Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beating a dead horse or being a dead horse

Is there a finite amount of information that can be discussed, in an intelligible way, about project management – or for that case any technical subject (I’m not going to go beyond that). Let’s think of all the various project combinations, chaos points and potential external impact points….if it didn’t go on forever then how can there be new technologies and applications being developed?....all the new interesting personalities being introduced into the process….

The answer is that of course there’s a finite amount of project management information, project management doesn’t go on forever, what we see are just the various project management building blocks being arranged in different ways and being used in different projects by different people.

I remember reading Peopleware by DeMarco/Lister where, I think, in the first paragraph the discussion of how A/R systems are being programmed everyday, using the same A/R rules that have been in effect since the building of the great pyramids and how a large percent of those new systems fail for the same reason…and remembering how relevant it was since I was managing the development of a A/R system that was ‘having issues’. Isn’t this the same for project management, the same steps, ideas and approaches being used and reused since the first caveman project manager oversaw the first caveman IT project?

So, why is it that we continue to study, write and wonder about project management? Probably the same base reason we, as kids, put our fingers to close to the fire – because we really didn’t know it would hurt that bad….project management is about understanding how painful an experience it is to be part of a failed or failing project….the jerking back and wondering why it hurt and then figuring out how to make it not hurt again. We learn from ignoring past lessons, getting deep in trouble and then reinventing what those in the past have learned and tried to pass on. Overall a rambling but enlightening introspection.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The best way to catch a greased pig is have someone else chase it

Waiting for an update from the development team on their progress? Need to get some key financial information from finance to Sr. management for approval? Wondering when a major release from another team is going live so you can coordinate your team’s activities? Calling HR for an update on the start date for a new hire? Feeling like a teenager again waiting by the phone for that special someone to call!

Many times project managers are put in position of trying to track down vital information from people who for many reasons are trying to avoid the disclosure of that information…come one now, you’ve been on the other side and know what it’s like to tell someone that the delivery is late…not a pleasant experience. The difficult part is that information gathering is a key part of our job, we can plan all day and night and color code those meaningless gantt charts until the MS Project Plan cow comes home, but without key current information, which our plans rely on we end up delivering fiction soon to be failure.

What can you do? Try harder? Yep, bang your head against the wall so at least you can show your boss the wounds you received trying to get the job done…and another reason why people will say that you try hard but are ineffective. How about strategizing a bit, getting into the other persons uncomfortable position and understand what would make them cough up the information – obviously your daily calls aren’t doing it. Try these approaches:

  • Tell them that you know they’re avoiding you and that you understand their pain and willing to buy them a beer….sometimes this works
  • Remind them that it’s their Sr. Managers who are asking you for the information and you’ll need to tell them where the delay is….(the ole’ turn up the heat on a dead crab routine)
  • Get close to their people, find out first hand (pre-spin) what the story is…ethical? Well….as ethical as delaying giving you the information.
  • Plan a meeting where you’ll be reviewing updates, include them and their managers and send out an email prior with a clear agenda (DAVE will be providing some news today…..) aka the Hot Seat
  • OR – perhaps the best approach – mention the request to their manager in a passing by, friendly, matter of fact, would you mind doing me a favor way….’Gee Sue, I haven’t seen Tom all day, would you mind telling him that I need to get his progress report….thanks…he’s a great person and I do hate interrupting him…but Mr. CEO is waiting for it’. Don’t accuse, don’t abuse, don’t plant negative seeds – just bump up the message – if the manager is a manager they’ll get the message that something is wrong and that you better get what you need so that the poop doesn’t flow up to their level.