October 15, 2012
By Matthew E. May in Fast Company Article
The Rules Of Successful Skunk Works Projects
“When Germany’s first jet fighter planes appeared in the skies over Europe in 1943, the U.S. War Department hired Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to build a working jet fighter prototype, giving it just 180 days to do so. … Challenging constraints shaped the project: build a jet fighter prototype that would fly at 600 miles per hour–the edge of the speed of sound and 200 miles per hour faster than the current Lockheed P-38 propeller plane–in 180 days. …
He [Kelly Johnson] broke away from the Lockheed main operation, taking 23 of the best design engineers and 30 mechanics with him, and set up camp in a rented circus tent next to a foul-smelling plastics factory, figuring the odor would help keep nosy parkers away. … Perhaps it was the stink that drove Kelly’s secret team to design and build the prototype for the P-80 Shooting Star–nicknamed Lulu Belle–in a mere 143 days. That’s 37 days ahead of schedule. …
Thus was born the de facto standard for running top secret projects among the world’s most innovative companies, and the model [Steve Jobs] used in launching the Macintosh division of Apple. In his biography of [Steve Jobs], [Walter Isaacson] tells how Jobs cherry-picked a team of about 20 “pirates,” as he referred to them, and seceded from the Apple main campus. He relocated the team to a small building three blocks away, next to a Texaco station. The two-story brown-shingled building became known as Texaco Towers. Jobs kept the renegade spirit alive with his maxim “it’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.” Jobs actively recruited rebels and swashbucklers–talented but audacious individuals who could move fast and get things done.
Over the years, the term Skunk Works has come to refer to any effort involving an elite special team that breaks away from the larger organization to work autonomously on an advanced or secret project, usually tasked with breakthrough innovation on limited budgets and under aggressive timelines.”
January 23, 2012
By Seth Godin Article
“Whenever you start a project, you should have a plan for finishing it.
One outcome is to declare victory, to find that moment when you have satisfied your objectives and reached a goal.
The other outcome, which feels like a downer but is almost as good, is to declare failure, to realize that you’ve run out of useful string and it’s time to move on. I think the intentional act of declaring becomes an essential moment of learning, a spot in time where you consider inputs and outputs and adjust your strategy for next time.
If you are unable to declare, then you’re going to slog, and instead of starting new projects based on what you’ve learned, you’ll merely end up trapped. I’m not suggesting that you flit. A project might last a decade or a generation, but if it is to be a project, it must have an end.”
December 26, 2011
By Dr. Andrew Makar Article
“1. I will update my project schedule weekly and share the updated plan with the team.
The project schedule is one key document that needs to be revisited every week as project teams report progress. Project schedules are not intended to be cast in stone but rather serve as a forecasting tool that can adjust and incorporate re-planning. Spend 30 minutes to an hour a week updating the project schedule, reviewing it and obtain input from the team on scheduling changes.
2. I will document meeting minutes and send them out by the end of the day.
I know we all abhor meeting minutes, and transcribing them from scribbled notes into a meaningful MS-Word format can be a challenge when the day is packed with meetings. If you don’t get your notes and key action items out by the end of the day, they will likely fall behind–and few people respond to late meeting minutes. That’s why I advise using a mind mapping tool to document your meeting minutes and send them out that day. (Consider this article, Mind Map Your Meetings, on how to incorporate just-in-time meeting minutes into your day.)
3. I will send out my meeting materials the day prior, not five minutes before.
I will readily admit I am guilty of sending out key materials a few minutes before the meeting so everyone has the latest copy. The problem is that some documents need to be reviewed or printed before discussing them in a meeting. I’ve been in a few meetings where executives chastised the project manager for not sending them out earlier so they could review the materials. To avoid this embarrassing situation, I send out the materials the day before (maybe at 11:59 at night…but at least I’m avoiding the appearance of being unprepared as I implement just-in-time meeting materials). …
5. I will encourage my management to conduct “skip level” meetings with my team members.
Successful project managers can’t deliver unless they are supported by a team. Project managers should recognize their team members and share the accolades within the management spotlight. One way to do this is encourage your manager to have skip level meetings with your project team members. It will give your team members some additional visibility to a manager or executive that may not know specifically how your team contributes to the organization. It also provides an opportunity for team members to provide unfiltered feedback and new ideas. ….”
June 13, 2011
By Seth Godin Source
“This is the first warning sign that a project is in trouble. Sometimes it even begins before the project does. Quietly, our subconscious starts looking around for an excuse, deniability and someone to blame. It gives us confidence and peace of mind. [It's much easier to be calm when the police car appears in your rear view mirror if you have an excuse handy.]
Amazingly, we often look for the excuse before we even accept the project. We say to ourselves, “well, I can start this, and if it doesn’t work perfectly, I can point out it was the …” Then, as the team ramps up, bosses appear and events occur (or not), we continually add to and refine our excuse list, reminding ourselves of all the factors that were out of our control. Decades ago, when I used to sell by phone, I often found myself describing why I was unable to close this particular sale–and realized I was articulating these reasons while the phone was still ringing.
People who have a built-in all-purpose excuse (middle child syndrom, wrong astrology sign, some slight at the hands of the system long ago) often end up failing–they have an excuse ready to go, so it’s easier to back off when the going is rough.
Here’s an alternative to the excuse-driven life: What happens if you relentlessly avoid looking for excuses at all? Instead of seeking excuses, the successful project is filled with people who are obsessed with avoiding excuses. If you relentlessly work to avoid opportunities to use your ability to blame, you may never actually need to blame anyone. If you’re not pulled over by the cop, no need to blame the speedometer, right?”
May 16, 2011
From Daily HR Tips Article
“Many organizations have embraced the team concept wholeheartedly. But as it is with most things, there is also a negative side to teams.
Teamwork takes more time and often more resources than individual work. Teams have increased communication demands, conflicts to manage, and meetings to run. So the benefits of using teams have to exceed the costs, and that’s not always the case.
How do you know whether the work of your group would be better done in teams? You can apply three tests to see whether a team fits your situation.
- Ask yourself can the work be done better by more than one person? A good indicator is the complexity of the work and the need for different perspectives. Simple tasks that don’t require diverse input are probably better left to individuals.
- Ask yourself does the work create a common purpose or set of goals for the people in the group that is more than the aggregate of individual goals? Many service departments of new-vehicle dealers have introduced teams that link customer-service people, mechanics, parts specialists, and sales representatives. Such teams can better manage collective responsibility for ensuring customer needs are properly met.
- Determine whether the members of the group are interdependent. Using teams makes sense when there is interdependence between tasks—the success of the whole depends on the success of each one, and the success of each one depends on the success of the others. Soccer, for instance, is an obvious team sport. Success requires a great deal of coordination between interdependent players. Conversely, except possibly for relays, swim teams are not really teams. They’re groups of individuals performing individually, whose total performance is merely the aggregate summation of their individual performances.”
April 20, 2011
**By DailyHRTips.com Article
April 19, 2011
**By Jim De Piante, PMP Article
“I have a feeling the nature of project management — which has sustained my career for more than 20 years — is changing radically. Two tectonic shifts in the business world made project management an obvious career choice for me back in the late 1980s:
1. Just as I was about to enter middle management, 25 percent of such jobs were eliminated from the economy.
2. Around that same time, organizations began to reorient their thinking and started to define and organize themselves as project-based businesses.
Explicitly in response to these two phenomena, I consciously made the decision to leave line management and enter project management. The writing on the wall is certainly clear in retrospect. And honestly, it was pretty clear at the time as well.
Now, I see three things happening that give me pause. They’re clearly things I need to react to, but unlike last time, I don’t know how. ….” – Article
April 6, 2011
**Project Shrink Blog Article
Social Project Management. Or Temporary Tribes
“So. I am writing a book about “Temporary Tribes“. And yes, there is a glossary for the words I use.
Groups that together pursue the fulfillment of a certain outcome. And after they reach their goal, they stop being a group. A good example of temporary tribes are project teams. People working together to accomplish a desired outcome. … People don’t know each other. There is a short period to create the desired outcome. Interaction is largely digital. Stress is put onto the tribe, so resilience is required.
We need a mix of cognitive diversity for problem solving and homogeneity for operating as one. The members need to be able to operate with multiple mental models without reducing their own convictions. We need enough transparency for decision making while still providing the members with enough comfort. This will require that the purpose of the tribe and the rules are easy and fast to understand. It will require that there is a healthy bonding between the members but still enough safety to express your individual identity to broadcast your strength. …
The discipline of Project Management shows us the importance of addressing questions like:
- What does “done” look like?
- How do we get there?
- How do we know how far we are?
- Who are the Stake Holders?
- How is the temporary tribe organized and different from The Natives?
The issue becomes how we can have a productive collaboration towards a certain goal in a temporary tribe while getting the benefits from addressing the PM issues?” – Article
March 30, 2011
**By PM Hut Article
“Over the years, I’ve watched three different approaches PMs have used to deliver bad news:
- The Grenade – This is where the messenger walks into a crowded room (typically full of executives), delivers the bad news with all of its horrendous consequences without any warning, and then leaves. This is totally unacceptable, ineffective and not sustainable…primarily for the PM’s career.
- The Silent Treatment – This is where the messenger chooses NOT to deliver the message. The reasoning may be that they feel the problem will resolve itself, or they don’t want to deal with the subsequent activity necessary to resolve the situation. This approach is not recommended.
- The Trial Balloon – This has been the most effective method I’ve seen used. The messenger meets with a couple of stakeholders at a time, laying out the facts of the situation with a “let me pass something by you” approach. This allows for additional options to be considered, further information to be introduced (for example, more resources may be available that the PM did not know were available) and crafting of the final message to occur prior to introducing it to the entire group. The result is that the messenger doesn’t stand alone, multiple options have been considered, and the bad news is not sensationalized.”
February 20, 2011
“Not all projects are created equal. There will be some that will make your career, and others you’d rather just bury deep in the bowels of your organization’s data servers, never to be seen or heard from again. …
We’ve all heard the saying “don’t throw good money after bad.” But how can you tell if your project is going wrong and when you should cut your losses and move on? Look for these five signs:
- The current direction of the project in no way addresses the original business problem you set out to solve, and the requirements are murky.
- The project is a victim of “scope creep” – it’s costing far more money, resources, and energy than you intended.
- One or more key deadlines have already been missed and the end is nowhere in sight.
- Every status meeting begins with a lengthy discussion of problems rather than completed milestones.
- All is restless on the team front: you’ve lost a few key personnel and your most optimistic team member starts to openly express doubt.
… If your project is in fact doomed, honestly is the best policy. ….” – Article
February 13, 2011
Playing Catch-Up, Nokia and H.P. Try to Innovate
“In technology markets, playing catch-up is a bruising, costly and often futile game, even for corporate giants. Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, in different ways, both provided vivid evidence of that challenge on Wednesday.
In a memo to Nokia employees, Stephen Elop, the new chief executive, compared its predicament in trying to catch up to Apple and Google in smartphones to that of a man, in a story, who was standing on a burning oil rig at sea. “The man was standing upon a ‘burning platform,’ and he needed to make a choice,” Mr. Elop wrote in the memo, which was widely circulated on the Internet. “He decided to jump.” In the memo, Mr. Elop went on to say that Nokia, too, had to jump, metaphorically — take bold action to make up for lost ground. …
Nokia and H.P. — tech giants though they are — face long odds in catching up with competitors that have a head start in a rapidly changing landscape. It’s hard to do that in any business, but especially so in technology markets.” – Article
February 6, 2011
“My favorite analogy to engineering project schedules is world maps made in the 1500s. See
They had no idea what the actual shape of the California coast was, but they knew it was probably there somewhere, and they made sure they put enough detail in that it looked like they knew exactly what it looked like. Did the experienced sailors look at or trust those maps? No. It was for the management and funders of the project. And maybe for the junior sailors.”
Reader comment to the following article: Dealing with Management. From this article:
“The truth that is often missed is: “The only way to finish sooner is to start sooner.” … I have a history of intolerance for impatience. When I was a junior engineer, fresh out of school, I was working on project with a particularly aggressive project manager (we’ll call him Dave). Dave was known for sending out daily memos with action item lists, largely the same as yesterday’s memo. … On occasion of being really annoyed at these constant reminders of all the things we had no power to fix, I sent a reply suggesting that Dave distribute his memos on softer paper so they could serve a higher purpose. … My boss scolded me that this was an inappropriate use of company resources, and then confided privately that everyone was thinking the same thing. But only a 20-something like me could get away with actually saying it. … Post Script: Dave thought it was hilarious and we became good friends over this incident. He did change his action list memos to just once a week.”
February 6, 2011
“The average person that turns 30 years old in the U.S. today has worked 11 different jobs. In just 10 years, the average person who turns 30 will have worked 200-300 different projects. Business is becoming very fluid in how it operates, and the driving force behind this liquefaction is a digital network that connects buyers with sellers faster and more efficiently than ever in the past. …
Business colonies are an evolving new kind of organizational structure designed around matching talent with pending work projects. The operation will revolve around some combination of resident people based in a physical facility and a non-resident virtual workforce. Some will forgo the cost of the physical facility completely, opting instead to form around an entirely virtual communications structure.
Most will be organized around a topical area best suited for the talent base of the core team. As an example, a team of photonics engineers will attract projects best suited for that kind of talent. Likewise, a working group of programmers specializing in computer gaming applications will serve as a magnet for new gaming projects.
In some instances, large corporations will launch their own business colonies as a way to expand capability without adding to their headcount. Staffed with a few project managers, the company will use the colony as a proving ground for experimental assignments best performed outside of the cultural bounds of existing workflow.’ – Article
January 15, 2011
“Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” ~ David Lloyd George
January 13, 2011
The 11 fundamentals of project management
“Over the years, we have worked with well known and highly respected companies which do a painstaking job of capital budgeting (summarizing all the projects that will require capital during the fiscal year), even calculating rates of return on the budgeted projects to four or more decimal places. And yet, in spite of their skill in the capital budgeting process, very few of these companies had effective project management systems or achieved the returns estimated so precisely.
Why? Just as leadership assumes people know how to lead and manage, they assume people know how to manage projects. Out of more than 225 companies with which we have worked, less than what can be counted on one hand managed projects well. Most companies engage in numerous projects during any given year and most have no idea how much their projects cost, how well the money is being spent or how much was being achieved in returns.
Ironically, by applying basic fundamentals, project management is easy to do well.” - Read article
December 23, 2010
“Top Ten Strategies for Dealing with a Dead Horse
- Buy a stronger whip.
- Change riders.
- Appoint a committee to study the horse.
- Appoint a team to revive the horse.
- Send out a memo declaring that the horse isn’t really dead.
- Hire an expensive consultant to find ‘the real problem’.
- Harness several dead horses together for increased speed and efficiency.
- Rewrite the standard definition of ‘Live Horse’. [ouch...too eerie]
- Declare the horse to be better, faster and cheaper when dead.
- Promote the dead horse to a senior management position.”
December 11, 2010
The idea here is that your organization may have many great ideas or potential new initiatives that you would like to try, but your resources are finite and your time horizon is short. Does it not then make sense to gain a better understanding of the totality of those initiatives, consider all of them across a consistent set of criteria, have a view into the utilization of your resources, make decisions about priority based on the magnitude of potential, and balance risk between safe bets and wild swings for the fence?
“Good” portfolio management systems allow for dynamic responses to a constantly changing business climate. “Better” portfolio management systems provide the maintenance of the right amount and mix of efforts. “Best” portfolio management systems include central oversight of budget, risk management, strategic alignment of investments, resource supply/demand management along with standardization of procedure, process and reporting.
Consider the following innovation portfolio management foundational concepts: …”
December 3, 2010
How Ford Profits from its ’24 Hour Rule’
“At Ford Motor Company, we’ve spent the last few years engineering a well-recognized turnaround. One of the key tools we’ve used to accomplish it is something we call the 24-Hour Rule. It’s a management practice based on a favorite saying of Ford’s CEO, Alan Mulally. As Alan puts it: “You can’t manage a secret.” … During launch, people are driving cars, they’re running tests, and they’re doing things that can lead to the discovery of a new complication that could delay a launch.
Say I’m an engineer who suddenly finds such a problem. I probably want to solve it on my own if I can–that’s human nature. But it’s not the right impulse. If I sit on a problem for too long, working on it in isolation, the whole team—and the launch timeline—may suffer. So we put a rule in place. It says: ‘You have 24 hours to take a new and emerging issue, try to understand it and see if you can resolve it yourself. After that, you have to go public with it.’ It’s an escalation process.”
December 1, 2010
“… when stress is high, heads are down and everyone is pointing fingers outward, in the direction of others. There is still the old, “he did it, she did it, or they did it” mentality. When there is less stress there is much more willingness to say “oops, WE made a mistake”. When stress is in the red zone memories of being “yelled at” as a youngster seem to bubble up and the need is to protect oneself is front and center. …
I love to teach teams to “practice safe stress”. This is where the rubber meets the road (As I was writing this I saw the double meaning, smiled, and decided to leave it just as is). Safe stress means knowing what your childhood coping patterns are and how to harness them rather than let them take hold of you. If you are not sure what those patterns are go to www.sylvialafair.com and take the pattern aware quiz. … Once you can get a handle on the childhood patterns … you can transform them to more grown up ways of addressing stress and when you are on a team you can be accountable for your part in whatever is going on.”
November 22, 2010
Sure, but what’s the hard part?
“Every project (product, play, event, company, venture, non profit) has a million tasks that need to be done, thousands of decisions, predictions, bits of effort, conversations and plans. Got that. But what’s the hard part?
The CEO spends ten minutes discussing the layout of the office with the office manager. Why? Was that a difficult task that could only be done by her? Unlikely. … Hard is not about sweat or time, hard is about finishing the rare, valuable, risky task that few complete. Don’t tell me you want to launch a line of spices but don’t want to make sales calls to supermarket buyers. That’s the hard part. …
Identifying which part of your project is hard is, paradoxically, not so easy, because we work to hide the hard parts. They frighten us.”