New Post at AITS: Simplicity

My latest article for AITS was published today: Simplicity: What’s Left When You Ignore Everything Else.

One of the great trends of the last decade has been the consumerization of virtually everything. You no longer have to know anything about the technology you are using to meet your needs. From retail self-service to manager dashboards to (soon) autonomous automobiles, our products are becoming ever less demanding of us, as we have become ever more demanding of them. And as project managers delivering those products to impatiently waiting end users, we have to understand the relationship between that expected simplicity and the hidden complexity in order to keep our projects within scope and on track.

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

New PM Articles for the Week of June 5 – 11

New project management articles published on the web during the week of June 5 – 11. And this week’s video: Doug H. shows how to create a RACI chart in Excel, add validation and an error message, make each value display in a selected color, and improve the presentation with simple formatting. If you’ve struggled with Excel in these areas, this is an excellent demo. Just 11 minutes, safe for work.

Must read (or Hear)!

  • Lynda Bourne explains how to differentiate between normal, complex, and megaprojects and how to apply Traditional, Agile, Complex, and megaproject management methods.
  • James Clear explains why entropy drives complexity (as well as Murphy’s Law).
  • Matt Spence interviews Senator Kamala Harris, former Attorney General of the world’s sixth largest economy (California), on absorbing new technology into public policy. Just 27 minutes, safe for work.

Established Methods

  • Richard Bayney tutors us on creating a prioritized project portfolio, optimized using Efficient Frontier analysis.
  • Harry Hall analyzes the risk management processes for what they contribute to the bottom line: getting results.
  • Ryan Ogilvie recommends that you have a dialog with your customer about service to discover what they really want.
  • Alex Puscasu details best some best practices for outsourcing project work.
  • Elise Stevens interviews John Wyzalek on the fine points of engaging external stakeholders. Just over 20 minutes, safe for work.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of all things Agile, from Ron Jeffries on Dark Scrum and Corporate Agile, to an Agile historical timeline, to 12 principles for better experiments.
  • Johanna Rothman continues her series on “Scaling” Agile with part 4 and part 4a.
  • Dave Prior and Derek Huether discuss design on the Scrum team and Scrum Masters filling multiple roles. Just over 20 minutes, safe for work.
  • The Clever PM defends “ScrumBut” as a reasonable model if it works better for the organization than rigorously following the Scrum Guide.
  • Leigh Espy notes three easy Agile practices that you can adopt today (after due diligence, of course).
  • Garren Heye notes that resisting chaos is not about being inflexible or resisting change. Agility is not formlessness.
  • Mike Griffiths insists that retrospectives produce “lessons to be learned.”
  • Claire Karjalainen recaps a panel discussion on scaling design in the enterprise, including design leaders from SAP, GE Digital, Walmart, IBM, and HP Enterprise.

Applied Leadership

  • Art Petty tells us to beware of the leader who demands loyalty.
  • Suzanne Lucas tells of a junior analyst who followed the instructions for setting up her development workstation and deleted the production database. And got fired?
  • Seth Godin: “We always have a choice, but often, it’s a good idea to act as if we don’t.”

Technology, Techniques, and Human Behavior

  • Paramita Ghosh explains the best practices for extracting business value from machine learning.
  • Adam Shostack applies threat modeling techniques to a dockless bike sharing system available in China which is suffering from cheating customers.
  • Rob England advocates killing the Change Advisory Board. Or at least removing permission for every strap-hanger to object without taking responsibility for improvement.

Working and the Workplace

  • Conner Forrest highlights findings from a new report that indicates “fear of losing my job to artificial intelligence” is the number 1 cause of stress at work for Gen X and Millennials.
  • Daniel Lobo rails against the social pressure to be “Available” on instant messaging, which he refers to as “green dot syndrome.”
  • Richard Moy shows us how to kick-start a productive day without doing real any work—just clean your desk. It positively influences your mental energy level.


The Internet of (Human) Things and other Siri-ous Issues

“I need your FM voice.” My wife says I sound like the announcer on a classical music station. The problem is, Lien sounds like a Taiwanese woman speaking English, which she mostly learned as an adult. Siri mangles half of what she says, and it annoys her beyond depiction. My reaction would be to not speak to that wretched Apple faux person at all, but Lien expects that things should work as advertised. Her solution: she composes a message, recites it to me, and then holds her iPhone up to my face so I can repeat it in my dulcet tones. Pointing out to her that using the keyboard would be faster only exacerbates her annoyance. So I help her overcome one more twenty-first century, First World problem caused by the overreach of consumer technology. Which brings me to the Internet of Things.

Useless Cases

An article by Paul Sawyers in VentureBeat last year reported on funding secured by San Francisco-based June, which is developing a Smart Oven. I won’t bore you with the feature set – instead, I’ll just ask: How much baking goes on in your household? Based on that, how much usage would you get from an Internet-connected gadget which inspected whatever you plopped in the oven, determined what you were cooking, and adjusted the temperature accordingly? Isn’t this why God created thermostats for regulating oven temperature, which recipes invariably stipulate? Perhaps someone smarter than me can explain the use case for this “solution.”

That Looked Better on Jeri Ryan

CosFailThat oddity aside, there are a lot of incredibly valuable applications for placing passive RFID tags on newly manufactured products so they can self-report their presence. It simplifies everything from preventing inventory shrinkage to check-out (bar codes are so 20th century). So, do we want to use human-implanted RFID chips to authenticate identity? This is a thing, at least in small number. A recent article about RFID implants in Australia makes it seem like a silly fad, but the number of available applications for the technology is impressive. And as more phishing attacks expose more of our personal data, the allure of an identification that can’t be spoofed is undeniable.

Useful Cases

Over the last few years, the IRS has detected a number of fraudulent tax returns submitted electronically, with W-2 forms apparently retrieved by providing minimal information, such as SSN and birth date. If you had an implant with a very long unique identifier that could be read by your phone or other device and validated by some central database, would you feel more or less secure? How about if it could be read by any pocket-sized harvester? Well, would you like your device to generate a complementary key based on your fingerprint that would combine with your RFID tag to uniquely identify you? At what level would you feel secure about being an internet “thing?”

Scenario: Imagine you are working in a hospital emergency room. An ambulance brought in a patient who is unresponsive. Fortunately, her RFID tag was read on the way in, and her records – from medical history to address, next of kin, and insurance coverage – have already been retrieved. But the other victim in the accident lost his arm, where the tag was implanted. He’s bleeding out, and you have to collect his identification the old-fashioned way in order to treat him. While this seems extreme, it’s not unrealistic. An embedded RFID tag might be the difference between life and death.

You Knew This Would Be About Ethics, Right?

As project managers, we’re going to be asked to manage a lot of projects that will be done because they are possible, or because they solve another twenty-first century, First World problem. We need to accept responsibility for being not just the agent of the sponsor but the agent and voice of society. We have to be prepared to point out flaws and even talk powerful people out of their pet projects. If someone had been the voice of reason in 1945, saying, “The war is almost over, and this nuclear Genie should be left in the bottle,” would the world be a safer place? On the other hand, we have a responsibility to support the development of technologies that can save lives, even if they seem a bit creepy to us.

Siri and Alexa are just the beginning. From autonomous vehicles to next-generation biometric authentication, we are changing the way humans interact with the world. You might never find yourself in a position to influence the future. But if you do, don’t hesitate to speak out. Don’t wait for the Law of Unintended Consequences to catch up with our innovations.