Project Management Operational Problem Solving Implementation & Change Management Strategy & Alignment

Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Business Blog
This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Friday, April 30, 2004

If It's Urgent, Ignore It -- From Seth Godin at Fast Comany...
"Smart organizations ignore the urgent. Smart organizations understand that important issues are the ones to deal with. If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.

"A key corollary to this principle is the idea that if you don't have the time to do it right, there's no way in the world you'll find the time to do it over. Too often, we use the urgent as an excuse for shoddy work or sloppy decision making. [...] Urgent is not an excuse. In fact, urgent is often an indictment--a sure sign that you've been putting off the important stuff until it mushrooms out of control."
Obvious, but worth repeating from time to time.

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Friday Fun: OS XP -- Having been living XP world now for the last few weeks, this is appealing, although it's more than look and feel. It how things work as well.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Federal Programmers Get Agile -- A good article on agile development, including a sidebar on...
Agile development do's and don'ts

Do find a customer who can be as agile as your software development team. One contractor said he had to nix a plan to use agile programming when the customer balked after being told he would have to be available to review works in progress on short notice.

Don't inundate the customer with too many reviews. Agile-based projects benefit when customers have sufficient time to mull prototypes and provide thoughtful feedback to developers.

Do use agile tools to automate and accelerate as much of the development process as possible. These include automated testing tools, configuration control tools and integrated development environments.

Don't impose agile methods on programmers who are not ready for them. One government information technology analyst said he prefers to use more senior programmers on agile projects because they have the skills and experience to work independently. Others said junior programmers can be part of agile teams but should be paired with more experienced colleagues.
The article also quotes Glen Alleman, who has dropped in here from time to time with comments, and Jim Highsmith, author of Agile Project Management, of which my copy is en route from Amazon, and will be reviewed here.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Prescription for Business Innovation - Part Three -- A reminder about part three of the Dave Pollard series I mentioned the other day. I was wrong. Not more principles, but rather, a process...
 1. Listen broadly for ideas.
 2. Listen to "pathfinder" customers, competitors, and colleagues.
 3. Listen to the front lines.
 4. Understand who your actual and potential customers are.
 5. Understand and respect what end-consumers want and need.
 6. Understand what immediate customer will need.
 7. Understand why these wants and needs aren't already met.
 8. Organize those with a stake in solving the problem.
 9. Organize the program for solving the problem.
10. Organize the resources needed to solve the problem.
11. Create an environment an capability for innovation.
12. Create lots of alternative solutions.
13. Exeriment: Try many things, learn fast from failures, tinker, iterate, combine, transfer.
14. Listen to potential customers and help them imagine.
15. Listen to acceptance criteria -- the "if"s.
16. Listen to "what could go wrong."
17. Design: Consider customer-valued attributes, cost, intuitive ease of use, ease of change, ease of enhancement.
18. Make the final go/no-go decision, then implement.
There's a lot more where this comes from. Go read the whole thing.

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Monday, April 26, 2004

Change... is in the air this spring.

Among the small circle of friends of this weblog, David Anderson is moving out on his own, Jack Vinson is moving back in after a bit of time on his own, and Joe Ely is moving from one position to another. Clarke Ching might, unfortunately, be moved out from where he has been. And, as for myself, after seven and a half years on my own with Focused Performance, today is my first official day back in the world of the regular paycheck and company-paid health insurance.

I've joined DigitalGrit, a small and growing internet marketing and technology firm as Director of Project and Process Management. The decision and process that got me here have been interesting.

The Decision After about a nine month gestation/selling process, a non-trivial prospect for my Focused Performance practice was finally ready to move down the road to critical chain-based multi-project management when this opportunity arose. And at the same time, a fellow TOC consultant who for a frustrating six months, had been threatening to bring me in to support a large engagement, was making louder noises about it being "right around the corner." (Although that's where it had been since first talking about it). And then another collaborative opportunity was offered the day after I agreed to the DigitalGrit position. When it rains (especially after a drought), it pours. I had a client ready to move, and two fall-backs, not to mention a few other new suspects rustling in the bushes. So why make the move back into a regular gig?

As an independent consultant, I've had exciting opportunities to influence a number of organizations, help them move from one mode of operation and level of performance to a different mode and higher level, and at the same time, learn a lot for myself from being exposed to a range of industries. But I have to admit missing the long-term follow-up and refinement of continuous improvement that I was able to get in my previous in-house positions. Also, as a single-person practice, I found myself spending far too much time struggling with the stalking of suspects and the selling to prospects rather then getting the satisfying rush of actually doing the work I love.

And then there's the gig itself.

DigitalGrit is about four years old, and I'm told they've tripled their staff in the last year or so, and foresee it just about doubling again in the next. The founders recognize that they are at that critical inflection point of moving from the small, nimble, entrepreneurial mode of a start-up to a size that requires a mode of operation involving a bit more attention to things like capacity planning, consistent processes, and a bit more formal multi-project management, while retaining the nimbleness and responsiveness that got them to this point. The idea of influencing the direction for these efforts, and seeing them through over time as the firm grows -- especially in the internet and system development space that I've come to appreciate from the outside so far -- sounds like fun to me.

The Transition That last comment -- the bit about my being an outsider in this "space" -- reflects something that made my transition into DigitalGrit interesting. The interview process brought out two concerns on the part of the firm. First, could I handle and be happy in a regular Monday-Friday situation after the "freedom" of the consulting life. And second, since, due to the size of the firm, I wasn't only going to be managing the PM process, but actually managing key projects as well, there was a issue that I hadn't so far myself managed an internet or software development project. The way we dealt with these concerns was to bring me in as a consulting gig so that I could feel out the situation, and they could see me in action for a few weeks in their environment. On Friday, after three weeks of what was to be as much as a 1-month "audition," the formal offer was made and accepted.

I'll admit to sharing the first concern a bit -- I think what I'm going to miss most is the teaching aspect of my consulting work, watching the aha's of workshop attendees when doing the multi-tasking exercises in project management session, and especially as they solve problems in classes in the TOC Thinking Processes. From a work-life standpoint, the almost 2 hours a day, 70-mile round trip commute will be a bit more wearing than the previous commute that involved stumbling down the stairs to my basement home office -- when not commuting via an airport during engagements. And the daily routine will impact the flexibility I've had to address home life, especially given my wife's weekend-heavy retail job.

But after three weeks, I'm adjusting nicely, although you blog readers may have noticed the recent (temporary) shift from my usual big pieces to the shorter link-and-comment postings. I'm getting used to the routine, and expect to use my new experiences as fodder for the blog and website. It'll be interesting to see how "Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Weblog" evolves from here without the consultancy marketing agenda it's supported until today. (After brief consideration otherwise, I have decided to keep it on topic, keeping my social, cultural, and political commentary largely contained over on my Unfocused blog -- Friday Fun postings aside. The Focused Performance blog will continue to be about project and process management in the support of business success.)

That second concern, though -- the one about not having worked in a particular industry before -- was a bit frustrating, as it was the bane of many of my selling efforts throughout the existence of Focused Performance as a consulting practice -- "What you say makes sense, but where in our industry have you applied it?"

As an old Industrial Engineer, which of all the engineering disciplines, is most conducive to "generalist", transferable "system thinking" and problem solving, I find the old "not invented here (or at least in our industry)" attitude is a common obstacle to respect and confidence from others. In the similar issue of the perennial question surrounding the need of a project manager to have intensive experience in the domain of the projects' industry, I tend to fall on the side that says that a PM with no domain experience can do as good, if not a better job, than someone with industry experience but no PM experience. Project management is more about facilitating the arrows between the boxes than the technical content of the boxes themselves. Sure, there's a bit of a learning curve at the start, but in the three weeks I've had to get my feet (and ankles) wet at DigitalGrit, my previously extracurricular web and internet awareness has been more than sufficient to allow me to ask hopefully smart "dumb questions" and stay away from the really dumb ones. I'm finding that moving into a new technology or industry is not as much an issue as moving into a new organization and learning it's policies and practices.

Anyway, Enough rambling. I'm fitting in and having fun. A new experience begins. Read about it here.

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Reading Weblogs -- Clarke mentions...
"A few months ago I switched over to web-based Bloglines RSS reader."
...and goes on to highly recommend it. I agree. I've recently found myself having to split my time between my trusty Mac and a Windows environment. In the latter, I've missed my NetNewsWire app for aggregating the almost 100 weblogs I follow, but didn't want to duplicate the functionality in an unsynchronized manner. Bloglines has been an excellent web-based solution.

(And by the way, Clarke's also put his recently completed dissertation -- The Software Project Manager's Conflict - To Allow or Not Allow Change -- up for download.)

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Mismeasurement -- Jack writes about David writing about the perils of individual measurement and reward.
"Individual measurement doesn't generally do anything to improve the throughput of the enterprise. The enterprise must learn how to improve overall. This includes improving how individual work, yes, but only in context of what that means for the whole."
The links of a chain can't accomplish much on their own, other than as paperweights. It's the whole chain that pulls the weight. If measured and rewarded as a group, then the team will be incented to do the right things for success, as individuals working together.

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Free Prize -- Blog buddy Hal Macomber writes about Seth Godin's latest book, Free Prize Inside...
"So what does a book on marketing have to do with projects? Marketing is all about projects. Every campaign, product launch, introduction to new market, etc. involves going from idea to implementation."
Too often, project management is applied primarily to internal, cost-related efforts. Marketing efforts, aimed at top line growth and sensitive to both speed of execution and reliability of promise, are also worthy subjects for effective, disciplined project management.

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Rizzo on Speed and Profitability -- This looks like excellent news. One of my former co-workers and friend from the TOC community of practice, a thinker/writer/teacher/consultant well worth knowing (I wish he would start blogging), Tony Rizzo of The Product Development Institute and Spherical Angle, seems to be writing a book. At least there's a series of pages on his PDI website that refer to chapters 1 through 4 (as well as an empty link for chapter 5) of something called Speed and Profitability with the Six Sigma Enterprise. These chapters touch on similar notions of multi-project management that you've been reading here, but with Tony's unique ability to draw pictures in the mind. For example...
For a moment, think of each of your projects as a person. Imagine that you have fifty such people in one room of your facility, and you need to get all fifty into the adjacent room as fast as possible. There is one door connecting the two rooms. Now, imagine that each of these people is rewarded (or punished) on the basis of how fast he/she can make it into the next room. The ones who make it through quickly can expect to receive a reasonable reward. The ones who make it through a bit late get only their base salaries. The ones who make it through very late can expect to be encouraged to find employment elsewhere. Go ahead. Give the order to move, if you dare.

Commonsense tells us that a few of your fifty people will make it through the door immediately, until the crowd arrives. Then, some of them will try to make it through sideways. A few others may become creative and try to take the low route, only to cause others to trip and stumble. Soon, you'll see a mountain of bodies, many of which make it through the door very late, and perhaps with injuries. You may also see a few people standing back, waiting for the mob to clear.

Now, imagine that every few minutes you give the order to 20 or 30 more people to go through, while the mob continues to block the door. It's clear that nearly all will make it through very late. Many of these will suffer severe injuries. The ones who decide to stand back and wait for the mob to clear never go through, because the mob never clears.

This is probably a close description of the way your projects compete with each other, for shared resources. In our little scenario, the door is a shared resource. In reality, the shared resource may be a group of systems engineers or software developers or electrical engineers...
Nice visualization. Tony goes on in Chapter One to talk about unsynchronized multi-project environments and the resulting multi-tasking sickness that he refers to as the "dilution solution". I'll probably be getting deeper into the subsequent chapters as time goes on, but don't let that stop you from digging into Tony's stuff yourself. Now.

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Friday Fun - A Movie Trailer -- Picture a movie that evokes The Matrix, Minority Report (stealing a distinctive two-shot), and Blade Runner, anime, and samurai swordplay. This trailer has almost as many references as a whole Tarantino film. (By the way, Kill Bill 2 is a hoot.) The site for the film -- Casshern -- is here. Whoa.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

A Prescription for Business Innovation -- Dave Pollard, one of the most prolific writers in my blogosphere, is in the middle of a three part series on innovation. Too big (in length and in content) to try to synopsize, so to whet your appetite, I'll just list a set of principles of innovation strategy that he's introduced so far...
Technology is Not Evil.
People Change Reluctantly.
Need Drives Innovation.
Innovation Starts with the Customer.
Innovation Drives Technology.
Innovations are Interconnected.
Stories Transfer Knowledge.
Innovation Requires Discipline & Patience.
Hierarchy and Autocracy are the Enemies of Innovation.
Innovation Needs an Urgent Problem.
Cooperation is Replacing Competition.
The Customer Rules.
Female Organizational Style is More Innovative Than Male.
The Emerging New Economy Will Accelerate Innovation.
I suspect that a few more principles will be added in part three, due Tuesday, April 27. Go read the first two here and here. It's a big think thing.

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On the Effect of New Ideas --
"Once the mind has been expanded by a new idea, it can never regain it's former size."
    - Oliver Wendell Holmes
And considering all the new ideas I've come across, whatever happened back in the '60s seems insignificant now.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Software for Critical Chain Project Management -- In a recent exchange of blog postings on spiral project lifecycles, Brian at Projectified mentions looking into the various options for making MS Project work in a Critical Chain environment. They all use MS Project as an underlying database, and as a data (tasks, task resources, resource availablity, dependencies, duration estimates) entry vehicle. In general, they all use a relatively similar multi-step process of using the inputted information to 1) resolve resource contentions, 2) propose a recommended critical chain, and 3) size and insert buffers to develop a rational plan and project lead-time for the project in question. They also all provide a method for easily updating the estimates to completion of active tasks during project execution, as well as sets of tools for analyzing project networks both in the planning and execution stages.

Due to the simplicity of the critical chain planning process, resulting in similarity of the planning and analysis tools and processes provided, the major distinctions tend to fall in the means for assessing and reporting project health and in the presentation of the networks when viewed in their design for a Gantt view.

The single-project options include the following...
ProChain -- From ProChain Solutions, this is the grand-daddy of CCPM software, introduced shortly after the publication of Eli Goldratt's introductory book, Critical Chain, in 1997. I particularly like their ProChain Gantt View, which offers a nice parallel view of the baseline plan and the current projections, cleanly showing buffer consumption. The picture they provide is a nice view of the health of the promise at the end of the project buffer, which tends to emphasize the protection of that promise. It also offers a nice clean interface for macros and filters used to analyze why a project is where it's at. (Although I must admit that the cleanliness of interfaces are in the eye of the beholder; my appreciation for it may just be rooted in the fact that I cut my CC teeth with ProChain. ProChain works with two other offerings from ProChain Solutions for multi-project managment; the simpler ProChain Pipeline and the more sophisticated web-based ProChain Enterprise.

cc-Pulse -- From Spherical Angle, launched in the fall of 2003, ccPulse's view of the world seems to be less about protecting promises and more about projecting the possibilities of finishing at some point in the future. The emphasis seems to be less about worrying about buffers and more about assuring an easily updated model of current status of completed work and expectations of the work that remains to be done until the end of the project. Speed of completion is seen as the way to keeping promises. (This is not to say that it doesn't do a credible job of buffer management. It just does it from a slightly different perspective than ProChain.) Version 1.1 of cc-Pulse has just been launched, introducing a new "Looking Glass" reporting interface, which, while I haven't had a chance to look into it in practice yet, looks very interesting. The only thing holding ccPulse back from being a major player in the CCPM space right now is the fact that their multi-project solution -- cc-MPulse -- is still in development. If however, you want to explore critical chain-based PM on a single project, it's well worth looking into. It might even be acceptable to "bet on the come" with it for small multi-project environments, since the parent company is offering a multi-project scheduling service while their product is in development.

CCPM+ -- Just introduced recently, CCPM+, from Advanced Projects, Inc., is the latest entry into this space. All I know about it is what I see on their website, but it looks like a simple CCPM implementation for MS Project 2000 and later. There is no apparent multi-project application associated with it yet.
In addition to these single-project "plug-ins" for MS Project, Realization Technologies (formerly Speed-to-Market) offers their Project Flow software (formerly Concerto) for purely multi-project applications, and Sciforma, with its PS8 product, offers the only approach that combines single- and multi-project management capabilities in one package that does not rely on MS Project.


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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Spiral Waterfalls -- From Brian Kennemer, a discussion of the use of PM software for "spiral methodologies" includes...
"Here is the fun part. What do you suppose that nice spiral diagram would look like if you unrolled it and laid it out across a timescale? A waterfall maybe? :-) Yes! It would look like a waterfall remarkably like the one for the waterfall methodology. It is just that this waterfall would have more phases. It would have several design phases, several develop phases and yes even several test phases and then it would have a final test phase at the end."

Although one aspect of the spiral is the unknown nature of how many times one goes around. That's what basic PM software does not handle so well. However, it can be addressed in MS Project with the addition of Critical Chain plug-ins -- if you simply allow buffers (a la CCPM) to model not only uncertainty and variation in task durations, but also in iterative cycles.

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Friday Fun -- A simple 2-liner...
"Make me one with everything." said the Buddhist to the hot-dog vendor.

The hot dog vendor prepares the hot dog and gives it to the monk. The monk pays him and asks for the change. The hot dog vendor says: "Change comes from within."
ba-dum-bump (From Seb.)

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

And a Request for Some Old Friends -- If any of you out there are attending AGI's TOC World conference this week, drop me a line about the highlights. This is the first one I've missed in a few years.

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Still More Friends: Congrats Clarke and Michael -- From Goldratt's TOC UPDATE...Congratulations to Clarke Ching and Michael Carroll - Winners of TOC Riddle #1: Who Should be the next CEO? Clarke Ching and Michael Carroll each provided key insights into solving this Riddle...

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And Speaking of Friends... While on the subject of friends, there's two newer friends of mine that have recently launched their own blogs. Dan Lynn, who I met only a few weeks ago, reflects on what he's learned in his first four years of entrepreneurship, launching and growing his own company at Starting It. And Stephen Harris, who I met a bit over a year ago via a local Company of Friends group, focuses on networking at Zero to Network. Check 'em out.

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Learning about Lean -- After a fairly prolific start this year, with the string of pieces on estimates and buffers and the prescriptions series, and even a few pieces last month that triggered a bunch of comments, I seem to have run into a bit of a block. You might have noticed the prevalence of short notes on linked quotes rather than the longer pieces. No worries. That's what blogs are really about -- the links. And there are plenty of good things going on out there. I know I'll get back in the groove soon with some larger pieces and themes, but in the meantime, I'll continue pointing to other good stuff out there.

Particularly, this week, be sure to check out someone who's recent period of relative quiet has been broken with two great pieces. Joe Ely, a friend of this blog for a while now (One of our collaborations is now a year old!), has put out a piece on kaizen and one on learning from one's friends that are well worth looking into.

Yeah, that's what this blogging stuff is all about -- learning from the friends of a friend.

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Page 23 -- Picked this meme up from Seb's Open Research.
"Second, when most managers do think about growth, it is in terms of home runs--the ddisruptive technology, the new revolutionary business model, the mega-merger--instead of the singles and doubles that, when executed at a steady pace, cumulatively can increase revenues substantially."
    - From the fifth sentence on page 23 of Ram Charan's Profitable Growth is Everyone's Business.
Here's what the meme suggests you do:
Grab the nearest book.
Open the book to page 23.
Find the fifth sentence.
Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
And here's some more results, via a search engine that focuses on weblogs.

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Monday, April 12, 2004

Select All -- This New Yorker review of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz, has some interesting tidbits...
"A few decades of research has made it clear that most people are terrible choosers—they don’t know what they want, and the prospect of deciding often causes not just jitters but something like anguish. The evidence is all around us, from restaurant-goers’ complaints that “the menu is too long” to Michael Jackson’s face."
"Instead of calculating opportunity cost as the value of the single most attractive foregone alternative, we seem to assemble an idealistic composite of all the options foregone. A wider range of slightly inferior options, then, can make it harder to settle on one you’re happy with."
"Strangely, we lose sight of our human resilience when we make big choices. People are consistently puzzled that so many things they had dreaded—from getting fired to being ditched by a spouse—“turned out for the best.” [...] A tendency to overestimate the joy we’ll get from buying baubles and winning honors is only half of a complex predisposition. The other half is our enormous capacity for happiness, even in the absence of such things. The surprise isn’t how often we make bad choices; the surprise is how seldom they defeat us.
There's something in here about strategies and plans and the choices we make not quite matching expectations. There's also something in here about the attraction of the appearance of lack of choice that simplifies one's "decisions," whether they be about project portfolios or career changes or what to have for breakfast. Did you ever notice that after agonizing over a decision, there's a nice bit of calm that comes shortly after making the choice. Choice is fine, but sometimes one is best off taking the opportunity that's presented, making the best of it, and by doing so, avoiding "defeat."

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On Reality --
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
    - Philip K. Dick
(Via Quotes of the Day)

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Friday, April 09, 2004

First Mac OS X Trojan Horse -- "Mac users finally have something to worry about. Kind of." ...according to TechTV's show, The Screen Savers. Whew...dodged that one. Actually I didn't since this thing wasn't released "in the wild" and was discussed as an advisory by a virus security software publisher (managing demand, perhaps?). hmmm...maybe my little boutique computer is hitting the bigtime, attracting virus writers. Apple responds.

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Call for Scrutiny - CCPM FAQ -- If you Google the phrase "Critical Chain" (without quotes), the first entry under the Amazon listing of Eli Goldratt's introductory book is my FAQ on the subject. (If you include the quotes, it might be second, after my "CC & Risk Management" paper.) I've worked hard promoting Critical Chain-based project management beyond the TOC community, and as a result, have achieved at least this level of Googlejuice.

But such a page rank carries with it responsibility. I worry that my FAQ might be getting a bit long in the tooth after several years, but fear my ability to get far enough beyond pride of original authorship. I would appreciate it if readers of this weblog (particularly and especially -- but not only -- those who are comfortable with their expertise in the subject) would mosey on over to it with scrutiny in mind. Those of you who might not be self-proclaimed CCPM experts might want to offer new questions if not new answers.

I'd like to turn my site and blog into more than just a means of promoting myself -- into an important piece of the CCPM and TOC-based Multi-Project Management community of practice. Your contributions to the FAQ could help. Any suggestions for improvements would be appreciated. New questions, revised answers, alternative answers that might replace or parallel what's there. Anything along these lines is eagerly solicited.

Feel free to offer up your scrutiny via comments below, or via email.

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Friday Fun - A Short Getaway -- Sometimes we all need to get from the daily grind. One place I've found that provides a nice relaxing respite is Zombocom. Welcome.

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Look What I Discovered! --
"Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it."
    - Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947)
(via Quotes of the Day)

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

More on Mission --
"The trick is, you have to have profit before you can do anything at all."
...from Richard Barrett, in a Fast Company article on his thoughts about making not the world, but the inside of the organization a better place.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Above and Beyond Shareholder Value -- In the pre-publication weblog associated with a Worthwhile, a new magazine, David Weinberger (of Cluetrain fame) poses an important challenge to authors of strategy...
I've long thought that corporate mission statements ought to begin with a phrase like, "XYZ company makes the world better by _____." If it can't fill in that blank, the company ought not be allowed to get to the phrase about "creating shareholder value."
Good point.

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That Sounds Good in Theory, But... -- Back when I was in first grade, a substitute teacher called the roll and asked, "Francis Patrick? Where is she?" That quickly set the tone of my elementary school reputation, as it quickly morphed into "Frannie Patricia." Kids can be cruel. But enough about my deep psychological impediments. Clarke Ching has posted some required reading on the Theory of Constraints and the difficulty of living with an unusual name.
"The name itself sounds a bit, ummmmm, theoretical.  The name is neither descriptive like 'agile' or 'lean', nor alliterative like 'Six Sigma'.  Some refer to it as 'Constraints Managment' instead...
Note that both "Lean" and "Six Sigma" are named for outcomes; for objectives. That's probably one of their marketing benefits. But that also muddies the water, as those objectives can be applied to any subsystem, but not necessarily to the larger systems that management needs to be concerned with.
...But the name is important.  Goldratt is a scientist and TOC is the scientific method, dressed up.  TOC is a theory.  It's - in my words - the theory that you can achieve big changes by leveraging the few things that 'constrain' or limit you.  As a theory you may prove it wrong - no one has to my knowledge - but you can't ever really prove it right.  If we're lucky someone brainier than Goldratt will come along, prove the theory wrong and give us a new and better theory like Einstein did with Newton."
Clarke also provides a great quote from Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory [DOWNLOAD: PDF]...
"Theory often gets a bum rap among managers because it's associated with the word "theoretical," which connotes "impractical." But it shouldn't. Because experience is solely about the past, solid theories are the only way managers can plan future actions with any degree of confidence. The key word here is "solid." Gravity is a solid theory. As such, it lets us predict that if we step off a cliff we will fall, without actually having to do so. But business literature is replete with theories that don't seem to work in practice or actually contradict each other. How can a manager tell a good business theory from a bad one? The first step is to understand how good theories are built. They develop in stages: gathering data, organizing it into categories, highlighting significant differences, then making generalizations explaining what causes what, under which circumstances. [...] Once we forgo one-size-fits-all explanations and insist that a theory describes the circumstances under which it does and doesn't work, we can bring predictable success to the world of management."
When I describe/prescribe certain sets of actions, based on theory that I've applied and seen applied, I very often get the "That sounds good in theory, but..." comment. I heard it just last week. But when the theory fits, wear it. Or at least be willing to try it on for size.

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Monday, April 05, 2004

Devils and Angels; Details and Architecture -- You've probably heard the old line about the devil being in the details.

Oft-quoted lines like this usually contain good advice or refer to near-universal experience. In this case, the usual advice is about when undertaking some endeavor, it's easy to overlook details that can trip you up. Staying on top of the details is the way to maintain control over a situation. To call upon a famous chain of events, "for the want of a nail…, the kingdom was lost." It definitely can pay to watch those details.

Another view of the devil's residence in the details could be about getting bogged down in them. Analysis paralysis and information overload is a common outcome of trying to stay on top of too many details. The problem is that when we try to focus on everything, we really can't focus on anything.

So we run into the devil whether we ignore the details or pay attention to them. An interesting image of being "on the horns of a dilemma" comes to mind, doesn't it?

Well, there's another line that you might be familiar with, from a Paul Simon song (You Can Call Me Al) that talks about seeing "angels in the architecture." If we're up against the devil, who would be better to recruit for help than angels?

To do that, keep an eye on the architecture; on what Deming refers to as the structure of the system and the dynamics of its processes. What you are really trying to do is related to the big picture.

The potential for stumbles and struggles is in the details, but knowing which detail is really critical requires an understanding of what's important for the larger effort. The easiest way of staying on top of the system, and of putting details into perspective, is to make sure that they support the ability of your system's "weakest link" -- its constraint -- to do what it needs to do. Whether we're talking about the critical path of a project or the bottleneck of an operation, it's the details related to those key leverage points that will keep you out of the devil's clutches.

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Gmail Rationale -- An interesting analysis of what Google's email service could be all about...
"40% of a company's knowledge is stored in its email boxes, hidden from intranet search engines, locked away on desktops. Email is rich with..."
(From Phil Wolff.)

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Getting the Most Out of Your People --
'nuff said. (From you know who.)

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Sunday, April 04, 2004

On Doubt and Certainty --
"Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions."
    -- Thomas Szasz 

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Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products -- A long awaited book from Jim Highsmith, a thoughtful Agilista. As soon as my copy arrives, you'll see more about it here.

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Friday, April 02, 2004

Some Stuff for Your Calendar -- Here's a few upcoming events that might be of interest...
- Project Delivery Forum: Health Care Facilities and Lean Construction
    April 22-23, Chicago, from the Lean Construction Institute
- Eli Goldratt's Viable Vision Seminars
    various dates, various locations.
- TOC World
    April 13-16, Uncasville, CT, from The Goldratt Institute
- Constraint Management User Conference
    May 18-21, from The Constraints Management Group
- Conversation with the Author
    April 22, Conference Call. David Anderson, Agile Management
    May 20, Conference Call. James Womack, Lean Thinking
...and, if you're in the New Jersey area, places you can find me...
- North Jersey ASQ Spring Quality Conference
    April 15, Whippany, NJ.
    My topic: Using TOC to Maximize Six Sigma Effectiveness
- APICS, South Jersey Chapter
    April 21 dinner meeting, Collingswood, NJ.
    My topic: Multi-Project Management
- ASQ Princeton Section
    May 12 dinner meeting, Princeton, NJ.
    My topic: Beyond the Fishbone - Root Cause Analysis for Complex Systems
Be there, or be square.

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Friday Fun - Penn & Teller: Bullshit! -- Just when I was about to cancel my Showtime subscription, these straight-shooting common sense guys return. The April 8 topic -- Safety Hysteria -- looks good. Who needs CNN and 60 Minutes, when you've got The Daily Show and these guys.

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Features vs. Benefits -- From BusinessPundit...
"Features don't matter unless they translate into benefits."
Rob relates this to sales. It also applies to design and processes.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Thursday, April 01, 2004

A Real Olympic Stadium Project -- I often use the phrase "Olympic stadium project" as shorthand for a project that has a lot riding on a specific completion date (as opposed to an "oil well project" whose value is subject to asap completion). I just got an email asking for comment on a real Olympic Stadium project...
"But the major worry is another day will be lost on Wednesday [due to a general strike in Greece] in the race to finish building before the Games open in Athens on 13 August [...] It is now predicted, for example, that the main stadium will not be completed until 20 July."
I hesitate to wade in on the subject without more intimate knowledge, but given the history of delays and overruns, a three-week buffer against three months of projected remaining work that requires round-the-clock attention is worth watching carefully.

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Global Virtual Classroom Results -- Last August, I mentioned my involvement in the Global Virtual Classroom, a cross-cultural, web-based collaboration program for kids. The cornerstone of the program is a contest in which, this re-launch year, 26 teams of 3 schools each from around the world built a set of very impressive websites, in two groups: Primary Schools (Grades 1-7), and Secondary Schools (Grades 8-12).

We're planning to repeat this effort again next year, and are still looking for some corporate sponsorship so we can upgrade our server and add new collaborative tools for the kids to use (secure video chat would be cool). So if you can pass the GVC Home Page along to anybody who might be able to help, it would be greatly appreciated.

Also, if your school, or your child's school might be interested in participating in this sort of thing, there's a form for joining a mailing list on the GVC Home Page. Registration for the 2004/05 contest will open around July and will be announced via that mailing list.

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Best of April 1 -- My morning alarm clock radio started the day with a very scary show, Cross and Lopez, touted as "morning fun without the filth." (Where's the fun in that?) A very disturbing 2 hours until the regular gang of reprobates returned to the air. Also...
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Standardizes on Macs (Actually, this one makes sense, given the security holes in Windows.)
- [Update] Google Gets the Message, Launches Gmail (This one seems to have caught a lot of people, that is, if it really is a spoof. I could be wrong.)
And along these lines, here's a history lesson.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

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