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Archive for April, 2009

Since the 1950’s when the Work Breakdown Structure and Critical Path Analysis were developed, there have been a lot of developments in technology, tools, and management techniques.  But there has not been anything created to replace the benefit of a work breakdown structure (WBS) and a critical path analysis (CPA).  We recently implemented these as a standard on all internal projects.  Our version of the WBS is very simplified, outlining the major deliverables that are in scope for the particular project.  These deliverables become the focal point throughout the project.  They are summary tasks in the project schedule (Gantt), they are on the project web site with planned and actual dates of completion, and they are the primary communication of project status on our status reports.  The PM will create the initial draft, get contributions from the core project team, then get approval from the customer.  If these deliverables change, it is a scope change which impacts the schedule, resources, budget or all three.  We then take this WBS into a meeting with the project team and do a CPA session.  We use a non-tech approach by literaly using sticky notes for tasks identified by the team, color coded by resource type, and stick them on a whiteboard.  Always starting from the end and working backwards, we go step by step and selecting which task that has to happen just before the prior task.  We draw the different paths, estimate work effort and duration for each task, and identify critical path.  In a two hour session, the PM walks out of the room with enough data to create his/her project schedule.  To speed up this process, we created a “Service Catalog”, which is basically a project schedule with activities that are common to the organization.  By flushing out the details of these repetitive tasks as a pre-approved standard by the organization, the project teams do not need to recreate the wheel each time, but only focus on the new items for this project.  By using these methods, you can develop a project schedule in a very short timeframe.  It works well with an agile or Lean project approach.  The old methods are sometimes the best methods.

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The concept of a “Servant Leader” has a long history going back thousands of years and is documented very similarly in many cultures, most notably in the Bible in Mark 10:42-45.  In modern times, it was made popular in the 70’s by Robert Greenleaf when he published an article called “The Servant as Leader”.  There are a multitude of books on the subject, but basically it deals with the motivation behind a leader.  Many leaders approach their position with a top-down hierarchical style of management.  They are in charge.  It’s their way or the highway.  Instead, servant leaders see it as their role to put the individuals in the organization first and choose to lead in order to serve, not to increase ones own power or title.  Servant leadership stresses collaboration, trust, and teamwork.  This is, however, a concept that has often gotten lost in the corporate world of politics and ladder-climbing.  A servant leader sees it as his/her responsibility to enable the success of his/her team by promoting the growth of the individuals on that team.  It is such as simple concept and has a centuries long track record of success, yet seems all too rare in today’s Corporate world.   The hurdle is over coming the one-up-manship that tends to drive trust out of a culture.   Organizations that promote teamwork and encourage collaboration will have teams of employees that trust one another, which in turn, work more efficiently.  In today’s economy, anything that improves efficiency warrants some attention.  A company that can develop this type of culture also has happier employees, which means less turn-over and the reduced cost of replacing those employees.   All in all, sounds like a no-brainer.

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I was reading an article yesterday about the new Intel Xeon 5500 chip and how it was designed to run virtual machines more effiiciently.  If this advancement plays out in reality the way it does in theory, it could change the industry and make the “Cloud Computing” concept a reality.  Entire data centers could be run from a couple of racks of equipment.  For me, the lightbulb really went on!  If users truly run all their apps from SAAS vendors like Google apps that run completely from the web, and store all their documents and digital pictures on web storage, then why do they need a computer?  All consumers will need is a browser interface to the web.  All the new gaming systems can connect to the web.  Why not add an interface to your TV?  Thinking this was a concept for the future, I did a quick Google search and found out that Sony is releasing internet video-ready TV’s that can access web content without a computer.  OK, I guess I am not such a visionary.  In my lifetime, I have watched stereos systems get replaced by Ipods and docking stations.  I have seen records evolve into cassette tapes, CD’s, then all digital media.  Next we may see the “end of days” for computers.  We’ll only need portable devices and our HDTV’s.  It’s a good time to be alive 🙂

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I have worked at companies that were in start-up mode.  Describing the way they work would be “managed chaos” at best and everyone wears many hats.  Everyone works long hours and does whatever it takes to get the job done.  This is what it takes to be competitive.  When these companies start to grow and become successful, they get to a point when they need more structure.  After all, you can only survive working “without a net” for so long.  They build frameworks and processes and get more rigid about job responsibilities.  They introduce ITIL, Scrum and Six Sigma to measure process improvements and things do improve, at first.  Simply by paying attention to these things and making them important, things DO get better.  Then somewhere along the way, they stop focusing on the customer and start focusing on the charts or the procedures.  After all, when employees are penalized for bad data on charts or for breaking process, they do what their survival instinct tells them to do, manage to the data.  This is where the pendulum swings too far the other way.  Instead of employees focusing on innovation and adaptability, they focus on not getting in trouble.  They become trained NOT to stick their necks out or take chances, because risk breaks things.   Slowly the processes become bureaucratic and it is increasingly difficult to move projects forward.  They become victims of their own processes and everything has to be escalated to get things done.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of continuous process improvement and standard processes, but you must always keep perspective on your big picture goals.  Any good process should have an exception policy because there will always be exceptions and yes, there are appropriate times to break all the rules.  Process should be a tool to help you improve, not handcuff you.  Be careful when creating all this structure that you don’t stifle the things that enabled your success in the first place, agility, adaptability, and customer focus.

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Why does it seem like the answer to an organizations problems is always a reorganization of the staff? Granted that there are times when a company needs to change the structure of their staff to better align with business requiremenets or customer needs, but I’ve been in an organization that restructured every year for four years in a row. You have to keep in mind that a reorg only changes the reporting structure. It is worth very little unless something much more critical is addressed as well, responsibilities. Most reorgs I have witnessed address the org orgchartchart and give a high level description of the groups new vision, then expect the lower level managers to fill in the details. The problem is that there is generally no continuity when this happens. Each well meaning managers interprets their new vision as they see fit and takes on responsibilities that he wants. This often leaves gaps between the groups and disagreements on ownership of issues. It is imperative that the executives that defined the vision of each group stay enagaged in the detailed definition of each groups role to ensure that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. I believe that Executives underestimate their contribution and influence in changing times and too much communication is probably just right.

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Do you ever come to the conclusion that Project Management is not taken serious in the corporate IT world? I see many IT projects that have PM’s assigned, but they are not trained as Project Managers, nor do they have a background in project management. In these cases, they are usually Development Managers or Business Analysts who are given the responsibility of managing a project. It’s almost treated like project management and staff management are the same skillset. I don’t blame these managers. They usually have full time jobs andpmjuggle1 are expected to manage the project (or projects) off the side of their desks. It’s somewhat demeaning to the profession. It’s like an unwritten fact that Project Management is not difficult. From what I have seen, they do not aspire to be PM’s, or even want to learn how. I suppose someone has to do it and there are no PM’s on staff in the group, so the Dev Manager is elected. I think it comes down to the culture of most companies not truly understanding the value of a good Project Manager. PM’s are not just note takers, paper pushers, or administrators. In fact, a good PM can make the difference in a project being successful or not. As an industry, IT is still pretty new and could take some lessons from the construction industry. I have heard the argument about whether project management is a skillset or a profession. I think it is both. The professionals who take it seriously and truly learn the craft often become invaluable. The ones who just do it because they are told to, will get by I suppose.

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Welcome!

This is my first post on my new blog.  The content of this blog will be variable until I hone in on a topic of preference.  Come back often to get updates.

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