New Post at AITS: Toward a Better Source of Project Management Data

AITSBloggingAllianceAITS recently published my new post, where I call for a movement to take more modern approaches to sharing and analyzing project data among projects. In it, I trace the evolution of end user management data processing from the late 1950’s through the present day. I contend that our end user technology has evolved past a need for normalized, standardized data structures, and that we need to think in terms of data exchange, rather than data repositories.

You can read the article here. Most of the folks who visit this site spend a lot of time creating, analyzing and sharing project data with governance boards, portfolio managers, and executives, so I’m sure the subject has come up at some time. Please leave a comment at the article, if you want to share your thoughts.

New PM Articles for the Week of January 5 – 11

SightseersNew project management articles published on the web during the week of January 5 – 11. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Maree Harris tells us how to be a coach, rather than a critic.
  • Amy Webb identifies the technology trends we can’t ignore in 2015.
  • Igal Hauer breaks down the actions that you should take to get your project team communicating and collaborating.

PM Best Practices

  • Steven Levy continues his series of posts on how to become the “five tools project manager,” explaining how to manage the Conditions of Satisfaction.
  • Michael Wood explains why program management is more than just managing a portfolio of related projects.
  • Glen Alleman gives us a quick recap of how our techniques for decision making in the presence of uncertainty have evolved, and how estimating is key to modern processes.
  • Johanna Rothman explains why the “indispensable employee” is a problem for the team, for management, and for the indispensable employee.
  • Lynda Bourne gives us a quick overview of the relationship between ethics, culture, rules, and governance.
  • Steve Jones explores a hypothetical: a person in a trusted role, who has started doing things differently (but not out of role), being detected by security analytics.
  • Terry Czigan reviews Margaret Lee’s new book, “Leading Virtual Project Teams.”
  • Susanne Madsen applies the metaphor of Yin and Yang to leading projects.
  • Margaret Meloni shares a nice graphic that summarizes how much project managers earn around the world.
  • Elizabeth Harrin has identified ten high-value project management conferences for us to consider attending in 2015.

Agile Methods

  • Derek Huether found a new product that lets you implement a green technique: reusable story cards!
  • Kelsey van Haaster gives us a primer on technical debt.
  • John Goodpasture explains why round negotiating tables are Agile.
  • Fang Wan consider the tenuous relationship between work and hours in estimates.
  • Bart Gerardi explains why velocity is not a figure of merit for the team; it is a planning metric, not an efficiency metric.
  • Mike Cohn even uses Scrum concepts to organize his own work. Probably not a daily stand-up, but other concepts map nicely.

Looking Ahead

  • Deven Parekh projects five trends related to Big Data. “Personalized medicine?” The pharmacist as barista – wow …
  • Scott Berkun tries to measure a trend: just how popular is remote work?
  • Don Kim brings together various indicators that predict the growth of the independent project manager, as part of the new normal.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cesar Abeid interviews Susanne Madsen, on the power of project leadership. Just 56 minutes, safe for work.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Brian Irwin on facilitating Agile transformations using the Socratic method. Just 17 minutes, safe for work.
  • Mark Phillipy interviews Joseph Flahiff on his new book, “Being Agile in a Waterfall World.” Just 58 minutes, safe for work.


Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

C. Northcote Parkinson

C. Northcote Parkinson

Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a British naval historian, author, and satirist. While his 60 books ranged from dry history to historical fiction, to biographies of fictional characters, he is best known for a short book on government bureaucracy. Titled “Parkinson’s Law,” it is the source of the often-quoted, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” One chapter, “High Finance, or The Point of Vanishing Interest,” explores the tendency for management to obsess on the trivial. As he put it, “The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.” Given a choice between discussing something complicated and expensive, which they don’t understand, and something familiar, most folks will bypass the complicated topic.

The Bike Shed Effect

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is known in some circles as “The bike shed effect,” derived from his example of a finance committee considering three agenda items: the signing of a £10 million contract to build a nuclear reactor, the second a proposal to build a £350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff, and the third a proposal for £21 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee. The reactor is approved in less than three minutes; an argument over the color and construction of the bicycle shed goes on for 45 minutes, with a possible savings of £50; debate over the coffee takes up the remaining 75 minutes, closing with a request for additional information and the decision deferred to the next meeting. If these absurd minutes don’t seem painfully familiar, then you just haven’t attended enough meetings.

One of the corollaries to Parkinson’s Law is, “The amount of discussion and resistance generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change.” Many of projects I’ve worked on over the years had the goal of transferring work from the sponsor’s staff to their customers, in the guise of self-service. When I’ve seen resistance to manager self-service, it is usually expressed in the form of anticipated response to complexity. “We should have the support staff handle these transactions. The managers won’t execute them more than once or twice a year, and they shouldn’t have to know how to do them. We should let them focus on the job we pay them for.” Never mind that the processing rules are imbedded in the work flow, and generally all the initiator has to do is make selections from a few pull-down menus; these highly-compensated folk aren’t perceived by the specialists to be competent to fill out electronic forms. Of course, I’ve never seen anyone object to a requirement for these same folks to select their own benefits during annual open enrollment, which has a lot more decision points. No, it’s actions like initiating a promotion, or the transfer of an employee to another supervisor that makes people dig in their heels. Not because the HR specialists are intimidated by these transactions, but because they understand them completely, and thus feel qualified to weigh in on them.

Applying Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law is not about the task, nor is it about the people performing it. It describes an entirely natural human response to agenda topics with a range of complexity. If you include a routine question on an otherwise challenging agenda, that routine matter will become the place where everyone can demonstrate their understanding. And they most certainly will do so.

Plainly, there are two ways to apply this understanding: you can get easy approval on a nuclear reactor by letting them dispute the color of the bicycle shed, or you can focus the discussion on the nuclear reactor by making it the only topic on the agenda. Either way, it is important to understand the degree to which the participants will feel qualified to participate in the discussion. And if you absolutely need their qualified opinion, you need to lay the groundwork for them to feel empowered to participate. Whether it’s by beginning with a demonstration, or spending time on the background material, you need to cultivate their level of understanding to match the complexity of the required decisions. Otherwise, you’ll end up scheduling a follow-up meeting, where you present additional information on something they do understand.