Monday, January 30, 2017

Strategy is? 2

The strategy process is historically separated into planning and execution phases. Some writers tie the two together: Mintzberg and Quinn spring to mind. I do too.

This diagram attempts to capture the dynamic as a feedback system revolving around performance (which is where projects live).

Friday, January 20, 2017

The coffee queue problem

I'm sure that we've all been to conferences where we've encountered the 'coffee queue' problem. This is where the conference organisers have organised the coffee table to maximise congestion through coupling of workstations with incompatible dwell times.

Still, how could one expect catering types to understand work flow techniques, I had to study two Masters degrees to gain a decent exposure to them.

This is what we usually have:

People move through the fast stations quickly, only to crowd the slow stations, with those who can skip a station unable to do so because of the 'log-jam'.

A better way, that I've only too rarely encountered where the different rates of flow are de-coupled:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What do you mean, 'value'?

In risk analysis we sometimes multiply the probability of occurrence with the event loss to obtain an expected event loss for the risk. Thus, if the the probability of occurrence of cladding collapsing is 1%, and the cost of the collapse (clean up,  insurance premium, make good) is $10m, then the expected event loss is $100k. No much, and across a portfolio of risks it indicates the overall budget risk....of course you include that in a Monte Carlo analysis to introduce some objectivity.

Another page from Matthew's book, Chancing it bears consideration in this context.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Best practice?

Really? Best for whom?

I'd prefer to develop my project practice in Deming's cycle; therefore, not 'best practice' but 'better practice' better for my projects in my circumstances. Using someone else's 'best' ties me to their past, not my future.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Strategy is?

There is possibly not a topic in business that is more written about than 'strategy'; except perhaps 'leadership.

What is 'strategy'?

In my view, all projects are a response to a strategic need: they build capability for mission delivery into the future.

Some concepts of strategy have a static feel to them: Porter's 5 forces, for example. I know Porter's model is not static, but it tends to a static iconography.

This diagram includes the dynamic forces that influence strategic thinking in business. It could be though of as the third dimension to a typical Porter 5 forces diagram:

The 'capability platform' is created by capital investment, responsive organisation structures and processes, and the right people to deliver skills that make strategic sense in the business environment.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wisdom of crowds?

Having been thinking lately of early warning systems in project management, this passage from Matthew's book Chancing it popped out at me:

Monday, January 9, 2017


The idea of leadership abounds in management discourse; less so in project writing, but here in some ways it is more important: the breakdown of leadership can have immediate and disastrous consequences for the project, its staff and its investor.

Leadership needs to be made tangible. It is not just about the fluffy aspirational manipulation or which we read too frequently, and can do nothing with. It has to be grounded in actions and organisation.

I think John Adair's Action Centred Leadership model achieves this very well, and is directly applicable to a project environment. It requires a dynamic balance (dynamic means changing as per the circumstances) of task, team and individual, with none slipping out of the dynamic.

Diagrammed thusly:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Project predictions

Most of the formal measures we have of project performance (including progress) are backward looking. They report what has been done, sometimes when it is too late to bring corrective action to bear if performance is below expectation.

There is plenty to do to avoid project mistakes: credible baselines, to borrow from Glen Alleman's blog, are a big part of it, as are achievable requirements, risk-adjusted planning, the right team, and so on. That's essential to project performance.

All well and good, but how do we look ahead?

I recently received a newsletter from Charles Pellerin and this turned my mind to the project social climate. Like any business undertaking, projects are delivered socially: that is by people working together to achieve a common goal. Social climate, the sort of thing that Charles writes and practices on, is a large part of determining project success. There are social climate instruments that in expert hands could provide a useful insight into project outcomes. But a wise PM can also maintain observation of social climate: what issues, risks and decisions are coming to him or her, and how quickly are they attended to: a good rule of thumb.

In $300m major urban renewal project that I directed some years ago, I used 'aged decisions' as my rough guide to the performance of the team (reaching across a number of government and private sector players). It also gave me something tangible to open conversations to prompt performance when a decision remained unmade for an excessive period.

Another way of looking at it, is to consider promise reliability: measured by promises delivered. Following Hal Macomber's work in the old Reforming Project Management blog (some of the material might be found on the Lean Construction website); the tracking of promise keeping is an indicator, a robust one, in my view, of project delivery reliability.

There are others as well. In a contracting environment contract commitment against plan is a useful forwarding looking metric, for example.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Positive feedback

We've all heard the phrase "positive feedback", but I wonder how many of us realise that the typical conversational usage is wrong?

Typically the phrase connotes corrective action taken to restore performance. In systems terms, however, this is negative feedback. Positive feedback makes things worse; it continues an already destabilising trend.

Here's 'positive feedback' correctly used and illustrated, on page 298 of Ian Stewart's wonderful book 17 Equations that Changed the World; the chapter on the Black-Scholes equation. More of which here.