Get My Free e-Book: MS Project Hacks

ToolsI’ve released my new e-Book, MS Project Hacks in PDF format, along with sample files for MS Project 2007 / 2010 and MS Project 2013, available for download under the My Books top level menu. It’s a compilation of polished versions of seven articles previously published here, including various improvements suggested by readers just like you. So if you’ve ever wondered whether it was worth your time to leave me a comment or send me an EMail, the answer is yes! Be sure to post your review or suggestions with a comment on the My Books: Microsoft Project Hacks page.

Here are the chapters:

  1. Add Holidays to the MS Project Calendar – Start by accounting for all of your non-working days. It’s embarrassing when someone points out that a key task is scheduled to complete on a national holiday.
  2. Crafting Formulas for Calculated Fields – You use Excel because you can calculate values from what is in other cells. Project is useful in the same way.
  3. Add a Current Tasks Flag – I originally created this to be able to extract a list of tasks in progress or about to begin, for review at team meetings. It has since proven to be incredibly useful.
  4. Add a Status Indicator to Detail Tasks – Show a calculated Red / Yellow / Green indicator on tasks in progress. This is by any measure the most popular article I’ve ever written.
  5. Add a Negative Total Slack Flag – If you have a task with a fixed end date, you probably need this in order to debug your critical path.
  6. Track Qualitative Risk – Most risks are retired during the course of a project. This approach incorporates elements of your risk register into your schedule.
  7. Add a Cutover Weekend Calendar – Is your team performing one or two tasks over a weekend? Here’s how to represent it in Project without distorting the schedule for tasks that follow.
  8. Additional Resources

After you read the first two chapters, you’ll have the background needed to skip to whatever other chapters interest you.

Book Review: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I was quick to read “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome,” the new electronic book by one of my favorite bloggers, Elizabeth Harrin, as soon as it became available in Kindle format.  If you’re not familiar with the term, Elizabeth quotes Judith Beck: “It’s that sense that you don’t fully know what you’re doing and that you have fooled other people into believing that you are more competent and talented than you really are.”  Of course, it isn’t really a medical condition, and Elizabeth hastens to explain that she isn’t a trained medical professional.  But the phenomenon is real enough, and Elizabeth lists five symptoms, as well as a self-assessment checklist by Geoff Crane, another blogger I follow.  She also references research by Drs. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes into self-esteem, and lists four behavioral characteristics that seem to contribute to feelings of Imposter Syndrome.

Then Elizabeth lists ten strategies for overcoming Imposter Syndrome.  Some of them, such as reading widely, networking, and publishing your writing, are all excellent strategies for improving your knowledge base, capabilities, and resume.   Other strategies address self-esteem: understand what motivates you, challenge yourself, have confidence, accept that there is always someone better than you, and remember that other people don’t notice.  But at this point, I started asking, “What if I haven’t tried to fool other people?  Why should I feel guilty for being who I am?”  As Geoff puts it, “Remember that you’re not a fraud until you do something fraudulent.”  Her last two strategies consider both sides of that question: fake it, and recognize when you should feel like a fraud.  Note that she’s not advocating we misrepresent ourselves; she’s merely advocating for confident behavior, without crossing any ethical lines.

In one way or another, these strategies all attempt to de-legitimize the feelings of inadequacy and guilt, based on the idea that Imposter Syndrome might have some basis in objective reality.  And I think that’s the concern I have with this approach: it seems to accept the notion that we need to be at the upper end of the Bell curve.  In truth, half of us are below average, at least in a normal distribution.  Shall we assume that those folks should feel inadequate?  Wealth is not the only measure of personal success, and neither should knowledge and demonstrated competence on the job be our only driver of self-esteem.  I’d add a few strategies: find your sources of joy and cultivate them, try to understand what people like about you, and change something about your appearance that will make you feel good.  And address your “soft” skills: work at improving your ability to influence others, to be a better listener, and to be a calming influence.  There are a lot of ways to add value, in and out of the workplace.

Of course, I’m not a trained medical professional, either.  But after four decades in the work force, I’ve come to understand that competence and talent isn’t everything.  And the smartest guy in the room isn’t always someone I want to emulate.

Prioritizing With Post-It Notes and a Venn Diagram

I recently led a very productive strategy workshop with senior folks in three of our corporate departments.  Our goal was to describe how we should be doing business in their areas in 2014, thus allowing us to develop a plan to get there.  We started by identifying the business processes that our organization uses, writing each one on a Post-it Note.  We then began classifying them in various ways, by marking the Notes up with Sharpies, and placing them on a white board, first on a Venn diagram and then in a two-by-two matrix.  When we finished, we had sorted out several small stacks of processes, including:

  • Those that were functioning well
  • Those that were problematic, but not a core competency, and should be considered for outsourcing
  • Those that were problematic, and needed improvements
  • Those that were not standardized across the organization, and would benefit from standardization
  • Those that were non-standard, but wouldn’t benefit from standardization

I adapted the process from techniques described in David Straker’s book, “Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes,” which is a handbook of tools for exactly this sort of analysis by decomposition, grouping, sorting, and classifying.  Published in 1997, it is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

In Chapter 1, Straker describes chunking problems into pieces, so they are easier to address.  Chapter 2 is about making decisions – identifying what information you need, classifying data as “fact,” “opinion,” or “guess,” and using a “statement of objectives” to guide what you are trying to achieve.  In Chapter 3, he talks about how to use the six techniques in Chapters 4 through 9, including:

  • “list” tools “Post Up” and “Swap Sort”
  • “tree” tools “Top down” and “Bottom Up”
  • “map” tools “Information” and “Action”

In Chapter 10, Straker discusses solving problems using the six tools, and in Chapter 11 he provides specific examples.  Chapter 12 offers some tips for advanced usage.  The book is not a tough read, maybe two or three hours.  It has a lot of drawings, diagrams, and other graphics, but they seem to display well on the Kindle version.  Highly recommended.