New PM Articles for the Week of January 19 – 25

Balloon BeyondNew project management articles published on the web during the week of January 19 – 25. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Seth Godin notes that professionals don’t add emotion to their communications to signify urgency.
  • H.O. Maycotte argues that the challenge in getting actionable information out of Big Data is being sure you’ve asked the right question.
  • Tim Wasserman identifies ten strategic trends in project execution that will define success in 2015.

PM Best Practices

  • Harry Hall lists ten ways in which the alignment between the customers and project team is gradually lost.
  • Dave Wakeman looks to Seattle and finds that the problem of a failed tunnel-boring machine has expanded well beyond the tunnel itself.
  • Rich Maltzman finds a colossal example of a failure to engage project stakeholders, right in his home town of Boston.
  • Nick Pisano references Borges’ “Library of Babel” in pointing out the challenges inherent in extracting meaning from collections of data with no underlying common design.
  • John Carroll asks, “If the stakeholders don’t actually care about the project or take any responsibility or interest in it, then why is the project being carried out?”
  • Mike Cohn explains why we should focus on benefits, rather than features.
  • Mike Donoghue argues for benefits management, as the key to keeping your project on track.
  • Ryan Ogilvie recommends a dozen ITSM blogs, for those of us with service management responsibilities.

Agile Methods

  • Neil Killick describes the role of Scrum Master in terms of responsibilities, behavior, and goals. An excellent, brief, but actionable explanation of a complex topic.
  • Niranjan Nerlige describes the role of Product Owner, as a list of interactions with the team and with the business.
  • John Goodpasture deconstructs Mike Cohn’s recently published definition of done.
  • Johanna Rothman considers alternatives to estimation, in the form of planning and re-planning.
  • Mike Griffiths reviews a few misconceptions about teamwork and collaboration.
  • Joanne Wortman talks about blending Agile methods in with the traditional.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Pam Welty and Joy Gumz on the use of Building Information Models for construction projects. Just 17 minutes, safe for work.
  • Elizabeth Harrin shares five quick tips for managing communications during a crisis. Just three minutes, safe for work.
  • Mark Phillipy talks about the importance of networking in developing your career. Just 26 minutes, safe for work.

Pot Pouri

  • Steven Levy extracts three lessons learned from the scandal surrounding under-inflated footballs in last weekend’s game between the Patriots and the Colts.
  • András Baneth gets to the essence of Reality Television Executive Chef Gordon Ramsay’s coaching method.
  • Don Kim points out that there are times when SMART goals can be dumb. Or at least, counter-productive.
  • Emanuele Passera considers the question: do we really need to be number one in our industry?
  • Lynda Bourne reflects on taking the time to reflect and think. And yes, that’s an example of recursion.

Enjoy!

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

C. Northcote Parkinson

C. Northcote Parkinson

Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a British naval historian, author, and satirist. While his 60 books ranged from dry history to historical fiction, to biographies of fictional characters, he is best known for a short book on government bureaucracy. Titled “Parkinson’s Law,” it is the source of the often-quoted, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” One chapter, “High Finance, or The Point of Vanishing Interest,” explores the tendency for management to obsess on the trivial. As he put it, “The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.” Given a choice between discussing something complicated and expensive, which they don’t understand, and something familiar, most folks will bypass the complicated topic.

The Bike Shed Effect

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is known in some circles as “The bike shed effect,” derived from his example of a finance committee considering three agenda items: the signing of a £10 million contract to build a nuclear reactor, the second a proposal to build a £350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff, and the third a proposal for £21 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee. The reactor is approved in less than three minutes; an argument over the color and construction of the bicycle shed goes on for 45 minutes, with a possible savings of £50; debate over the coffee takes up the remaining 75 minutes, closing with a request for additional information and the decision deferred to the next meeting. If these absurd minutes don’t seem painfully familiar, then you just haven’t attended enough meetings.

One of the corollaries to Parkinson’s Law is, “The amount of discussion and resistance generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change.” Many of projects I’ve worked on over the years had the goal of transferring work from the sponsor’s staff to their customers, in the guise of self-service. When I’ve seen resistance to manager self-service, it is usually expressed in the form of anticipated response to complexity. “We should have the support staff handle these transactions. The managers won’t execute them more than once or twice a year, and they shouldn’t have to know how to do them. We should let them focus on the job we pay them for.” Never mind that the processing rules are imbedded in the work flow, and generally all the initiator has to do is make selections from a few pull-down menus; these highly-compensated folk aren’t perceived by the specialists to be competent to fill out electronic forms. Of course, I’ve never seen anyone object to a requirement for these same folks to select their own benefits during annual open enrollment, which has a lot more decision points. No, it’s actions like initiating a promotion, or the transfer of an employee to another supervisor that makes people dig in their heels. Not because the HR specialists are intimidated by these transactions, but because they understand them completely, and thus feel qualified to weigh in on them.

Applying Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law is not about the task, nor is it about the people performing it. It describes an entirely natural human response to agenda topics with a range of complexity. If you include a routine question on an otherwise challenging agenda, that routine matter will become the place where everyone can demonstrate their understanding. And they most certainly will do so.

Plainly, there are two ways to apply this understanding: you can get easy approval on a nuclear reactor by letting them dispute the color of the bicycle shed, or you can focus the discussion on the nuclear reactor by making it the only topic on the agenda. Either way, it is important to understand the degree to which the participants will feel qualified to participate in the discussion. And if you absolutely need their qualified opinion, you need to lay the groundwork for them to feel empowered to participate. Whether it’s by beginning with a demonstration, or spending time on the background material, you need to cultivate their level of understanding to match the complexity of the required decisions. Otherwise, you’ll end up scheduling a follow-up meeting, where you present additional information on something they do understand.

New PM Articles for the Week of December 15 – 21

Balloon SunriseNew project management articles published on the web during the week of December 15 – 21. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

PM Best Practices

  • Elizabeth Harrin describes Project Management as a Service. Not outsourcing, but a change in approach.
  • Johanna Rothman debunks the notion that competition among teams produces better products.
  • Glen Alleman debunks a debunking of myths and half-truths about estimating.
  • John Goodpasture explores the idea of cascading risks: where one damned thing leads to another.
  • Ron Rosenhead reflects on what he’s learned over the past year.
  • Harry Hall shares the lessons learned from this year’s Christmas tree disaster. Yes, even the Nativity Celebration needs a risk management plan …
  • Gary Booker illustrates a model of accountability, as a governance and operating practice.
  • Ryan Ogilvie considers whether communication is more effective when more structured or more personalized.
  • Ulf Eriksson gives us his recommendations for writing more effective test cases.

Agile Methods

  • Mike Cohn recommends that product owners should expect the development team to make a few adjustments to the sequence that they work the backlog.
  • Joanne Wortman argues that the key to success in an Agile initiative is taking the time to get the architecture right.
  • Michiko Diby is noticing that Agile values and methods are creeping into her off-duty life.
  • Kam Zaman reports on his success in implementing the elusive “dual-track Scrum.”

Looking Ahead

  • Carleton Chinner outlines three critical trends that will directly impact the practice of project management.
  • Michel Dion reflects on the evolution of project management, as the wall between operations and projects melts away.
  • Jennifer Zaino projects the future of cognitive computing, for 2015 and beyond, in health care, retail, and other industries.
  • Kent Schneider traces four critical trends related to data breaches and security that will affect our projects in 2015.
  • Seth Godin contributes his “annual plan construction set” of meaning-free buzzwords and phrases, to help you prepare for the coming year [face palm].

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews The Risk Doctor, David Hillson, on the risks you didn’t even know you were taking. Just 21 minutes, safe for work.
  • Craig Smith and Tony Ponton interview Rachel Tempest Wood on why project management is still useful. Just 25 minutes, safe for work.
  • Here’s a YouTube video explaining the origins and principles of Kanban, as developed and practiced at Toyota. Just 3 minutes, safe for work.

Pot Pouri

  • Tony Adams notes the viral nature of cranky behavior at work: we are “emotional conductors” who bring our emotions to work every day.
  • Lynda Bourne describes a recent scientific study of idiotic risk, e.g. that class of risks where the payoff is negligible and the downside is extreme. Key finding: elect women.
  • Kerry Wills gives us the key bullet points from the 2014 Standish Report. If I thought it was a statistically sound survey, I’d look for other work.
  • Alex LuPon identifies the underlying project management methodology followed by The Hobbit Trilogy. Take THAT, Joseph Campbell!

Enjoy!