New PM Articles for the Week of March 26 – April 1

New project management articles published on the web during the week of March 26 – April 1. And this week’s video: Seth Godin suggests that we can benefit from thinking backwards—flipping the point of view on which our assumptions are based. 19 minutes, safe for work.

Must read!

  • Christian Stewart notes some significant data privacy concerns for this of us who use Google’s services and products. 5 minutes to read. Nervous yet?
  • Todd Haselton tells how to download a copy of everything Google knows about you. 3 minutes to read, much longer to download. And if this doesn’t creep you out:
  • A 2016 memo by Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth acknowledges that the company’s relentless pursuit of growth via data collection could get people killed. Ethics matter, even when you’re popular. 8 minutes to read.

Established Methods

  • Kailash Awati provides a very detailed tutorial on using a Monte Carlo simulation to calculate a distribution of probable completion times, using a simple project with four tasks and three-point estimates. 20 minutes to read, but well worth it.
  • John Goodpasture extracts some key principles from Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise: why so many predictions fail – and some don’t. 2 minutes to read.
  • Elizabeth Harrin reviews SaaS project resource management TeamDeck. 5 minutes to read.
  • Katrine Kavli gives us a crib sheet on test plans, useful for everyone from project managers to end users recruited for UAT. With templates! 2 minutes to read.
  • Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy explains how (and why) to create your own project management templates, rather than download one from some PM site. 4 minutes to read.
  • Brian Anthony O’Malley recommends a few ways to make your status reports more effective in a way that promotes your personal brand. 5 minutes to read.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from agile ecology to scaling with Lean and DevOps to problematic management principles. 3 minutes to read, 7 outbound links.
  • Brendan Connolly expands on Test Driven Development to provide an entry point for testers to perform their QA—start with objectives. 4 minutes to read.
  • Joe Colantonio interviews Michael Bolton on rapid software testing. Podcast, 38 minutes, safe for work.
  • Gojko Adzic notes that as more SaaS applications run in complex combinations, we will need to do more testing in the production environment. 7 minutes to read.
  • Pete Houghton explains how he found a bug—not by testing conformance to specifications, but by testing conformance to expectations. 2 minutes to read.
  • Martin Fowler announces the second edition of “Refactoring.” 7 minutes to read.

Applied Leadership

  • Alexander Maasik curates his weekly list of leadership articles, from the importance of self-improvement to improving your KPI’s to the difference between marketing, advertising, and branding. 3 minutes to read.
  • Mike Clayton points out the top priorities for project leaders, using the acronym LEAD. 10 minutes to read.
  • Marcia Reynolds explains the difference between convincing and influencing. 4 minutes to read.
  • Kiron Bondale notes that psychological safety must be cultivated one person at a time.

Technology, Techniques, and Human Behavior

  • Daniel Bourke notes that we may have already invented artificial general intelligence. Maybe we just haven’t noticed. 5 minutes to read.
  • David Nield shares eleven tell-tale signs your accounts and devices have been hacked. 8 minutes to read.
  • Dan Kopf charts the history of the scatter plot (OK, that was nerd humor—so sue me). 3 minutes to read.

Working and the Workplace

  • John Yorke philosophizes on feedback—one can be the beneficiary of feedback or the victim. 5 minutes to read.
  • Francisco Saez explains why you need a daily action plan to let you focus on what’s important. 3 minutes to read.
  • Laura Guillen reports on recent research that casts serious doubt on the existence of a “confidence gap” between men and women. 5 minutes to read.

Enjoy!

Does a Project Manager Have a Fiduciary Duty?

At Musings on Project Management, John Goodpasture recently posted his reflections on whether the project manager is a fiduciary. He asks the rhetorical questions, “At some point, some ox is going to get gored. And then who blames the fiduciary? And to what risk is the fiduciary held?”

It’s an interesting question, and it seems the answer, like most questions rooted in law, depends on jurisdiction. Note that this is not legal advice and I am not an attorney—I’m just some guy with a little knowledge of employment practices in a few countries. An actual labor attorney could fill at least ten pages with critical comments on the next few paragraphs before pausing to refill her coffee cup. That caveat aside here is my response.

USA

In the US, every state but Montana has adopted the doctrine of employment at will. In other words: an employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason—with a few exceptions spelled out by law. That uniquely American principle aside, all employees, including at-will employees, are subject to the law of agency—they are agents of their employers. As such, they are subject to the general fiduciary principle, which centers on loyalty: the employee will not compete with their employer, solicit the employer’s customers, clients or employees prior to the leaving the company, use work time to further the employee’s own interests, or misappropriate confidential information or trade secrets of the employer by sharing that information with the new employers. There is also a duty to account for profits and to deal fairly with his or her employer in all transactions between them. Finally, there is usually a duty to disclose the existence of conflicts or adverse information to the employer, even if the employer is not harmed by the undisclosed adverse interest or information.

Donald TrumpNote that this fiduciary relationship is between employer and employee, rather than between subordinate and manager. Also, note that the duties constrain the actions of the fiduciary; they do not contemplate outcomes. While you can certainly be terminated in the general outrage over the impact a project might have on some power center of your company, that possibility arises from at-will employment, rather than the fiduciary duty. In other words: they can fire you, but they can’t sue you to recover damages.

UK

In the UK, the terms of employment are governed by contract, whether explicit or implicit. In the event of a dispute where no contract document exists, the courts will decide what the terms of the contract are by reviewing the Employment Statement and other supporting relevant material. While you can be dismissed at any time, the employer must show that they have a justifiable, valid reason and that they acted reasonably, given the circumstances.

Under UK common law, the officers and directors of a company have a fiduciary duty to the corporation, while the employees generally do not. In the recent UK case of Ransom v Customer Systems Plc, the Court of Appeal found that the employee’s contract did not create duties equivalent to the loyalty required of a fiduciary.  In an ordinary employment contract, the employee and employer must have regard to each other’s interests, whereas employees are not required to subjugate their own interests, as is required of a director. Bottom line: you’re not a fiduciary and they can’t collect damages, and although you can be fired for a lot of reasons, most HR departments will overrule firing a PM simply because some senior person is pissed off.

Other Jurisdictions

The situation in Canada is similar to the UK, in that there is no employment at will and employment agreements prevail. While courts have found both employers and employee in violation of agency fiduciary obligations, in practice this has mostly been limited to self-dealing, soliciting former clients, and misusing proprietary information. While you can be terminated for misconduct, termination without cause generally requires notice and severance pay. So while you might be fired for pissing off some senior person, you’ll get a lovely parting gift. Australia and New Zealand are a bit more complex in terms of terminations, agency fiduciary obligations, and possible recovery of damages, but are generally similar to Canada, even though your parting gift will likely be capped.

In most non-English speaking jurisdictions, contracts are mandatory and employment is generally based on paternalistic principles. It would be shocking for someone to be fired for pissing off some senior person in the course of doing their job—no court would look kindly on the “because he pissed me off, that’s why” defense.

In closing: while you might be summarily fired in The Land of Trump, as you get further away, the risk diminishes considerably.

New Post at AITS: On Being Intrepid as a Project Manager

My latest article for AITS was published today: On Being Intrepid as a Project Manager.

The word “intrepid” comes from Latin and means “not alarmed.” I often say my primary contribution to a project is being a calming influence. Intrepid behavior – the ability to perform effectively under conditions of uncertainty in complex environments and difficult circumstances – is often what the team needs most from the leads, project manager, and sponsor. Practical applications include risk management, stakeholder engagement, and of course, dealing with financial and other resource constraints. If you have comments on this thought, please leave a comment at AITS. If you have suggestions for future topics, please leave a comment here.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my stuff.