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

Grand CanyonNew project management articles published on the web during the week of January 26 – February 1. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

Must read!

  • Elizabeth Harrin explains in detail how to determine project success criteria, how to communicate the criteria, measure, baseline, track, and report on progress.
  • Brian Jackson introduces us to Ross, a super-intelligent attorney powered by IBM’s Watson computing system. A cloud-based lawyer may review your next contract!
  • Jason Hiner sketches out three trends that are going to define the next decade, not just in technology but the way our societies work.

PM Best Practices

  • Bruce Harpham outlines the practice of risk management, for program managers.
  • Ron Rosenhead returns from delivering a course for project sponsors with some insight on the lack of unity in some organizations on who is a sponsor.
  • Harry Hall gives us a detailed view of what a risk management plan should contain.
  • Jennifer Lonoff Schiff identifies the biggest (or most common) problems that project managers can anticipate, avoid, or mitigate.
  • Glen Alleman dismantles one of the business cases for iterative development.
  • Kevin Coleman makes the case for telecommuting, and offers some guidelines for making it work.
  • Pawel Brodzinski explores the economic value of slack time. Maximizing utilization is not the way to maximize value – queuing theory applies!

Agile Methods

  • Neil Killick follows up last week’s analysis of the Scrum Master role’s responsibilities, behaviors, and goals with a similar look at the Product Owner role.
  • Mike Cohn strips Scrum down to three clear, elegant sentences, and warns us to add only those elements that actually work in our environment. Excellent advice!
  • Michael Barone subjects Agile to a little psychoanalysis.
  • Boon Nern Tan explains the case for and benefits of pair programming.
  • John Goodpasture contemplates Big Agile, and the limited benefits of additional process and structure.
  • Don Kim sees parallels between the Structured Agile Framework (SAFe) and the Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day.” You can say that again …
  • Johanna Rothman contemplates the roles of development manager and test manager in Agile organizations.
  • Seth Godin distinguishes between optimism and honesty, and our ability to commit and deliver.
  • Han van Loon proposes a replacement for the estimation Cone of Uncertainty. Check out his video on YouTube and try not to think of a snake swallowing its prey.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Maria Kozlova on building and maintaining high-performing teams. Just 19 minutes, safe for work.
  • Dave Prior interviews Mike Vizdos and Peter Green, on the values and techniques of Nonviolent Communication. Just 24 minutes, safe for work.
  • Tony, Craig, and Renee interview a variety of attendees at the Scrum Australia conference in Sydney. Just 35 minutes, safe for work.

Pot Pouri

  • Jyothi Rangaiah has published the January edition of Women Testers magazine. If you haven’t discovered this wonderful resource yet, take this opportunity.
  • Ruairi O’Donnelan on wishes: “A software engineer, a hardware engineer, and a project manager find a magic lantern …”
  • Nick Heath reports on the growing call for IT to set aside some jobs for women. Not certain jobs, but a certain fraction of the positions.

Enjoy!

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.