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28 February 2011

PM Failure and Success

I've been thinking that the success/failure discussion is the wrong way to be looking at this.

I remember reading (Rodney Turner?) that when PM is applied projects are X% cheaper, faster etc than if no project management is applied, but that the increased efficiency had to be measured against the increased costs (i.e. you don't put a PM onto a minor system enhancement.)

So, rather than talk about failures what we should be talking about is relative improvements.

(Dan Strayer was the catalyst for writing this down.)

Every Project is a Remix

One of my favorite webisodes (episodic web videos) that has come out in the last year is Everything is a Remix. Part 2 was especially inspiring to me... well, it was actually slightly depressing, but it did hit really close to home.

The basic premise of this series is to show how there really isn't anything new in the world and that especially applies to Hollywood movies. That's not to say that the creator of the series dislikes most things produced from Hollywood, just that the makers of movies are always playing off of those who came before them. Even individuals who are thought of as visionary are really just playing to themes of their predecessors (watch all the way to the end of the embedded video to see who I'm referencing).

Part of the way through the video, it occurred to me that most things we do in projects are just remixes as well. Imagine that your organization is starting up a project to install the first ERP system in the company's history. Sounds new, right? Not really. Unless you're writing your own ERP system from the ground up, something that probably isn't very time or cost effective, this exact same system is likely installed with dozens, if not hundreds, of other companies. But even if you are writing your own ERP, its still a remix of what others have done for other ERP systems. Sure, you might be designing one that runs entirely on a smart phone (yet again, something you probably shouldn't do), but you'd hardly be the first to design a piece of financial software for a handheld device.

So its all remix in projects as well, but is this a bad thing? To me, admitting that sounds as if we're saying that there isn't really innovation in what we do with projects. But is that really true?

I think there is innovation, even if just incremental, in how we implement our projects. By remixing our tools, we get better and better development environments, better requirements management repositories and better process analysis suites. We see something that worked really well on a website and figure out a way to add the same concept to our company's internal portal. We are innovating, every day, on a small scale.

What about large-scale innovations? Is this even possible? Google didn't invent the idea of a search engine, they just built one that was better for general inquiries than everyone else. Social networks existed prior to Facebook, but they finally made it cool (and relatively simple) for everyone to use one. Apple didn't invent the smart phone, but they did produce a product that their competitors are still trying to match more than 4 years later.

In the end, I don't know that what we think of as 'large-scale innovation' exists. I begin to wonder if there really is anything truly new under the sun. What do you all think? Is there anything really new being done or is it all just remix?

22 February 2011

Bad Processes? Here's some tips

I started my project life working as a business process analyst, so I am always thinking about the processes that integrate and co-ordinate the various tasks and activities that push value out the end of the sausage maker.

Today Josh wrote a frustrated blog post calling for people to apply common sense to project and development processes.  He wraps up with a call to share out stories.

I'd like to share on with you, but there are so many.

Instead let me share a few techniques fro spotting problems in processes;

  • Every process should have an owner, if it doesn't have a clear owner there is no consequence for not following it
  • Processes when fully inspected should start and end with the same person
  • If a process isn't measured or quality assured it is either unimportant or unmanaged - either way there is something to fix
  • Handover points from one process operator to another always create friction.  These problems are often able to be fixed by improving relationships and the flow of communication
  • Processes are often stable over time, and as a result can, at some point, become legacy products without anyone realizing.  
  • Keep your eyes open for improvement opportunities and if process owners are not clear feel comfortable in driving the improvement yourself.
  • Process is always supposed to be about creating value.  Understand how each step creates value or mitigates risk.  Maybe you can come up with better alternatives.

Business Analyst World 2011

I've submitted a speaker proposal for BA World 2011 at Bangalore about measuring requirements and their impact on project scope.  So it's with some self interest that I want to inform you that the gates are open.  Buy your tickets now.  It's on May 26-27th.

My presentation is about using measurements to help manage requirements, and how this assists in scope control on projects.  The Abstact for the proposal is available on the BA World website.  

I've also submitted this to PMOZ (Sydney), and the pitch to PM's is oriented slightly differently;
"Business analysts elicit and define project requirements.  Solution teams respond with a proposal.  There is your project scope.  Now deliver to it. 
One of the most commonly cited reason for project schedule and budget blowouts is poorly defined requirements.  How can you manage your requirements in a way that reduces risk, and becomes measurable and manageable?"
Here is your opportunity to help me.  What do you think is important?  What are the key themes and essential techniques I should include?  All advice is welcome.

21 February 2011

Requirements infographic

Jama has published an infographic of its industry survey on requirements practices.
(Click here for the large version)

20 February 2011

On blogging with Bas de Baar

And the final post in this series; the birthday boy.  Bas is mainly interested in how we as humans are affected by our workplaces and the tools and systems we use.  His blog began as, then becamse and now he is working under his own name at  You'll see why below.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging?

Ask yourself difficult questions and try to answer them. Be original. Look for answers in the non-obvious places.

Why are you still blogging on project management?

The purpose of the blog. Why am I writing?

For me it’s a personal thing. I want to sharpen my mind around this riddle: how can we run projects in a virtual and global environment by focusing on social interactions? It’s about being able to combine sociology, psychology, management, leadership, project management, communication and everything else that comes to mind in one fluent motion, in any context.

Still my questions aren't answered. Still not a "big picture" overview.

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?)

I will be writing and creating media about how tech and globalization influences our identity and vice versa.

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?

Not taken it seriously 10 years ago. Putting "project" in my blog name. Limits your area.

(Craig: Hmmmm....)

19 February 2011

On blogging with Glen Alleman of Herding Cats

Glen works in a different context to the one I do, so it's always interesting to hear his perspective on how to run projects.  There are similarities and differences, and that's what makes the pm discussion never-ending!  Glen challenges and wants to be challenged.  He's very active not just on his own blog but in the comments of many others.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging? 

Well formed ideas take a lot more work than I originally thought. 1 out of 10 posted has significant impact. Others are interesting and some or just place holders. Writing everyday forces thoughtful consideration of what people want to hear about. Write about what I know best, stay focused on core knowledge. Use more pictures. Get good ideas from other bloggers.

Why are you still blogging on project management/Business Analysis? 

“I write to learn what I don’t know about” was a quote from long ago.

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?) 

Yes I’ll still be blogging. There is a vast amount of information needed to success. Few have come to grips of this. Projects and programs are growing more complex and the processes and tools are not up to the task.

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?

Getting into discussions with those interested in winning an argument rather than having a conversation.

18 February 2011

On blogging with Josh Nankivel of PM Student

Josh writes the PM student. Over the years his blog has evolved out of the depths of dealing with code and small project teams to focus on bigger issues like managing stakeholder expectations, getting team focused on the right things, estimating and measuring and all the stuff that differentiates project management the job from project management the activity.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging?

That the more you give of yourself to others, the more you get back. I have gained so much by sharing my time and ideas with others. When people send me email or tweets to let me know I helped them in some way, even helped them land a job or turn around a troubled project, it makes all of my time and effort worth it and then some.

Why are you still blogging on project management?

Because I am passionate about this topic. This is one of those areas of disciplines where people doing it wrong can really screw things up, and people doing it right can really make a difference. As long as I have students wanting to learn from me and fellow project managers wanting to read my articles and comment on my blog, I'll keep at it.

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?)

I imagine I will still be helping new and aspiring project managers reach their career goals. I will still be focused on trying to advance the state of project management by focusing on those people I'm most passionate about helping, the newcomers.

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?

Trying to automate too much and not being human. I've experimented with some of the snazzy 'internet marketing' tools and have abandoned most of them. There's nothing better than just pulling up your twitter account and reading stuff from real people, and responding to them.

17 February 2011

Snowbird; Agile 2011 discussion on the BA

In the below video some of the #10yrsagile participants discuss the role of the Business Analyst.

A question for you; Do you agree or disagree with the premise that an analysts role is to analyse the situation and stay clear of design?

On blogging with Fadi El-Eter of the PM Hut

Fadi's blog is different from other blogs I have listed here because it's actually a curated list of posts by other bloggers.  Unlike automated aggregators, Fadi's PM Hut blog is curated by hand, so the content reflects his underpinning beliefs and values.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging?

I've learned in the last 5 years that people really like lists, for example, Top 10 Mistakes, 100 Project Management Questions, etc... People also appreciate fun, and lightweight articles. Articles that are long usually get a very low readership.

Why are you still blogging on project management/Business Analysis?

I think project management has a huge potential, and is growing at an incredible speed.

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?)

I will continue to focus on project management. I think though that the concept of PM Hut will change, there will more focus on traffic coming from mobile phones and (maybe) tablets.

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?

I don't think I'm focusing a lot on traffic from social media, and that's a problem. I think Twitter will die in a couple of years (or be integrated in another product), and I believe Facebook will dominate the Internet traffic, and will overtake Google very soon.

16 February 2011

On blogging with Pawel Brodzinski of Software Project Management

Pawel has a blog on managing and leadership in the context of software projects.  He works in Poland and has experience in start-ups and enterprises.  He's a no bullshit kind of guy who likes to talk straight.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging?

Consistency. Consistency is the king. You start blogging with vague feeling you’re going to be successful in a matter of weeks. Well, that’s not going to happen. After a first year you look back and what you see isn’t as optimistic as you expected. At least it rarely is. But if you keep going, keep writing new meaningful stuff you slowly change environment around. It just takes a lot of consistent work.

Consistency would also be a thing I’d point if you ask me to differentiate those who are still around throwing their ideas at us from those who stopped writing and are pretty much forgotten.

Why are you still blogging on project management?

I write about things I do. Since I’m still close to project management I still blog about that. As simple as that. If I suddenly change the industry to sailing or brewing (both theoretically possible, even though not likely) you won’t see me blogging about software project management any more.

By the way that’s also something why the profile of my blog changes. There were times where I was doing more about projects and my writings were mostly about that and now a big part of my workday is managing teams so the subject has bigger representation. But then, that’s how it works – you can pretend to be an expert in an area you only know from theory but people won’t follow you. Either you’re real or you’re out of blogging business soon. This is a reason why so many corporate blogs fail.

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?)

I got used to blogging so I pretty much expect I will be doing that in 5 years as well. What will I write about? If nothing totally unplanned happens subjects won’t change dramatically. My whole career is somehow connected to building software. I see myself as a leader and a manager so I’ll probably still write about stuff which is important for managers in software companies. I see my transition from more of a project manager to more of a people manager, and it will probably go on, but it won’t be a revolution. I’m evolving, like everyone. So is the blog.

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?

A single one? That’s a tough question indeed. I could point a whole list. Choosing a blogging platform without much research, believing you can earn decent money on adverts, not starting with own domain, transition to another blogging platform, joining Twitter pretty late, being inconsistent with engaging community, being removed from search results with no faintest clue why (yep, try to find me through Google – not that easy for a couple of months already). There were many failures on the road, but somehow consistency kept me going and made me fixing all those mistakes.

15 February 2011

On blogging with Elizabeth Harrin of PM4Girls

In 2006 Elizabeth published a book called Project Management in the Real World. It was also the year she started publishing her blog, A Girl's Guide to Project Management.  I discovered her blog via the Carnival of Project Management.  This is also where I learned the acronym OTOBOS.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging?

I can't please everyone, but in the main, people are lovely. And 'if in doubt, ask.' Online people are very generous with their time. Blogging has enabled me to meet lots of wonderful people, attend brilliant events, and review dozens of management books. I'm very fortunate to have been able to create a network of people as a result of blogging, but interacting with readers is the best thing.

Why are you still blogging on project management?

Because it's still important. The skills of project managers are in increasing demand. Project management remains high on the agenda for many organisations. Reform of project management practices is also a priority for the UK Government, and forms a section of the November 2010 Cabinet Office Business Plan (pdf), demonstrating the UK Government's ongoing commitment to improving efficiency in the public sector.

This is further cemented by the introduction of the Efficiency & Reform Group. Doing projects is a growing area, still. We continue to see the impact of outsourcing and off-shoring work, and the recent economic crisis has only highlighted the value of doing the right projects in the right way.

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?)

A Girl's Guide to Project Management was 5 in January, and I hope I'll still be going in another 5 years. I'm a writer, so I can't help it - I think I'd be writing in some form or another even if no one was reading. Over the last few years my blog has changed from centering on my personal stories to a larger focus on reporting on project management news and events. I still write about my experiences, but I think there are a number of blogs that focus directly on project management opinion and explaining techniques, so I like to think that by offering readers news and reviews I have a unique take on the project management blogging world.

I expect I'll be writing about the same communication issues as we see now. As much as I'd like to think human interactions will get a lot better with another 5 years practice, I don't realistically think they will. 

Projects are about people, and people are always going to have challenges dealing with each other in workplace settings: that's just how we are. I expect I'll be writing more about virtual teams, managing remote workers and as I am often inspired by my own career journey, more about portfolio management, which is what I'm doing now. I hope I'll be an expert videographer by then (I got a tripod for Christmas so new videos should at least be less shaky). I might even have learned podcasting!

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?
I'll give you two: Not having a Facebook page for my blog. I've been asked several times how people can 'Like' my blog posts but I've never got round to setting one up, partly because I guard my profile on Facebook fiercely as it is the only domain I have not populated by project managers and business analysts. I have to have somewhere online that is just for me and my non-PM friends.

And last year my blog database disappeared and wiped out all my posts. I tried to sort it out and ended up posting the standard Wordpress test post (the one that says "Hello World") to my blog, which automatically got Tweeted out from a number of people who pick up my feed. When I got the database back I deleted that test post but was then contacted by people saying the link they had was broken. I learned never to delete posts. And also the value of doing regular backups

14 February 2011

On blogging with Scott Selhorst from Tyner Blain

Scott Selhorst publishes a blog called Tyner Blain.  It provides outstanding analysis and deconstruction of analysis and requirements activities that support good product management.

What's the most important thing you've learned in the last 5 years of blogging?

"Giving it away for free" is the best thing I could have done for my business. Messrs Godin, Doctorow and others were right, my mom was wrong. Writing articles helps me get better. Having conversations about those topics helps me get smarter. Those conversations lead to great and often inspiring connections, some friendships, and some work opportunities.

Why are you still blogging on product management?

I grew from "try to write great software" into "try to solve really valuable problems" as my progression of increasing the impact of what I do. That doesn't take me out of business analysis / product management. Ever. Only reason I would stop would be if I took a next step to becoming a founder. But I'd still be a "product guy."

What do you think you'll be blogging about in 5 years? (And will you still be going?)

Yes. Creating great products.

What's the biggest social media mistake you've made?

Under-emphasizing the collaborative opportunities of being in the space. "Mistake by inaction."

13 February 2011

Old School Project Bloggers

I was speaking to Bas de Baar the other day and he mentioned that it is his blog's 5th birthday.  5 years of blogging is no mean feat.  I started this one in August 2005 myself so I know it can be hard.

Anyway, the conversation got me thinking back to the days when finding project management or business analyst blogs was hard to do.  Now my RSS reader has HUNDREDS of feeds on project related content.

The first few project blogs that I discovered are still blogs that I regularly read and I want to share them with you;

I thought I'd ask and post a series of questions to and answers from these guys about their blog, blogging and project management.  So each day this week, I'll post the Q&A from these guys.  Feel free to jump into the questions and ask more questions, they guys will check in and see what you've written.

12 February 2011

Enterprise and Start-ups speak different languages

Jason Yip and I exchanged a few words on a twitter about the value of process over mission.

His question; Why should an organisation transition from mission focus to process centric.
My response; process creates stability as your mean quality per person lowers.
His response; Especially if you focus on growth at the expense of mission.


Even if you do stay on Mission you may well end up with thousands of employees and you then need integration tools, and process is one such tool.

Are there others that work at scale?

11 February 2011

How to Kill a Zombie... Project

I'm not much of a horror movie fan, but I do enjoy a good zombie movie (as long as its one that doesn't take itself too seriously). If you invite me over for Halloween, make sure you've got a copy of Shaun of the Dead or Evil Dead II around, just so we can laugh.

But zombies are real, and those of us who live in project-land, are all too familiar with zombie... projects. They live on, well past their day of expiration. Despite their slow, shambling appearance, they are very difficult to run away from. Removing the head is just about the only way to kill one.

Seriously, how do you kill a zombie project? In a phrase, not easily.

A zombie project usually lives only through the will of someone who isn't doing the daily drudgery and toil that keeps the project upright and shambling along. The best way really is to separate that driving will from the dead body of the project. Sometimes, that just isn't an option. Either you don't have a sharp enough weapon (your argument is dull) or you just don't have the strength to get it done on your own (weak level of organizational influence).

Trying to convince the person driving a zombie project forward is often a difficult proposal. For some reason, these individuals have convinced themselves that there is value to be had in this project reaching completion. It doesn't mean that the project's completion will bring value to the organization; it may mean value only to the person driving the project, but they see value there somewhere. You have to recognize that there is some kind of perceived value there, even if you can't see it.

And maybe that is the problem, too, that you just can't see the value. It might not be that the project is a zombie project, just one that's shuffling along arthritically. No, that's not healthy either, but maybe the project has to go that slowly in order for the rest of the organization to see its eventual value. Taking the time to verify if you're being chased by a zombie or just by some elderly project is time well spent.

9 February 2011

Meet-up in Melbourne 23rd February

Hi Melbourne readers. I'll be going to a bundled Scrum/Agile and potentially Limited WIP meetup later this month at the Giraffe Cafe.

The agenda is wide open at the moment, so it'll probably focus around some basic Q&As at first and then drill into people's current issues/experiences.  It will be a great forum for people who want to learn more to come and ask and get some real world perspectives.

I would love to see you there.



8 February 2011

Idea Mutation

DNA renderingphoto © 2007 ynse | more info (via: Wylio)
If you've been reading this blog for the last year, you probably realize by now that I am not a scientist (nor do I play one on TV). There are, however, several concepts in science which fascinate me. One of those happens to be mutation, the process by changes are introduced into the genetic sequence.

Mutations can happen in many different ways, either by DNA being impacted by external forces or by internal cellular processes. Be it by virus, radiation, transcription errors or self-designed changes, mutations can be helpful or harmful to the cells.

No, this hasn't become a science blog (and a really rudimentary one at that), but it occurred to me earlier today that ideas also mutate in similar ways to genetic material and do so for similar reasons.

Getting to Why

External forces, such as viruses and radiation, push on genes to make them mutate. External forces like time and budget constraints force ideas to change. At some point in our careers, we've either faced (or will face) a project manager who tells us the budget for the project just got cut in half due to shifting priorities. At this point we find ourselves in an odd situation. No one has yet agreed to allowing us to finish later or to decrease scope, so we get creative... we force our ideas to change in order to fit with our new project reality.

Internal forces also cause our ideas to change. If you're like me, you've started out on some project with a picture in your mind as to what the ideal solution will look like when the project is done. As time passes and you learn more about the forces within and outside your sphere of influence, your idea of the end point morphs. You realize that while others might not recognize that the ideal solution needs to change, you recognize it and know that for the project to reach its fully potential, ideas will need to change.

Ways to Make a Mutation

Now that you know that your ideas must change, you need to figure out how to make them change in the right ways. Here are some thoughts, based on genetic mutation methods, that might help your ideas to change.

First, hit it with some radiation. Radiation is essentially the release of unstable energy. Take your idea and add something to it that makes it unstable, then try to figure out what you could add or take away that would once again make it unstable.

Next, infect it with a virus. Take a bad idea and attach it to your idea and see what the outcome looks like. Its possible that your addition will kill/destroy your idea, but then again, the addition might be just the one thing it needs to survive.

Third, swap around some of the steps in the process (transposons). If your process doesn't seem to fit with what you think would make an ideal solution, maybe your ideals solution is the problem. Take out sections, even ones that would seem like they must remain in place, and swap them or insert them into a different part of the process.

What are other ways you use to mutate your ideas? Let us know in the comments.

3 February 2011

Stupid Project Labels

We've all see product labels that leaving us scratching our heads trying to understand what it was that the authors of the the product descriptions were trying to convey to us, the purchasers. This got me thinking, what if projects were labeled appropriately? What would these labels be? Some of these could be funny, yet quite meaningful:

  • Warning! May cause EXTREME profitability! Implement with CAUTION!
  • Only intended for use by professional stakeholders!
  • May be harmful if directions are not followed exactly.
Some could also be quite humorous:
  • Do not use if you cannot see clearly to read the requirements contained within this document.
  • Warning! May Cause Drowsiness!
  • Open Document. Open Mind. Keep brain from falling out.
  • Warning! This project contains nuts!
  • Warning! Project may cause homicidal tendencies.
What about you? How would you label your projects?

2 February 2011

1.00 FTE - Recruitment Guarantees

Craig and I have both plugged 1.00 FTE on this blog before. Having hired 3 team members in the last quarter, I can completely agree with the point of this comic. Thankfully, all 3 of my hires were internal promotions and I had great references regarding them all. So far, all of them are turning out to be awesome selections and I look forward to seeing them all grow in their new roles. I am very thankful, and very fortunate, to have all of them. Now, ask me in a year and I'll tell you if this is still the case. ;)

Recruitment Guarantees (to annoy)