project management

Jamal’s Musings - Should You Trust Your Technical People?

Long time ago, when I was still working as a permanent employee, I was invited for a job interview by a local software product company. I arrived at their headquarters and was led to the conference room where I was greeted by the CEO, VP of Marketing and the CTO of the organization.

The interview went on without any surprises; I was asked to tell a little bit about myself, then the CEO told me about the current projects the company has been involved in lately, followed by the overview of the key products produced by the firm provided by the vice-president of marketing.

The CTO has been sitting quietly until that moment, but suddenly he shifted in his chair, looked at me somewhat intensely and the following conversation took place:

 

CTO: (looking at a copy of my resume) I see you don’t have any technical background …

Me: Well, I did work as a business analyst for a while, before taking on both the project management and requirements engineering roles at most of the companies I worked at.

CTO: That’s not what I meant. What I was trying to say is that you don’t have any coding experience.

Me: Oh, no … My educational background was in finance and management science.

CTO: How are you going to work with our developers then?

Me: I am sorry, I am not sure what you mean …

CTO: Well, you assign a task to the programmer and he tells you that it would take five days to accomplish it. How do you know he is not lying to you and it would take him only two days? He could spend the rest of his time on Facebook or YouTube …

 

I have to admit this was neither the first nor the last time I heard a variation of this argument in my project management career. Thus, I think it is time to make two very important points about this topic.

Jamal's Musings - What is a Project? A Simple Question with a Very Difficult Answer

This is a seemingly simple question, at least, for a certified project manager. After all we all know that a project is an “endeavor that has a definite start and an end, undertaken to deliver a unique product a service”. Usually this definition is followed by a couple of illustrative examples:

  • Creation of the first prototype of the Formula One car is a project since it does have a defined start, an end and produces a unique product.
  • Mass production of, say, canned soup is not a project, since while it has a defined start it does not have a defined end. Also, thousands of cans can’t be considered a unique product since all of them are identical.

These examples unfortunately do not reflect the complexities that are usually encountered when deploying project management at various organizations. I remember a consulting engagement when we were working together with a focus group of the employees at a large government organization. One of the tasks on our agenda was to determine what would be considered a project by the company standards and thus require the application of the project management methodology. The following conversation took place between one of the employees and me:

 

Me: Project is an endeavor that has a definite start and an end undertaken to deliver a unique product a service.

Employee: Wait a second! So, according to this definition the act of sending an e-mail is a project, right? It has a defined start and an end and represents a unique product …

Me: Well, you can look at it this way …

Employee: Does this mean I have to write a project charter, requirements document and a project plan every time I intend to create an email?

 

Jamal’s Musings - When Do Companies Start Needing Project Management?

I once had a conversation with a CEO of relatively recent start up. At the moment our conversation took place the company existed for about six or seven years. The CEO mentioned how successful his organization was and how they were discussing plans about expanding their product portfolio into new fields including taking on very large and complex government-sponsored projects.

When I asked him whether he was planning to beef up the project management skills of his employees he looked at me inquisitively and quipped,

“You really think we need to do that? We have accumulated a pool of very talented technical people and I am fairly confident they can take on any challenge that comes along”.

This is by far not the first time I hear a variation of this statement. Many executives continue to believe that the gift of their employees to successfully tackle smaller projects will automatically transfer into the ability to take on larger strategic endeavors.

Every company that manages to survive the start up stage eventually reaches the point when sound project management and portfolio management become strategic assets for the organization. There is practically no way to pinpoint this spot; personal experience tells me that the company usually enters the “danger zone” when it reaches one hundred employees or its revenues exceed $10 million (depending on the country).

Why does it happen? Let us look at the situation from a purely economic perspective. One of the first basic assumptions of every economic model is that people are greedy. Here is a simple example: if I offer you to choose between two piles of money and one of them has one thousand dollars and another one – five thousand, which one would you choose?

Executives and especially the company owners are no different from normal human beings from this point of view. Thus, when a CEO whose company has been involved with projects measuring in tens of thousands of dollars, gets an opportunity to obtain a million-dollar project contract, he usually does not hesitate about whether his company is ready to take on that challenge. As a matter of fact, such events are usually a cause for great celebrations at the organizations worldwide.

Jamal’s Musings – “My Projects are Constantly Late, Over Budget and Deliver Low-Quality Products. What Can I Do?”

I get asked this question all the time. My consulting engagements start with it. My trainings – whether public or on-site – start with it. Sometimes, I even hear it during casual conversations with my friends. Usually this inquiry is followed by the following statement, “Well, you are the project management expert! Care to share your opinion on the subject?”

In reality the answer to this question is not that simple and exists in a two-dimensional space, so to speak.

First, if the company is experiencing these problems, there is a good chance that their project management processes are deficient. The word “deficient” in this context can mean a number of things: lack of proper methodology and templates, absence of experienced project managers or insufficient executive buy-in for project management just to name a few. Any combination of these factors severely limits the ability of the organization to scope, estimate, schedule and control their endeavors potentially leading to missed deadlines, overrun budgets and poor quality products and services.

But there is also an additional dimension to this problem called the strategic resourcing. The question that needs to be answered in order to solve the strategic resourcing predicament is very simple:

 

“Do you have too many projects in the pipeline and too few resources at your disposal? And if the answer is yes, then which projects are you going to cut or how many resources are you going to add to your pool?”

 

Let me demonstrate this concept using a seeming unrelated example.

 

Let us assume that you are a student in one of my project management courses. You are an A+ scholar that knows everything there is to know about project management. To make a long story short, there is no question I can ask that you would be unable to answer.

Let us further assume that the average number of questions on a two-hour final exam for this type course is five. How well would you realistically expect to do on the two-hour exam if I were to decide to include a hundred questions of the same size and complexity on the final test? 

News - Downloadable "Airport Check-In Kiosk Software" Project Charter

NOTE: Click here to download the full version of the "Airport Check-In Kiosk Software" Project Charter in the MS Word format.

 

Project "Airport Check-In Kiosk Software"

Problem/Opportunity Statements

O:  Divert the customer traffic away from check in attendants, thus reducing the costs

O: Better quality of service - higher availability

O: Faster passenger processing

 

Objectives

ABC Software Systems  shall study, configure and implement the Airport Check-In Kiosk software system for  XYZ Airlines by September of 2010. The project scope shall consist of the following features:

 

Table 1

Feature ID

Feature Description

F 1.0

Kiosk Menu

F 2.0

Traveler Identification

F 3.0

Traveler Reservation Search

F 4.0

Confirm or Change Seat

F 5.0

Pay for Luggage

F 6.0

Print Boarding Pass

F 7.0

Navigation

NOTE: ABC Software is responsible for the delivery of the check-in software; actual kiosk hardware shall be procured, designed and delivered independently by XYZ Airlines and its vendors.

 

ROM Budget and Schedule

Budget - $100,000 +/- 50,000

Timeline - 6 +/- 2 months

 

News - Downloadable "Energy Efficient House" Requirements Specifications

NOTE: In order to save space I am posting only the “Product Features and Requirements” section of the document. Click here to download the full version of the “Energy Efficient House Requirements Specifications” in the MS Word format.

 

F 1.0 - West Coast Style

Table 7

Feature ID

Req ID

Requirement Description*

Priority

F 1.0

R 1.1

Post and beam construction

See note below

R 1.2

Exposed timber structural members

R 1.3

Extensive glazing and skylights

R 1.4

Open floor plans

R 1.5

Integration of interior and exterior spaces

R 1.6

Wood finishes on both interior and exterior (stained)

R 1.7

Flat or minimally canted roofs

R 1.8

Orientation to views or natural features

R 1.9

Integrated with natural setting, extensive use of native trees and landscaping

*Note: at least six of the above nine requirements must be satisfied.

 

News - Downloadable "Energy Efficient House" Project Charter

Project "Rainforest"

Problem/Opportunity Statement

In order to capture a new and high growth energy efficiency market in the real estate sector ABC Construction shall design and build a new luxury energy efficient house.

 

Objectives

ABC Construction shall design and build a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom West Coast style energy efficient (ENERGY STAR certified) home by March of 2011 .The scope of the project shall consist of the following features (see Table 1):

Table 1

Feature ID

Feature Description

F 1.0

West Coast style

F 2.0

Five bedrooms

F 3.0

Four bathrooms

F 4.0

Square Footage - 3500-4500 sq feet

F 5.0

Two floors

F 6.0

Energy efficient

 

ROM Budget and Schedule

Budget - $1,400,000 +/- 150,000

Timeline - 9 months

Importance Factors

  • Scope and Quality - 70%,
  • Budget - 15%,
  • Time - 15%

 

Project Feasibility

This project is valuable for the ABC Construction from three perspectives:

Jamals Musings – Requirements Elicitation Is Not Easy – Airline Check-In Kiosk

Let us review some of the questions an experienced requirements analyst will ask in the process of eliciting of requirements for this particular process. Let us assume that the key steps in this process are:

  1. Initiate the program
  2. Identify yourself
  3. Find the reservation
  4. Check visa
  5. Check in luggage
  6. Select seat
  7. Select meal

Here are some of the questions that may be asked just for the first three steps in the process (see Table 1):

Table 1

1. Initiate the program

What options will the user have to identify himself/herself?

2. Identify yourself

With a Passport:

  • Do all passports follow the same encoding standard?
    • If not, then how many standards exist?
  • What happens if the machine is unable to read the passport?
  • If the machine is able to read the passport what happens if:
    • Passport is real and not expired?
    • Passport is real but expired?
      • Will the user be issued a boarding pass if this is an international flight?
      • Will the user be issued a boarding pass if this is an internal flight?
    • Passport if fake?
      • Should the kiosk notify the police?
        • Does this mean that every device needs an interface with an airport police department?
        • Does this imply that we need to deploy some kind of software in the airport police headquarters?
      • What should the kiosk “do” while the police if being notified?

 

With a Credit Card:

Jamals Musings – Requirements Engineering compared with Project Scope Management

It is worthwhile to compare the requirements engineering process with the project scope management flow (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

As can be seen the “Collect Requirements” process corresponds perfectly to the “Elicitation” phase in the requirements engineering domain. The “Define Scope” process includes all of “Analysis’ and the beginning of the “Specifications” stage. Work breakdown structures are finalized once the “Specifications” phase is complete. “Verify Scope" and “Validation” correspond one to another perfectly, while “Control Scope” includes both “Requirements Tracking” and “Requirements Maintenance”.

 

This is an excerpt from my new book “Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects” that is being published by CRC Press The book should soon be available on Amazon.

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About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @ www.thinktankconsulting.ca

Jamal's Musings - Project Management in History: The Viking Longship

The Vikings were the Norse warriors, explorers and merchants who raided, explored and settled wide areas of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Iceland, France, Spain, Africa, and Italy. They started their expansion by executing multiple raids of the English shores. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Viking raiders struck England in 793 AD and raided Lindisfarne, the monastery that held Saint Cuthbert’s relics. Their raids continued to increase in frequency and the number of participating troops, until in 865 AD the Great Heathen Army led by the Brothers Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan and Ubbe Ragnarsson arrived in East Anglia and established their presence in the Northern England until they were driven out by the English king Harold Godwinson in 1066. The archeologists and linguists recently came to a conclusion that all British towns that end with "by" - for example, Ashby, Corby, Crosby, etc. - were founded and named by the Viking invaders.

Interestingly enough Harold lost the famous Battle of Hastings in the same year to another descendant of the Vikings (Normans) who settled in the Northern France a hundred or so years prior to the events, future king William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard as he was known before the battle).

According to the Russian "Primary Chronicle" three Viking - or Varangian as they were known in Russia - brothers Rurik, Truvor and Sineus were the first kings of the Russian royal dynasty that spanned from the 9th until the 16th century. And, yes, famous (or infamous) Russian tsar, Ivan the Terrible who was a last ruling member of the Rurikid dynasty can trace his roots directly to the Swedish warriors, who arrived in Russia almost seven centuries prior to his birth.

After establishing their foothold in Russia, many of the Vikings travelled South to the Caspian Sea and farther to the Byzantium Empire, where many of the enlisted in the much-feared Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperors.

In the XXI century a branch of the Norman royal family headed by the Roger I conquered Sicily and ruled there for the next two hundred years. Vikings also reached the shores of North America where Erik Thorvaldsson and his son Leif Ericson established several colonies in what is today known as Newfoundland.