Posts Tagged ‘Schedule’

Time For a Change #22: Putting Time on Your Side!

by William Reed on August 9, 2012

The Game of Go originated 2500 years ago in Ancient China as a strategy game in which players alternately place white and black stones on the cross points of lines on the board, in an effort to encircle and capture both stones and territory. Strategy is a matter of both calculation and intuition. The rules are simple, the strategy not so. The game favors the player who takes the long view, and players places stones strategically far enough apart to build bridges, that later in the game connect groups and surround the opponent’s stones like a net. Less experienced players overbuild to secure small corners and sections, only to choke on their own over-saturation. The term used by Go players is securing breathing space. Time is on the side of the strategic player.

The game can be a metaphor for how you play the stones in your life, how you secure breathing space in your domain. The first thing in playing your resources is to realize how lucky you are to have opportunities to be in the game in the first place. It is staggering to consider the circumstances of all of your ancestors meeting, reproducing, and surviving, each one of them laying the foundations of your birth and existence. And yet here you are! That is worth remembering once in a while when you think about how to best use and leverage your time.

Time for a Change

Reading through inspirational quotes on change, its remarkable how often the emphasis is on taking a chance. Wayne Gretzy said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Another word that comes up often is courage. Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them.” Another recurring theme is the importance of getting started! A proverb has it that “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

So what are you waiting for? Opportunity knocks once, not twice. If you want to create change the best time, often the only time to act is now.

Some people say that time flies, but this is partly a reflection on missed opportunity. The chance shoots past before you can catch it. Another perspective is that time flows like a river. It can carry you along or sweep you away, depending on how you navigate it.

It is remarkable how people are able to find time for that which is important to them. This is called making time, as opposed to killing or wasting time. The point is that no matter how busy you are, you do have time on your hands. Twenty-four hours of it, every day of your life.

Perspectives on Timing and Timelines

It is helpful to gain a flexible perspective on time, rather than just attempting to schedule it in the conventional way. The Japanese characters for 呼吸 (kokyū) have the meaning of both breathing and timing. This probably originates in the way in which people coordinate their efforts to lift a heavy object, or use their breathing to coordinate body movements in sport or dance.

Timing is a matter of rhythm too. It is easier to move with the beat in music than against it. Rhythm creates its own energy. Soldiers are taught to break step crossing a wooden bridge, so that the rhythm of marching doesn’t set up a dangerous sway that can cause the bridge to collapse.

Synchronicity is the simultaneous occurrence of seemingly related events that have no apparent causal relation, a coincidence in time. Things are more deeply connected than we may realize. The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that, “Hidden connections are stronger than obvious ones.”

Whereas timing, rhythm, and synchronicity relate more to occurrences in the present, it can also be useful to look at past events on a timeline. Beedocs is brilliant software for the Mac OS X which enables you to plot events in your life, or in history on a 3D timeline. Even if you don’t have a Mac, it is worth watching the tutorials and videos on the site showing how events look plotted in 3D on a diagonal wall.

It is interesting to look at historical timelines, although they only provide a thin slice of linear events of a particular type, like a musical score for one instrument. Timelines showing parallel or simultaneous events in different areas are more interesting, like an orchestral musical score for many instruments.

Time Out

Our lives are so ruled by calendars and clocks that we may feel lost without them! They are useful and necessary for conducting life in a society that depends on coordinating schedules. However, be sure to take time out in your personal life to take breaks, cat naps to refresh and reset, and time away from your desk or computer to mingle with people or enjoy nature. The cost of not doing this is finding yourself out of time and off track, wondering where it all went.

The Power of Ritual

If you want to get results over time, there is power in perseverance, and in the repetition of ritual. Albert Einstein said that,“The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” This is an analogy for the way in which results magnify through repetition. Our days are marked by the repeating cycles of the sun and moon, and what a difference when this is reinforced with the repetition of rituals.

I explored The Power of Ritual in a series of blog posts at www.entrepreneurscreativeedge.com/power-of-ritual/. Here you can read about the power of Wax On Wax Off, Master Miyagi’s ritual for Daniel in The Karate Kid, as well as the power of perseverance in achieving mastery in music and the martial arts.

Download a PDF summary of this article in a TIMES MANDALA, and use it to review and refresh your view of time as force which is on your side, a multiplier of your resources, and a fascinating phenomenon in life.

Developing an understanding of the project terrain and all its complexities can be daunting. This is especially true as a consultant since value needs to be shown for each hour spent. There is a trade-off needed between understanding EVERYTHING, making decisions, and moving on in order to be efficient. What to do? The answer is, “Keep it simple.” So how does one go about doing that?

The way that works for me is determining what principles are at work and trusting they will guide me. So what does that mean? The 9 areas of project management as espoused by PMI® can help. I use them all the time for troubled projects. Just ask, “Is there clarity regarding:

  • Scope
  • Time
  • Budget
  • Communications
  • Human Resources
  • Procurement
  • Quality
  • Risk
  • Integration”

Simple “yes” or “no” answers suffice. Then ask, “Are these 9 components interlocked in an interdependent way?”

Where you see “no” for either question points to the path that needs to be followed in getting to the crux of the matter. For me, this is where meditation comes into play. By letting go and allowing the two above-mentioned questions dance before my minds eye the fulcrum question in the situation will show itself. This leads to another fulcrum question…and another…and another until a clear picture is generated of what is going on which leads to determining what is needed to improve the situation. By the way, “fulcrum question” refers to pivotal questions that show whether or not principles are at play, if they are the right ones, and if they are interlocked.

For example, whenever talking with a particular senior manager I’d leave his office with an unsettled feeling. (This is where faith comes into play.) I’d have the urge to dissect what he said but when I indulged that urge I only got more confused and frustrated. By letting go and asking, “What principles are relevant to his situation?” and trusting what my gut said the fulcrum question(s) surfaced. Sometimes it would feel like someone else was creating it because it arose from my gut rather than my brain.

It is very much like the old detective series, “Columbo,” in that repeated asking about the 9 areas of project management surfaced the dodginess he was using to manipulate situations.

This practice of having faith in the principles leads to another valuable behavior – becoming aware of whom to talk with next. With the questionable manager it might have been a peer or subordinate or even an outside customer.

The point of all this is to trust the principles you believe are relevant. If you are mistaken it will surface soon enough and a change in the principle set can be made. Practicing this simple faith while not necessarily knowing everything will guide you to the right questions, conclusions and options both as to determining what is going on and possible options for improving the situation.

Is the lifeblood of your project sucked dry by project vampires? You know the type, e.g., belligerent bosses, unreasonable customers, passive-aggressive subject matter experts (SMEs). This is a challenge that a good leader must learn how to handle if any success is to be gained.  There are three solutions for dealing with them. Before getting to those, though, a little background will help. It boils down to one word, “Powerlessness.” You might be wondering, “How does that relate to leadership?” The answer is simple and is based on another word, “Humility.”

Humility is simply knowing where the boundaries are. In this case it means knowing what one can (power) and cannot (powerlessness) do. It is essential in avoiding over-reaching as well as making sure one is reaching as far as possible.

One of the single biggest mistakes Project Managers can make is lacking awareness of where that boundary lies. There is a wimpiness associated with not reaching as far as possible and hubris with reaching too far. The process of seeking that boundary and skirting it can be a source of torture for a Project Manager. So what to do?

Frankly, this is where I meditate. Taking time each day to sit with the torture created by not knowing where the boundary lies. When ego dissolves the line appears. On or around that line the three options sit:

  1. Power-based behavior. Look to see which resources have yet to be explored that will stop the vampire, e.g., disciplinary activities for SMEs under-performing, gaining support from powerful stakeholders who can help reel in the unreasonable customer;
  2. Powerless-based behaviors (1). Here is were I made up a term call, “The vampiric calculation.” It’s quite simple. The rate at which new energy is created is compared to the rate at which it is being sucked out of the team and myself. I consciously bring this up with the team and we look to see how much we can accomplish skirting the line between power and powerlessness;
  3. Powerless-based behaviors (2). This is the really tough one. It’s when exhaustion sets in after manically trying to please the vampire. Working with the team and after all efforts to turn things around have been made we calculate how, exactly we will abandon ship so to speak to keep our sanity. This doesn’t mean responsibilities are abandoned. Rather, it means we pull together to keep each other’s spirits up as the torture from the vampire continues.  Gallows humor is one of the most common forms of pulling together. Being careful is critical. The humor can morph into cynicism very quickly, which increases the rate at which energy is drained.

A better way is finding activities to stay intact. Personally, meditation, exercise, cooking for friends and family along with an occasional Lagavulin scotch and a good cigar help me quite a bit. You probably have your own list. Put it to use. It helps stay in touch with the real powers and supports a realistic attitude displayed by a student I once had. His boss was calling him in for the umpteenth time to chew him out. The student accepted his boss could do this but also skirted the boundary mentioned. He did this by saying, “Could you speed this up. I have to get back to the team, there’s work to do.”

By taking care of oneself and being free of preoccupation something close to a miracle just might occur. A path may start showing that relates to item “1.” mentioned above.  I want to avoid being Pollyannaish.  That path may or may not be there. The only way to see it, though, is to decide what you’ll do in the presence of  a vampire rather than passively let things happen.

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.”

“Hangman” is a game having a lot in common with project management. The goals are identical, i.e., figure out what the stakeholder(s) in control wants/means without them telling the project manager (PM) directly. The noose of the triple constraint tightens as the PM and team try to decipher just what is needed and they miss the mark.

There IS a substantial difference between Hangman and managing a project. In Hangman determining the word or phrase (scope) the controlling player has in mind is all that is required. With a project there is a chance for triple jeopardy since the PM and team must not only get the scope correct, they must also make sure there are sufficient resources left in terms of time and money to actually implement the scope. There is a way to not only survive but also succeed in such situations.

Terminology – Constraints vs. Principles

The first thing needed is a distinction between what is desired and what actually works. The term itself, “triple constraint,” implies boundaries of some sort. There is value in taking this term apart.

Rather than say, “The triple constraint means scope, time, and budget” stakeholders would be better served by stating, “There is a scope constraint, a time constraint, and a budget constraint placed on the project.” Why? Simple. Scope, time and budget refer to three of the nine principle sets in project management with the other six being communications, human resources, procurement, quality, risk, and integration.

“Principles” means there is a balanced interplay among all the variables and stakeholders in the project. Constraint means an arbitrary limit being placed on the project. It is called arbitrary because it is made in isolation with the responsibility for integrating being passed along illegitimately to others usually down the power chain.

That sounds like a pretty strong use of “illegitimately.” However, it does apply since the responsibility for a constraint stays with the person who makes it especially if he is the power broker.

Wishes and Business Cases

A constraint, then, is essentially a wish to make something so. What works better is examining what is realistic based on the business case. That business case needs to be grounded in reality. For example, if the project is to open a low-risk savings account then having a “budget” constraint of 1-3% interest rate is reasonable. On the flip side, if I am demanding 12% return with the same low risk then I am working from a wish list. The demand will be illegitimate if a PM in charge of investing the money is punished for failing to find a secure 12% savings account. It gets even worse if the wish of having the high return investment includes being able to withdraw any time without penalty (schedule constraint).

Stated more positively:

When needs are derived from realistic business cases rather than wishes, a bridge can be built between the business case and associated project principles comprising scope, time, and budget.

Going back to the previous blog, Rainmaker, building that bridge requires incorporation of other principle sets. In the next blog we will explore those principles with the goal being generation of a balanced relationship with realistic boundaries between scope, time, and budget. It involves the creation of something far more elegant than a triple constraint.

Managing a project requires actions

by Guy Ralfe on August 4, 2010

I recently had to jump in and manage a project in deep distress. The project was 5.5 weeks into an 8 week schedule and the project was only barely 20% complete. This was a construction project so easier to measure completion than say IT projects.

When I jumped into the project we were about to be removed from the project, I begged for 48 hrs to produce a recovery plan but settled on a compromise of 24 hrs – this was my first commercial construction project so not much time!  In discussing the situation with the general contractor, they kept on telling us how far behind schedule we were against the original (baseline) project plan. This was the original project plan laid out before the project began.

The conversation was just hopeless to the situation – telling me how late each section is; does not give any direction with which to act to remediate the situation. When I asked what were the priorities and what dependencies existed I received the response “they are all critical!”

When the plan was originally built it was obviously constructed based on a number of constraints and priorities known at the time. Today those priorities were in a very different arrangement due to the impact of not having various sections complete that have an impact on others also working on the project.

What I set about doing was to produce a plan, a recovery plan, that defined the work that needed to be completed and by when based on current priorities so that it still remained a comprehensive plan. This plan set out the new objectives and the “new reality” we needed to produce for a satisfactory outcome – with this defined it was shared with the team who now knew what was required. Looking at the project this way provided tangible targets to manage the resources and production against. The obvious problem was – being told you are late yesterday and again today does not provide you any point of reference with which to act.

Another successful tactic we used was not to focus on the small details but rather identify the three or four key fronts we needed to make progress on and constantly reevaluated the plan every day to determine if we had made enough progress… and also, did we need more people and could we shift the load around between teams?

This was a recovery plan but in essence it is no different than it should be for any project correctly managed. Projects are living and evolving ecosystems – a plan helps us anticipate the future and organize a number of people/organizations for the execution of the project. What we need to remember is that when the situation no longer reflects the plan the plan needs to be adjusted and some actions need to take place as a result or the outcome cannot be the same. To manage projects you need to manage the project and not just read the plan!