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.