New PM Articles for the Week of January 9 – 15

New project management articles published on the web during the week of January 9 – 15. And this week’s video: the Jon Spear Band celebrates risk management (sort of) with “The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese.” Just 3:16 of jump blues, safe for work. Turn it up …

Must read!

  • Michael Lopp contemplates the illusion of productivity, the mindset of busy, and (his proposed cure) the Builder’s Mindset. Think of this as an intervention.
  • Liane Davey advises on managing a team that has been tasked with unrealistic targets. Ethical failures at Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, and so on arose from pressure to deliver, at all costs.
  • Nancy Settle-Murphy makes the case for proving that you are trustworthy and then tells you how.

Established Methods

  • Harry Hall gets us back to the basics of cost management. Great example, real life actions.
  • Elizabeth Harrin calendars the project management conferences planned for 2017, including some too far in the future to describe the content.
  • Mike Clayton lists fifty great project management blogs we should be following in 2017, including many new to me.
  • Frederic Lardinois reports that Atlassian Software (Jira and Confluence) is buying Trello in yet another round of consolidation in the project management software market.
  • David Robins points out the downside of online project management and collaboration software: empowering the uninitiated. Think “Jurassic Park.”
  • Glen Alleman goes into deep, technical detail on the Cone of Uncertainty, which is a metaphor for the process of reducing cost and schedule risk on projects.
  • Thomas Carney gives us a detailed course on quality assurance in software engineering.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers shares his weekly Agile roundup: Scrum turns 21, product ownership (not just the role), and whether “priority” can be plural.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews NK Shrivastava on his PMI Global Congress presentation, Warning Signs that Agile Isn’t Working. Just 30 minutes, safe for work.
  • Marty Bradley addresses the new Agilista question: should the PMO go away?
  • Matteo Tontini describes learning to work as a team using Scrum, without a full-time product owner. Failure in three, two, one …
  • Moira Alexander posts a beginners FAQ on Agile project management. You almost certainly have a stakeholder that would benefit from this, so pass it along.

Applied Leadership

  • Seth Godin translates a sign at LaGuardia Airport from pompous bureaucratic to conversational English. Yes, you have permission to communicate like an actual person.
  • Coert Visser explains the Mother of All Biases: naïve realism. Includes a “count your fingers” exercise demonstrating how our perception is sharp in only a very narrow field.
  • Elise Stevens curates a list of resources for developing effective leadership skills.
  • Andy Kaufman reflects on influencing through questions. Just over six minutes, safe for work. A bit loud, but if you clicked on the Jon Spear Band tune …

Technology and Techniques

  • Jenna Hogue directs us to a presentation on cognitive computing (51 minutes, safe for work) but mercifully gives us an overview of the content.
  • Carnegie Mellon University has lined up four of the world’s best professional poker players to compete against an AI program. Sounds like “Her” meets “Casino Royale.”
  • Nilanjan Kar tutors us on creating an impactful PMO dashboard using Powerpoint. More interesting for the examples than the techniques, but worth reading.

Working and the Workplace

  • Kathleen O’Connor interviews Anna Schlegel, author of “Truly Global: The theory and practice of bringing your company to international markets.”
  • Ryan Ogilvie recounts a conversation with a colleague who was asked to ‘drop the hammer’ on people more often in her new role. Ryan’s counsel: choose your battles wisely.
  • Suzanne Lucas shares demotivating job descriptions penned by the people who do them. “I try to convince people in another time zone to talk to the person two cubicles away.”

Enjoy!

Excel Functions You Probably Aren’t Using

I started using spreadsheets back in 1985, in the days of Lotus 123. At the time, I was developing reliability prediction models used in design tradeoff decisions for systems being developed for the US Army Corps of Engineers (that little reverse osmosis water purification do-dad under the counter at Starbucks is pretty straightforward technology, but when scaled to produce tens of thousands of gallons per day, using surface water and generator power, things can get complicated). I moved to Excel a few years later when I adopted Windows 3.1 but after more than three decades, I still manage to find new ways to capture and manipulate data. Let me share a few Excel functions that you probably aren’t using.

Calculating the Number of Working Days

It’s easy to calculate the difference in days, weeks, months, or years between two dates, but I often need to calculate working days.

NetWorkDays(Start_Date, End_Date,[Optional_Holidays])

This function calculates the difference between the two dates but ignores Saturdays, Sundays, and whatever holidays you pass it in a list. You can pass this example list either directly as B2:B9 or by defining a name for that range (highlight the range, right click, Define Name) and passing the name. We’ll use this list as an example:

Holiday

Celebrated

Martin Luther King’s Birthday (US)

1/16/2017

President’s Day (US)

2/20/2017

Memorial Day (US)

5/29/2017

Independence Day (US)

7/4/2017

Labor Day (US and Canada)

9/4/2017

Thanksgiving Day (US)

11/23/2017

Day after Thanksgiving (US)

11/24/2017

Christmas Day

12/25/2017

Let’s say I want to include the number of working days until some event in a status report. The effective date of the status report is in a named cell (done the same way you named the range of holidays) and so is the event date. Like so:

=NETWORKDAYS(Status_Date,Go_Live,Holidays)

This will return the integer number of working days, which you can then use directly or in another calculation.  I typically include the holidays for the project in a separate tab. But let’s say you crashed the schedule and decided you needed the team to work a few weekends, especially at go live. So create a list of Working Weekend Days, name the range, and add it to the calculation.

Working Weekend Days

Worked

Conversion Sunday

1/8/2017

Cutover Saturday

6/10/2017

Cutover Sunday

6/11/2017

Now we can incorporate those weekend working days into the formula:

=NETWORKDAYS(Status_Date,Go_Live,Holidays)
+COUNTIF(Weekend_Work,">"&Status_Date)

In this example, the CountIf function picks up the two days in the list greater than the status date of January 9, which is then added to the 108 days from the NetWorkDays function result:

Status Date

1/9/2017

Go Live

6/12/2017

Working days to Go Live

110

The Working days remaining equals the number of weekdays between the two dates, minus the three holidays that fall in the range, plus the two weekend dates greater than the status date. Note that if your weekend days are something other than Saturday and Sunday, the NetWorkDays.Intl function allows you to specify alternatives.

Summarizing Data in a Table

While we’re talking about status reports: it helps to summarize the information in your risk register, even at a high level. Take a look at this sample, which includes the results of a qualitative risk analysis.

Risk ID

Risk description

Last likely date of occuring

Probability

Impact

Calculated risk

1

This risk

1/1/2017

Medium

Medium

3.0

2

That risk

1/23/2017

Low

Medium

2.4

3

The other

4/1/2017

High

Medium

3.5

4

One more

2/1/2017

Low

Large

2.8

5

And another

7/1/2017

Very low

Medium

1.7

The Calculated risk field is based on a formula:

=SQRT(VLOOKUP(D2,RiskProbValue,2,FALSE)
*VLOOKUP(E2,RiskImpValue,2,FALSE))

Note that two lookup tables were defined to associate numeric values with the Probability and Impact scores; the risk is calculated as the square root of the product of the two numeric values. So let’s say you want to tally up the number of risks with High or Medium scores that are still likely to occur. On the status report, it looks like this:

High Risks

1

Medium Risks

2

We can use the CountIfs function to tally the risks for each criterion. For High risks, e.g. those with a Calculated risk value of 3.0 or more, and a Last likely date after the status date:

=COUNTIFS(Calculated_risk, ">="&3, Last_Date,">"&Status_Date)

For the Medium count, we’ll use a range of values:

=COUNTIFS(Calculated_risk, ">="&2, Calculated_risk, 
"<"&3, Last_Date,">"&Status_Date)

Getting a Completion Date

Sometimes I need to pencil out a very high-level timeline to determine if a goal is even achievable by some date. So I’ll create a list of tasks, each with a proposed duration, and start date. The assumption is that each task begins the day after the predecessor completes. I can then use the WorkDay function:

WorkDay(Start_Date, Duration,[Optional_Holidays])

This returns the serial number of the date Duration days after Start_Date. I can convert it for display using the Text function, like so:

=TEXT(WORKDAY(B7,C7,Holidays),"m/d/yyy")

I can also convert the date to the day of the week, again using the Text function:

=TEXT(WORKDAY(B11,C11,Holidays),"dddd")

This lets me specify a State Date for the first task and durations for each task in the list, with the subsequent start dates and completion date calculated automatically.

Task

Start Date

Duration

Plan

1/5/2017

5

Analyze

1/12/2017

25

Build

2/17/2017

15

Test

3/13/2017

26

Cutover

4/18/2017

3

Complete on

4/21/2017

Friday

Of course, the danger in this approach is that by tweaking the start date or individual durations, you can convince yourself that something is achievable simply by giving yourself less time to do it. So, don’t do that.

The ability to create reusable spreadsheets that use Excel functions to provide actionable information from raw data is still one of those skills that will pay big dividends over the course of a career in project management. All you really need is a little imagination and an understanding of what the data actually represents.

New PM Articles for the Week of December 26 – January 1

New project management articles published on the web during the week of December 26 – January 1. And this week’s video: as we start a new sequence of 365, Craig Benzine from Mental Floss explains why there are 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour. Just over two minutes, safe for work, and the various toys on the shelf in the background and framed pictures on the wall are worth the click, all by themselves.

New Year, Ready or Not

  • Sara McCord coaches us on how to efficiently wade through the enormous mound of Email that accumulated like snow on Lake Placid while we were on vacation.
  • Doug Thorpe repeats excellent advice from John Maxwell in planning ahead to improve your execution in the new year, remembered as PLAN AHEAD.
  • Alyse Kalish has curated a list of six TED talks with actionable self-improvement strategies. Don’t just make the usual New Year’s resolutions …

Established Methods

  • Glen Alleman summarizes the guidelines for a credible cost estimate.
  • John Goodpasture explains the Law of Requisite Variety and what it means for designing controls.
  • Joe Wynne completes his two-part series on managing organizational change in HR projects.
  • Michelle Knight tutors us on the data dictionary – useful for everything from data governance to designing reports.
  • Barry Hodge listed his take on the best project management blogs of2016 (including this one – thanks, Barry!).

Agile Methods

  • Mike Griffiths analyzes the role of business analyst in a project using Agile methods.
  • Ryan Ripley interviews Neil Killick on a variety of Agile topics, from “Shu-Ha-Ri” to #NoEstimates and “Done.” Just 53 minutes, safe for work.
  • Dave Prior and Devin Hedge discuss estimates for bidding projects that will use Agile methods, as opposed to those proposals based on plan-driven methods. Just 15 minutes, safe for work.
  • Michael Abehsera asserts the need to design for reality, rather than our aspirations.
  • Craig Smith interviews James Lewis on the principles of microservices architectures. Just 31 minutes, safe for work.

Pot Pouri

  • Erin Griffith reports on the growing list of ethics scandals at various startups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
  • Gretchen Reynolds summarizes a recent study into the effects of periodic walking as a positive alternative to the purely sedentary working day.
  • Brendan Toner gets the to-do list app down to two great alternatives – ToDoist and Wunderlist – and shares his reasons for selecting one of them.

Enjoy!