Project Management – The Best Day

So a colleague said something interesting to me about project management:

The best day of project management is usually the first day, but I want to show you that the best day is really the last day of the project.

And as I thought about this, I sort of starting laughing to myself and thinking, you know what, I think this guy has something here. 


– Day 1 of a project, everyone is usually all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 


We’re embarking on an adventure together to build something new for the organization and our customers. 


We’re going to team up and everyone will contribute.


And out of the project sausage maker–poof!–like magic comes a new system or product. 


– But as we all know, things don’t always go so smoothly.


With some projects, the pretty smiley faces of day 1 may quickly turn to ugly frown faces.


There is analysis paralysis, scope creep, conflicting or changing priorities, resource issues, technical challenges, or the sausage just doesn’t come our right–oh sh*t!


Thus, many  projects end up going bust in terms of cost, schedule, or performance. 


That is, they end up costing too much, being delivered behind schedule, or just not meeting the performance requirements. 


You have some projects that never even truly get off the ground, have multiple resets, or get dumbed-down or even cancelled altogether along the way. 


So by the time you reach the last day of the project, many people seem like they’ve been through the project ringer. 


I’m sure that I’ve heard more than one project manager say:

Just take me out back and shoot me!


So when this colleague said that he wants the best day of the project to be the last–in terms of satisfaction with the project (not that that pain was finally over!)–I really appreciated this as an awesome goal. 


We should all look to the last day of our projects as the best–one where we can look back and say: 

Wow, great job everyone!  We really got something great done here–and we did it right!  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

You Can’t Eat The Elephant

So there is a popular saying:


“You can’t eat the elephant in one bite.”


The idea is that you need to break things down in little pieces to get them down. 


If you try to eat the elephant in one bite, I assume that your mouth would easily split in half and your face would literally explode. 


Similarly with projects, if you try to get to the nirvana end state in one fell swoop , the project explodes with complexity and risk, and you will fail miserably.


Thus, managing requirements and phasing them in chunks is critical to projects’ succeeding. 


Sure, customers want to get the Promised Land immediately–where the projects have all the “bells and whistles”–but you don’t want to sacrifice getting the train on the tracks for the accouterments either. 

Think big, but act small–little by little, one step at a time, you can actually eat an elephant. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Snowflakes Are Unique

Thought this was an interesting analogy. 


A colleague refers to some customers as snowflakes.


At first, I didn’t get it. 


Then I understood. 


Every snowflake is unique. 


Based on how the ice crystals fall to the ground through different temperatures, moisture levels, and atmospheric pressures, the shape of every snowflake is different. 


Sometimes when it comes to project management, customers too think they are unique, different, and special.


They think that solutions that work industry- or enterprise-wide could never work for them and their wholly distinct ways of doing business. 


Hence, as I learned, the term snowflake. 


For those of us who have been around the project management block a few times, we know that while there are specific customer requirements, most of them are not all that unique. 


And when some customers simply don’t want to do things differently than they’ve done it before, there can be greater resistance to change. 


Hence, the “We’re special. We’re different” reframe along with the standoffishness, doubting, circling the wagons, throwing up obstacles, or just refusing to fully participate. 


Obviously, it’s a lot more difficult to modernize and transform through technology and business process re-engineering when your customers aren’t on board. 


So it is critical to manage organizational change, address the questions, the fears, and elements that are truly unique, and bring the people along as true partners. 


Not every requirement is a snowflake and neither is every customer, but we have to manage the similarities and differences in every project and make sure it improves performance and meets the needs of the customer and the organization. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Succeed OR Fail

So I liked this saying from a colleague of mine at work:

We succeed or fail as a team.


It’s not me. 


It’s not you. 


It’s not him.


It’s not her. 

It’s us!


No one can do it alone. 


– If we fail, we fail as a team. 


– If we succeed, we succeed as a team. 


So let’s come together and be a team and give it our best shot! 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

All Aboard!

So when the train is pulling out it’s a loud call by the conductor of:

“All Aboard that’s going abroard.”


With project management, it can be the same too. 


Once an organization has decided to move out on a project and make the investment of time, resources, and reputation:


– Either you get on the train and help feed the engine of progress


OR


– You get left behind.


– You get thrown off the train.


– You get run over by the train.


There really are no other alternatives. 


My advice is get with the program. 


The train is moving out.


The organization is going to deliver on its promise. 


Get the h*ll on!  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Cracking Heads–In War and Work

Thought this was an amazing painting of the medieval battlefield.


The warrior in the center is using his war hammer to literally split heads open.


Not only for physical fighting (i.e. life and death), I’ve heard this term in the past used in the office setting:

“Cracking heads” to get things done. 

While war is war, I don’t think that getting to progress in the office ever merits cracking anyone’s head–let along with a battle hammer. 


Yes, people can be stubborn and occasionally pose obstacles to moving forward, but that is what communication skills and persuasion are for.


You have to seriously question the leadership and sanity of anyone who thinks and talks about hurting people at work. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

“Shock And Awe” Project Management

So this is a new type of project management and it can be very effective. 


It’s called (my name): 

Shock and Awe Project Management


This technique is similar to the military doctrine of shock and awe that uses speed and overwhelming power to dominate the battlefield and vanquish the enemy.


In project management too, there are often naysayers, Debbie Downers, resisters, excuse makers, and people that lay down obstacle after obstacle to progress. 


This invariably derails projects and causes them to fall behind schedule, go over budget, experience scope creep, not meet the genuine user requirements, and ultimately fail!


However, if you manage the project with “shock and awe” and set aggressive timelines, assign substantial and very good resources, and move the project full speed ahead, then you can similarly create a momentum to the project that enables it to overcome the “enemies of the progress” (i.e. those that don’t really want it to succeed or are too busying covering their own a*ses).


This approach is not advocating speed at the expense of quality nor is it calling for cutting corners or riding roughshod over people, but rather to the contrary, it calls for techniques similar to the military of moving with absolute focus, determination, efficiency, collaboration, synchronization, and overwhelming “project power” to ensure it’s success. 

Projects, like battles, can be “won” by putting the right resources on the field and moving them to get quick wins in rapid succession (where the enemies of progress don’t stand a real fight) so that the projects get not only completed on time and within budget, but most importantly to real stakeholder satisfaction and the organization’s success. 


(Source Photo: here with attribution to AlexVan)

Agile Doesn’t Mean Endless

So Agile development is great for iteratively working closely with customers to develop and refine information systems that are useful to them and the organization.


But even in Agile, there is a beginning and an end to the sprint planning and project management.


Taking Agile to somehow mean endless in terms of adding more and more requirements or scope creep is not what is intended. 


Agile has to be bound by common sense somewhere between what is needed for a minimally viable product (MVP) and what is achievable with the designated resources, objective, and scope. 


Good project managers always have to be sound arbiters and be willing to ask the tough questions and determine if something is truly a requirement or simply a wish list item that is out of scope (but of course, could perhaps make it in for future enhancements).


We need to understand the difference between genuine customer service and irrational project exuberance based on inflated expectations. 


It’s not a dangerous project bubble we want to create that can and will get busted, but rather a successful project that is delivered for our customers that help them do their jobs better, faster, and cheaper.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Kanban Visual Task Boards

Just wanted to share this best practice for Kanban or Visual Task Boards


This is a way to layout work/workflow and track and communicate progress. 


Previously, many professionals use colored sticky notes on a wall or whiteboard.


Today, tools like ServiceNow have the capability built right in. 


This was an example that I created in just a few minutes. 


Visualize your team’s work and focus on what needs to get done, who the tasks are assigned to, the status, and keep driving continuous improvement in the workflow and project. 


Color coding can be used for different tasks and you can see the legend at the top.  

Tasks can be easily dragged and dropped from one column (status) to another. 


Create transparency and collaboration on your projects–try Kanban Visual Task Boards. 😉


(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

DMAIC Reengineering

A colleague gave a wonderful talk the other day on process engineering.


The key steps to reduce waste (Lean) or variation/defects (Six Sigma) are as follows:


Define – Scope the project.


Measure – Benchmark current processes.


Analyze – Develop to-be processes (with a prioritized list of improvements) and plan for implementation.


Improve – Executive process improvements.


Control – Monitor/refine new processes.


It was amazing to me how similar to enterprise architecture this is in terms of: defining your “current” and “future” states and creating a transition plan and executing it.


Also, really liked the Project Scoping questions:


– What problem do you want to solve/what process do you want to improve?

– Why do you need this?

– What is the benefit?  And to whom?

– What are your objectives for this effort?

– Who are the key stakeholders?

– When is this needed and why?


I think process improvement/engineering methodologies like this can be a huge benefit to our organizations, especially where the tagline is “Why should we change–we’ve always done it this way!” 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)