New PM Articles for the Week of August 11 – 17

Balloon Above the TreesNew project management articles published on the web during the week of August 11 – 17. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

PM Best Practices

  • Pawel Brodzinski expands on Jerry Weinberg’s definition, as “a process of creating an environment where people become empowered.”
  • Mike Griffiths considers the limitations of graphical depictions of data, when the information we should be consuming doesn’t graph so well.
  • Ammar Mango plots alternative routes through conflict.
  • Bryan Barrow explains his alternative to Post-It Notes for facilitating a project planning exercise.
  • Michael Girdler extols the virtues of a good scope statement.
  • Roberto Toledo lists his guidelines for fostering innovation.
  • Bruce Harpham begins a series on regulatory project management.
  • Dovilė Misevičiūtė notes that most attempts to institute time tracking fail within the first few months, usually for the same reasons.
  • Rachel Burger spoils “Guardians of the Galaxy,” pointing out the project management lessons. You could have at least waited until the DVD came out …

Agile Methods

  • Kevin Aguanno compares use cases and user stories, and how each can be the right tool for the job.
  • Bart Gerardi explores Bill Wake’s acronym, INVEST, on how to improve the quality of user stories.
  • Mike Cohn reflects on the balance of specialists and generalists in that most Agile team, the sandwich shop.
  • John Goodpasture explores the need for a release sign-off when applying Agile methods. Because it’s not just about software developers.
  • Chuck Morton continues his series of comments on Peter Morris’ article in the October PM Journal. This episode: Agile is not a project management discipline.

Following the Trends

  • Albert Barron explains [whatever] as a service, using pizza. Yes, even your grandmother will understand this one. Admirable, Albert!
  • Marco Visibelli shares recent lessons learned that tell us how companies make (and lose) money on Big Data projects.
  • Rich Maltzman interviews Kim Marotta on how MillerCoors is applying a sustainability strategy to improve performance.
  • Matthew Kosinski interviews Workday’s Liz Dietz on their upcoming Higher Education product.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cesar Abeid interviews Rich Maltzman of EarthPM on applying sustainability practices to project management and the PMBOK. Just 49 minutes, safe for work.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Thomas Juli about integrating personal happiness and focus with project success. Just 32 minutes, safe for work.
  • Glen Alleman links us to seven podcasts from Mary Ann Lapham and Suzanne Miller of the Software Engineering Institute on the principles of Agile development.

New Books

  • Elizabeth Harrin reviews “Project Management Workflow: A Business Process Approach,” by Dan Epstein and Rich Maltzman.
  • Henny Portman reviews Alan Ferguson’s new book, “Integrating Prince2.”


New PM Articles for the Week of June 23 – 29

Gathering RosebudsNew project management articles published on the web during the week of June 23 – 29. We gather all of this stuff so you don’t have to search for it! Recommended:

Sports Metaphors

  • Conrado Morlan uses lessons from the Formula One racing circuit to illustrate risk management.
  • Kerry Wills explores the parallels between soccer and project management. Or, for those outside the U.S., football and project management.
  • Kevin Korterud finds project management lessons in effective World Cup coaching.

PM Best Practices

  • Glen Alleman helps us on our search for the simple solution for our complex problems, by telling us the simple truth: there isn’t one.
  • Samad Aidane has published an ambitious series of articles on LinkedIn: ERP Projects, the complete guide.
  • Tom Barnett shares his all-purpose framework for planning a SaaS application implementation.
  • Dr. Karen McGraw offers some ideas on how to effectively manage organizational change.
  • Esther Schindler addresses the most difficult challenge in modern project management: a virtual team of freelancers and contractors.
  • Omar Al-Hajjar looks at ways for work-at-home team members to be effective.
  • Chuck Morton considers another philosophical question: should the project manager work toward effectiveness goals, or just efficiency goals?
  • Linky van der Merwe relates a case study of a stressful project in Mauritania, where the culture and environment presented unique challenges.
  • Harry Hall tells us how to audit compliance and effectiveness of project management risk processes, within a PMO.
  • Rich Maltzman and Dave Shirley preview their recorded presentation at the PMI Scheduling Community of Practice, on the long-term perspective.
  • Elizabeth Harrin posted her June roundup of project management news.

Agile Methods

  • Mike Cohn explains why guitar hero Alvin Lee, whose “I’m Going Home” was a high point of “Woodstock,” would be a great Scum team member. Crazy ‘bout my baby!
  • Pawel Brodzinski believes the best way to limit work in progress might be to make it harder to start new projects than to finish them.
  • Dele Oluwole notes that the tester has a substantial in the Scrum team.

Professional Development

  • Michelle Stronach tells how to be successful as a consulting project manager.
  • Simon Buehring interviews Lindsay Scott on the career prospects for women in project management.
  • Robert Wysocki and Joseph Matthews begin a series on how to succeed as an “occasional” project manager (as opposed to a “career” project manager).
  • Venkat Rao observes that complex debates are not about winning, but about “winning over” people to your point of view.
  • John Goodpasture describes an interesting approach to enforcing an honest debate: have the opposing sides summarize each other’s best arguments.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews David Blumhorst, who says project success is about achieving business goals. Just 24 minutes, safe for work.
  • Craig Smith and Renee Troughton interview visual facilitator Lynne Cazaly. Just 31 minutes, safe for work.


Make or Buy: The Blacksmith and the Toothpick

The BlacksmithUnder a spreading chestnut tree, the village blacksmith and I stand talking after lunch. “Man, that was great! I’ve never had forge-roasted corn before – say, do you have a toothpick?”

Smitty grinned. “Glad you liked it. I’ve got some scrap metal here, and the forge is still hot; give me a minute and I’ll make you one.”

I did a double-take. “I don’t think a steel toothpick would be good for my teeth. Do you have a wooden one?”

Smitty rubbed his jaw. “I can make a small dowel jig, to shape a chunk of wood into a toothpick. It should be ready in time for dinner.”

I shook my head. “No, I just want a simple toothpick. Don’t you have any toothpicks in your kitchen? They sell ‘em at Safeway for $1.29 a box.”

Smitty jeered, “Why the Hell would I buy toothpicks, when they’re so easy to make?”

“Birds fly, fish swim, and even during sharp downturns in housing, builders keep building.” – Tom LaRocque, The Denver Post, 2008

The Make or Buy Decision

The make or buy decision is an economic analysis, comparing different product life cycles and their financial implications. It takes into account capital costs, development expenses, maintenance costs, licenses, time to value, evolving product requirements, and of course, risks. For some proposed solutions, simply collecting all of the information required for a comprehensive analysis can be a project in itself. Many proof-of-concept projects have been initiated just to help clarify the issues for a make or buy recommendation. But for those who make, buying is simply foolishness. There is nothing on the market they can’t find fault with. Given enough time, they could make something better. Just ask them.

The larger issue is simple: time is money. There are opportunity costs associated with delay. Even if a completely custom-made product could be made as cheaply as it could be bought, it isn’t likely it could be available as quickly. And that basic notion, time to value, is becoming a key driver in a lot of make or buy decisions.

Make, Buy, or Subscribe?

Many companies are moving to software-as-a-service applications in order to minimize time to value, even if the application doesn’t offer as many capabilities as a licensed application that needs to be installed in the data center. Never mind the extensive feature set – does it meet our minimum requirements? How quickly can we get there? What is the incremental value of a shortened adoption cycle?

If you talk to enough decision makers, you start to hear certain patterns: a predictable operating cost is more interesting than possible savings, and a quick path to value is more interesting than features they won’t use right away. Of course, the folks who sell software licenses want to talk about their exotic features, pointing out all of the things the SaaS offering won’t do. It keeps them from having to admit that they have no way of knowing how many of their customers even use that exotic capability.

Getting to a Good Decision

A comprehensive make or buy analysis requires inputs from all of the alternative parties in interest. You simply have to qualify the information received. Those who make things want to make them; that’s their livelihood. The same goes for those who sell. Recognizing their interests and respecting their input, while adjusting their predictions to match most likely, rather than most optimistic case, is where the portfolio manager and project manager apply their professional experience and good judgment. Generally, you can build a good case for make, buy, or subscribe – the challenge is to make the best case for the portfolio.