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

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Happy Families, Happy Projects

For the past several years I’ve encouraged all my clients, and now my co-workers, to adopt agile methods on their projects.  I also encourage it for any work, like software maintenance work, that can be organized as well-defined sets of tasks that are completed in a time period.  In my experience, all work groups that use a good agile methodology as it’s meant to be used end up more productive and happier, too.  My inspiration to write about agile today, though, comes from a different place that further proves what a good practice it is.

A new book by Bruce Feiler, “The Secrets of Happy Families,” encourages families to adopt an Agile Family Strategy.  Bruce got this idea talking with a software engineer in Idaho, David Starr, who moved his family from dysfunctional to functional by bringing home his agile software development practices.  Bruce tried the same agile techniques as well as lots of other good ideas for happy families and also had great success.  Both Bruce and David found that what worked for software developers and their clients worked for families with kids, too.  Agile’s simple consistent practices focused the family members on helping each other, being accountable, planning things to do in realistic chunks and getting them done, and involving everyone in setting rules and making decisions.  Everyone was happier, more productive, and appreciated one another.  This is what we want at home and at work.

agile boardThe first chapter of Bruce’s book is the Agile Family Strategy.  Bruce thoughtfully cited a paper published by David and Eleanor Starr – “Agile Practices for Families” – which I found on the Internet.  I read the preview chapters of Bruce’s book on Amazon and ordered it for my son’s family.  Russ and Kellie do a great job with their three young daughters.  I saw this book as affirming and expanding their family practices.  Being a software development person, I especially liked the Starr’s paper.  It clearly linked agile methods (derived from the Toyota Production System or “lean”) to a realistic set of practices to engage family members in a fun way to make the pressures of everyday life with kids a little less stressful.

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Do You Want Your Project Manager To Be Like Bobby Knight?

I woke up to NPR this morning and listened to an interview with Bobby Knight, the famous college basketball coach.  The interview discussed his new book “The Power of Negative Thinking.”  To sum it up, Coach Knight said that if you want to win it’s more important to focus on what can go wrong and fix it than to let positive thinking pull you through.  Checking out the book preview on Amazon, I picked out this quote:

bobknight“As I looked ahead to every game and every season, my first thought was always: What vulnerabilities do we have and what can we do to minimize them, to get around them, to survive them – and give ourselves a better chance to win?  In effect, how do you eliminate the wasted energy and unnecessary mistakes to build a cohesive and successful team that can play within its strengths?”

Clearly, Bob Knight is a great risk manager.  What I like about his message is that we have to work hard to clearly identify and counteract the risks we face in order to succeed.  We can’t just hope for the best.  When we do risk management, we should really look for risks and take real actions to mitigate them.  We should take specific actions and track specific results to be sure that mitigations are working.  Knight is right about that.

But, I’m having a tough time with the “Power of Negative Thinking” thing. (I have to admit here that I’ve only read 20 pages or so that were available on Amazon’s preview). Maybe it’s how he went about being a great risk manager.  My impression is that Bob Knight was a pretty demanding and uncompromising manager.   In the book, Knight says he had a slogan posted in his locker room saying “This ain’t Burger King.  We’ll do it my way.”    Can we really be successful in endeavors outside of basketball by following the iron willed approach of a coach to win by relentlessly fixing mistakes?  I’m going to ponder this question a bit and see if I learn anything.

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