Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Ship of State Metaphor


I recently completed Jim Benson's book "Why Limit WIP: We are Drowning in Work". It's a simple, straightforward read, in the form of a story around typical life pressures in a corporate running multiple projects, all with the same sense of urgency, but teams not actually shipping any product (that is, completing any work product and releasing to market).

Jim introduces a metaphor called the Ship of State, as a way to help the team's product and project managers navigate through the uncertainty, thus allowing the team freedom to decide (empowered) what is safe and within their control to make decisions and others where the team still need to act, but still keep the stakeholders informed of their thinking. The scene is around product features for roadmap, which I thought quite powerful and useful - with a much wider application than just roadmapping features.

So I created this little poster that captures the essence of the metaphor. Does it makes sense?
Think about what your ship of state would look like (personal or professional)....
Ship of State

Friday, 24 February 2017

Signs of Stress every Project Professional should know


When you're working on projects you will experience many challenges: from working on multiple, often conflicting and ambiguous priorities, multiple streams of work (tasks, work packages, etc.) as well as interacting with many different types of (difficult) people, from different cultures, behaviours to different languages spoken. Your customers (stakeholders, client, sponsors) will vary in quality, more often than not applying pressure for their work getting done (because more than likely its linked to some kind of personal objective / business reward). This pressure is usually passed down to the project team members assigned. With the focus on delivery & timeline pressures, the project manager is often forced to multitask, expecting the same from project team members who often have the challenge of juggling between between project and non-project work, multi-project work (generally people are assigned to more than one project at a time) and not forgetting people's own personal/life (family, health, etc.) challenges thrown into the mix.

All of this can become too much, and as a project professional (project manager), who's primary responsibility (in my humble opinion) is to ensure his people are led, directed, guided, coached through the implementation phase of the project thus meeting expectations of the customer and coming away intact, that it behoves the project manager to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of stress. After all, we work with human beings, not machines that are oblivious to mood swings, emotional problems and simple pleasures - so being mindful of your team members state-of-mind, as well as your own -- and taking time to truly pause and reflect, adjusting your behaviour as a project manager can go a long way to not only improving your work relationships, but also can help with the the successful outcome of your project implementation.

The American Institute of Stress (AIS) stated that the term "stress" was coined by Dr. Hans Seyle in 1936, who defined it as a "the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change". He sometimes defined it as "the rate of wear and tear on the body".

Here are some fifty common signs and symptoms of stress from the AIS. Look out for these in your own life as well as the people you work with.
  • Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
  • Gritting, grinding teeth
  • Stuttering or stammering
  • Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
  • Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
  • Light-headedness, faintness, dizziness
  • Ringing, buzzing or "popping" sounds
  • Frequent blushing, sweating
  • Cold or sweaty hands, feet
  • Dry mouth, problems swallowing
  • Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
  • Rashes, itching, hives, goose bumps
  • Unexplained or frequent allergy attacks
  • Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
  • Excess belching, flatulence
  • Constipation, diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing, sighing
  • Sudden attacks of panic
  • Chest pain, palpitations
  • Frequent urination
  • Poor sexual desire or performance
  • Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
  • Increased anger, frustration, hostility
  • Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
  • Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
  • Trouble learning new information
  • Forgetfulness, disorganisation, confusion
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
  • Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of loneliness or worthlesness
  • Little interest in appearance, punctuality
  • Nervous habits, fidgeting, foot-tapping
  • Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
  • Overreaction to petty annoyances
  • Increased number of minor accidents
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviour
  • Reduced work efficiency or productivity
  • Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
  • Rapid or mumbled speech
  • Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
  • Problems in communication or sharing
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
  • Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
  • Weight gain or loss without diet
  • Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
  • Excessive gambling or impulse buying

Check out this Human Function Curve by Nixon in 1979, that illustrates the generally accepted view of the effect of stress on worker productivity. It is entirely personal and shows that each person has their own individual limits for stress - there are good stresses and bad ones. Zero stress = Zero performance - interesting.
Human performance peaks at modest amounts of stress. (Source: Nixon, p: Practitioner 1979)

Credits / Reference Material
I came across this topic from this book, Chapter 2 on The Human Behaviour Problem as Root Cause: Multitasking from Critical Chain Project Management by Leach

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Immutable Laws of Project Management

I came across this classic list a while back and was reminded recently about it in Critical Chain Project Management by Leach, so I thought it useful to store as reference (yes, it's already online, but I actually enjoy writing things down as a way to reinforcing my memory).

I can personally identify with all these laws in my history of working on projects, how does your experience compare :-)

The Immutable Laws of Project Management

LAW 1
No major project ever completes on time, within budget, with the same staff that started it, and the project does not do what is supposed to do. It is highly unlikely that yours will be the first.
Corollary 1: The benefits will be smaller than initially estimated, if they made estimates at all.
Corollary 2: The system finally installed will be late, and will not do what it is supposed to do.
Corollary 3: It will cost more but will be technically successful.

LAW 2
One advantage of fuzzy project objectives is that they let you avoid embarrassment in estimating the corresponding costs.

LAW 3
The effort required correcting a project that is off course increases geometrically with time.
Corollary 1: The longer you wait the harder it gets.
Corollary 2: If you wait until the project is completed, it is too late.
Corollary 3: Do it now regardless of the embarrassment.

LAW 4
Everyone else understands the project purpose statement you wrote differently.
Corollary 1: If you explain the purpose so clearly that no one could possibly misunderstand, someone will.
Corollary 2: If you do something that you are sure will meet everyone's approval, someone will not like it.

LAW 5
Measurable benefits are real. Intangible benefits are not measurable, thus intangible benefits are not real.
Corollary 1: Intangible benefits are real if you can prove that they are real.

LAW 6
Anyone who can work effectively on a project part-time certainly does not have enough to do now.
Corollary 1: If a boss will not give a worker a full-time job, you shouldn't either.
Corollary 2: If the project participant has a time conflict, the work given by the full-time boss will not suffer.

LAW 7
The greater the project's technical complexity, the less you need a technician to manage it.
Corollary 1: Get the best manager you can. The manager will get the technicians.
Corollary 2: The reverse of corollary 1 is almost never true.

LAW 8
A carelessly planned project will take three times longer to complete than expected. A carefully planned project will take twice as long.
Corollary 1: If nothing can possibly go wrong, it will anyway.

LAW 9
When the project is going well, something will go wrong.
Corollary 1: When things cannot get any worse, they will.
Corollary 2: When things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.

LAW 10
Project teams detest weekly progress reporting because it so vividly manifests their lack of progress.

LAW 11
Projects progress rapidly until they are 90 percent complete. Then they remain 90 percent complete forever.

LAW 12
If project content is allowed to change freely, the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress.

LAW 13
If the user does not believe in the system, a parallel system will be developed. Neither system will work very well.

LAW 14
Benefits achieved are a function of the thoroughness of the post-audit check.
Corollary 1: The prospect of an independent post-audit provides the project team with a powerful incentive to deliver a good system on schedule within budget.

LAW 15
No law is immutable.

My library on Project Management

Here is a live list of all the project management books I own in my personal library. I have read every one from cover to cover. Each one has helped me in some way or the other in mastering the art and skill in project management, that I now find myself less interested in the detail of project management, but rather more interested in the project leadership aspects of the domain: setting strategy, starting-up and shaping projects, forget date-drive tracking and focus on building commitment instead, building relationships, program report visualisation (one page project manager reports, Toyota A3, etc.) & simplification (cut-down meetings, reduce waste, manage work-in-process), running & facilitating workshops (brainstorming, scoping, discovery, pre-mortems, retrospectives), organisational change & transformation, playing coach, guide, mentor and advisor to PMOs & Execs.

This list is in no particular order but towards the bottom end are the most recently read books. Not sure where all the icons disappeared to, but the links should work.