Monthly Archives: March 2012

Should You Go Cloud?

That is the question…to cloud, or not to cloud?  I recently read an article by Sarah Fister Gale, found here: http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/Publications/PMN0312%20cloud.ashx
It is interesting how many people go to the cloud without knowledge of security, back-up, redundancy, and so forth.  There is little doubt that the cloud has many positive attributes.  That is why cloud usage continues to experience robust growth.  However, too often people just assume the cloud is a magical solution with hardly any issues.  Well, that is normally the case…unless you happen to be my brother-in-law.  His company was utilizing a cloud hosted credit card processing service.  And things were great for nearly two years, until the cloud server went down and there was no back-up plan in place.  It took 3 days of hand wringing and lost sales to get back online.  In addition to immediate lost revenue, he lost long term customers.  The article above will certainly give you an idea on specific questions one should ask and a basic outline to help you make a solid choice for your cloud solutions.

Presenteeism is the new Absenteeism

You can easily measure absenteeism in your project team.  Just count the number of days employees miss.  Bear down on them enough, and they’ll come in to work… like the walking dead.  That’s presenteeism. You are present, but not capable to work.  That’s the topic of a CIO Insight article at the link below.

http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/IT-Management/Depression-at-Work-New-Initiative-Addresses-Lost-Productivity-663213/

 

Presenteeism is when your project team is half slaughtered by the stress and worry of everything around them – threats of layoff, political, economic, worldwide – yet they drag into work anyway.  Hey, it’s better to eke out a few hours of work than sit around on your duff, right?

I don’t suppose there’s any good answer to this. It is what it is.  We’re not living in a 1950’s ‘Leave It To Beaver’ sitcom anymore.  This decade is hardcore depressing.  Layoffs are happening all around us, businesses are failing, others are hanging on for an elusive economic uptick, but few are prospering.

My advice: just recognize this in your project team.  Be sympathetic.  Don’t bear down for more production.  Just try to be a pleasant manager if possible.  We’ll come out of it eventually. What else can we do?

Don’t be the DIA and BAE Baggage System

Remember the expense delays in opening the brand new Denver International Airport?  Many case studies have been done examining the intricate reasons for such a colossal failure on a grand scale.  DIA was to be the most efficient airport in the world, able to accommodate over 50 million passengers per year.  One of the key components was to have a fully automated baggage system…eliminating the tug and trolley system.  This would cut a planes turnaround time by 30 minutes and would be a key component in creating more efficiency with flights and passenger throughout.  The chief project manager, Walter Slinger had his heart set on this shining new system and romanticized about the notoriety the state of the art airport would bring to the city of Denver.  BAE also liked the idea of designing a system that would garner great attention and further their own reputation for building baggage systems.  Again, you could read many in depth case studies about the key decisions that led to the cascade of delays and failures.  However, I would summarize them in a single manner, tunnel vision.  Both parties fell in love with an idea and ignored many internal obvious warnings about the baggage systems feasibility.  The delays were numerous and cost billions of dollars.  In the end, after many attempts to partially use the automated baggage system, it was virtually scrapped for the more economical tug and trolley method.  We all know the old saying that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs?  If you’re a project manager, make sure your love of an idea isn’t greater than your team’s ability to design and implement the idea.  Don’t be afraid to change directions.  Otherwise, you may be the next DIA, which is still one heck of an airport!

Define: Work Contour

Work Contour: The distribution (or “shape”) of working hours over the duration of a task.

In Microsoft Project, working hours are not always spread across the duration of a task like peanut butter.  In other words, they don’t have to be evenly distributed.  They can front-loaded so that most of the work is performed at the beginning of the task.  Or, they could be back-loaded, to represent most of the work being performed at the end of the task.  In fact, there are several choices for the Work Contour.

 

Here they are:

  1. Flat
  2. Back-loaded
  3. Front-loaded
  4. Double peak
  5. Early peak
  6. Late peak
  7. Bell
  8. Turtle

 

The images below illustrate how to choose the Work Contour for each resource in each task.

First, choose View, Gantt Chart to create tasks and assign resources to them.  Then set the duration.

 

Next, choose View, Task Usage.  Insert the ‘Work Contour” column.  After choosing various contours for each resource, you will see an icon representing the distribution of hours across the task.  Notice how the front-loaded task has most of the hour distributed in the first few days while the back-loaded contour has them distributed at the final days.  Flat distribution is default.  It simply uses the resource schedule.

No Vacancy

Have you ever dealt with a department manager who claims they have no resource capacity for strategic company projects, yet seems to be under allocated?

You suspect the department of using precious company resources on “secondary projects” with no strategic value, but you can’t prove it.  Either you don’t have tools to track what your departments do, or that department has successfully hidden manpower for their own use… or both.

Probably the first step is a good heart-to-heart company meeting.  All the functional managers should know the necessity and value of strategic company projects.  But how can you know they understand and support you?  Know your people…  That’s the only way.

The next step is to implement a tool that clearly defines the percentage of time expected on key projects, and tracks actual work against them.  This is a supply and demand system.  Such a tool gives you the opportunity to enforce the message in step one, above.  Employees and department timesheets (supply) should track closely to the numbers they’ve agreed upon (demand).  If they don’t, you’ll have a hot topic of conversation ahead.

Project Quality Assurance

Project quality has many facets depending on the type of project and the quality objectives. A few common metrics used are guidelines and standards.  Most people understand the difference between the two.  However, guidelines can be confused with standards.  Guidelines are just that, an idea or parameter to stay within.  Standards are a more exact objective to be met.  It is well worth while to make sure people are clear on the differences and expectations of each.  Otherwise, a small misunderstanding can be costly.  As an example, a sorting team was tasked with looking through thousands of figurines to inspect for defects.  The guideline says the figurines can have up to 3 blemishes on the front portion, no larger than 2 cm each as long as they are not on the face.  The Standard stated if there is only one blemish allowed in the facial area and they must be less than 1 cm.  Well, an entire shift didn’t understand the difference between the guidelines and standards and inadvertently allowed figurines to pass through that had single blemishes on the face up to 2 cm…double the allowed size.  This was caught during a random audit and thousands of figurines had to be re-sorted costing the company hours of productivity, not to mention money.  As cliché as it may sound, never assume anything. Communication is vital.  A simple misunderstanding can cost an entire project.

Language and Terminology of PMI

Planning to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam from Project Management Institute? Excellent move! That’s just the right medicine for today’s tight economy. You might even find that your position depends upon it. I hope that’s not true, but I’ve seen it happen.

I found an interesting way to prep for the PMP exam plus get a working knowledge of the language and terminology used in the PMP exam. There’s a North Carolina-based company with PMP and Agile instructors that set up classroom sessions around the country: ASPE-SDLC training. Of course, they also have online classes. You can contact them at http://www.aspe-sdlc.com/ and see the PMP Boot Camp class at http://www.aspe-sdlc.com/courses/pmp-boot-camp/.

I’m considering taking the class to sharpen up my own seat-of-the-pants PM skills. If I do, I’ll blog the daily experience here on Project Team Blog. You hear all the ‘torture’ I’ve been subject to.  But you’ll also get an honest day-by-day account of the course. After all that, you might consider taking the course yourself.

Stay tuned!

Ethics in Project Management

With all the pressures of managing a project, it is easy to be swayed and make poor decisions. Pressure can cause a person to rise to the occasion, or crumble in a pile of heap. Most often, however, a person may do things they thought impossible…cheat, lie, twist the data? Unfortunately, this happens more often than we would like. As a project leader it is important to maintain character and integrity. Short term gain based on any type of shenanigans will cause long term pain. For example, say you’re leading an IT project and your developers are having trouble meeting deadlines. You instruct them to “dump” a few outlying features…the customer won’t even notice or use that feature until long after we are done. It’s not a big deal. Two things are going to bite you, one is obvious, the other not so much. The obvious gotcha will come when the customer realizes you didn’t fulfill one of the expected features and becomes upset and makes some waves. The other less obvious problem, your team won’t trust or respect you. They see clearly how you manipulated the situation and trust is broken…even if they agree and would have cut corners too! Take the issues head on. Consult the customer on the scope and change and instruct your team accordingly. You may disappoint the customer now, but your project will keep integrity and your project team will respect your leadership.

Define: Project Baseline

Project Baseline: A copy of the project tasks as they were at some point in time, which you can refer to at a later date.

Here is an example of two project tasks immediately after setting the project baseline.  Notice that the ‘Baseline 1 Work’ field has been copied from the ‘Work’ field.  As the ‘Work’ field changes throughout the project, the baseline is still available for comparison.  How did we do this?  Easy.  Just choose Tools, Tracking, Set Baseline within Microsoft Project.

Here we see the ‘Work’ field changed and the ‘Baseline’ unchanged.

 

Want an easier solution?
Baselining can be complicated and confusing, so “Sir Ganttalot” (a YouTube celebrity) has come up with an easy alternative.  Click here to see the YouTube video:

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7BJ6%5F1pcgc

Essentially, Ganttalot creates a customized field named “Finish Date Changed” to identify tasks that have changed.  Graphical arrow indicators tell whether a finish date has slipped in the future or has tightened up.  These graphical indicators are easier to spot than comparing textual finish dates to baseline finish dates.  It shows you at-a-glance what’s changed from week to week.  Slick, I’d say!