Friday, 14 December 2012

Mr Course

Someone called me "Mr Course" yesterday. I must say that I prefer "Mr Self Improvement" though. You don't need to improve yourself by courses, although they can often help.

I guess this comment comes from the team meeting where a colleague had been looking for training/guidance on completing job applications and so had found himself on a shortlisting course. He felt that this was inappropriate for his needs. I disagreed, because by understanding how the shortlisting is done, you can learn how to write better applications.

There are plenty of opportunities for informal training out there. Many people don't seem to see this and are losing out. It's not too difficult unless you don't want to learn. For example, I spend a fair amount of time writing stuff because I realised that I'd become inflexible in my writing.

There are loads of opportunities out there to sharpen your axe. Don't waste 'em!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

PMO scenario

I went to my first PMOSIG meeting last night. I'm not employed in a PMO, but rather that I am ultimately governed by a PMO.

So I went along out of curiosity.

The meeting was more of a workshop, run by Graham Oakes (@GrahamDOakes) who is a PMO consultant.

The scenario was that we were a team leading a review, and were given an hour to simulate a 3 day review. There were three briefing pages where we got an overview of the Organisation, the people and the project - and then we had to decide who we wanted to interview, what docs we needed, etc.

As soon as we started the simulation, the scenario was abundantly clear. ICT-driven development without user engagement. That old chestnut. So we ran through the thing requesting the Business Case, PID, Comms Plan (no Comms Plan) Risk Register, Benefits Case, etc. Each request yielded a card (or cards) prompting conversation and it was lively.

The project scenario was a real dog. It was sucking up time and effort from all PM resources, it was spiraling out of control and yet the risks, milestones and EV all would look normal to the PMO - unless the surface was scratched.

The interesting thing was that there was a really massive focus on 'is there a valid Business Case?' when it was obvious that even if delivered to time/cost/quality, it wasn't going to ever be accepted by the users, they'd clearly not been properly consulted and there was rumour in abundance.

One of the best comments I remember in for use in this case is "If you're trying to do change based on a user driven problem, speak to the users. If you're trying to do strategic change that is not user driven, speak to the users."

This is real wisdom. Users can make or break any change, whether it is emergent or strategic. If you work in HR and you believe that you can railroad change simply by changing policies, then you are sadly misled - because in this case your Organisation does not work how you think it does.

The truth is that people will be asked to do something and then they'll tend to optimize their own work. You need to reflect and support that. I always like to ask the question "If people here decided to work to rule, what would happen?" - would the place grind to a halt, or could you happily say "bring it on!"?

Sounds antagonistic, but there is a real basic truth in this. Do your processes fit the work, or do you expect people to follow broken processes? In the latter, I believe that your processes will not match the jobs being done. This means that people won't be able to understand how other departments work and how to relate to them or get things done.

So whether we get asked to solve a user problem, or a strategic one the key is to speak to users, find out what's actually being done at the moment, map the processes and then discover how we can change things and what users will accept in terms of change.

Then we can base change on that. But the business case will be much easier to write because we really understand the 'as is' and the 'to be' situations. We can easily articulate the problem and the situation because we actually know what the problem and the solution is!

I was explaining this to someone the other day and they asked me about a project they were working on "So where did this problem come from?" Ultimately the problem in question was strategic, but to choose the right solution they need to find out what the users need and will accept. This obviously takes longer than thrusting change on people, but actually takes less time overall and is more successful because (as Covey said) we "start with the end in mind" - i.e. what does a successful outcome look like, and who will use the products that people produce?

So, back to the PMO workshop. Brilliant and very thought provoking. Thanks to Graham for developing and facilitating the session, to Lindsay Scott (@projectmgmt) for arranging it, and to MMU for hosting it in their fantastic new Business School building.

Friday, 23 November 2012

MSc Outcome

Just got the MSc results, and I passed with a distinction!

If you helped by completing the questionnaire, I'd just like to say an extra-special thanks for your support.

Overcoming the apathy barrier

I often come across people who seem to take apathy to the next level, you know the kind...constant excuses for why things haven't been done, often more effort than doing the task in the first place.

Then I see that person sitting around and I think "Why don't you spend this time doing something more productive?" This apathy or lack of ability to move forward is like a sickness. The more you do it, the less able you become. Once you break the cycle and get productive, it becomes a great buzz to achieve those things that you were putting off.

Those of you who know me, know that I was in a Mountain Rescue (MR) Team. I learned a load from doing that, but one big thing was overcoming the inertia of apathy.

When you stepped out on the hill, you knew that your feet were going to get soaked, which was both wet and cold - totally horrible. But it was going to happen anyway, so better to get it over with and get them wet as soon as possible so at least your feet could warm the water up.

Apathy at work is like that. The more you put things off, the more difficult they become to get going. How many jobs have we put off at work or at home. It becomes like a joke that they've not been done!

One of my first jobs when I left college was to work in a telesales office. You knew that you were going to get shouted at, but you had a target to meet, so you just needed to accept that, take a deep breath and get started. After a few calls, you'd be 'in the zone' and the day would fly by.

So why can't people seem to get over this apathy barrier? My only guess is that they don't want to. Why?

I believe that most people want to do a great job. Give them a task and empower them and they'll get on with it without the need to micromanage. Tell them when they're doing well (when they are) and challenge unacceptable performance.

You'll always get people dumped on projects, but how well you motivate them is up to you!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Change good?

Just watching a programme on TV about infrastructure projects. There was a clip on there of ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saying that people shouldn't moan about change, they should be celebrating change and saying how Great Britain is.

My feeling is that Britain is great, but we shouldn't see those who disagree with change as being wrong or somehow un-patriotic. No-one likes change when it affects their 'back yard' in a negative way. But what about when the change is in someone else's back yard? Are we quite as sensitive in that case?

As people involved in projects, we need to be sympathetic to people's needs. People who are affected by HS2, extra runways, nuclear power stations, etc are all entitled to their views and they should be listened to as stakeholders. There are always ways to ensure as many people are on side as possible.

We also need to consider - are we doing the right thing in the first place? There is often the biased view that what we're doing is right, even though sometimes it isn't. We may even have nagging doubts about if we're really doing good.

So, as change begins at home...what am I going to do about it? Well, I am already on my way in terms of this. I always consult the customer widely on proposed changes, but I also sell the concept of Business Analysis at all levels. This means that I seek to look at the existing process and find out how to improve it using the customer input.

What about massive changes? Well, I think that changes like that have to be approached collaboratively and I also think there is usually a middle ground between the two extremes - it's usually just a case of trying a little bit harder to actually find a practical solution that suits everyone.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

Overheard on the train on a Monday evening - "Yuk, it's only Monday. Another four days left to go"

That person is definitely in the wrong job. Don't get me wrong, I don't spend all weekend wishing that it was Monday, but I certainly don't wish the week away. I'm usually so busy that the week goes by in a flash!!

Big effort?

What makes people into 'bigging themselves up' without delivering?

I'm constantly thinking "how can I deliver more for the organisation?", whereas I've noticed that some people seem great at telling others what they're planning on doing, but never delivering on those promises.

I'm amazed at the lengths people will go to, in order to make excuses about not delivering. It's like the old joke excuse 'the dog ate my homework'. My ex and I used to say 'random excuse #654' when we just couldn't be bothered, suggesting that we couldn't even be bothered to make up an excuse.

Friday, 7 September 2012

MSc Dissertation Complete!!

Hi all!

I just thought that I'd update to let people who may follow this blog, that the MSc Dissertation is completed and submitted!!  If you helped me by completing a questionnaire, or forwarded it to others to complete...many thanks for your help!!

It's been an interesting process, and I've learned a lot during the last 6 months of writing and reading for the final assignment.

A few people have asked me to post the results, and I plan to do that once I've got the marks - wouldn't want to feed you the wrong information!  There are some really good tips, probably common sense to most of you out there, but they represent the main things that you need to keep on top of and I will post that as soon as I know that it's all OK.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

MSc Questionnaire Prize Draw

I am pleased to announce that the MSc Questionnaire Prize Draw has now been run.

The winner was chosen by generating random numbers using MS Excel.  The unique ID of the first person who had fully completed the survey won the draw, as per the draw rules.

Brian Goulding of Pygma Consulting, South Africa was the winner.  After a brief e-mail exchange, Brian kindly asked that his prize be donated to benefit another PM student, so I am looking to donate a book (or books) to the value of £30 to the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School library.

Brian left the choice of books to me, so after some thought, I picked out two key books that have been particularly of use to me during my PM studies - Project Management by Dennis Lock, and Business Analysis by James Cadle (and others).  I have contacted the university to find out how I can get an extra copy of one or both of these books into the library.

Once again, thanks to everyone who was involved in the questionnaire.  Your contribution to my work was much appreciated.  I will post results (and perhaps the full dissertation) on my blog once my MSc work has been submitted, marked and moderated.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

MSc research

Well, the survey is now closed.

Many thanks to those who completed the survey fully!!

I'll post results once I've got all the data loaded up into the database, analysed it and completed the dissertation.  Not sure yet whether the results will prove anything of statistical relevance, but if not there are still some excellent opportunities to pick up some good practice from others in the industry.

Overall, I hope other PM's, (especially new ones) will be able to learn something useful from the answers that some of the more experienced people gave.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Big Survey

Just published my latest consultation survey at work.  Got 35+ responses within an hour.  Only three weeks left to go.  Woohoo, I reckon that we should get at least 150 responses - which I think is not at all bad for this kind of thing!!  I am so glad that people are getting involved with the work.

There are some really good answers - not just half-completed or empty responses.

The issues are really not much more than what I originally thought.  I think that it's going to break down pretty much as I expected, but it's still important to ask.  The process is totally worthwhile, as it gives the users a voice and encourages them to get involved.

The moment that I think that I don't need to consult users, please direct me right back to this post!!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

MSc Questionnaire

If you've arrived here after completing my MSc questionnaire, I would like to say a big "thank you" for your efforts.

Once I've done some analysis on the results, I will post the results on this blog.

If you've done a partial completion, please take the time to go back and complete the answers fully, as I need the full picture from you in order to ensure that I can actually get something useful from the survey.

As I promised, fully answered questionnaires will be entered into a prize draw for a £30 Amazon voucher, but you have to complete the survey fully to be eligible!!

There are some interesting results so far, and I am hoping that the analysis will uncover some really exciting points.  I have already thought of some ways in which I may be able to improve the survey, such as country where the PM works, and putting the e-mail address at the end of the survey - but unfortunately I can't edit a survey that's currently running without losing all the data!!

I might also change the 'fail modes' section to 'check-box' quantitative-type questions, but I didn't want to bias the results by giving a limited number of options for people to tick off.  By leaving the advanced questions as qualitative, open-ended questions, it gives people a chance to give their own answers, and not be biased by mine.

I was also surprised that someone ripped off some of the questions from my survey and posted them in the APM group.  The funny thing is that the perpetrator wasn't doing it to help me, and he wasn't helping other PM's, students, academia, or even himself, as there is no way of drawing anything further out of the answers except the respondee's opinion - no way of discovering how the answers link to the level of experience, risk, age, sector, industry, professional body, qualifications, etc.  Normally, I wouldn't respond to the challenge, but I felt that I had to post a response because the guy was risking biasing my entire MSc work.  On the whole, a bit of a nightmare!!  I will need to have a look and see if there's any element of 'groupthink' after the time when the guy posted the questions, and also have a look at what the responses from group members are.

Anyhow, as usual...many thanks for reading!!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Questionnaires for business

I seem to be creating quite a few questionnaires for business at the moment.

Getting the most out of the participants is quite a skill, but I believe that I'm getting better with each piece of work that I carry out.  Although I would say that I'm far from an expert, I really enjoy finding out what the users need and then working out how we can deliver that using a project.

Many projects don't have a very good User Requirement, or stakeholders haven't been fully engaged with prior to the project starting and this can have some major effects on the chance of success.

If you're reading this because you've recently completed my MSc research questionnaire, then many thanks for participating in my work.  I would appreciate any comments which you have.  On the other hand, if you haven't completed the survey yet, help me by completing it here:

***Link removed***

I'll publish the results here once I've got enough responses and I've had chance to analyse the results!!

I've learned a lot during the last two years and plan to carry on a similar rate of learning as time goes on and I get to use the MSc learning more and more in my daily work.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Agile Manifesto

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

We follow these principles:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Build projects around motivated individuals. 

Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Agile processes promote sustainable development. 

The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

(Courtesy of

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Virtual teams - benefit or disadvantage?

I was recently at University (MSc course) where the topic of virtual teams and outsourcing was discussed.

There was a great deal of discussion about the benefit of virtual teams, i.e. how wonderful they are, all the benefits of them, etc. People were suggesting things like "you can have 24/7 production".  Well, that may be true, but that is not really an argument for virtual teams and outsourcing.

The reality is that virtual teams and outsourcing is good if you are only bothered about the cost of the item that you're producing. Everything else is a disadvantage, re-framed as a "cool feature".  For example, videoconferencing as a benefit.  It's a benefit if you or your organisation has outsourced production somewhere else, but if you're just on one site, then it's unnecessary!  What I'm saying is that by trying to save money in production, you've shifted the cost (and problems) to somewhere else, i.e. having to get around the issue that people are spread across multiple sites and timezones.

That's not to say that if you are a global organisation, you shouldn't do things like that.  All your programming talent may be in India, or wherever and you want to utilise their skills instead of using staff locally.  Or maybe you have a PM who is only available in another country or location.  I understand that.  But perhaps you should just produce the product in one place?  I just don't really see that virtual teams are really that much of a benefit apart from an attempt to reduce cost.

Perhaps I've missed something though, so I would welcome your input/discussion of this.  You can either reply here, or on Twitter to @jugglingsand