Wednesday, 21 February 2018


I keep coming back to benefits and benefits management.  It feels like I have a 'bee in my bonnet' about it.

I think that there's an important thing that's emerging in my thought.  As I look back on the projects that I've done and others in the organisation that I've seen done, I can't help thinking about the link between how good the benefits case was and how good the outcome was.

Is the ease of finding good benefits an indicator?

I actually think that I may have stumbled onto something here.

I remember some things that I've done, where I was really scrabbling around to work out the benefits of doing something.  It was being done because it had been asked for, but in reflection, there often were few actual benefits for doing that thing.

So, my new thing is to not only understand the benefits, but how easy they were to arrive at.  If there's no size or obviousness to the initiative, then perhaps it'll be low-yield, or culturally it'll be a bit of a pig to deliver.

Why you should use a 24hr monitoring device coupled with calorie controlled diet if you want to lose weight

They say that people have a tendency to overestimate exercise and underestimate the amount that they eat.  Like most people in the PM job, I do a fairly sedentary role and that led to me piling on the pounds.  I'm hardly massive, but I have noticed a slow increase in weight over time.

I studied Photographic Science at university.  A fair bit of that was about process monitoring in the photographic industry and plotting those results against whatever we changed.  Basic scientific stuff, vary one thing and monitor what changes.  We also looked at long-term movement in processes and tried to correct that drift by varying the chemistry.

Food is an input to a system.  Exercise is also an input to a system.  I've done this before in a really hardcore way (without quite as much technology feedback) and I know that it is possible to lose weight really effectively by monitoring what you eat, how many extra calories you burn through exercise and then varying one or another a little bit at a time to produce a change in the right direction.  It's a pain because it involves a lot of weighing, calculating and writing stuff down.  But it does make you ask the question - "Is it worth eating that extra bar of chocolate/slice of bread/bag of crisps?".

So, this is a really obvious thing.  If you tweak one of the variables slightly, and weight goes down, that's a good thing.  If it's only a minimal thing then it's much easier to maintain.  Sustainable, one might say.  I'm not starving, I'm feeling better, less tired and less bloated than I previously was.

With the advent of smartphone apps and wrist-worn devices, it's even easier to set up and use these things.  I have a device that monitors my all-day heartrate, movement and sleep and that gives me a numerical figure for the amount of calories that I've burned that day.  I also use an app that links to the monitor and does all the calculations in relation to exercise, resting calories and just tells me how much I have left.  Effectively it's a budgeting app, just for calories rather than money.

I've worked out that I need to burn the amount that the app tells me, minus an additional 200cal to lost a steady 200g a day - effectively a loss of 1400g a week (1.4KG).  This is pretty good movement in the correct direction and gives me a good boost when I get on the scales and see another 200g drop off.  So, if I want to eat more, I have to exercise more - simple really.  The good thing is that this is a sustainable thing and will also allow me to pretty quickly bring the system back into the zero gradient once I get to target weight.  From the healthy weight, I'll apply the understanding of process monitoring to keep myself on track.

So, why should you do the same?  Well, you don't need to, but it's probably in your interest to do so if you want to maintain or improve your fitness, maintain or reduce your weight.  Do you need to spend a load of cash in order to do it?  Probably not, but I would recommend choosing a device that does wrist-based HRM and I would also recommend something that has the ability to monitor overnight too.

The senior management paradox

I've been thinking about this for a while now.

Let's call this thing "The Senior Management paradox", because that's pretty much what it is.

So, basically I'm doing my thing as a PM and I get the usual "why does it take so long to do 'x'?", to which I explain patiently about the people's priorities and them perhaps not viewing our request for info as importantly as their day job, hence our request getting ignored.

The manager then suggests that he could sort it out much quicker.  The request at this point would be coming from a senior manager, so people would see the request as coming from a greater height.  Perhaps it is unnecessary to point out here, rather than from someone who is lower down the food chain to a point where they're being paid much less than the job that they do - but it's my blog, so skip over this if you feel it irrelevant.

I took time to ponder this later.  Every time that the guy intervenes, he weakens his own position because instead of him being moving and shaking at high level, he's dealing with low down stuff.  As his position gets more micro, he ceases to maintain the macro view and therefore is no longer moving and shaking anymore.  Once he's not moving and shaking, then he ceases to have the power, therefore is no longer effective.  The only way that they can affect the situation is by doing it via their moving and shaking, i.e across the tree, affecting downwards.

So what's the point of this?  Is it a diatribe about how I should get paid more?

Not particularly, it's more about how you need to be careful about how demanding you are for speed.  The PM is in a difficult space, as they neither do the work, nor have the power to command resource.  So, as a senior manager, you may think that you're putting your foot on the pedal, but the reality is that you're putting it on the PM's neck…and that's not healthy for anyone.

Basically, it's about power bases.  The senior manager gets his power base by who he knows.  Techies (usually) get their power base by what they know.  The lowly PM has to act somewhere in between and that's where the interpersonal skills come in.  However, no amount of interpersonal skills are sufficient to force people to do something that they don't have time to do, and are actively supported not to by their own line management chain.

Shaving as mindful practice

I've recently got into double edge, or "DE" shaving, the old-style razors with a single blade.  They were popular in the 40's to 80's until the modern cartridge razor and electric razor became the norm.

Shaving with a DE razor is a skill, it's not easily won.  Like many things in life, you have to learn and practice it before you can become proficient.  The whole thing about it, the draw or allure of it, seems to be that you need to go through this whole "ritual" of preparing, shaving properly and then closing the shave off.  It's not something you rush through, but rather something that you savour.  Csíkszentmihályi (1975) described this as "flow".

This got me thinking, is the reason why we struggle with the modern world?  Is it because we're not really engaging with it fully?  These days, there seems to be too many interruptions and "notifications" to deal with, even if they're not urgent or important.

During the process of shaving, I'm in the moment.  The razor is lethally sharp, it hurts for some time if you don't do it right and therefore it's just basically too scary not to be fully focussed on what you're doing.  Having said that, it's really enjoyable to be lost in the experience.  It's not at all like normal shaving - despite being scary, this is actually enjoyable.  I'm fully engaged with what I'm doing for the whole time.  Now this could just be a bit of a novelty, but I've been doing this for a while now and I'm still getting enjoyment out of it.

I've moved around this model from the 9'o'clock position to the 1'o'clock position and I recognise that this described my journey well.  I'm not too sure about the arousal bit, but I did have a fairly fulfilling shaving kit spending spree a while ago!!

All this made me think about other things where I carried out the process mindfully.

There are so many things that we do in life and we're also doing other things in the background (or more likely the foreground).  We're on that conference call while checking e-mails (I actually know one guy who will go off and make a brew while he's on calls, and he's on a desk phone, not a mobile!!).  So many times I'm doing one thing and without thinking, I find myself on something else.  There's no focus anymore and I don't think that is good for us.

There are only really a few times that I'm truly in the moment:  Motorbiking, Running, Shaving.  The rest of the time, there's a whole host of other stuff going on.  I suppose that even while running I'm mulling things over in my head, assessing and analysing, so maybe that doesn't count.  Perhaps this is why Tony Buzan said "never train with music on" - you're too distracted and then you're not in the zone.  (It could also just be because you can't hear cars coming up behind you and you get knocked over)

With the other stuff, I'm totally in the zone because I have to be.  I used to be quite into making coffee and that was the same sort of practice.  There's a process you go through there too, warming the jug for the milk, spooning out the coffee, tamping it down, etc.  It's very rewarding to get a good result.


I recently attended a one-day Systems Architecture course that the organisation was putting on.

Now, this thing was only an appreciation of the concept, and only a very basic overview of where the organisation is wanting to go, but it was a one day course.  One day.

Now, you might think that's fair enough, it's only an appreciation.  The content and feedback forms suggested that it was  expected to be implemented off that one day of input.

I don't know if it's me and if I'm thick (I probably am), but it really struck me that this is a very complex area that was being taught at breakneck pace.  For me, someone with extensive experience in business change, a Masters in Project Management and the full-on BCS International Business Diploma - if I felt that, how must other people on the course have felt?  Sounds highly negative, right?  Not at all, I'm just being realist about it.  I formally learned BA in two weeks, but it took me years of reading and re-reading the material to really get it right.  I spent two years getting my MSc in PM and during that time I read and practiced like crazy to understand it - but I got a really good masters result because I worked to apply, reflect and really engage with the material (I actually won business masters of the year for my efforts).

So, what did I pick up on the one-day thing?  Actually, a fair bit, but I think that for most people, that info will have gone "bye bye" by the next day.  There are some really good architectural frameworks that BA stuff and other things that I've done in the past can be nailed onto.  So, where you're looking at a TOGAF/MODAF/whatever framework, the BA elicitation, requirements engineering, modelling, questioning, analysis skills and MSc PM critical thinking skills fit nicely in with that frame.  The frame effectively gives an order of operations and a structure to the BA stuff.

What will be the upshot of trying to implement this in our organisation?  It's a great concept and it does need to be taken forward.  I just fear that it'll not be backed up with the relevant support and additional training.  It'll effectively become a 'form filling in exercise', rather than a deep understanding of the business systems and what needs to change.  What concerns me is that the main part of thinking, questioning, looking at the wider picture will be missed in favour of the bureaucracy.  It'll fall into disrepute because of that, and it'll fail.  I don't want it to fail, but frankly I'm tired out from banging the drum but the effective outcome as people telling me to keep the noise down.  Make the mistakes, you'll just have to fail and learn that way.

Which architectural framework is best?  Well, I've only given architecture a very simple looking at, but as my Masters research highlighted about Project Management frameworks, "Pick one and then all follow it" is likely to be my advice.