Taking a Break

Dear Readers,

I haven’t written a post in almost a month.  It feels pretty good.  When I was in the middle of my streak of about 75 weekly posts, it seemed like every article I read, radio feature I heard, or conversation was a source of a new blog post about the other side of risk.  That isn’t happening now.

I think my idea of writing about how my projects over the years trended to success when I paid attention to what could go right more than what could go wrong has run its course.  Finding new ways to express the same theme isn’t saying enough new things anymore.  Recent posts have been looking for new direction.lounging

I’m going to take a break, read through all the posts, consider what I’m trying to do in portfolio management and IT governance in my new job, and figure out where to go next with blogging, writing, and teaching.  There’s a bigger picture to paint.

I think I have about 20 – 50 people who regularly look at this blog, and lots more who happen on to it via searches for topics.  To all of you, thanks very much for reading and occasionally commenting on what I have written.  It’s been very satisfying for me to write about the other side of risk in hopes of helping others have more successful projects.  If you are just finding this, enjoy poking through the words and pictures.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll let you know on this blog where I will be going next when I figure it out.

Glenn Briskin

Project Management and Scrum

I’m feeling guilty for being a little late on this post.  Went to a class last week and I’m getting ready to go on vacation.  Hang in there with me during June as I will be travelling.

I took a great class on being a Scrum Product Owner from SolutionsIQ in Redmond last week.  I want to share my class experience because it provided a great example of how agile is important to project managers who want to find the other side of risk.  Agile structures your work so you are constantly challenging uncertainty to drive out opportunities.

old-classroom-720695The class content was great, the instructors were engaging and knowledgeable, and the class was run in a way that allowed students to learn from one another.  At the end of the class, I was happy with what I learned.  But, I paged through my class notebook and saw lots of pages we didn’t cover.  They all looked like really interesting ideas.  Was the class a success from a project management perspective?  This is the project manager’s dilemma with agile.  How do we commit to scope, schedule, and budget to meet our client’s expectations?  Let’s look closer.

The class was run as an “agile” class.  We used the agile Scrum process to understand and decide on what we wanted to learn within the curriculum; and how we learned it.

Time and cost were fixed constraints.  We finished on time and the class cost exactly what it was supposed to cost.  We got a book of slides and articles at the start of class – the potential scope, but we didn’t cover all of them.  But, everything in the book seemed important.  Shouldn’t I expect everything in the curriculum to be covered?  Would we be successful if we didn’t cover all the slides made available?   How much scope we could complete within fixed time and budget constraints was an uncertainty.  Sound familiar?  Continue reading

Improvisational Projects

Project management success can be as much improvising and adapting as it is planning and controlling. Opportunities to find what can go right constantly present themselves.

contact_improvisation
How to effectively improvise can be the challenge. An old friend posted the secret to improvising success on Facebook quoting from a commencement address by Stephen Colbert at Northwestern University. Thanks, David. Enjoy.

“AFTER I GRADUATED FROM HERE, I MOVED DOWN TO CHICAGO AND DID IMPROV. NOW THERE ARE VERY FEW RULES TO IMPROVISATION, BUT ONE OF THE THINGS I WAS TAUGHT EARLY ON IS THAT YOU ARE NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE SCENE. EVERYBODY ELSE IS. AND IF THEY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE SCENE, YOU WILL NATURALLY PAY ATTENTION TO THEM AND SERVE THEM. BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS YOU’RE IN THE SCENE TOO. SO HOPEFULLY TO THEM YOU’RE THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON, AND THEY WILL SERVE YOU. NO ONE IS LEADING, YOU’RE ALL FOLLOWING THE FOLLOWER, SERVING THE SERVANT. YOU CANNOT WIN IMPROV.

AND LIFE IS AN IMPROVISATION. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT AND YOU ARE MOSTLY JUST MAKING THINGS UP AS YOU GO ALONG.

AND LIKE IMPROV, YOU CANNOT WIN YOUR LIFE.

EVEN WHEN IT MIGHT LOOK LIKE YOU’RE WINNING.

I HAVE MY OWN SHOW, WHICH I LOVE DOING. FULL OF VERY TALENTED PEOPLE READY TO SERVE ME. AND IT’S GREAT. BUT AT MY BEST, I AM SERVING THEM JUST AS HARD, AND TOGETHER, WE SERVE A COMMON IDEA, IN THIS CASE THE CHARACTER STEPHEN COLBERT, WHO IT’S CLEAR, ISN’T INTERESTED IN SERVING ANYONE. AND A SURE SIGN THAT THINGS ARE GOING WELL IS WHEN NO ONE CAN REALLY REMEMBER WHOSE IDEA WAS WHOSE, OR WHO SHOULD GET CREDIT FOR WHAT JOKES.”

My first iPhone post.

Thanks for reading.

Photo credit:http://www.sunflowerfestival.de/programm-2010/band-details/article/78/contact-impr.html

Risk Management, Outcomes, and Benefits Realization

If you apply risk management completely, identifying opportunities as well as risks, you can better define the outcomes and benefits of your project.

Risk management is how we deal with uncertainty on a project. Things that can go wrong are the risks we typically look for:

  • Rising or underestimated costs
  • Client dissatisfaction
  • Employee turnover
  • Delayed or incorrect material delivery
  • Technology disappointments, etc.

After all, we consider a risk to be something bad. It’s the way we use the word “risk.”

flip pancakeBut, uncertainty also applies to things that can go right – opportunities for more positive outcomes. Any time we find a negative risk, a useful exercise is to flip the way we look at it. Sometimes we can find opportunities. Let’s look at the earlier list and flip the risks to express them as opportunities:

Continue reading

Virtual Races – A Model for Virtual Projects?

Maybe our projects should be more like virtual races.  In a virtual race, the organizers:

  • Come up with a race idea and a plan to make it happen
  • Set a timeframe and define contributions needed from participants and what they will get in return
  • Invite people to participate and sign up those who want to get involved
  • Give participants lots of flexibility and make it easy for them to contribute on their own terms
  • Track incremental progress, keep participants posted about how things are developing, and make adjustments and provide incentives as things evolve
  • Celebrate what got done and send people medals.

This seems like it could be an efficient way to run a project if you had some flexibility about what could happen.  It would be a virtual project.

Nerd HerdMarcia and I ran (walked) our first virtual race, the “May the Fourth (Be With You) 5K” put on by Nerd Herd Running.  My daughter, Joelle, and her husband, Mike, are two of the founding members of Nerd Herd Running.  The group was formed by runners who love to do Disney races as part of organizations who raise funds to fight cancer and support other good causes.  But, organizing, paying, and preparing for the Disney races is a big deal.  So, Nerd Herd Running leveraged their nerdiness to start a virtual race series with nerdy themes to support Stupidcancer.org.

At first I thought “That’s not a real race.”  I mean, a real race is about a bunch of people getting together, starting at the same time, and finishing at the same place.  Continue reading

Agile and Portfolio Management

puzzle-pieces_blank_cropped_smallIn my new role, we are looking at using agile methods for both project and portfolio management.  We have to look closely at the pieces to put together the puzzle.

To better understand Agile, let’s look at it’s origins.  The Agile Manifesto says:

“Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

I write about:

balancing consulting practices with project management to

imagine perfect outcomes and a perfect journey to get there

that leaves the organization and its people better than we found them.

So, when I read the Agile Manifesto, it says to me that:

  • A way to find a perfect journey to a perfect outcome is to focus on the people and how they will work together more than on the processes and tools.  The perfect journey is the interactions that produce ideas and results, not a perfectly followed process.
  • Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation because a team working one step at a time can better express what it understands via a working product than a complete document.  We often complete documents to lock things down and drive out risk.  Opportunities for growth come from trying things and learning from them.  I think documentation is important, it just has to be in step with product building, not way out in front of it.
  • Customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiation because it values seeking what can go right over what can go wrong.  Collaboration leads to a commitment to leave an organization better as a result of our efforts.  The contract focuses on a commitment to do something for consideration from someone.  It protects against risk, but can drive out opportunities it if becomes the focus.  The focus needs to be on how people collaborate to improve the organization.
  • Responding to change is more important than following a plan because the plan is only a tool that helps you know when things are changing.  I think you have to have a plan that covers all the steps in your perfect journey to the perfect outcome.  But, you also have to understand that part of a perfect journey is recognizing its unpredictability and learning to respond to discovery.

I think that Agile will be useful applied to portfolio management as well as software development.  The PMI standard for portfolio management says that ‘portfolio management is a framework that provides the means to translate the organizational strategy into a portfolio of strategic and operational initiatives.  It manages the actualization of those initiatives through the use of organizational resources.’

Agile suggests that the organizational resources are its people.  People pursue the organization’s desired strategic (perfect) outcomes by working together and with its customers to discover the best mix of opportunities for improvement.  These opportunities are pursued incrementally so that each completed step delivers progress toward the objectives and a clearer understanding of the next step.

I like the mix of Agile, portfolio management, and the other side of risk.  Writing about it gets me a little closer to using it productively.  Let me know if you think it all fits together.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013, Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”