Estimazement

Since the dawn of time, one of the questions most likely to strike fear into the heart of even a seasoned project manager is, “So how much is this project going to cost??”  In fact, there are hieroglyphs on the wall of the tomb of the great pharaoh Khufu, depicting him asking this very question about his burial pyramid and, a few walls down, a second depiction of the project manager being thrown into a nest of crocodiles in the Nile after the project overran its budget by a few thousand debens… And to show how little we’ve progressed, I sat in an estimation meeting today and watched an “agile” project team assign “points” to “stories” in a vain attempt to estimate how much work they might get done in the next two weeks, aka the next sprint.  And inevitably, a new team member would ask at some point, “so how many hours are there in a point?”   Immediately, this agile novice is mocked mercilessly!  “You don’t understand,” the scrum master and other developers say, “points aren’t convertible into hours or dollars.  We use a Fibonacci sequence – you know, 1,2,3, 5, 8 and 13 – to estimate how much effort…

Good, Better, Best

In our personal lives, we make quality compromises all the time.  Partly because we’ve had to. Consumerism has gotten to the point where it seems like every good or service you could buy has a multitude of quality, size or perfection options.  Sure, it started with Starbucks making up names for their small, medium and large coffees, but now, it could be anything! Sealy mattresses have the Posturepedic Series, Posturepedic Plus Series and Premier Hybrid Series.   Toyota Camry has the LE, XLE, SE and “Special Edition.”   And Keurig has the K200, K400 and K550 series “brewing systems.”  I think you get the point. So what does any of this have to do with project management?? Well, in my experience, of all the things that project managers are asked to keep between the ditches (time, cost and scope, to name the top three) scope seems to be the hardest.  While I admit, if I am being honest, I have had several projects get away from me schedule-wise or cost-wise, at least we have very quantifiable and well-understood methods of keeping track of that.  Calendars, clocks and various timelines, gantt charts, etc. all serve a purpose to quantify and visually represent the…

Wait, let me check…

Every time I think about how life must have been 150-200 years ago, before electricity, and therefore the power to do things we now take for granted, like moving water through a hose with a bit of “kick” on it, I am amazed at what got accomplished through sheer willpower and teamwork. And for my money, nothing says old-fashioned teamwork like the ‘bucket brigade.’   For any of you not familiar with the term, here’s what Wikipedia says, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bucket_brigade . Essentially, it’s a long line of humans who literally pass a bucket full of water from wherever the water source is to a fire. The last person in line, closest to the fire, tosses the bucket on the fire. This goes on, one bucket at a time, until the fire is out. And clearly, this must have worked at least occasionally, or people would have stopped doing it. I imagine that, among the many challenges of accomplishing this effectively, one of the hardest parts is that each member of the brigade has to quickly and flawlessly take the bucket from the person “upstream” and get it into the hands of the person “downstream” while not spilling any water.   If the bucket…

The Summit, From Below

It’s pretty clear to me, at this point in my life, that I will NOT be climbing Mount Everest as part of ticking off items on my bucket list.  There are several key factors against me here.  First, I have a fear of heights.  Second, I don’t really like the cold.  And lastly, being deprived of oxygen is not exactly my idea of a good time. Nevertheless, I am fascinating by the process of ascending a peak like that.  Not the least of which is that, from what I can gather, someone has to “stay behind” at Base Camp for logistics, rescue, encouragement, etc.  Granted, Base Camp is a tent at 23,000 feet, so it’s not exactly like trying to run the expedition from the Hilton in Katmandu, but I am sure that there’s still a sense of loss or powerlessness that comes from not being with the summit climbers step by step as they negotiate the Hillary Step and brave both the elements and time to get to the summit (and back) safely. I think that project leadership shares some interesting parallels with leading an expedition from Base Camp.  For many of the projects I have led recently, I…

Bi-Modal IT

Like most of us, I think the project and program managers at one of my clients have become seriously enamored with all forms of agile development and the associated PM methodologies that would tag along.  And that’s OK!  A lot of good has come from IT being more transparent, stakeholders having more of a ‘say’ in what gets done next, and how much money is left in the budget and what it should get spent on. But too much of a good thing is rarely wise.  So I read with great interest an article by Gartner that talks about “bi-modal” IT – basically, that agility is great for innovating, but that doesn’t release IT from its role to ‘keep the lights on.’   As a portfolio manager, I found this approach to be remarkably pragmatic –  allowing agile to do its best when IT needs to create new value, but recognizing that to achieve Service Level Agreements, maintain process controls, and generally ensure that transactions get managed the way they should, rules, checks and balances are necessary. I think this is an idea that has come at the right time.  We, as project and program managers, have embraced agile and scrum,…