Wednesday, 15 October 2014


I went to an APM seminar on 'Mindfulness' last night.  The speaker was Anne Parker.  I'd never heard of mindfulness per se before, but it's an interesting take on the whole neuroscience/stress/GTD/time management thing.

I use trains quite a bit and I've been listening to audiobooks while travelling, so I was familiar with some of the more mainstream work that Anne referenced, such as Dr Steve Peters, but there were some others which I'll look into further.

The basics of it all are this.  We (humans) don't function well when faced with constant streams of work, multitasking and interruptions.  It's no real surprise that in this connected world, we don't get that much uninterrupted time.  Mindfulness is the practice of doing things consciously, one thing at a time, with focus and no interruptions.  Turn off the e-mail notification and just make some thinking time.

I make no secret that I make time to think.  I have regular thinking breaks, make a cuppa, stare out of the window and just think.  Now some might say that this is just being lazy or procrastinating, but I'm a knowledge worker by day and it's how the knowledge is threaded together that's critical to the added value.  You can't really add the same value just by writing more, the thinking really has to be there, or it's just waffle.

The good news for everyone, is that the brain can rebuild itself into a more 'mindful' state over time and with practice.  Pretty much everything can be done mindfully, from eating to washing up.  It's very similar to the 'slow movement' that was popular a few years back.

If you think this is just about life in the slow lane, there are also things that can be done quickly and mindfully, such as driving.  IAM and RoSPA both effectively teach mindful driving and riding, deliberate conscious focus on the task, which gives a better outcome.  As I'd rode to the seminar on my motorbike, I was well aware of the concepts of focussing on the task in hand.  You can't really filter through miles of standing traffic the M6 unless you've got control of your focus.  The deep breathing techniques can also be built into driving or riding, with a quick mindful breath before launching into the 'red mist' to prove that your car or bike is faster than theirs or that you can overtake where they can't.

So, do I rate 'mindfulness'?  I general, yes.  I think it's a good thing to take time out to think, do things deliberately, avoid distraction and focus more.  I guess that I could say that I was always a practitioner, just didn't know what the practice was called.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Why I have a property maintenance company as a 2nd business

Q)  How does this fit in with Business Analysis and Project Management?

Well, every job is a project with requirements so I'm managing micro projects with very clear and defined requirements.  Smaller scope means that you either do what you're asked or you don't get paid - simple.

The great thing about small projects vs bigger stuff is that in a small project you see the end and the benefits very quickly, so it gives you confidence that some of the bigger ones are also going to pay off and be worthwhile - especially if you have a similar methodology and approach for both.

Even though I'm doing some small stuff in my spare time, I still apply some science to the work - e.g. I fixed a leak and took moisture readings before the repair so that I can check that the repair has been successful at a later date.  So basically pre and post metrics on benefits.

With the confidence to operate robustly at a small level - accounts, invoicing, contracts, scope, client management, communications, estimating, installation, etc. it all adds to the delivery on bigger projects, where I feel more confident on calling BS on people who don't complete tasks, paperwork, RAMS, etc.  It's not difficult, you're just being lazy!

Anyhow, it all adds up to a better PM/BA experience for people I work with/for, so what's not to like?

Please feel free to comment.  What do you do that improves your PM/BA role?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Why I can't stand social media posts that contain links

I believe that social media should be one of those rapid-fire, snappy, banter-y environments where everyone is chatting and bouncing ideas off each other.

People who just use Twitter and the like to keep spamming out their links are missing the point.  You could be having a conversation with your customers, or at least an argument.

The counter-argument is based around "I can't get the message across in a limited number of characters".  My response to this is "try harder".  I recall a essay task on my MSc where the task was to write a 1500 word piece on something or other.  Some of the students started griping about the lack of words but the lecturer replied "do you think that you'll have that luxury when you're out there?".  So true.  I've been asked for 1-page pieces, 100 words, 250 words, 300 words, three pages, etc.  You get the point.  It's about making use of what you've got access to.  But if I'd just written "have a look at x, here's the URL", I'm not sure how well that'd have gone down...well, actually, I know how it'd have gone down - badly.

So cut out the links and start to work to the limit you have.  If I want to find 30 ways to tie a knot, then I'll find it via Google.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

On having your own business, being an entrepreneur

I have my own business outside work. My wife is also fully self-employed. There are massive benefits to this.

When I'm getting thoroughly wound-up with the politics of projects, I bear in mind that my external work makes money, runs smoothly and follows similar principles to the main job.

As a PM, I'm used to criticism. I've had people telling me "You're rubbish" when they really mean "I'm threatened by your thorough analysis and understanding of the problem". What I know now is that I can successfully run my own business that they aren't involved in the politics of and don't influence. It works great for me in the wider world, so what's different here that makes our projects a nightmare and prone to failure? Oh's them.

I also understand much more about the financial side of business and how little things like setting out the deliverables, cashflow, payments, reconciliation, and completing the work that the customer asked for impact the business in a big way.

My business also gives me a calm clarity. If the main job sacked me or made me redundant, I'd be able to scale up the external business in a few days. So that allows me to make decisions without being scared about what people in the organisation can do to me. I can force best practice, recommend the best solutions and call people out on their politics because the worst thing that can happen is it'll end the thing that I believe passionately in but also gives me the most grief!
Location:Manchester, UK


I recently had a meeting with a load of people that spoke quickly and seemed to be very switched onto the programme and work that needed to happen. I'm not convinced that what was being done was the right thing. I definitely got an idea that they'd slipped into "deliver stuff quickly, now, rush, hurry, oh hang on...that's the wrong thing". They certainly had a big timeline of in-flight stuff that didn't necessarily fit in with the direction that the operations side needed to drive.

The problem with this is simple. We need to re-assess what needs to be done and then it may be the case that we need to cull some in-flight stuff. If we're culling a £1m project that's 1/4 through, we're not wasting £250k but saving £750k overall. We have still spent £250k but that's better than spending the whole £1m on what's now the wrong thing. These are tough choices.

We need to consider how we're going to implement the new model. Perhaps the new model is wrong...we need to test that's right before we implement anything, otherwise cash is wasted. We then need to run a pilot or at least walkthrough using different scenarios, or perhaps run some more complex analysis, or we're just running into the dark.

Location:Manchester, UK