PMI Global Insights

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The Project Management Institute's annual events attract some of the most renowned and esteemed experts in the industry. In this blog, Global Conference, EMEA Congress and experienced event presenters past, present and future from the entire PMI event family share their knowledge on a wide range of issues important to project managers.

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Cameron McGaughy
Kristy Tan Neckowicz
Jack Duggal
Saurayan Chaki
Dan Furlong
Marcos Arias
Danielle Ritter
Marjorie Anderson
David Maynard
Sandra MacGillivray
Deepa Bhide
Karen Chovan
Nadia Vincent
Lawrence Cooper
Michelle Stronach
Kristin Jones
Yves Cavarec
Laura Samsó
Fabio Rigamonti
Sarah Mersereau
Gina Abudi
David Davis
Nic Jain
Emily Luijbregts
Cheryl Lee
Priya Patra
Karthik Ramamurthy

Past Contributers:

Catalin Dogaru
Carlos Javier Pampliega García

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#PMICon18 Ask the Experts

Several of the experts have created graphics that illustrate areas they can help with.  I didn't want to be left out, so here's mine!   Think about making a reservation (online here) to talk to one of us or just stop by and see if there's a slot open.  

We'd love to talk to you. 

-- Dave

Posted by David Maynard on: October 01, 2018 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Troubled Project? #PMICON18 Ask the Experts!

Ask the Experts - #PMICON18

#PMICON18 is just a week away now!   I’d like to encourage all of you to visit “Ask the experts” either by skipping a session or during a break.  You can pre-schedule time online

-----------------------------

Life after NASA

I’ve rambled on about NASA and the great things I learned while growing up there in other writings.  But, I’ve had a life after NASA too.  A group of us decided we could help troubled projects, programs and operations turn-around their troubles. So, we left NASA-Houston (and other places) and moved to Orlando, Florida (why not?) to start a company. 

Most of our work came from companies both large and small that had won US Government contracts and weren’t able to perform.  Why them?   Because there are very strict Federal procurement laws in-play that pretty much insist (legally) that for a fixed price contract, you MUST finish what you started.  It doesn’t matter what it takes, it must be finished and meet the customer’s needs.

At first, that was our niche.  We’d swoop in, understand the problems, give the poor company a bid for our services, put some of our key people in place and do our best to recover the project.  We never had one fail!  It was clear that after a few years of doing this, we saw the same reasons for failure over and over.  There were a few creative ways in which companies crashed while performing a project but not many. 

Well, word spread.  We started taking on commercial contracts (a different world from Federal contracts).  Surprise!  Commercial companies made nearly the same mistakes in their projects and programs as Government-suppliers.  There’s a continuity there, that would be an interesting study to do.  

Mistakes that stick out in my mind:

  • A software company decided that no existing database application would fit their needs, so they decided they needed to write their own database system
  • A systems integrator decided to save money off the final sale price by NOT conducting inspections of custom items that were ordered from vendors.  They just bolted things together and *knew* it would work.
  • A large supplier to the project was “bankrupt and didn’t know it.”  Neither did the people that had the contract to include their product in the final deliverable.  They just couldn’t believe it when I told them.  We ended up buying the bits and pieces and hiring key employees. 

What’s common in these stories? (there are many, many  more)

  1. Where is the boss?  Where is the Project Manger?  Where are the executives?  “Oh, we never talk to them except during our every 6-week review cycles. “
  1. The executive desire to never hear bad news.  Or, “Don’t tell me what your problem is, tell me what your problem was.”  This is totally wrong-headed approach.  Executives exist to knock down the problems workers are having, not to shove them back at them. 
  • This created a saying on our team “Bad news is good; Good news is Great" (the subject of a PMI paper I wrote years ago)
  • You as the PM – NEED to hear bad news, all the bad news there is!  If you don’t hear it, you can’t do anything about it. 
  1. Poor / no status tracking Many of these companies had a very high-level Gantt chart that they met once a month about and everyone said it was fine.  Risks were not discussed, budget was not discussed.  (see item one above).

The flip side of this was companies that had people planning down to the minute every action the project team should take.  Bathroom breaks, lunch… whatever.  That’s just plain silly and won’t work.

  1. No or poor communication between groups working on the project.   It was common on troubled projects that one group had no idea what another group was doing.  Yet, both groups had components that needed to work together for the product of the project to work.
  1. No WBS:  This used to get me very hot under the collar.  It clearly points to nearly zero project planning.
  1. No cost accounting: No idea what was spent for what or when.  Overrun?  Maybe.  Funds remaining to help a failing area?  Maybe…

These are all true.  I could get a group of people on the phone to explain these and much, much more. 

I’d better stop now – I want to create a nice chart like my best buddy EM THE PM did.

-- Dave  (or DAM PM [my initials are DAM] not to be outdone by EM the PM) 

 

Posted by David Maynard on: September 30, 2018 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Backward Expert

backward

This is a backward blog posting!

This will be my final post before leaving for Chicago tomorrow morning.  So, I wanted to do this one more like the way I think about things – BACKWARDS.  Instead of telling what areas I can help with, I thought I’d ramble about what areas I like to talk about!  I guarantee it would be an entertaining discussion.  Just make select an open appointment here:  then wander over, say hello and lets just talk about one of MY favorite things.

1.  Project failure.   I know more than I ever wanted to know about this.  There was a group of us that Left NASA at the same time and moved to Orlando to start a company dedicated to turning around troubled projects, programs and operations.  When we started, we thought we’d seen just about all the problems that project can get into.  WRONG.  For the next 5 or 6 years we only worked on turning around projects that were at least 100% over budget, perhaps 3 or 4 years late, had irate customers… or simply failed to deliver anything of value. 

It’s not easy to judge project failure!  EVA won’t do it.  It’s a very subjective thing.  “Could anyone have done better in the same situation?” is a basic test, but there are many more. 

So, we fired, hired, replaced, improved… bought contracts, had contracts “novated” to us, and were very successful ending up with a stand-along building and 70 employees.  There’s a lot of trouble out there!   There were project mistakes made that I didn’t think cold be made.   We worked on Casino projects, entertainment projects, airline projects, and many other types.  

Our group learned a lot!  I love to talk about a failed project and how it can be recovered.  Number 1: be ready for stress.  We called being personally ready “the full wax job.”  Exercise, diet, mental toughness, how you dress…  no kidding!  But you need to be prepared.

2.  Working with a team that has widely diverse skills.  If the team gets diverse enough, sometimes you can’t understand what the other people are saying.  I’ve managed teams with theoretical physicists, mathematicians, brilliant engineers and more – of course, they were totally convinced they were ALL CORRECT, don’t even think about doubting their work.  This was great fun.  I loved it and learned a whale of a lot about things they didn’t teach me (a humble engineer) in school.

3. Project risk.  How to think about it, how to predict it, how to anticipate it, how to communicate it, how to budget for it, how to look for the often-neglected positive risk.  It’s CRITCAL that project managers and their teams master this skill.   I’ve had friends die a horrible death  because we (in a larger sense) didn’t manage risk well.

4.  Have the courage of your convictions.  Tell people what you believe, tell the bosses what your project team believes.  Don’t fall into the trap of “drinking your own bath water” or the “echo chamber.” 

Well, I feel better!   Wander over and chat with me!

-- Dave Maynard

GOING TO THE 2017 PMI GLOBAL CONFERENCE IN CHICAGO?  

Don’t forget about ASK THE EXPERTS!

Stop by and talk to Dave Maynard or one of the other experts.  There’s more information about it at https://tinyurl.com/y7ff8f3g

Sign Up Now

Posted by David Maynard on: October 26, 2017 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Agile NASA software? Are you Crazy?


Going to the 2017 PMI Global Conference in Chicago?  

Don’t forget about ASK THE EXPERTS!

Stop by and talk to Dave Maynard or one of the other experts.  There’s more information about it at https://tinyurl.com/y7ff8f3g

Sign Up Now


NASA JSC Engineering

Isn't NASA the epitome of the double-cursed WATERFALL technique?

Wrong NASA was agile before agile was a common term.  As a matter of fact, One of the 17 original authors of the agile manifesto -- Jim Highsmith used to work at NASA.   The question that NASA asked itself was: “How can we, the space ops community, adopt state-of-the-art software development practices, achieve greater productivity and lower cost, and maintain safe and effective flight operations?”

NASA Ames, together with my old “home” JSC (Houston) and JPL are developing “Mission Control Technologies (MCT) software in an integrated agile environment --- with modifications necessary because of human life and safety factors (in a *very* harsh environment).

Traditional requirements processes and documentation was replaced with a team design process which included the customer, design experts and paper prototypes. (Sorry Systems Engineering).  Iterations were delivered to the customers every three weeks with a full release every three month (Sound like NASA-Agile now?) 

Nightly builds were made available to facilitate customer feedback on the team’s progress.  This effort replaces the traditional intensive NASA documentation and reviews with ongoing interactions.  Technical documentation is maintained on a team Wiki which everyone has access to and can contribute to.

Why do this? 

To shorten the delivery cycle, break large software development efforts into smaller more easily manageable pieces. To facilitate direct interaction between the developers and the users.  And to produce a download daily so users always have the means to access the latest version of the code.

Replaced Predictions with Actuals.

Progress is measured by the state of the code, rather than estimations and presentations.  For the MCT this takes three forms.  First, the nightly build, second are the iterations (every three weeks) typically installed in a Mission Control test facility.  And after four iterations the software is released for operational mission control certification.

Manageable Deliveries

With a longer delivery cycle, the more the code, the greater the complexity and the larger number of tests that must be conducted.  A longer cycle means more time from specification of function to delivery.  The greater the time from specification to use, the greater the room for error between user expectation and the software product.  Using a shorter cycle reduces the number of new features and possible regressions.  Agile may not reduce the total number of tests, but it distributes them over time, making it a more manageable effort.

Development Team / Customer Interaction

With a short delivery cycle, the availability of working code for evaluation and feedback, makes it possible to have closely coupled interactions between the development team and the customer.  The developer-customer interaction is very useful to verify new features as they are rolled out.

Fast Response to Change

The shorter development cycle allows the team to better respond to changes.  The software is rolled out in stages, the users respond then the development team can act on this feedback. 

 

Next time: NASA Agile: Delivery Cycles. 

Reference: American Inst. of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Reston, VA, United States; Agile Development Methods for Space Operations Jay Trimble Nasa Ames Research Center Mountain View CA and Chris Webster University of California Santa Cruz, Nasa Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA

Posted by David Maynard on: October 18, 2017 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Who's coming to Chicago?

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I had the privilege of attending PMI Global Congress 2016 in San Diego as part of the Ask the Experts cadre. I once again have been afforded the privilege of attending, this time in Chicago from October 28-30, 2017!

The Ask the Experts sessions are designed for attendees like you to have access to your peers in the profession who may have been there, done that, but also more than likely have a few scars to show for it. The point to scars is that while they may hurt at the time of the injury, you tend not to forget their lessons, well most of them anyway.

In the lead up to this year’s event I thought I’d provide a little insight for attendees for who I am (besides the scars side of it), where I came from, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what drives me. In so doing, I’m hoping that it will resonate with a few of you who will be attending, and that’ll cause you to want to come share a bit about yourself with me. And while doing that, feel free to off-load some of your challenges with me and I’ll see if I can offer some insights that you might find helpful.

So who is Larry anyway?

I was born on a dark and stormy night in the middle of the north Atlantic (closer to reality than you may believe as my house was less than 50 feet from the ocean) on March 5, 1958, in a very small town in Newfoundland, Canada.  I graduated with a B.Sc. in Computer Science in 1977. I started university at 16 and graduated at 19 – it wasn’t because I was that smart, it’s because we only went to grade 11 back then.  Another factoid – the year I started my B.Sc., 1974, was also the year the first graduating class in Computer Science were finishing their degrees at my university! When I turned fifty, my then 5-year old looked up and said (instead of Happy Birthday) “daddy, you’re old!”  So I just saved you the trouble – I’ve been told that already.

I did my entire B.Sc. on punched cards – the PC did not come along until a couple of years after I finished my degree. What’s interesting is that in my first job with the provincial government I did everything – requirements, analysis, design (such as it was), developing, testing and deployments. Sounds a lot like the self-organizing, cross-functional teams in Scrum, doesn’t it? (if one person can be a team, but you get the idea – you had to have multiple competencies).

Starting in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and into the 2000’s I watched the IT industry turn these competencies into roles, and eventually into entire org structures – honestly I never got that, so I mostly ignored It. I was lucky enough to be in small enough size places to get away with ignoring the trend.

Along the way I also picked up an M.A in Public Administration and 20+ industry certifications on project management, Agile and ITIL. That degree is when I had to learn how to write – I was a lousy English student. Then again, I was a lousy software developer too, so lucky for me I learned how to write. So I was clearly not a NASA scientist calibre fellow like David Maynard, another of our gang of experts. But I do have talents – we all do.

We all have those moments that we feel define us in some way. Mine was a little more than a moment – more like three years to be exact.

In the early 1990’s I worked as the Operations Manager for Ice Forecasting Services at Environment Canada in Ottawa as we faced an enormous challenge.

The gist of it is that we would be replacing aircraft that flew around the Arctic and “iceberg alley” off my childhood home of Newfoundland, taking radar images of the ice floes and bergs, with a satellite that would provide full imagery for all of Canada in a single day – 7.5 GB of new data/day in an era when our largest disc drive was 424mb. That was  a lotta data!

This meant a wire-up replacement – networks, all hardware (mini computes, the workstations, etc.), and all of our software. Oh, and we had roughly three years in which to do all of it.

Some things that were pretty obvious pretty quickly:

  • Doing things the way we’d always done was not going to work (e.g. taking twelve to eighteen months to build each application)
  • As our existing technology was no good, we had to figure out possible options, and quickly
  • As our tech was no good, and we couldn’t do what we’d always done, then we’d have to learn new skills and new ways of doing things

Necessity as they say is the mother of invention. We went to see the vendors for hardware and some of the software options that might fit. For example, we wanted four-foot wide screens to display the imagery. The response was, “you guys are about ten years too early” (we heard that a lot).

We decided to go object-oriented for any software we had to build – and none of us knew not an iota of how to code in it. We decided to assemble two small development teams that would remain intact with all the tools they needed. We set targets for having useful things delivered every three to four months. 

We decided to look at what capabilities were common across our applications and build those before we did any application development - we called them Global Services; This was 1992 and a good ten years before Service-Oriented Architecture was a thing. Eighteen months after we had made the decision, the Object Management Group came out with the CORBA Specification and called some of what we had done Common Facilities. Who knew? Once the services were built, we able to rebuild our applications at a rate one per team every 3-5 months.

And in the midst of all that, we also managed to implement automated event and incident management, as well as automated capacity management – also ten years or so before ITIL really became a thing on this side of the pond.  We had to – we only had three system administrators and over 30 servers and a dozen high-end workstations to manage that had limited capacity in a 24x7 operation.

It was the most influential three years in my professional career.

Near the end of the projects we had started, I was asked by Auerbach Publishers in NY to write a couple of chapters for the 1996 edition of their Manager’s Handbook of Local Area Networks (the book talked about almost everything but!) on the design approaches we had used (never did find out how they found me).  That was my introduction to writing beyond project documents.

I left the government after nearly eighteen years in 1995 and went over the private sector as a consultant which I have mostly done since (except for a two year stint as an employee at a telcom company 1999-2001)

My time at Ice had a tremendous influence on everything I did afterwards, especially in how I viewed the project and the software development worlds:

  • Establish the big picture early and then work backwards to figure out where to start
  • Never rely on the past too much to guide how you look at the future
  • Set small goals
  • Assemble small teams, equip them well, and provide whatever support they need to do well
  • Experiment and adjust quickly
  • Always deliver something of value in short increments

(My new friend David from the 2016 congress used a similar approach at NASA before we did it).

As a result of what I learned during that period, I ended up leading teams that applied the same design principles to business process as we did for software design, taking an outcomes-based approach to figure out what we needed to do based on where we wanted to go, creating an  incremental release strategy for what became the world’s largest web-enabled supply chain, and fell almost naturally into an agile way of working before the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was released in 2001 (truth be told, I never came across the Manifesto until 2009).

All of that led me to doing more writing as part of a book series I have labeled The Agility Series (www.TheAgilitySeries.com). You can read more about the series here. The newest book I am working on is called Cultural Agility: Changing our Stories . In fact I’ll be meeting one of my contributing authors to this book for the first time during the conference. Can’t wait!

Besides writing, I am a strategic portfolio executive and trainer, with a decided emphasis on organizational adaptability and agility in all its forms. I am also involved with www.NFPPC.org where we are trying to distill all of the industry frameworks, standards, and methodologies down to their essential WHATs. Why would we do that? Because so many of them overlap with one another and at times create as much confusion as they do clarity. And with all the talk about Agile it would be kind of nice to know which parts of what we already know still has value in helping us do things in a more agile way.

Why do I still work? Besides the obvious reason of having a 15-year old who won’t be leaving home for a while and then has university ahead, it’s because I genuinely like what I do. It’s fun. I have changed careers multiple times within the IT/PM profession over the years. Sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes for fun. I find the more I know, the more I realize how much I really don’t know. It’s fun learning new things and meeting new people and feeling like I am still making a difference.

The feeling of making a difference is a very human emotion. Everyone wants to make a difference and everyone does so in their own way. There also no one way to do that successfully.

If you’d like to talk strategic intent, adaptive strategy, back-casting over forecasting, outcomes over outputs, any of the agilities, or pretty much anything you think I may be able to help you with in making a difference in your world, here is my availability during the conference:

  • Saturday the 28th from 1:30 to 4:30
  • Sunday the 29th from 3:00 to 5:00
  • Monday the 30th from 9:00 to 12:00

Oh, and as much as you think we may be able to help you make a difference, I am guessing that by the end of the conference some of you will help us see things differently and change how we make a difference.

So, let’s meet up in Chicago and make a difference together!

             

Posted by Lawrence Cooper on: September 06, 2017 06:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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