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.


How to Retain the Living

Retain No ZombiesThis is the third 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.

A certain amount of turnover is normal and necessary, especially in the information technology specialties. But that’s no reason to lose skilled team members you could otherwise retain.

Once you hire someone, how do you start them out right?

If you do on-boarding poorly, you’ll increase your short-term turnover rate. Don’t waste the first week by not being ready! It’s the little things: know where they will sit, have their computer and other assets ready, and so on. There is no silver bullet, but there is silver bird shot – lots of little things. Set up a buddy system for the newbies – don’t depend on the supervisor to do it all. Just like the new kid in school, the new hire needs to be accepted. Pairing an introvert and an extravert is probably not the best approach – try to understand the candidate’s preferences and needs during the interview process, and select a buddy accordingly.

Then interview again, two to three weeks after the new hire starts. Make sure their first pay check is correct, benefits elected, and so on. Get the compensation right, or you are wasting all of that effort involved in recruiting and getting that new worker on board. Find out what might be keeping that new hire from doing their work, or being efficient, and get it sorted out. Not every problem requires intervention, but move quickly to intervene when it does.

Finally, monitor your short-term turnover rate, and do whatever you have to in order to get exit interviews with everyone involved. The departing employee, their manager, colleagues, and whoever else had a meaningful contact with them. Take a look at the help desk records, to see if they had a bad experience. Even the receptionist can be a source of information. If you see a problem, or a growing trend, fix it!

What is the key to retaining solid team members?

Plainly, you retain individuals, rather than groups. But know your organization’s turnover rate, and why people leave. If you have a lot of voluntary terminations, find out why. Especially if certain departments have higher or lower rates.

First: People don’t leave jobs – they leave bosses. Good workers deserve good managers. Better still, they need leaders. The Servant Leader model is becoming the ideal in many organizations, and it has to flow from the top. Have zero tolerance for bullies, oppressors, and exploitation. Harassment is just a lawsuit waiting for an attorney! And pay attention to the Dilbert metric: if you see lots of Dilbert cartoons posted around the office, you are a Pointy-Haired Boss. There is no “probably” about it.

Second: Not everything is about money. You need to pay enough to take the issue of money off the table. Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive,” has upended the traditional motivation models. He points out several research studies confirming that where cognitive skills are required, higher incentives led to worse performance (which probably says nothing good about sales people and their compensation models). Pink notes that autonomy, mastery, and purpose lead to engagement.

  • Autonomy leads to innovation. Some examples of this in the real world include Atlassian’s quarterly “ShipIt days”, hackathons, and so on. Giving people the power to act on what they believe to be opportunities for improvement frequently leads to real improvement.
  • Mastery is not a result of training, but of application. Opportunities for doing new things provides learning on the way to mastery. This isn’t to say that routine work should be avoided, but that job enrichment opportunities should be identified and pursued.
  • People want a transcendent purpose. The Open Source movement has arisen from very smart people needing an outlet that will let them “put a ding in the universe,” as Steve Jobs so famously put it.

Retention and Affinity

Good teams tend to stay together, if the managers make it possible. As an employer of creative, skilled people, you are always in competition with that other bunch of smart people working somewhere else. Not that company, but that group. Smart people want to be around other smart people, and they’ll change jobs if they have to, in order to be around their peers. Retention frequently comes down to affinity – whether or not people feel like they fit in. You can’t make handcuffs golden enough to keep highly effective people in the company of colleagues that they feel are not in their league.

Of course, one size does not fit all. For some employees, retention hinges on the potential for promotion. For others, especially the skilled creative types, it’s just the search for more interesting puzzles. There are also generational trends. Millennials seem to have internalized the idea of brief tenure more than Gen X or Boomers, but you can retain them. You simply have to be mindful of their goals, and how they expect to achieve them.

In Part Four, How to Develop the Living, we’ll look at what’s required in order to make that new hire the person who can replace you.