project management

Jamal's Musings - Project Management in History: The Katana Sword

Katanas, or as we also know them the samurai swords, emerged in Japan sometime between the 12th and the 14th century during the Kamakura Period. Historians believe that katana has replaced the longer and heavier predecessor tachi because it could be drawn faster, thus allowing the samurai to draw the sword and strike down the enemy in a single motion.

Katanas were extremely sharp; the sword was designed to cut through the iron-plated armour. The legend has it that the best katanas forged by Japanese blacksmiths could cut through four to five individuals standing next to each other in one single stroke!

Another legend claims that katanas were responsible for saving the Japanese from the Mongol invasion in 1274 when badly outnumbered Japanese warriors were able to hold off an invading army of Kublai Khan until their fleet was destroyed by a typhoon.

Modern weapons experts consider katanas to be the best cutting tools ever made by humans as they combine two unheard of before attributes: razor sharp and yet resilient blade that could withstand considerable blows. The eternal problem that the blacksmiths had to deal with for thousands of years before was the fact that the hard steel was very fit to be sharpened, but the tempering (i.e. heating followed by fast cooling) process left the steel very brittle and susceptible to breaking from blows.

On the other hand, the steel that has undergone a slow cooling process remains relatively soft and thus better able to withstand strikes without breaking, but loses the ability to maintain the sharp edge.

Thus the Japanese weapon makers had to deal with the eternal and seemingly unsolvable issue: how do we make the sword blade hard enough not to lose its edge when sharpened and yet soft enough not to break when struck by other weapons?

They came up with an ingenious solution to address this centuries-old problem. The first step involved selecting the best samples of low-carbon, soft steel and high-carbon hard steel available. The each piece is repeatedly forged by heating and folding it numerous times to create a layered structure and work out all the impurities.

Later a high-carbon band of steel is heated again and bend into a U-shape, whereas the soft, low-carbon piece is inserted into the center (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Article - How To Write A Great Project Plan?

NOTE: See also the “Downloads” section of the website for the Project Plan template.

The Project Plan Contents

Revision History Table

Like any important and constantly changing document the Project Plan should contain a “Revision History” table (see Exhibit 1). The purpose of the table is to record version number, version date, name of the person making the change and a short revision description.

Why should we keep a record of all the changes made to the document? First, one can expect to make up to several dozen revisions to a project plan during the planning and execution stages. Stakeholder feedback, customer-initiated updates and technical project team inspections act as a source of updates and modification to the document. By the same token, during the execution stage change requests, various risks and other events may have an impact on various aspects of the project. Committing all of this information to the memory of the project manager is probably not the most efficient use of his brainpower.

Secondly, people have the tendency to save the files they receive via e-mails to their computer hard drives. As a result they continue referring to the older versions of the document while the newer, “fresher” versions have already been posted in the project documentation repositories. Therefore, “what version of the document are you looking at?” is one of the most frequently asked questions in conversations between the project manager and the project stakeholders.

Exhibit 1

Version Number

Version Date

Added By:

Revision Description

0.1

01-Sep-2009

John Smith

First draft of the document

0.2

Jamal's Musings - Project Management in History: Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab (The Arab Tower) hotel was built in 1999 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This project was conceived at the very top of the UAE government as a venture that would assist in transforming the country and the state from the exclusively oil-based economy to the trade and tourism-based market.

The ruling family of Dubai gambled – and by all accounts won – that the conversion into international hub of trade and tourism should start with a “wow-type” project that would demonstrate to the rest of the world that the Gulf country can:

  • Undertake ambitious projects and see them to completion
  • Has a rich cultural and historic heritage
  • Has the supply of and the demand for luxury hotel accommodations

The project that lasted for five years – from 1994 to 1999 – delivered a 321 m (1,053 ft) structure that is now the fourth tallest hotel in the world. Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 m (920 ft) from Jumeirah beach and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. The shape of the structure is designed to mimic the dhow’s (type of local boat) sail. It is very frequently referred to as the world’s only seven-star hotel; although the company managing it refuses to even acknowledge the fact that they were the ones who started using this epithet.

Burj Al Arab is one of the most photographed buildings in the world and definitely played an integral role in putting both Dubai and the United Arab Emirates on the world map.

The purpose of this case study is to attempt to take this enigmatic and grandiose product and try to reverse engineer the requirement elicitation process from the few high-level business requirements to general features to detailed technical requirements. Let us start with what the business requirements for this project may have looked like (see Table 1):

Table 1

Business

Requirement ID

Business Requirement Description

BR 1.0

Has to become a national icon for the UAE

Video - Jamal Moustafaev - How To Deliver Exceptional Project Results? presentation at BCTIA

Yet another one of my project portfolio management presentations. This time at the British Columbia Technology Industry Association.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Executive Summary

  • The “Virgin Lands” fiasco
  • Some tough questions from today’s executives
  • Do companies need help?
    • Some industry statistics
  • How to deliver good projects?
    • The “typewriter example”
    • The “final exam gone very wrong example”
    • The “Caribbean house example”
  • Detailed view of project and portfolio management
  • What do companies need to deliver exceptional project results?
  • Exercises
     

Download the PDF version of the presentation here.

 

Article - 10 Steps To A Successful Project Management Implementation

Introduction

Nowadays many organizations are seriously overwhelmed with project portfolios that have dramatically grown in size, sophistication and the number of resources involved. Just to illustrate this point, recently a CEO of a large financial institution mentioned in a private conversation with me, “It seems only yesterday we had a couple of fifty-thousand dollar projects in our portfolio and today we have ten ongoing endeavors ranging in size from $5 to $20 million. We were not prepared for this".

How should these organizations adjust their business models? Many companies are attempting deployments of their own project management frameworks to address the issues above. This article is aimed to provide senior executives of such organizations with the key lessons learned by the author stemming from numerous previous projects of similar nature.

Implementing Project Management

How Are We Doing?

Before we venture into the discussion of the finer points of project management implementation, let us analyze the current situation in the industry and assess our ability to handle projects.

According to researchers 19% of the project undertaken in 2008 were complete failures (i.e. cancelled because of significant cost overruns or being late). Forty six percent represented troubled projects (i.e. significantly over budget and/or late but completed nonetheless). And only 35% of projects undertaken were delivered on time and on budget (give or take a couple of percent here and there).

I don't think anyone would argue that these figures demonstrate that we are a long way from perfection when it comes to selecting, planning and executing our projects.

The Key Steps

Here are some of the lessons learned derived from several successful implementations of project management frameworks performed by Thinktank Consulting at various organizations in Canada, US, Asia and Middle East.

Lesson # 1: Customize Methodology - Never try to impose an "off-the-shelf" project management methodology onto any organization. Instead:

Article - Implementing Project Management at a Functional Organization

The Phone Call

About six months ago I was contacted by a senior manager of a large company who proceeded to tell me: "Listen, we know that you have a project management course and we are interested in it … But would you be able to come in and just assess what it is that we are doing wrong with projects and maybe customize your course according to the findings?" Obviously I agreed to get together with him and we arranged for a meeting.

Study Background

It turned out that his company was in the real estate development industry with strong ties to federal, provincial and municipal governments.

The organization had recently been created through a merger of several other smaller firms. Consequently, the company has experienced a significant growth in the number and size of their projects (the largest ones hovering at around $500 million). At the time, a typical company project portfolio consisted of approximately fifty ongoing projects, twenty of which were "cross-departmental" (i.e. required the involvement of five to ten or more different departments).

As a result of the above-mentioned events the company started experiencing problems in the areas of resource planning, resource allocation and project management. For example, while the employees of the company were complaining that they were too busy to fulfill all of their project and functional duties, the senior management was concerned that a lot of projects were late and the quality of final product was subpar. Furthermore, there were certain issues with proper planning of the projects, adequate project control and performance reporting. Many of the company's flagship megaprojects were over budget by almost 50% and some of them were close to a year late.

The bottom line expressed by one of the executives was:

"There is something horribly wrong with our projects . . . we are not entirely sure what it is and where to start since there seem to be too many problems."

Study Methodology

I suggested that we start by interviewing the cross-section of organization's employees starting all the way at the top of the company (i.e. C-level executives) down to department heads, project specialists (the company did not have any designated project managers) and even some outsiders, including customers and suppliers.

Training - Project Management Masterclass

Course Overview

This course is about skills, tools, techniques and economic principles that transcend various company structures, environments and project management philosophies. It is about essential “hands-on” tools and techniques needed by contemporary project managers. The focus of this workshop is on the practitioner's rather than the academic view of project management including tricks, tips, soft skills and “guerilla warfare” tactics and the economics of project management in particular and strategic business decision-making in general.

Why You Should Attend?

Recent studies indicate that only 32% of our projects can be considered successful, while 44% are challenged (i.e. grossly over the budget and/or late) and 24% are outright failures (i.e. cancelled by the customers before they are even completed). Further research shows that the lion’s share of this lack of success can be attributed to poor requirements elicitation, insufficient planning and inadequate project control.

This course will demonstrate to the participants how to perform these tasks properly and efficiently by teaching them skills, tools, techniques and economic principles that transcend various company structures, environments and project management philosophies.

Podcast - "AEC Business" interview with Jamal Moustafaev

Yet another interview I gave to the AEC Business in 2013

 

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 is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.

Podcast - "Project Management Podcast" interview with Jamal Moustafaev

PM Podcast Interview

There is an old PM saying that goes like this: Projects don’t fail at the end... they fail at the beginning. But when exactly is “the beginning”? Is it scope definition? The kick off meeting? The creation of the charter? For me it is even earlier than that. Listen to the interview I gave to my friend Cornelius Fichtner on his website "PM Podcast".

Interview Transcript

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Jamal Moustafaev, author, speaker and portfolio management expert.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Jamal, welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™.

Jamal Moustafaev: Hi, Cornelius! How are you doing?

Cornelius Fichtner: Very well, thank you! So we want to talk about your book: “Delivering Exceptional Project Results – A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management.” But before we even go to that, what do you love about portfolio management? What made you write the book?

Jamal Moustafaev: Well, I don’t know if this is the love thing. But I can share some of the information that I share on the pages right at the beginning pages of my book, some statistical data that was gathered by researchers and scientists in the field of project and portfolio management. With your permission, I’ll share it with you and your listeners.

Article - What the Heck is Project Portfolio Management?

The Steppe Winds and the "Virgin Lands"

In 1953 after the death of a dictator Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, the new Soviet leader became aware of the serious issues in the country's agricultural sector. Because of the prolonged heavy investments in the industrial and military growth, coupled with a devastating war, the production of wheat, meat and dairy in Soviet Union had plummeted to historic levels. Russia, a traditional exporter of grain, was forced to buy it abroad.

whattheheck_1Khrushchev, always an energetic and vigorous party leader, came up with what appeared to be a very creative solution to the grain shortage problem. He proposed to open up millions of acres of "virgin" land in the steppes of Kazakhstan north and east of the Aral Sea.

The overall aim of the "Virgin Lands Project" was to produce 20 million tons of grain by 1956. The project has begun with an army of 300,000 volunteers travelling by special trains to Northern Kazakhstan and Southern Siberia and erecting hundreds of tent cities. Another group of several hundred thousand students, soldiers and agricultural professionals joined them on a temporary basis until the first year's harvest. In addition, 50,000 tractors and more than 6,000 trucks were moved to the area to assist the "project team" in preparing and ploughing the vast areas of land. As a result of these preparations in the first year of the programme, 190,000 km² were ploughed; in 1955, an extra 140,000 km² were ploughed.

The 1956 was a year of great success for the "Virgin Lands"; the original target of 20 million tons of wheat was more than tripled. Mr. Khrushchev and the rest of the country rejoiced. The original idea of investing billions of roubles into the steppes of Kazakhstan looked like a stroke of genius. Thick books were written and large canvases were painted describing the heroic efforts of the people. The project was a great success.