Posts Tagged ‘project plan’

Resilience Engineering #16: Hammering out a Schedule

by Gary Monti on October 4, 2011

Nailing down a schedule is one of the biggest project challenges there is. Even when you get it right things can happen in the environment that destabilize scheduling efforts. In a previous blog, Resilience Engineering #12: Party Time, the FRAM (Functional Resonance Accident Model) model was introduced as a way to provide rich contextual information for task definition and establishing a link between tasks. The phrase, “hammering out a schedule,” aptly implies the effort it takes to get one’s project house in order and determine who will do what and when.

Presently I am working with a client who wants a scheduling system. Before that can be done there is a lot of political house cleaning needed, which is the current focus of work. The hook being used to get them to stop gossiping and put that time and energy into work is shown in the diagram below.

What we have here is a FRAM diagram. The goal is to show the dynamics at play and how they can be mapped out for a given situation. Each hexagon is a function. The attributes for each function are:

  • I (Input). Raw material or the output of a previous task needed to execute the activity.
  • O (Output). The measurable deliverable from the activity.
  • P (Preconditions). Environmental and contextual considerations which are needed for success to occur, e.g., “clear requirements,” is a precondition for “task generation” to be effective.
  • R (Resources). Classic project management resources, e.g., people, tools, etc.
  • T (Time). This can be either classic duration, e.g., two effort hours, or calendar time, e.g., one evening.
  • C (Control). The parameters for setting acceptance criteria as well as process requirements that insure an adequate job is done.

The focus with the client is on the variable “preconditions.” It is an eye-opening exercise when looked at from the perspective of where the organization needs to be in order to support execution of a task.

The short version of this is 4-5 months of organizational work is needed before credible scheduling of the first task can begin. This is a group of engineers, technicians, accountants, sales people, and management having to do the touchy-feely work needed to communicate clearly and simply with committed support and follow-up.

Instead of “Hammering Out A Schedule,” it might have been better to title this “Hammering Out A Company.” Just to get to where a single task can be scheduled with high reliability it will be performed adequately within time and budget constraints almost the entire company is being profiled psychologically. Why? They can’t talk. They are technical experts. They can yell, they can be passive aggressive, they can be fearful, they can be greedy but they are very unskilled at understanding each other and are afraid of being honest and trusting.

We are making progress. It is stressful. They are uncomfortable. They are looking at those dark places from which strange noises emanate (better know as bitching and gossiping) and deciding what to do. All this before a single task can be scheduled with confidence.

Hammering out a schedule is hard work but well worth the effort. They are starting to see the benefits of putting energies into getting things done as a team rather than pointing fingers.

The court is out as to whether or not success will occur. This work reaches all the way into the Board Room. If they make it, though, they’ll be able to schedule a task and rely on the forecast. They’ll be able to go home and say, “I DID something constructive today and it feels good.”

Do you have a rock star culture in your organization?

by Himanshu Jhamb on January 11, 2010

In a world where heroes are worshiped, superheroes idolized and rock stars treated as gods, somehow it gets lost upon us that the true power lies in high performance teams and not just embodied in one person, however good that person might be. Corporations are in the quest of seeking out individuals who are superstars – you can pick up any job requirement write-up and you’ll see a huge bent towards making sure the person sought after is an expert in at least 5 areas, a one-man-army and then, somewhere down there, in a tiny bullet point you will find a feeble mention that “Candidate must be a good team player”. Am I the only one who sees something amiss here?

Here’s a little story from my early career days:

I worked for a young organization where the team comprised of people who labeled themselves “Rock Stars” (seriously, they used to call themselves that). They were ambitious, competent, competitive, hungry, arrogant and loud. I still remember my first day as a trainee when one of them “Oriented” me on my responsibilities, the product, the customers and the services we provide… all in the space of 2 hours… and I was thrown in the deep waters to sink or swim. When I questioned this process, I was told – “Oh! Everyone has gone through this – after all, we only hire Rock Stars!” Only problem was – I didn’t feel much like a rock star when I was sitting in front of the customer the next day as an expert on the project. As time went by, I saw that my fellow Rock Stars were very talented and savvy but all of them kept “Winging” stuff because the philosophy of being a Rock Star begins with making tall promises (sometimes, unattainable) and then stretching to deliver. Sometimes things worked really well and they returned from projects as Heroes… though, most of the times, projects went awry and there was a lot of “coping” to do… but the label “Rock Stars” stuck to them. The one consequence that mostly all of them faced was they worked very long hours and over time, burned out.

So, what do you do when you see symptoms of a “Rock Star Culture” in your team. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Ask many “How” Questions: This is the part that gets “Winged” most of the time. People make promises based on a “Feeling”. While I am not a total non-believer of this (because sometimes actions need to be committed to before planning – just talk to an entrepreneur, if you want a lively discussion on this one!) BUT many a times, the feeling falls under the area of  a story about things getting done without any thinking on how they will be done and who will do what.
  2. Estimate a little higher: Rock Stars know that in order to retain the mantle, they need to overachieve. Nothing wrong with that – except, sometimes they promise very aggressive estimates and overlook dependencies that are not easily visible at the start of the projects. The little bit of higher estimates gives them room to cope, when unforeseeable situations occur (and they do!).
  3. Make them commit to a Project Plan: A well laid out plan takes care of the concerns around “eating more than you can chew” because it forces you to ask fundamental questions like:
    • What tasks need to be done to achieve the final goal
    • Who will do it
    • What are the dependencies that must be taken care of to complete a task
    • How much effort is needed to complete a task
    • When will it get done
  4. Foster a Team environment: Reward people when they look out for each other, help each other and back each other – all aspects of good teamwork, encourage communication and coordination between team members, Acknowledge individual feats but amplify the team achievements more!

True, teams are made of individuals and the more skillful the individuals comprising the team, the better the capacity of the team… but teams are teams. What we are looking for is “High Performance Teams” and THAT comes not from gathering a bunch of superstars in a group BUT from Focused teams supporting each other at each step of the journey… Yes, by all means, have Rock Stars on your team but in the end what really matters is you need to have a Rocking TEAM!