture I was recognizing all the attributes and diagrams (and noting that mine had been a bit more stylish) nodding away. My favorite resource if I want to get tools to help people understand the concepts is Prosci BPR. I think the site has a good range of free information that can help people learn about the topic.

16 August 2005

Breaking down the WBS

I am undertaking a course of study - Project Management Techniques and an assignment calls for the creation of a WBS for a theoretical project. I am working in a team on the activities. Working as a team is one of the competencies demanded from this course.

An early discussion we had was whether a WBS should be broken down oriented towards product deliverables, or by functional or skill groups. I guess the answer is probably dependent upon what type of project it is.

My thoughts are that a top level breakdown by product makes a lot of sense from a scope, time and cost management perspective. If you need to reduce the work due to constraints the easiest way is by looking at what the end products you are aiming for and assessing what can be scaled back at he product/deliverable level.

  • Wikipedia has this to say about building a WBS.
  • Max Wideman also addresses this topic at his website.

"...The contention arises over whether that decomposition should be in terms of the activities of the project or of its deliverables. If activities, then the WBS is expressed by sentences commencing with verbs, but if deliverables, then the entries are expresses as nouns. The distinction is not trivial because activities speak to the work involved in the project, while deliverables speak to end results."

and more

"...The most useful first step in managing a project of any size is to start by breaking down its scope, as defined above, according to a well-established and logical sequence. This sequence looks something like this: First according to geographically discrete components, if this is applicable; Second according to time based phases and stages, where each has a clear deliverable; Third according to intermediate or final major deliverables; Fourth according to discrete structural, process, system or device components. Finally, into deliverable elements that can be associated with distinctive types of people-skills or resources."

Max Wideman is a 'leading thinker' on project management theory. Max goes on to discuss how the scope should be broken down prior to work activities. His thoughts above align with my own experience. The scope in our instance is the delivery of certain information packages to the client. The way we go about that is less important that the result - ie the client gets the materials on or before the due date. As a result my belief in a deliverables focus we have taken in the WBS is reinforced.

For a practical example of how this could affect a project - imagine if due to cost or time constraints the online help package was removed from scope - how would that affect the WBS if we didn't define the WBS at the first level by deliverable?

Design for Quality

I just read an interesting article on Agile meets CMMI by David Anderson of Microsoft. It is here.

CMMI and Agile are both different approaches to quality. CMMI is rigourous and comprehensive in it’s quality approach. Agile is looking for a time, cost, quality balance that traditional IT development methods have failed to produce.

It was a good read - as it looks at the drivers behind CMMI and Agile and refreshed me about W Edwards Demming's theory of knowledge and his funnel/ball experiements. And takes the position that the process is what must be measured for quality and improved, not the specific outcomes. A change from the usual time, cost, quality focus of most projects.

Decision making at work

I believe that leaders usually drive decision-making models in workgroups from top down. The decision making style of a leader tends to be replicated down the line as leaders are the people in an organisation who set the standards and give example to other workers. Unfortunately most leaders set standards and examples based upon their own experience, not on best practices.

I have observed several managers who have been promoted from within make a repeated mistake around decision-making. As the weight of their role changes from a specialist to a manager they retain their old decision-making style managers can often retain their specialist decision-making approach. I observed a manager who had been promoted out of a network management team to manage that team continue to make ‘garbage can’ decisions where she assumed the answer to a problem as soon as it became known a problem had occurred. Over time technology and performance issue trends changes and her decision-making became less effective. People like this either learn from their mistakes through self-awareness or by others advising them, or become dissatisfied in their role and start to develop a siege mentality where they think other people are working against them, and possibly even sabotaging their efforts.

I made a similar mistake when becoming a manager of a team of analysts. I had worked on developing business systems and had worked within a strategic team with a business wide focus. When I moved into a team within a smaller business unit I made decisions about which solutions to pursue that went through a process similar to the rational model. My decisions may have been technically correct, but had not been socialised properly with the right stakeholders. My mistake was ignoring the political aspects of decision-making.

Professor Richard W Scholl (pictured) of Rhode Island University describes that decisions are made up of three main components: criteria, alternatives and cause and effect beliefs, and that for decisions to be effective both the rational process and the political needs of the stakeholders both need to be satisfied. He suggests that conflict in decision-making is usually a result of value-based criteria, or predictive.


Until May this year in class at Managing Project Teams at RMIT I had not heard the word satisfice but I have used it as a decision-making framework in the workplace. I understand satisfice to mean to satisfy through sufficiency or that as long as something meets minimum requirements the criteria are satisfied.

A few years ago I used this model to filter people for interviews when recruiting. I set out a position description that had mandatory and optional requirements and assess the applicants against the criteria. I used the satisfice model as he first filter. If applicants did not address each of the mandatory criteria they were not progressed to the next stage, which was to rank the candidates against all criteria (which were weighted) so I could pick a top 5 to interview.

It was a quick and efficient tool to use. As I continued to recruit I was eventually faced with the challenge of dealing a candidate pool where no one met all the mandatory requirements. At that stage I had three options, reduce the criteria, reduce the minimum standards of each criteria or re-advertise. On different occasions I took different options depending on my other needs at the time.

It's nice to know there is some theory behind decisions making :)

Motivation and the role of leadership

I once worked for a Not for Profit organisation. It was formerly a government department. It's primary revenue sources are government contracts that it bids for on regular cycles. The federal and state governments award the relevant contracts based upon cost and quality measures. Recently it lost a significant share of it’s Employment business because it failed to meet the minimum quality standards for contract roll-over, and then, when bidding for new business, failed to win back the contract due to a high cost base.

The board and management identified the need to change from the old public service mentality to a new, more corporate, focus. A new CEO was hired to implement the required changes. The new CEO identified several areas for change and developed a 10-year strategy with an immediate 3-year action plan to enable the organisation to effectively move into the future. Shortly afterwards a small team of change agents were hired and placed into some key support roles (such as procurement, and project management.) Unfortunately the CEO did not manage some of the cultural issues of the workplace well and was fired after a dispute with the board. Over 6 months later a new CEO has not been found.

The organisation was poised for significant change, perhaps at a rate that it was not ready for, and the leader of that change was now gone. After the CEO left there were still a number of people who shared the CEO’s vision and are working to the agenda he set out, and while the change effort has stalled, it has not stopped. The vision of where the business needs to go remained and there was commitment from a cadre of influential people to achieve it. The challenge for the change agents left behind is how to motivate and lead in the absence of the CEO.

Joyce, Nohira and Roberson (2004) surveyed thousands of businesses over three decades and observed that having a performance based culture is a critical success factor, and to achieve that there are four essential ingredients; leadership need to inspire the workforce, people need to be rewarded for the work they do, and challenged and interested in it, and organisations need to have a clear of values. Kelly et al discuss values further and identify that they need to be aligned with the objectives of both management and the workforce to be truly effective.

Joyce et al’s research breaks down the key success factors of leadership as delivering a vision, setting standards and nurturing loyalty from employees towards their team and the organisation. In terms of delivering those leadership attributes Goleman discusses the need for leaders to have emotional intelligence (EQ), and that key attributes of emotional intelligence enable leaders to ‘move people in the direction of accomplishing [the] company’s goals.’

At this workplace the change agents the CEO put in place before his departure are in positions where they can and are exerting leadership in their areas of influence. Their motivation to maintain this focus appears to be because of the way they are personally motivated.

Goleman discusses the attributes of EQ and identifies that internal motivation is a core element of a leader’s success. He suggests leaders are motivated by a passion for the work itself, rather than money or prestige, optimism and perseverance. I can relate to this as in each of the changes I have made in my career I have made based upon a desire to learn, and for the opportunities to improve the workplace I am going to, which is why most of the jobs I have had are about implementing changes. I find that I am always looking at how things that I have done worked and assessing whether things could have been done better in an effort to continually improve my performance. I also like to know how my performance is going measured against others and the value it brings to the organisation which is he second main attribute Goleman suggests leaders motivation is made up from – a need to know how you are performing against external factors.

So at the moment, while the CEO issue is unresolved, the org is making the best of the leaders it has inside the organisation. Mid level managers are making changes internally to their departments, and in relation to how their departments deal with other parts of the organisation, focussing on the vision and values the CEO articulated before he left. They are motivating their staff through those three key leadership elements; vision, example and values, and they are using their emotional intelligence to assess the best way to get people to fall into line with the objectives and changes they are pursuing. This falls very much in lie with a lot of current management writing in magazines, newspapers, etc about how critical having the right team is to success. The CEO’s job appears to be to hire the right leaders at the top and get them to reproduce the model down their chain of command. Motivated leaders who have emotional intelligence seem to be able to do this, and to be able to get the best out of the people who are already in the workplace.

- Joyce, Nohira and Roberson, ‘What (really) works; the 4+2 formula for sustained business success’ Harper Business NY 2004
- Chris Kelly, Paul Kocourek, Nancy McGaw, Judith Samuelson, (2005) ‘Deriving Value from Corporate Values’ The Aspen Institute and Booz, Alllen, Hamilton, from 14 May 2005
- Daniel Goleman, ‘What makes a leader’ Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec 1998

Globalizing the Workforce

The economics of Off-shoring in a global labour market appear to be clear-cut. Financially both the community losing and receiving the jobs benefit from the exchange, when done well. The remaining argument is the negative impact of globalisation on culture. As workers perform work for global organizations how will they and their local culture be affected?

Essentially globalisation is about removing barriers to free trade. It is being done to achieve development and improved quality of life generally. A basic assumption in this premise is that all parties have something to offer or trade, and that all parties want to develop, according to the development standards being pursued by globalisation. However, today’s model of globalisation is based upon the west’s vision, and not all parties have an equal base to work from.

UNESCO highlights on it’s website that for cultural exchange to be effective in a global environment the parties must trade as equals. In reality economies and cultures that already have a critical mass are able to grow their ‘market share’ at the expense of less developed cultures and economies. Think of our local film industry competing with Hollywood for viewers as an example. Without the same budgets the same quality of film can’t be produced, and as a result fewer and fewer people see Australian films, while large budget American films expand their audience each year.

This means that globalisation will reinforce established power relationships. To many people in the developing world it’s apparent that wealth today is not evenly distributed, and that market forces are not sharing the wealth in a fair way. Westerners might argue that their standard of living is derived from higher education and more efficient capital systems, but hundreds of years of colonialism was key to building the economic base the west has developed from. Now, the globalisation of labour markets, improved communication, and spread of knowledge means that the inequalities in power relationships Marx wrote about in industrial Europe are now apparent on a global scale, and that the rate of polarisation between the richest and poorest is increasing. A critical risk for these people is that culture is being commodified and will become another one of the things that they lose ownership and control of.

On the other hand, globalisation can have interesting affects. As cultures exchange experiences more frequently there will be more and more points where cultural exchange occurs. More people travel for work, more people study internationally, more global corporations share knowledge and experience across continents. As cultures intersect new contexts and experiences are created. The more frequently this happens the more opportunity there is for new things in the cultural milieu to enter global and local cultures. This should be a good thing. Albert Einstein wrote that inventions, new paradigms etc are the result of new associations of existing ideas or things. Umberto Eco wrote in the late 80s and early 90s on American expeditions into cultural acquisitions, and how the change of context brought new meaning and experience from old structures and objects. Increasing interaction between cultures is likely to bring an increasing rate of change to all our existing cultures.

Another factor is becoming evident also: the increasing importance of local culture. Global brands and products are customised at a local level and local products are becoming more important. An example of this can be found in Melbourne with the Ceres community farm and market developing branded products that are sold in local stores. The very local brand is doing well in its local area. We are also seeing a proliferation of sub-cultures that are cross border. Cultural identities are being formed around cultures that have little to do with nationality. Husted (2001) writes about this balkanisation as a new way of cultures developing and spreading.

Both globalisation and balkanisation push away from national identities, which is interesting considering the great popularity nationalism is currently undergoing in countries like Australia, the US and France. Interesting also that in each of these countries the divide between political spectrums is growing at the moment.

An African writer, Mahmoud Monsipouri recently critiqued the west’s homogenised view of how the world should develop. He quotes the International Labour Organisation; “There are deep-seated and persistent imbalances in the current workings of the global economy which are ethically unacceptable and politically unsustainable….Seen through the eyes of the vast majority of men and women, globalisation has not met their simple and legitimate aspirations for decent jobs and a better future for their children.”

He asks questions about what should be given up socially and culturally in exchange for physical improvements to living standards and comes to the conclusion that an answer can not be reached without dialogue, and that today the developing world is not invited to participate in one with the west, rather the colonial paternalists are handing out welfare, on the conditions that they can shape he future of these countries.

From a western point of view we have plenty to gain from globalisation, both culturally and economically, as the west is controlling the process. However in the interests of most of the world’s population, and in terms of fairness, our governments and businesses need to help the developing world maintain and assert their cultural autonomy while they develop. Obviously things must change, but the change shouldn’t be one that forces other parts of the world to become like us. The benefits of this approach are twofold; an easier transition for developing nations into the global community, and more diversity and opportunity for interesting and productive cultural intersections in the future.

Mike van Graan (March 2004) comments on colonialism and Africa and how economic growth and quality of life are not the same thing Identity and Human Rights in the Age of Globalization: Emerging Challenges in the Muslim World By Mahmood Monshipouri

Capturing Details about WBS

This is a sample template I designed for breaking down work elements for a project. I have used this on a recent project. When there are subsets of work items at a lower, ore detailed level I simply repeat and then staple them to the master. It seems to be a useful way to capture data when workshopping a project's WBS and trying to plan resources, dependencies, effort, time etc.

After all you,as the PM, rarely know all the information you need to know to build a plan youself.

The key elements are:
  • Workstream (top level WBS)
  • Details about who and when the data was captured
  • The work tasks name/and objective
  • Steps need to fulfil the objective
  • Project resources needed (ie facilitators of workshops)
  • Business and stakeholder SME's needed
  • Time as both effort and elapse
  • The physical output of the work (for me often a microsoft office document)
  • Dependencies, Risks and Assumptions