Tuesday, July 28, 2009

They built it the way I would have

Just as a disclaimer – I’m as Smartsheet associate – someone who could potentially make $ when someone follows a link I have and purchases the use of Smartsheet, either it hasn’t happened yet OR Smartsheet is holding out on my million $ check – whatever case has no impact on the following.

I’ve been involved in two separate open source project management tool projects, together they have about 5,000 downloads from SourceForge and neither one would I really use in a business environment (but they were great for learning php, CodeIgniter, SourceForge and 100 other interesting things).

When I think project management tool, I think of:
  • ease of use
  • ability to easily modify what information gets captured
  • NO Gantt charts
  • enhancing communication
  • single stop for all project related information
The most effective tool I’ve used, prior to Smartsheet, was a spreadsheet (MS Excel and Google Docs) – both provided the flexibility and control I wanted, but neither provided real automated reminders, document storage or ability to easily modify look/feel…

When I first started to use SmartSheet it was a spreadsheet on steroids, but mostly a spreadsheet. Over the last year a lot of new functionality was added, including the ability to perform some functions on each cell. The overall user experience is simple to the touch, making one think that there’s little power under the hood. HOWEVER, I’ve come to rely heavily on it (even if others have not – yet). Adding new columns, changing drop down values, add sub sub sub tasks, having dates programmatically change based on prior tasks date changes, timed or event driven email updates, reminders, etc. are all there. It take the hassle out of working with a plan and lets one focus on working the plan.

I’ve worked with and tried about a dozen other PM tools…but I’m still not seeing anything that would compare to Smartsheet….at least for my current needs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Improvements through dumb’ing down (aka simplification)

The Wii, Google’s planned new OS, the web interface (compared to client/server), PC’s, the iPhone (compared to laptops) all have an interesting thing in common – improvement through simplification (aka dumb’ing down)…it seems to be a cyclic experience, where things (anything) grow in complexity until someone rediscovers the base benefit, removing the excess/gold-plating and providing a major improvement through reductionism rather than increased functionality…pure beauty.

I think we’ve seen the same process take place a few years ago with XP/Agile and since then the increasing complexity being added to the base Agile theme.

Lessons learned: Look to dumb’ing down any existing process, don’t listen to:
  • that’s the way its always been done
  • if we just add this one thing it would make everyone’s life better
  • I think JoJo the monkey boy from Finance uses that application…so we need to spend $1 million when upgrading to support it
Be brave and cut the phatt

Friday, July 17, 2009

Only 8 seconds and in 3rd place

I haven’t been following this year’s Tour de France (http://www.letour.fr)closely, but I’m still aware enough that Lance Armstrong is in it for his potential 8th win, a huge record. As of today, he’s standing is still 3rd and ONLY 8 seconds behind the lead – this is the 10th leg of a 20+ leg race…my first reaction is ‘only 8 seconds..not bad…I’m sure he can make that up…’ and its 8 seconds out of a total of 43+ hours of racing– but in reality, if it was really that easy he would be in the lead and not 3rd place and unfortunately it could be a good indicator that the rest of the race will reflect the current standing.
Lesson learned: if you’re behind in schedule assume that unless you change something, you’ll remain the same ration behind (or worse) for the rest of the project. Don’t fall into the ‘we’ll pick up speed soon’ trap, even if you’re just a little behind schedule…if everything was going as planned or better, you wouldn’t be behind, even by a small fraction (especially since we all tend to heavily buffer the schedule).
  • Don’t Hope
  • Don’t Ignore
  • Don’t expect good things to happen on their own…
Be alert to your own checkpoints and flags, that’s why you put them in place and react appropriately

Software Engineering: An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone?

A very important read:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Looking in from the outside

According to the stats, 2 in 3 projects are not considered successful, something I think all of us would gut feel agree with. Out of morbid curiosity, I’ve been following the outward signs of a long-running,yet-to-be-announced project failure in the CMS world…
  • late 2006, initial discussion of the upcoming major release 3.0
  • early 2007, sneek preview at a major conference
  • early 2007, announcement that the current version will have an interim release to correct security issues
  • mid to late 2007 – all quiet on the release 3.0 front…to quiet
  • early 2008 - announcement of difficulties and long weekends of work
  • mid 2008 – more previews, a demo site and a planned go-live in a ‘few short months’
  • late 2008 – announcements of what the new version will not support
  • early 2009 – commitment to more timely updates – and the quiet again
  • a little bit later in 2009 – discussion of a beta
  • now…..who knows
The above is a rough timeline of events. From the communication (mid 2006) to the most recent the indication was that there was only a ‘few more months’ of work prior to the v3 release….a few months of work that has so far taken 3 years to get complete. Sounds to famliar...

I’m just wondering that with the current number of open source communities, if there is some valuable lessons to be learned from following their progress……..

Monday, July 13, 2009

When in doubt stick it out

There’s an old saying in boxing (or really any martial like art) that ‘when in doubt, stick it out’, mostly referring to throwing a jab instead of doing nothing in order to keep the opponent busy. Well, the same holds true for project management. It’s always better to send out a ‘straw man’ (rough sketch/best estimate) then nothing at all. It provides a base to start a discussion from, provides a catalyst for others to react to, displays some form of action and direction AND above all sets a tone for the project. Don’t hesitate or be to conservative, others will take that as the tempo for the project and follow suit. Afraid that what you send out will cause a commotion? Well….that’s part of the PM job, isn’t it?

(image via: http://www.boxingdaily.co.uk)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Edge cases – here be dragons

Let’s be clear about one thing: there is no such thing as perfection…which inversely means that there is always imperfection. The land of imperfection is a place to tread softly. Imperfection is always rampart in project assumptions and those areas where developers feel the most comfortable: clearly defined logic. There are always edge cases, the non-norm where more mystery then factuality exists, always logic that tries to account for everything, but…….never seems to be able to. Technologists may try to convince themselves that everything is definable and that everything definable is programmable and everything that is programmable is complete…but the base assumptions are always wrong, nothing is completely definable, nothing defined can be completely programmed and nothing that has ever been coded has been complete.

Where is this going………..

A project manager needs to be aware of those who start to wander in search of perfection, such as:
  • 100% uptime (or even 99.55555%)
  • Complete data integrity
  • Performance never exceeding some sub-second time
  • Ability to identify people from bot
  • Ability for bot to replicate people
  • Performance testing
  • 100% geo coverage
And steer the people back to safe shores where obtainable objectives are achievable. Stay aware, watch for developers straying and sponsors espousing grandiose ideas. You can’t stop the explorers and doing so might stop some new discovery…but don’t let main line business projects go in search in areas where dragons abound.

New Real Estate Open Source project – help wanted

OK, so I’ve got a new scratch to itch, this time it’s real estate related. I’ve worked for real estate companies for about 10+ years and always felt that the life cycle, though understood by many, was never implemented. Most people begin their real estate search on the web and within the first 2 weeks of their search begin a relationship with a real estate agent. Most often the relationship with the agent is through a referral (family or friend)…So…search the web…personal referral to an agent…why doesn’t the web search lead to the client/agent relationship? Simple – most real estate sites are listing focused, which is nice, but does not provide the easy transition from interest to relationship building required for most real estate transactions. One of the major drawbacks into finding a real estate agent is the lack of information about the agent, typically it’s just a picture, name and phone #. What I would like to do is build a product where the focus is on the agent, providing relevant information for the consumer to select one and providing the agent with a social network environment where they can nurture the relationship…here’s my first pass at the spec: http://itprojectguide.org/myAgent/myAgentv1.pdf

And SourceForge site for the project: https://sourceforge.net/projects/myagent-re/

If you’re interested let me know. meade.rubenstein@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A fish DOES rot from the head down

After confirming with a reliable source (Myth Busters), I can confidently say that a fish does rot from the head down (with from disclaimers about the fitness of the dead fish):

Senior Member
Registered: 09-27-08
Posted 12-10-08 12:01 AM
Living on a lake in MN, I think I am qualified to explain this one. The skin, scales and the rest of the outside a fish provide a barrier that inhibits decomposition. If this barrier is damaged anywhere it will appear that decomposition has started at that point. If the fish is undamaged, the eyes are usually the first thing to go.
(you might have to log on to view)

So, how does this apply to an IT Project? There are probably a few ways you can apply this metaphor, the one I think most applicable is that a project will rot from the Initiation phase down. If you don’t get the initiation right, which includes: goals, scope, constraints, involved people – than the rest of the project has a higher risk of rotting.