Get Ready to Manage an Autonomous Vehicle Project

Google Driverless Car

Google prototype

The same people who funded the research that led to the Internet, the U.S.government, are about to invest $3.9 billion in research on autonomous vehicle development. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx appeared at the Detroit Auto Show to announce a budget proposal that will spread the funding over ten years, and “accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.”

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” said Secretary Foxx. And everyone else, since consumer technology developed in the U.S. will be sold all over the world, as it always has been.

Autonomous Tech

Take a moment to think about the technologies that are converging to produce a vehicle which drives itself, reliably and efficiently, safely and affordably. From visual and auditory recognition (not just speech, but sounds) to machine learning, continuous risk assessment and management to efficient route selection. GPS is about navigation; extend that to lane-selection strategy. And then there’s peer-to-peer networking, based on location, direction, and velocity. If debris falls onto the road, nearby cars will caution other vehicles headed toward it, well before they can see it, and alert a specialized vehicle that will automatically remove it, quickly and safely, without interrupting the flow of traffic.

Changing When Things Get Done

Rush hour traffic will be reduced, because more activities will become asynchronous. Cars will top off their own gas tanks while you’re sleeping, schedule their own maintenance, drive to Jiffy Lube, and return. Retail stores and supermarkets will have their stock delivered and gas stations will have their storage tanks topped up off-hours, with no humans involved. Your car will coordinate with the vehicle delivering your groceries, so it arrives at your home at the same time you do. Residential snail mail and package delivery will occur overnight. Airport parking lots will be re-purposed. Uber will need a new business model.

The Opportunities for Project Managers

This isn’t just about auto manufacturers. There will be boundless opportunities for technology project managers who understand these applications and how they will be used by everyone from the military to school districts, trucking firms to fire departments, construction companies to emergency medical services companies. We understand the potential information security issues and how to non-destructively test software-intensive systems. We get the complexities of scheduling, issue and risk management, and reporting progress on developmental systems. We know how to engage stakeholders and deal with compliance across multiple jurisdictions. We understand how the economics, the ethical issues, and the organization’s strategic goals need to drive the decisions we present to our sponsors. This is just an extension of what we’ve been doing for some time now, but the impact of this work will be global.

Someday soon, you may have a chauffeur named Watson. Let’s help him get to work.

New PM Articles for the Week of February 9 – 15

Elephant in the RoomNew project management articles published on the web during the week of February 9 – 15. We give you what you need to talk about the elephant in the room. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Hamza Shaban looks at the potential for the Internet of Things to kill personal privacy over the next few years.
  • Doug Laney of Gartner Group shares three Big Data trends that predict for how we’ll apply business intelligence over the next few years.
  • Joel Bancroft-Connors and his invisible gorilla, Hogarth, give us the run-down on how to prepare for your next unanticipated job search.

PM Best Practices

  • Wanda Curlee gives us a quick overview of project portfolio management, as a practice and as a career.
  • PMI has published the results of their annual Pulse of the Profession survey, “Capturing the Value of Project Management.”
  • Beth Ouellette looks back at her experience in helping to birth PMI’s latest credential: the PMI Professional in Business Analysis.
  • Joachim Ahlstrom shares some recommendations for those thinking of implementing a continuous improvement process in their organization.
  • Elizabeth Harrin reviews Jack Riso’s new iBook, “Ace the PMP Exam.”
  • Andy Jordan reflects on his recent consulting experience, helping an organization focused on operations, rather than projects, build a PMO.
  • Glen Alleman shares some authoritative sources of reference class data for IT projects, for developing your next set of estimates.
  • Harry Hall presents a short video on evaluating risks with expected monetary value analysis. Just 5 minutes, safe for work.
  • Nick Pisano continues his look at using data from multiple sources to improve our ability to manage projects.

Agile Methods

  • Michael Dubakov shares his practical experience in implementing the concepts of Minimum Viable Feature and Minimum Marketable Feature.
  • John Goodpasture considers a conundrum – fidelity to user expectations, or fidelity to user specifications?
  • Neil Killick gives a detailed view of how he manages the inception of a project.
  • Venkat Krishnamurthy invokes the “Ikea Effect” to make the point that Scrum teams benefit from having dedicated testers.

Soft Skills

  • Johanna Rothman explains how to create an environment where everyone on the team can lead.
  • Pawel Brodzinski give his take on participatory leadership and decision-making.
  • Bruce Harpham makes the case for humility, as a vehicle to improve your effectiveness.
  • Randy Hall looks at the mechanics of how we break old habits. Especially old leadership habits.
  • Bertrand Duperrin believes that using the web as a way to access information is about to become passé.
  • Paul Ritchie makes a point about why practice is so important, using the last big play of Super Bowl 49 as an example. Guys, we need to move on …
  • Peter Saddington condenses a few key points about how really smart people think, from Michael Michalko’s book, “Creative Tinkering.”


How to Develop the Living

No Zombies on StaffThis is the last of a series of four posts based on my interview for the Conscious Software Development Telesummit, conducted by Michael Smith, The Zombie Apocalypse is Not an HR Product: How to Recruit, Hire, Retain, and Develop the Living.

You can outsource or bring in a contractor if you need some technical skill for some specified period of time. But if you hire permanent, regular employees, you should be prepared to develop them, as individual contributors, as team members, and as future leaders.

Why is diversity so important?

Straight, white men are now the minority in the workforce, except in the IT department. The U.S. is rapidly becoming a nation with no clear ethnic majority. To get the best, we have to attract women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community, and then we have to make them feel unexceptional. It’s not just about eliminating the negative. People need to fit in, or they won’t stay!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold just over 51% of the management, professional, and related positions in the U.S. Additionally, over 55% of all mothers with children under the age of one are in the work force. The most effective strategy for retaining working mothers is not to compete with their children for their loyalty! Employers need a strategy to support new mothers, including a place for them to nurse or pump milk. Telling mothers to use the rest rooms is not only insensitive, it’s potentially a health problem; some cities now prohibit the practice. Employers who demonstrate that they respect nursing mothers will stand a better chance of keeping them.

People of color make up over a third of the workforce. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 9% of technology jobs are held by black workers. And the National Center for Women & Information Technology says that black women hold only 3% of the IT jobs. Groups like Black Girls Code are working to get more young people of color interested in technology, and as they succeed, we’ll see a lot more of them applying for IT jobs. But there aren’t enough role models in IT jobs today for them to “just discover” each other. Employers who have a strategy for mentoring these new hires as twenty-somethings will stand a better chance of making them highly productive, and still have them on board when they’re ready for management positions.

Statistics from the Williams Institute show that gay and transgender workers make up over 6% of the workforce, but it’s difficult to confirm that with data from the federal government. However, it’s clear that the percentage is higher in white collar-work, and especially in technology. Google has created an employee resource group, the Gayglers, for LGBT Googlers and their allies. Effective strategies take into account the notion that you don’t have to be one to stand with them. You can’t be inclusive by setting people apart.

The most effective culture is inclusive, collaborative, and supportive. It’s not enough to send managers an Email on this stuff. It has to be part of management training, and it has to be part of their scorecard. Leaders lead by example, whether they mean to or not. Sensitizing managers and other workers to what people find to be insulting or insensitive takes time and commitment. Diversity will someday be so natural as to be unremarkable, but we’re not there yet. We need to work at it.

Why is training so important?

Traditionally, employers have paid the cost of their employee’s training. Lately, it seems we only want to hire the trained and experienced. For sustainable operations, we need an entry level and a mid-level. To retain the ambitious or intellectually adventurous, we have to give them new challenges.

Identify the people who have an interest in management and groom them for it. It’s not for everyone – be sure you have a track for people who don’t want to be managers! But for those who seek an office in the C-Suite, we have to build the skills needed for management and the executive ranks, including business acumen, strategic acumen, and financial acumen. Don’t just say you prefer MBA’s for the leadership team; set out some specific guidelines, and opportunities for those with executive ambitions to acquire and apply those key skills.

The key is to treat training like an investment, because that’s what it is. You are reducing your staffing costs by making the people you have more valuable, and reducing their incentive to move on. The best places to work aren’t just about good pay and plenty of parking. They earn their reputation by taking a mindful approach to hiring, developing, and retaining the people who make them successful.