New PM Articles for the Week of August 25 – 31

Balloon Over The RoofNew project management articles published on the web during the week of August 25 – 31. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

PM Best Practices

  • Glen Alleman channels W. Edwards Deming, to make the point that management is about prediction, and thus estimation.
  • Rachel Matthews provides some insights on selecting contingent workers, also known as “temps,” for engineering roles.
  • Bruce Benson reports on the finger-pointing lawsuits counter-filed by Oracle and the State of Oregon, from their failed Cover Oregon healthcare website.
  • Ireti Oke-Pollard offers some thoughts on how to improve software testing, by thinking like users.
  • Dave Wakeman shares his insights on leading with integrity, following recent media reports on failures of leadership in politics and sports.
  • Brad Egeland continues his series on the seven areas for project managers to focus on.
  • Patti Gilchrist applies lessons from art (Pablo Picasso) to structuring project management presentations.

Agile Methods

  • Pawel Brodzinski tells why values and principles are more important than practices, techniques, tools, and methods.
  • Jesse Fewell crunches the numbers to see which organizations are winning the “Agile certification wars.” All we are saying is give PMI-ACP a chance …
  • Johanna Rothman fine-tunes a post by Glen Alleman that management is prediction.
  • John Goodpasture applies a little physics to understand the drop in productivity, once the team hits 70% throughput capacity.
  • Venkatesh Krishnamurthy shares a “soup recipe” for building self-organizing teams.
  • Madhavi Ledalla rises to the challenge of conducting retrospectives with a distributed team.
  • Martin LaPointe tells how his family used Scrum to self-organize their recent relocation from Paris to Montreal.

Following the Trends

  • Jennifer Zaino notes that, as the digital universe doubles in size every two years, data centers are evolving rapidly for high-density, green operations.
  • Kailash Awati explores the ironies of standardization and outsourcing enterprise IT.
  • Suzanne Lucas tells the story of an inflexible management team that couldn’t manage their “flexible” star employee.

Professional Development

Podcasts and Videos

  • Michel Dion shares some feedback for you podcasters. Not the kind that blows out your speakers … the helpful kind.
  • Cesar Abeid interviews Tim Stringer on his approach to “holistic productivity,” which he developed while being treated for cancer. Just 53 minutes, safe for work.
  • Dave Prior interviews Rachel Gertz on applying psychological tools to project management. Just 18 minutes, safe for work.

Enjoy!

Managing Time and Materials Contracts

Time and ExpensesTime and materials contracts are frequently used for staff augmentation, when an organization needs labor types that they don’t have on staff, in order to complete some project or task. Generally, these contracts are based on an imprecise statement of work, with relatively few specific deliverables. Cost is calculated from an estimated number of hours at the specified price per hour for each labor type, with some estimate for expenses, to be passed along without markup. The schedule is usually not very detailed, although there is almost always an “end” date in there somewhere. In short, it’s a vehicle for quickly getting contingent workers on board, rather than a plan. And as a project manager, whether you are managing that labor or supplying it, there are some things you need to consider.

Find the Flexible Dimension

Consider the three fundamental dimensions of the project: scope, cost, and schedule. Of the three, which is the most important? Before you start work under such a contract, try to rank-order them. In some cases, there is an unmovable date that must be met, and every other consideration is secondary. For example: replacing an old financial accounting system so that it goes into operation on the first day of a fiscal year. In other cases, there is no “minimum viable product,” and the contract will provide the specialty skills required to deliver key elements of the required scope. In still other cases, the business case is very cost-sensitive. Understand which of these dimensions is least flexible in order to understand your options for the other two.

Define Quality

If you were contracting with someone to excavate, build forms, place rebar, and pour concrete for the foundation of a building, there would be extensive specifications, plans, drawings, quality standards, and so on. There would be no doubt what “good enough” and “done” looked like. Under a T&M contract, the deliverables are labor hours, rather than tangible products. Consequently, quality must be specified at the task level. For example: if you request a training plan to prepare some group of workers to use a new process, specify that you want a draft plan, so that it can be reviewed and specific changes requested. Otherwise, your specialized labor might end up doing commodity labor editing, which is not very cost-efficient. Similarly, if you get a contract programmer to create some custom process, consider whether every possible condition must be automated. It might be more cost effective to have the corner cases and once-a-year events handled manually.

Manage the Expenses

In a typical staff augmentation contract, travel expenses are part of the “materials.” I’ve seen contracts where the travel estimate was as much as 25% of the labor estimate. But, the 90’s are over; consider the possibility for some of the work to be completed off-site. Why incur travel costs in order to have someone sit down the hall in a cube, huddled over a laptop, for forty hours a week? We have collaboration tools that allow us to manage projects with a globally distributed team, from conference calls and Webex to document sharing tools like SharePoint and Central Desktop. Also, it’s common these days for very specialized knowledge workers to be on several projects at once, billing a few hours each week to each of them. Why pay for a “work week” of travel in order to get a “work day” of labor? And if you are the vendor, why lose all of that high-value productivity in travel time?

Under a T&M contract, the customer retains most of the risk. It’s not uncommon for contingent labor costs to expand to the point where it makes the overall project a failure. The sponsor expects the project manager to understand and manage that contract, as a source of labor as well as an expense. The key is to understand the cost drivers of that contingent labor, and keep them under control.

New PM Articles for the Week of August 18 – 24

Balloon BeyondNew project management articles published on the web during the week of August 18 – 24. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. And yes, I took all of these hot air balloon photos right in my own neighborhood. Privacy? Well, they seemed friendly enough. Recommended:

PM Best Practices

  • Glen Alleman imagines a conversation between a project manager, a team of software developers, and an iceberg.
  • Brad Egeland starts a new series with a look at customer satisfaction, and why it’s the most important success metric.
  • Jim Anderson speculates on the root causes of Avon’s recent SAP implementation failure. The users left the company, rather than switch? Wow …
  • Emanuele Passera applies the tenets of “locus of control” theory to project management.
  • Bruce Benson tells of the New Manager who wanted to help.
  • Ian Whittingham continues his look at project management applications for Leavitt and Dubner’s new book “Think Like a Freak.”
  • Christopher Merryman demonstrates ways that we can add visual presentation to our project reporting communications.
  • Dan Patterson makes the case for consensus-based planning.
  • Ron Rosenhead tells of the great new Projects web site at the University of Edinburgh, and asks us how much project information do we share?
  • Nick Pisano is perplexed by the academic community’s apparent lack of interest in Big Data.
  • Jen Skrabak maps Tim Ogilvie’s “design thinking” to project portfolio management.

Agile Methods

  • Mike Cohn explains his approach to massaging the backlog for a three-month vision of where the product is going.
  • John Carroll explains the Taoist basis for Agile methods. Or at least, anti-rigidity.
  • Craig Brown and Tony Ponton interview a few attendees / thought leaders at Agile Australia in Melbourne. Just 25 minutes, safe for work.

Professional Development

  • Elizabeth Harrin Interviews Terry Okoro, Chair of the APM’s Women in Project Management SIP on their 21st anniversary conference in London.
  • Dave Prior advocates for experiential learning, also known as “getting a bunch of adults to play a game together.”
  • Robert Wysocki and Joseph Matthews continue their series on methods for the Occasional PM. This episode: team structure.

Enjoy!