Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is that a project manager or a product manager you're after?

I typically do quite long stints with clients. This enables me to approach the market every 2-3 years with a clean pair of eyes and some ability to discern how it has (or has not changed).

And, I observe a dominant trend in the market for project managers. Something that while it may have been present previously, is now all but ubiquitous. 

Let me ask a couple of quick questions first - consider this a little warming up to the subject.

  1. Which project management methodology requires the project manager to be a subject matter expert?
  2. Which project management process requires the project manager to be a subject matter expert?
  3. Which project management product requires the project manager to be a subject matter expert?
  4. Which project management process, product or methodology requires the project manager to have implemented the same (or nearly the same) product before.
  5. How many projects fail due to a lack of subject matter expertise on the part of the project manager?
(Please note - your project management subject matter expertise is a given)

And, the answer in all cases (as you almost certainly reasoned for yourself) is none of them. Even if you quibble the last one - it's almost a self-evident conclusion if you accept the other 4.

Now I do understand why project managers tend to operate in their chosed fields of (say) construction, accounting or (in my case) information technology. If you spend 90% of your time communicating, you can't spend 90% of the time deciphering what (for the uninitiated) is going to be opaque jargon.

But, that's not what I'm seeing. What I'm seeing is hiring managers who (for instance) are seeking a highly literate technical project manger, with (say) extensive CRM experience and (in particular) SalesForce.Com. But also (and these aren't necessarily nice to haves), Oracle, SQL, Agile, UML. Oh and not forgetting your extensive (for example) experience with off-shore oil and gas and the two CRM implementations you'll have already done.

Now a quick review of some of the chief culprits which cause projects to fail

  1. Poor risk management
  2. Poor stakeholder identification / engagement leading to omission of requirements
  3. Estimating that corresponds in no way to what is achievable on the ground
  4. Flawed business case
  5. Poor scope control
So which of these are addressed by anything other than good project management practice? Yep - none of them.

So how did we get here? I can't say because I'm not a recruiter with my finger on the pulse of the concerns and imperatives of hiring managers, but I have my suspicions. 

  1. Unprecedented levels of cynicism towards both project managers and the profession of project management
  2. Organisations instinctively reaching for the comfort blanket of 'someone who's done it before'.
I'm somewhat fortunate in that my technical background allows me a certain discretion. But I know this. On any project where I'm forced to use my technical expertise, I'm not doing the job the client is paying me for. And worse still, neither is somebody else.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Quotation incrustation (and a little inoculation)

Francis Bacon said, 'There arises from a bad and unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction of the mind'. And where better for a wonderful obstruction of the mind than the program kick-off meeting? A slide-deck which has been over worked, with pictures of sinking boats (that will never happen here of course), some incidental shots of a medal winning track team and maybe even the odd roaring lion. And of course the quotes. Where would the slide-ware of any self-respecting change practitioner be without some well chosen quotes from a few notable luminaries?

You know the sort of thing... "I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom" or "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts".

But quotes are funny things. And, it was only when recently reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (which I can't recommend highly enough incidentally) that I realized just how potentially beguiling a quote can be.

Now even I am not going to try and distil Professor Kahneman's comprehensive insights within a paragraph or two of my blog but among the great swathes of wisdom provided, Professor Kahneman discusses something called the 'confirmation bias'. The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.

So with that in mind and to underscore by point a little, I ask that you cast your eyes over the following, almost universally flawed, quote-ware; 

“Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she’s a householder” (Extraordinarily naughty)

“Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground” (Unhelpfully playing on latent fears about more or less anything)

“Hat’s divide generally into three classes: offensive hats, defensive hats, and shrapnel” (Smirk-worthy undoubtedly, but entirely content free)

“The only fetters binding the working class today are mock-Rolex watches” (Mildly offensive and with some obvious pandering to smouldering prejudices)

“It is queer how it is always one’s virtues and not one’s vices that precipitate one into disaster.” (Stealthily seductive and quite possibly dangerous!)

“The truth is that our race survived ignorance it is our scientific genius that will do us in” (Truth? Prove it!)

“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them” (A bit of grandiose whimsy)

"A policitian’s words reveal less about what he thinks about his subject than what he thinks about his audience". (Rather insightful actually).

You might find that (in view of Professor Kahneman's run-away success) that your audience isn't quite as susceptible to an approach of "'s a quote to back up what I'm telling you so it must be true...". You might also be less easily beguiled by a well chosen (if specious) quote should you be on the receiving end of it.

But, most importantly, you won't need roaring lions and Benjamin Franklin in your communications if you simply answer the questions; what's the point and why does it matter?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

That's agile with a small 'a' for me please

Business agility is a good thing. But that's not Agile project management. Agile working is probably a good thing in most cases, but that isn't Agile project management either. An agile mindset is more or less obligatory for the jobbing project manager - but nor is that Agile project management.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to like about the Agile Manifesto and even more to like about the 12 principles which underpin it. (I must remember to say the words "...maximizing the amount of work not done is essential" in my next job interview). But neither of these things are (in themselves) project management.

I can understand the appeal of Agile to programme stakeholders. If you've adopted Prince 2, all your requests for change should technically be added to the issues log. This can sometimes lead to a distinct cooling of the relationship with the sponsor when (inevitably) it is their requests for change. And it's not just Prince 2, if you've adopted the PMI/PMP standard, then one of the sponsor's key roles is to defend the project from change.

Against this, Agile adopts the persuasive position of "Welcoming changing requirements, even late in development." And, show me the techie who wouldn't heartily endorse the value of "working software over comprehensive documentation".

But since there isn't actually any such thing as "Agile Project Management" per se but rather a collection of iterative approaches (namely; Scrum, Extreme programming, Agile Modeling, Unified Process, Agile Data, Kanban etc) what exactly were you after? Because if you don't know the answer to that question - I certainly don't. (It might be that by the time I've finished this post - there will be such a thing as Agile Project Management - its a fluid landscape...)

Is Agile something of an emerging 'norm' in software development (and selected other) projects? Undoubtedly. But I'm not even sure if that's the point. If you're a programme sponsor or budget holder attracted by Agile techniques and want to know what you are going to get and when you are going to get it, you might want to validate that Agile can answer these questions to your satisfaction.

But you've heard all sorts of good things about an iterative approach and you want one? Fine - adopt v-model development or incorporate specific iterative elements into your project methodology either by tailoring Prince 2 or adopt PMI / PMP which already has a healthy iterative element in its planning cycle.

Personally, when I hear the word Agile used on projects I'm usually on the immediate look out for either of the following potential issues;

  • Is the project simply too big to satisfactorily drive out one set of objectives and requirements (in which case it should be split into multiple projects)
  • Is your schedule so tight that to spend the time required on planning "is going to place the schedule into an unacceptable negative schedule variance".* (in which case you should hire in some lots of very smart planners, recognise you're running at high risk and adopt rolling wave project planning 
*Credit to Wikipedia for turning 1 syllable (late) into more!

It isn't my view that Agile 'anything' is necessarily the antidote to these two potential issues. 

The author is a business focused, benefits driven project manager with no formal qualification in Agile and no experience whatsoever in developing software. Other views undoubtedly exist.