Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 6, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 6

NOTE: On January 12, Computerworld published an article I wrote entitled Covert PMO. This series of entries is a fictional account based on the Project Manager in that article. Any resemblance to anyone from my past, present or future is purely coincidental. To start at the beginning, jump to January 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 1.

Day 27, Tuesday – Management meetings have been switched to Tuesday. That actually works out well. On Monday’s I approve last week’s time, update the schedule and fill out the status report on line. In Tuesday morning’s standing meeting I confirm the status in time to make any last minute updates before the firing squad.

Speaking of firing squads, I think I’ve found a way to turn the tide on the management meetings: shoot yourself first. It sounds drastic but it seems to work.

Today I came in with my usual reports. This time, instead of waiting for the barrage of questions and going on the defense, I attacked…myself. I had already asked myself all of the questions I knew they wanted to so I walked through them all before they could start.

“We are currently 2 weeks behind schedule. In order to make the deadline I have asked the team to fast track some of the testing. We’ve completed the extract and started the data conversion and transfer pieces. While that is happening we’ve used Excel to generate a test file for the vendor, Counseling Phone Support (CPS), to use.

“There are 2 major risks to the project: 1) any additional changes to the format or content of the data. 2) The inability to make web services work as the interface.

“Because the probability of either of these remains high, I have an individual finalizing a manual means to produce the file and FTP it to CPS for processing. It may be labor intensive but we could extend the project indefinitely by supplying the data by hand.”

I answered most of their questions before they even asked them. I even threw in some they should have asked. For those I didn’t have answers to I brought the acknowledged the issue and told them when I thought there would be an answer.

Some of them looked bored. Quite a switch from the last meeting I had with them.

Day 28, Wednesday – Wednesdays always offer a little breathing space. The rush for the end of the week hasn’t started quite yet and all the reports are done. It gives me a chance to “walk around” and check with the team. It’s a bit easier when they are all co-located but I try to touch base with most of them somehow during the week. Still trying to work out the video thing with the offshore team.

Back to the PM problems. If I remember correctly we had just solved world hunger and started on world peace. No, that wasn’t it, but it sometimes helps to put this into perspective. There are a lot bigger problems in the world than the Business getting the requirements right the first time.

Estimated End Date: Deadline was set before anyone really estimated the effort.

We identified 3 types of estimates: Ballpark Estimate, Budget Estimate, and Detailed Estimate.

Ballpark Estimate is used the first time an idea is tossed out. It could be as much as 75% low because we only know the bare minimum.

Budget Estimate is given after a set of high level requirements is reviewed and an impact assessment team has reviewed it. This estimate can be up to 25% low and have a realistic duration. The end date should be announced until the project actually starts.

The Detailed Estimate is done while the design is finalized and should be within 10% of the final cost. End date should be set.

As a group we’ve decided to start using the terms. Without management support we can’t enforce it, but consistency may breed familiarity and that can lead to acceptance.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 2, 2009: Leadership requires Involvement

"Every soldier deserves competent command. Air conditioned officer's quarters are no place for a leader whose troops are under fire. General Fred Franks once said, "You gotta get onto the fight. Commanders must be visible. They must be present in order to ignite the soldier's resolve. They must provide a bottomless supply of courage for soldiers to feed on when their own supply begins to dry up."

...from Axiom by Bill Hybels.

I've been putting together a presentation based on the Covert PMO topic and this quote struck me. Imagine being in the midst of a battle and receiving an email telling you to advance on the enemy. Maybe it is just a text message from your commander who is sitting half way around the world in an air conditioned office. Would that instill the courage you need to rush forward and attack?

Wouldn't you rather have someone in the trenches with you, guarding your back?

Are you visible to your team or do you sit at your desk and lob email at them like hand grenades?

With dispersed teams it is more difficult yet just as important to make that connection. Pick up the phone or get a webcam set up. Use a proxy (i.e. a team lead or manager on the other end communicating directly). Get connected.

Be involved enough that your team can't claim you just showed up at the end of the battle to take the credit.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 16, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 5

NOTE: On January 12, Computerworld published an article I wrote entitled Covert PMO. This series of entries is a fictional account based on the Project Manager in that article. Any resemblance to anyone from my past, present or future is purely coincidental. To start at the beginning, jump to January 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 1.

Day 21, Wednesday – Finally, a piece of good news: the designer said they knew about the requirement and had set the blasted thing up for Web Services from the beginning. Problem solved.

Day 22, Thursday – The Business Project Manager called me back on the Change Request… to my surprise. She was in the Business Sponsor’s office and they were asking what the next steps were. We discussed the implications of the change and they expressed their concerns about the timeframe slipping. I assured them that the resources had been pulled from other efforts to ensure that this project met their deadline.

One of the things IT tends to forget is that the Business has their own deadlines, too. Based on our commitments to them, they work through the legal and government aspects of the new offering. Couple that with marketing it and training sales to pitch it and you have a lot of moving parts to pull together at the last minute. A slip by IT can cause them to miss a window of opportunity.

By the time we finished their approval of the Change Request was sitting in my inbox. At the end of the conversation they said something I hadn’t heard from anyone since moving over to the PM role: “Thank you.” It actually sounded like they meant it, too.

Day 23, Friday – Got a chance to get back to the list of issues the PMs had brought up. Here’s what I sent them for review.

Project Charter: responsibility of the Project Manager. It is vital to nailing down what the project is going to do, but no one is going to push for one to be created any more. Eventually the SOX Audit team would nail us for it, but the PMO was pretty much defunct.

Project Schedule: Responsibility of the Project Manager and the team. Start with Work Breakdown Structure and have the team add tasks with estimated hours to complete.

Estimated End Date: Deadline was set before anyone really estimated the effort…

Oh, shoot. It’s already 5:30 and I have a date with my wife tonight. Have to pick this up next time.

Jump to Part 6.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

February 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 4

NOTE: On January 12, Computerworld published an article I wrote entitled Covert PMO. This series of entries is a fictional account based on the Project Manager in that article. Any resemblance to anyone from my past, present or future is purely coincidental. To start at the beginning, jump to January 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 1.

Day 16, Friday – Wow! It’s Friday already. Payday is always nice. Technically it is already spent, but it is nice to have it pass through my bank account. It makes me feel like I’m doing my part to stimulate the economy.

The follow up schedule review meeting with the team went well. I wouldn’t have guessed thinking in terms of hours would be such a culture shock to them. Given the hours they estimated and their availability on my project I was able to project a realistic timeframe for delivery: 112 days. That’s a bit longer than the 83 days originally planned and certainly not happy news for Management on Monday.

I ran a couple of different scenarios, checking the critical path, and came up with some options to present to Management. It isn’t rocket science. We can (1) extend the date; (2) decrease the amount of work; (3) increase the number of resources or some combination of the three.

We’ve already been told the data is fixed. When the CEO sets a date, it stays set.

Since we haven’t finalized the requirements we may be able to adjust the scope of the project.

Adding new resources would slow us down on an already crunched schedule. Our best bet is to get more time from the resources assigned to the project.

Day 19, Monday – Meeting with Management went almost as expected. Why is it that something that seems obvious to me is a mystery to Management? Calculating the length of a project is simple mathematics. If the number hours your resources have doesn’t equal the number of hours left to complete the project, the date is going to slip.

Fortunately, after the “I’m so disappointed in you and your PMP certification” speech and then getting grilled with questions, management opted to pull my resources off their other projects. If, in fact, they are allowed to, it will effectively cut our duration by a third and place us in range to meet the deadline.

The surprise additional action they took was to add a Finance report for invoicing purposes. They need to know the total number of records sent to the Clear Mind Counseling Center. Not a big report, but I’ll put a Change Request in within the next couple of days after we estimate the effort.

The other PMs picked Tuesdays to informally get together and talk through our projects and problems. Our first meeting is tomorrow

Day 20, Tuesday – Finished off the estimate on the finance report and sent it out for approval. I wrote it up and attached it to an email, asking them to respond with an “Approved” or send it back with the reasons why not. I receive two phone calls asking what I meant: one from the Business Project Manager and one from the sponsor. Evidently the business doesn’t normally get involved at this level.

It was a great conversation starter, though. I suspect I’ve opened Pandora’s Box. After I explained that a Change Request outlines what is requested and how it impacts the cost and schedule, her interest level was raised. The business is likely to start asking for more involvement going forward.

The phone call from Management started with, “What are you thinking?!?!? We don’t send Change Requests to the Business!” I guess that was another one of those written procedures they got rid of without telling anyone in the PMO.

The PM meeting over lunch went better. Since they still think of me as belonging to the PMO, I was expected to head up the meeting. I started by recapping my first 20 days. My whining consisted of:

  • No documentation on management of project including the Project Schedule and Charter.
  • The fact that the deadline was set before anyone really estimated the effort.
  • Requirements were incomplete.
  • Lack of resources and those that I had were over allocated.
  • Management status meetings more like firing squad.
  • Unrealistic expectations set and held by management.
  • No opportunity to re-estimate based on more knowledge of the project.

They agreed with my list and added:

  • Project managers running too many projects (one guy had 7!).
  • Developers adding “little” items to the project that are found in Testing as defects because they don’t match the requirements or design.
  • Business not offering any input until User Acceptance and then they want to change everything.
  • No agreement on requirements.
  • Failing Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) related Internal Audit checks and having to rework things.
  • Information Security (InfoSec) reviewing the product and demanding changes at the end of the project.

In a way it felt good to collectively get it off our chests but it left us feeling empty. Not quite hopeless, but certainly depressed. We decided to think through what we did on our own projects to address these issue and get together next week to start sharing them.

When I got back to my desk I received another curve ball. The Business Project Manager sent me an email saying there was another company they were starting to work with that offered different services. She wanted to know if we could send the same feed to another company.

Our schedule is so dead.

Jump to Part 5.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 19, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 3

NOTE: On January 12, Computerworld published an article I wrote entitled Covert PMO. This series of entries is a fictional account based on the Project Manager in that article. Any resemblance to anyone from my past, present or future is purely coincidental. To start at the beginning, jump to January 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 1.

Day 14, Wednesday – Had lunch today with a couple of other Project Managers, Bill and Darryl. I told them what I was struggling with: Management expectations, resource over allocations and a project without definition. If it was sympathy I was looking for, I was going to have to look elsewhere. No surprise there. They were guys and both had complained about the same things during project reviews I had conducted.

They stopped short of laughing in my face but their little smirks were infuriating.

While washing down our $1.50 hotdog from Costco with Diet Cokes, we came to the conclusion that the processes themselves were not the issue. The biggest roadblocks were:

  • Too many projects for a PM to manage
  • Resources spread too thin
  • Projects held to preliminary budget and dates
  • Processes not communicated to the teams
  • No management buy in to the process resulting in directives at odds with standards and processes

Bill mentioned that some of the other PMs had voiced similar frustrations. We decided to pick up the conversation with them.

I stole an hour in the afternoon to do a little research. My access to the PMO data hadn’t been cut yet. For the most part, PMs each had 2 or 3 projects, but some of them were running more than 5. My rule of thumb says the project management pieces alone take a minimum of 6 to 8 hours a week:
1.5 hr status meetings (15 minute / day or 1 per week) plus minutes
1.0 hr reviewing and updating schedule
1.5 hr updating the project repository and/or creating the project status report
1.0 hr risk / issue management
1.5 hr business status meetings and minutes

With 3 projects half the week is spent you’ve only covered the basics. Any requirements management, technical reviews, conflict resolution, additional reporting or stakeholder management is in addition.

In a prior life I had 3 concurrent projects. Management wanted to give me a fourth. When I presented the math to them they gave it to someone else. I like to think their respect for me went up, but I suspect their tolerance of me dropped instead.

Day 15, Thursday – Met with the team to review the schedule. I kept it somewhat high level, mostly activities and asked them to think in terms of hours, not days. It appears to be a bit of a shift in their normal thinking. I want to calculate the duration based on their availability given the number of projects they are working. They offered minor change, mostly in dependencies and half hearted commitments.
I scheduled a follow up for tomorrow and will nail it down. The rest of the day was spent estimating availability from the status gleaned in our Stand Up meetings.

Jump to Part 4.

Friday, January 9, 2009

January 8, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 2

NOTE: On January 12, Computerworld published an article I wrote entitled Covert PMO. This series of entries is a fictional account based on the Project Manager in that article. Any resemblance to anyone from my past, present or future is purely coincidental. To start at the beginning, jump to January 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 1.

Day 12 – Monday. Take a deep breath….hold it…let it out slowly. Great. Just 5 days until Friday.

Actually the weekend gave me a chance to do just that: take a deep breath. It helps to switch gears for a bit. I mowed the lawn. I’m probably one of the few homeowners in southern California still mowing my own lawn, but it allows my mind to relax and put things into perspective. Call in Monday Madness, but I have a bit more optimism today.

I did two things this weekend. First, I took stock of what currently exists. Second, I made a list of what was missing with notes on getting them. Here’s what I came up with.


  • Project description: New insurance offering – interface with external vendor supplying them with member information, they offer call in counseling. Supposed to be a big money maker.
  • Deadline: 3 months from last Wednesday. Firm.
  • Commitment: Promised by CEO to shareholders’ meeting 4 months ago.
  • Documentation: Some. Charter was drafted but not presented. Requirements are stored as Use Cases in RequisitePro. Design is being developed mainly on whiteboards for now.
    Status: Officially in Design, but Requirements are not completed/approved and I heard that Developer 1 is coding. Not sure who Developer 1 is, yet.
  • Need:
    Scope definition. Ideally it would be the Charter, but there may be something political going on there.
    Finalized and approved Requirements. Need to get them out of RequisitePro and in front of the Business.
    Introduction to external vendor project manager…if he/she exists.
    Find out who Developer 1 is and stop the coding.

What I didn’t do this weekend was put together a Schedule. Don’t have enough information yet.

Initiated a Stand Up Meeting. Actually, most of the team called in to the conference number and the Team referred to the meeting as a Scrum. Semantics. I asked 3 questions of each member:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you doing today?
  3. What other projects are you working on?

Turns out most of them are working on multiple projects and are not getting much time for this one.

Day 13 – Got nailed last night for not having the Schedule ready. My fault for not resetting the expectation. By not saying when it would be completed I allowed Management to create an unspoken expectation in his head. His wishful thinking date didn’t correspond to my “you’ll-get-it-when-it-is-done” attitude.

After talking Management down off the ceiling I calmly explained the current state of the project, walked through the Have and Need list and said I would have a schedule by the following Monday. I think what he heard was “blah, blah, blah, blah…Monday.” At least now we share the same target date.

Note to self: Never promise anything on a Friday. They invented weekends to catch up on everything you don’t get done during the week.

The Business Sponsor is excited about the project. She sees it as an easy $100K profit each month. While we were chatting, I pulled out the Cost Benefit Analysis template and started filling it in. Technically it is an Initiation Phase document, but I had a plan.

Asked about the delivery date. Said she suspects that it was arbitrarily picked by the CEO, but the sooner the system is up, the sooner they can make money. Companies were already interested in signing up.

Set up a weekly meeting with her to give a verbal update, but assured her that she could pick up the phone at any time and ask. Along that line, I think I’ll send out one paragraph email blurbs throughout the week to update Management, the Business Sponsor, et al. When appropriate I plan on mentioning team members by name to give them credit for their actions.

Jump to part 3.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January 1, 2009 – Going Covert, Part 1

Day 1 – It should have been an easy operation: go in, implement the update and get out. But it was anything but easy. It led to the Incident. Years from now I’m sure the Resource remaining with the Company may laugh about it, but this week the PMO was hit hard. The Head was chopped…gone. They pulled rank, brought her a box to go with the termination speech and brought in a Yes Man.

It may have been better if the whole unit had been pulled out. At least then we could land somewhere else and possibly do some good.

And this was supposed to be the year everything went right.

Day 2 – Made it to Friday without suffering the fate of the Head. I’ll regroup over the weekend and start fresh on Monday.

Day 5 – Overheard joking in the Development quadrant this morning. Someone said the Head had it coming. Overstepped her bounds and tried to call the Management to task for not following the Processes. IT’S A LIE! They were waiting for her to fail. Then they were all over her like flies on road kill. Stupid thing is we tried to warn her, but she didn’t see it coming.

Now the shuffle starts. I’ve been demoted from the PMO and reassigned to the Project Management squad. I knew too much to stay in the PMO but not enough to get rid of me completely. The patsies they are putting into the PMO certainly won’t push too hard or ask the wrong questions.

I’m ok for now. Gotta keep my head down, do the Job. It’s been a while since I had a full time PM roll, but I’m sure it will come back quickly.

Day 6 – Looks like I’m heading to the front lines: high profile, troubled project in the heat of battle. I suspect when he handed me the Binder, Management wanted me to think the smirk on his face was congratulatory. It wasn’t. This is a win-win for him. If by chance I survive and win the battle, the Company profits. If I fail, Management has a ready made reason to push me out. It would probably make him happy if I pulled the trigger on my own.

Day 8 – Been looking through the Binder. The previous PM didn’t do much. We’re supposed to be in Design, but there isn’t any evidence that the Requirements are complete. The Schedule looks like someone took the template and blew a big hole in it before throwing names against it like rotten vegetables at that house down on 3rd street. Not pretty.

Based on the Charter…which was never approved…we have a deadline. No real objective or clear direction. Just a deadline.

I’m assuming the previous Project Manager won the lottery…or got another job. Haven’t even heard what his name was.

Did meet the Team, though. Some of them seem pretty sharp.

Day 9 – It’s Friday again. With a long weekend of Planning ahead of me I suspect I won’t get much sleep. Entering the sleep-depravation phase. I wonder how long before the water-boarding starts.

I made the connection today. This is the project the PMO wasn’t allowed to review. It was stamped “Critical” and encouraged to “not let the Processes get in the way of progress.” Looks like it lived up to its calling because it did go critical…nearly nuclear.

And now it’s all mine.

Jump to Going Covert Part 2.

NOTE: On January 12, Computerworld published an article I wrote entitled Covert PMO. This blog entry is a fictional account based on the Project Manager in that article. Any resemblance to anyone from my past, present or future is purely coincidental.