Archive for October, 2009

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Starting Is Easy; Finishing Is Hard

I once saw (via video podcast) a wise man (Jason Calacanis) say “starting is easy; finishing is hard.”

When he said that, it was a moment of absolute clarity for me.  I’m not saying he verbalized the meaning of life.  He did state, however, what I’ve often conceptualized but was never able to verbalize.

What Jason stated in 6 words is what I’ve seen many colleagues struggle with.  Who doesn’t have projects and tasks to complete and deadlines to meet?   I’ve tried multitasking, thinking it would make me more efficient.  I’ve tried using a productivity pyramid.   All I did was start more tasks, not finish more.  That’s the key right there.  It doesn’t matter how many things you start if you never finish them.

The solution to my past problems has been the use of kanbans, referring to them as information radiators.  These information radiators were large billboards strategically placed around the office so anyone could passively see the status of the current project.  You could see what the highest priority was, what was currently being completed, and what was being delayed.

I believe the key to those successes was in the ability to visualize our work.  Everyone knew exactly what they needed to complete and everyone else knew if it was getting done.  People were not allowed to go on to ancillary activities until their assigned tasks were completed.  Another important facet of the kanban, we limited our work-in-progress.  This forced-focus on limited tasks and constant feedback loop is very powerful and very productive.

If you would like to read my complete guest post at the Personal Kanban website, on how I visualize my work and FINISH it (don’t forget the comments), just follow the [link].

(Image courtesy of rkeohane on Flickr)

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How We Can Make Agile Work

bustedI just read a really good post at PM Hut titled Agile Myths DebunkedSanjeev Singh listed 12 reasons people say Agile won’t work on their projects and how they are misinformed.  His list included:
Indiscipline, lack of planning, no documentation, no QA involvement, not for fixed bid projects… and the list goes on.

From my experience, organizations commonly get caught up in their project management processes.  I think they fail to realize, when saying they can not use Agile, the goal is to deliver value to the customer. As professionals, we should focus more on how it can work and less on why it can not.  I do believe Sanjeev’s listed myths are the primary reasons Agile isn’t more broadly adopted in some markets.  I’ve sat in meetings and heard those same myths listed as though being read directly from his blog post. Only by educating clients and debunking these myths will we see more adoption.  I’m not saying Agile will work in every circumstance for every project.  What I am saying is you should never discount something unless you’ve at least tried.  Do your research and see where you can make it work.

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Impress Your PMP Friends By Understanding SPI and CPI

Variance ChartsAre you studying for the PMP exam and struggling with the concept of Schedule Performance Index (SPI) and Cost Performance Index (CPI)? Are you just bored and want to impress your friends with your knowledge of SPI and CPI?  Well, I’m going to try to make it easy for you.

To the left you’ll see two charts.  Both are displaying variances on a monthly basis.  The first chart is displaying variances in thousands of dollars, both in schedule and cost.  The second chart is displaying the variances as they relate to a performance index.

Definitions and Formulas

  • Earned Value (EV) – The estimated value of the work actually accomplished
  • Actual Cost (AC) – The actual cost incurred from the work accomplished
  • Planned Value (PV) – The estimated value of the work planned to be done

    [Chart 1 - Variance (In Dollars)]

  • Scheduled Variance (SV)=EV – PV
    a NEGATIVE schedule variance is behind schedule and
    a POSITIVE schedule variance is ahead of schedule
  • Cost Variance (CV)=EV – AC
    a NEGATIVE cost variance is over budget and
    a POSITIVE cost variance is under budget

    [Chart 2 - Variance]

  • Schedule Performance Index (SPI)=EV ÷ PV
    You are progressing at __% of the rate originally planned
  • Cost Performance Index (CPI)=EV ÷ AC
    You are getting $_____ worth of work out of every $1 spent

Practical Application

So, where does that leave us?  Your goal is to have a $0 (zero dollar) cost and schedule variance, resulting in a SPI and CPI of 1.0.  That would mean you estimated correctly, leading into your project.  Going into the PMP exam, you should know these formulas and how to calculate all of the above.  Here are a 2 simple questions you should be able to answer:

1.  Is a 1.3 CPI a good thing or a bad thing?  Why?

This is a good thing!  A 1.3 CPI translates to you getting 1.3 dollars of results for every dollar you put into the project.

2.  Is a 0.90 SPI a good thing or a bad thing?  Why?

This is a bad thing!  A 0.90 SPI translates to your project progressing at 90 percent of the rate originally planned.


Here is the moment of truth. What kind of question is going to be on the PMP exam?

Example Question: Based on the charts listed above, what would you be more concerned with, schedule or cost, if you were taking over this project from another project manager?

Answer: The answer is cost.  As of August, CPI is closest to 1.

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Kanban for Lean Project Management

Zen Logo

For those out there using Kanban for Lean Project Management, let me sing the praises of Zen.  Zen is a tool that applies the ideas of the Toyota Production System (commonly known as “lean” principles) to project management. Whether you already practice lean in your organization, you want to set up a lean process, or you just want an easy and effective way to manage your process, Zen will work for you.

Since I started using Zen back in July, my productivity increases has been astounding.  I used to think multi-tasking was the best way to deliver value.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Instead, I now limit my Work In Progress to only 3 and only focus on 1 at a time.

Though I wrote about this product back in August, I wanted to give a formal product endorsement.  Getting started is free of charge. Once you begin using it on your projects, the cost is reasonable and scalable.  The Zen creators focused on what really matters, and designed an open-ended and easy to customize product.  They don’t overwhelm you with metrics and force you to try to figure out what matters.  Instead, they track just a few high-value indicators such as cycle time and lead time.

My Personal Kanban

If you’ve already implemented lean ideas in your organization, Zen can easily be used to replace a manual kanban board and spreadsheets, and has all the features you would expect to find in a lean project management tool.  If you think I’m a fanboy, you’d be right!  I love this product.  Check out www.agilezen.com

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Risk is Like the Five Stages of Grief

The PMBoK 4th Edition offers several risk related definitions.  I saw a trend that was very similar to the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief.  The following are a few actual risk related definitions from the PMBoK.  I hope you find them useful.

PMBoK 4th Edition

Risk - An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives.

Risk Avoidance - A risk response planning technique for a threat that creates changes to the project management plan that are meant to either eliminate the risk or to protect the project objectives from its impact.

Risk Mitigation - A risk response planning technique associated with threats that seeks to reduce the probability of occurrence or impact of a risk to below an acceptable threshold.

Risk Tolerance – The degree, amount, or volume of risk that an organization or individual with withstand.

Risk Transference – A risk response planning technique that shifts the impact of a threat to a third party, together with ownership of the response.

Risk Acceptance - A risk response planning technique that indicates that the project team has decided not to change the project management plan to deal with a risk, or is unable to identify any other suitable response strategy.

Kübler-Ross model

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Image Source: Pictofigo