Misfits of project management
Issue nr. 4
¨ Collateral damage
¨ Aliens have landed
¨ MIA – Project Management
- Tip – 13 minutes on Project Approach V
- Flash – Project Management and History (3) – Samurai, 17th century V
¨ The Way of the artisan
¨ The Way of the carpenter and the `Big project´
¨ Adapt and win
¨ How to manage a `Big project´ without forgetting your men
- News – “Project Management 2009”: conference (with beef 🙂 VII
This is an ironic newsletter – we like having fun.
For those who did not read previous issues: www.righetconsult.com/newsletter
It is a case that today’s topic is centered on a certain kind of project management conferences: we read the program of yet another of those “encounters of the third type” conferences … and we began writing, for we only write when we are struck by bizarre happenings.
By a strange turn of fate, the conference “Project Management 2009” is going to take place in September, so it is dealt with in the news section of this very newsletter: in this case, we have a genuine first rate conference, the true product – Tailchaser and Inklet have tasted it 🙂
Where is the beef?
At project management conferences, why are they usually speaking about “collateral” matters, but not of the true Project Management?
They speak about communication, cultural aspects, “cotillons”, but what about genuine Project Management?
Maybe one speaks of verbal communication, but if you are interested in how a project is to be set out, you can probably watch the paint dry and learn more.
Maybe one speaks about cultural sharing, but never about a Communication Plan or a Project Approach.
Whoever tells you how to set out a project? To what avail “learning” how to “communicate” a project without having a project?
Cultural sharing of what?
If you tried to communicate something ethereal (a bit like those people do), what advantage would you get from “cultural sharing”?
First rule: before facing the customer, you should have a product; in this case, before communicating the customer the contents of your project, you should have a project … a real, solid, touchable product … not a smoky bundle of chats.
Oh, we know too well that someone is very good at selling smoke … and smoke is what the customer will get. It seems to be ok, provided you are not that customer, doesn’t it?
Have you ever heard of Project Mandate or Project Approach? Maybe yes, but if you think of it … where have you heard it? We bet you have not heard it at project management conferences “of the third type”.
What are those conferences for, then?
Where is the beef?
No, this time Tailchaser is not guilty, nor is our other feline friend Inklet 🙂
You know, they really like beef, but … we fear the beef wasn’t there to begin with.
Otherwise, we would have gladly shared it with them, because our cats are very knowledgeable: they stay still and observe, then sometimes meow abruptly in a reproachable tone; that is when we know we are doing something silly or, to put it differently, the beef is not first quality.
Should cats take things into their hands – ops, paws – and speak (sorry, meow) at project management conferences, maybe?
It happens even at big and renowned conferences.
Tailchaser: “Meowww:-/!” Translation by Inklet: “Oh my God!”
That’s so, folks: sometimes people having nothing to do with project management lecture at project management events.
Artists, musicians, photographers, whatever you may think of, provided they have little or nothing at all to do with project management. Sometimes they speak of (very) “collateral” matters, sometimes they speak of matters strictly “alien” to project management.
Everyone of us has got used to these words: collateral damage.
Fortunately, this is an ironic newsletter and we are not speaking of true collateral damage; that, we hope we will never witness in our lives.
Unfortunately, we are obliged to suffer another kind of collateral damage.
Obliged, as we usually go to a project management conference and … we get entangled in an ambush: bursts of verbal communication, cultural aspects’ grenades, cultural sharing sniping, even soft (skills) bayonets.
You know, that was set for someone else, i.e., inexperienced poor guys on reconnaissance patrol in the project management field; they wanted to approach the discipline, they thought they were careful enough to avoid the “claim more” mines, but … “This is a dirty war, Johnny” 😉
At any rate, even you most careful in staying out of skirmishes, get involved; after all, the conference room is never big enough and “accepting and inventing requirements” bullets travel a long distance: collateral damage.
Basically, people attend project management conferences to learn the hows.
What they often get instead is a bundle of generic “information” of no practical use or even worse, for, if to you that is not useful (and sometimes even boring) information, to the inexperienced that is sold as “project management”; the inexperienced are searching for the right trail and follow indications, especially when they are given to them as absolute truths.
That could be damaging even to you, for you may get subtly convinced you need to take the wrong turn of the road: collateral damage.
Verbal communication is a very useful skill; in fact, we include it in our “extended” project management basic course, i.e., we give some basics the third day (in the three-day course) or some sound information on how to explain your project (or your ideas) in public the fourth day (in the four-day course). That is, we speak of it in detail not before two days of intensive project management course – basic soft skills are included in those first two days: the two-day course is the basic course.
In a few words, people should first learn project management basics and begin understanding how to draw a project, then, and only then, learn how to “communicate” it.
Btw, of which use is knowing Chinese if you don’t know project management? You may impress your customers or partners with your Chinese, but you will never get a contract.
Cultural aspects are a wondrous thing: no one seems to know what they may exactly be.
Oh, the sound of it is good, but Ulysses teaches a good lesson on sirens.
A project should produce measurable results/products and should be the fruit of measurable and tangible actions: a house is tangible and built through bricks, rulers, and so on; we have never heard of “cultural aspects” in masonry, just of good or not-so-good masons, whatever their ancestry.
Cultural sharing is our favourite: what the hell does “cultural sharing” mean?
Has its meaning got lost in the mist of legend? Is it unknowledgeable, intangible, and basically the cultural-sharing-that-be?
You know, we usually keep the project team up-to-date on everything that could be relevant for the project; on their part, team-members do the same. Basically, we work together in harmony; obviously, a communication plan has to be set out at an early stage, agreements on how to deal with issues and the like ought to be struck, and so on.
Why aren’t those same people who speak of “cultural sharing” hinting at the just-mentioned aspects? We could accept “cultural sharing” if those aspects had been already dealt with by the speaker before.
With “cultural sharing” alone, whatever it may be in practical terms, you are not going to bring a project to a happy end.
In case “cultural sharing” is meant as “we are all of the same mind” or “a brotherhood” … sorry, we must respect each other and be tolerant and respectful of other people’s ideas, but trying to reach “brotherhood” is basically impossible and even potentially damaging: project discipline tends to get lost; everyone assumes he/she has the right to discuss matters long after a course have been set; problems tend to be invariably seen as “cultural” problems; a damaging uniformity of thought takes place; people get convinced that not acting according to current fads means being “asocial” or, even worse, not team-players 😉 and so on.
Soft skills: they are definitely needed in a project, provided everything is not reduced to chatters.
Unfortunately, soft skills are often an easy choice: one can speak of everything and nothing. Often, that is exactly the case: you learn nothing about practical project management, just a lot of ethereal information which could be likewise applied to discussions on angels’ sex.
Aliens have landed
Who happens to be lecturing at project management conferences?
Artists, musicians, photographers, performers, even “jugglers”.
Aliens have landed on the surface of project management.
To be fair, they were invited and they came: the fifth column of project management has struck again 😉
At any rate, we are thankful when they do not try to speak of what (according to someone) is project management.
People reading compositions, people showing photographs (the same over and over again during their allotted time), and so on.
At least, “jugglers” are frank and state they are there for a show of their art, not for project management.
“Meeoww??” That was Tailchaser; as usual, our faithful Inklet provides the translation (cats have few words but an infinity of tones – they are very practical): “So, what may those “aliens” want of us?”
At those conferences, someone is quite honest and states that project managers should help (economically) artists, someone else remains a mystery.
Well, now the valiant Inklet comes to our aid – she-cats are very perceptive: “Mayhap are they just substitutes for sound project management matters?”
Where were sound management matters left, then?
Tailchaser may not be as perceptive as Inklet, but he knows his business: when he projects a plan to catch mice, he is a perfect project manager: “Meeeow mew! :-\”
This time, I could understand him without any help from Inklet: “When dealing with an audience, emotions can be a substitute for rational facts: in the end, the audience may be happy, even if very little useful information has been given”.
Inklet: “When you don’t have the beef, give them the scent of beef, make the scent very strong and override their rationality. Play with scent long enough, and they will be satisfied … or at least they will be convinced of being satisfied; their primitive emotional mind will remember the experience as a positive one, even if they have learned nothing, or almost nothing, positive.”
Tailchaser brings the discussion to an end: “Even soft kills (he is trying to speak English now), sharing and the rest of the paraphernalia … “
MIA – Project Management
MIA – Missing In Action.
At the end of the long day, you realize someone is missing: ambush after ambush, poor sergeant-major Project Management is no longer in sight.
Is he dead? What killed him? An unfortunate burst of verbal communication? A cultural aspects offensive grenade? A cultural sharing sniper? A soft kills (as Tailchaser would say) bayonet? Or even a “claim more” mine placed by an artist in unconventional warfare?
Or did they, and others, all contribute to Project Management’s untimely passing away?
Is he a prisoner? Who knows?
Even Project Management’s platoon is missing: someone is definitely dead, someone is seriously wounded, someone is MIA.
Private first class Project Mandate is dead, private Business Case is wounded, corporal Project Brief was killed during an attack with cultural aspects grenades, sergeant Project Approach was mowed down by a hail of “accepting and inventing requirements” bullets, private Organization was last seen while a band of ethically-conscious guerrillas armed with big machetes was closing on him from all quarters, corporal Responsibilities has been incinerated by a “claim more” mine, private Customer’s Quality Expectations has been taken prisoner and deported to a concentration camp, Sergeant Project Plan has been tortured to death, private first class Risks has been grievously wounded by a cultural sharing sniper – we pray for him, corporal Product-based Planning has been captured and shot on the spot, private Product Description is behind hope of recovery, many others are MIA and possibly KIA – Killed In Action.
This time, Inklet and Tailchaser in unison: “Ok, but now let’s go for the real, genuine, tasteful beef; we are really hungry!!”
Tip – 13 minutes on Project Approach
The Project Approach is often forgotten, but it is a fundamental part of project management.
In fact, it should be one of the first documents produced: without it, a project is not going to take off.
We prepare it just after the Business Case and definitely before beginning to plan; in fact, the Project Plan will make use of it; the same will apply to the Project Quality Plan.
The Project Approach defines the hows of a project, e.g.:
- How do you approach the project? Without such a clear decision, nothing can be properly done.
- How will the work be conducted?
- Which options are there available? Which one is the recommended one? Why?
- Which solution (option) is better? Bespoke? Off-the-shelf? Contracted out? A mix of them? …?
- What about the environment, e.g., are the customer’s sites apt to host your equipment or do they need modifications? It is much better to know it in the first stage of a project.
- What about constraints when considering different options?
- What about the skills you are going to need according to the various options?
- Which methods are you going to use? Which kind of methods (e.g., “combat-proven” methods, innovative methods, and so on)?
- Third-party suppliers: will you keep them on a short lain, or allow them plenty of freedom?
- How do you plan to behave with external actors, e.g., in contractual matters? When do you plan to tell other people “Stop! You are crossing a deadline of mine (e.g., someone else is going to be damaged)”?
- What is the “spirit” of the project?
The Project Approach can be called “The choice phase of a project. A real choice”.
If you forget it and/or make a makeshift choice …
Flash – Project Management and History (3) – Samurai, 17th century
Today we speak of the most famous Japanese samurai: Miyamoto Musashi.
Better, we speak of his famous book, `A book of five rings´.
You have already heard of this book, probably: it is widely used by Japanese (and not only) managers; there exist many “management” books based on it, usually free interpretations with plenty of even more free commentaries.
At any rate, we are interested in the original, unabridged, uncommented book, the one that has never hinted at some modern “interpretations”.
As a reference, we have used an Italian translation we like: `ll libro dei cinque anelli´, Miyamoto Musashi, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, translated by Cesare Barioli, original title `Gorin-no-sho´.
Obviously, for the newsletter we had to translate some parts into English: we hope we have been good enough at it. Unfortunately, we did not like much the English translations we came by, even if they were undoubtedly of some help in our choice of terms when we tried to apply `Heiho´ to our translation 🙂
Musashi was the greatest of Japanese samurais: after his retirement, he wrote `A book of five rings´: as he wrote in the foreword, `I have applied the enlightenment on Heiho’s [Musashi’s Way] principles to various arts and crafts …´.
We are going to speak of some of these principles.
His foreword ends with `…I just take up the brush and begin to write.´ Practical, and to the point; we like it.
The Way of the artisan
Musashi wrote about four Ways: the third one is the ´Way of the warrior´ but, astonishingly enough, the fourth one (i.e., the most important one in that part of the book) is the `Way of the Artisan´.
He wrote: `To earn his living, a carpenter must take great care in maintaining his various tools and employing them, when necessary, with the maximum skill. He must plan with accurate measures and carry out plans with precision.´
Astonishingly actual! Shouldn’t the project manager be a professional who knows his tools? First plan accurately, then follow your plan.
We add something else: that sounds like product-based planning. We know this is a modern Prince2 concept, but Musashi was writing about carpenters and `accurate measures´: at that time, carpenters produced products, not chatters – better, they could chatter if they wanted, but never forget that Musashi killed at least sixty men.
The Way of the carpenter and the `Big project´
Musashi compared the Way of the carpenter to Heiho: `This comparison is even more valid as the word “carpenter” is written with Chinese ideograms whose meaning is “big project”, and the principles of the art of war, too, are a “big project”.´
This is really interesting and not present in the English translations we don’t like.
Not only are plans taken in great respect by Musashi, but also the original meaning of carpenter (Musashi always speaks of carpenters building a house) is `big project´.
If you have read the piece on ancient China (newsletter nr. 2), you already know how advanced the Chinese were in the project management field; now, we have a confirmation that “project” in our acceptation of the term is a very – very old concept indeed.
Building a house was truly a big endeavour; we must now quote a sentence Musashi wrote almost immediately before the afore-mentioned sentence: `In speaking of houses, we say “house of nobles”, “house of warriors”, …´
We are speaking of true houses here, not of makeshift things.
Adapt and win
`… the commander is the master-carpenter who must know everything related to the tools he is going to use, the nature of terrain, the special tastes of the owner he is building the house for. Such is the task of the master-carpenter. He studies temples’ proportions, palaces’ plans and builds houses for the people.´
This is very interesting, indeed: contrary to what we have done in our previous historical flashes, Musashi uses an example from civil life and applies it to the military; it would seem certain rules are definitely universal. At any rate, a professional should plan and draw sound plans, that is clear.
Besides, marines would probably say `Adapt and win.´ It doesn’t matter how well you know your craft, you must adapt to the local situation.
How to manage a “big project” without forgetting your men
`In the construction of houses, choice of woods is made. Straight un-knotted
timber of good appearance is used for external pillars, […] Even the timber which is too knotted, crooked or weak is used as scaffolding and in the end as firewood.´
Everything finds its place in the project. Mind, everything that is at hand, even what would usually be discarded: a good lesson for contemporary project managers, often complaining because they are not given the best-of-the best. Btw, Musashi killed many swordsmen with a wooden sword – theirs were made of steel.
`In employing his men, the master-carpenter must take into account the skills of each of them and allot tasks accordingly …[…] In short, one makes the best use of the personnel he has to do the best job.´
The same as above applied to men. When will many contemporary project managers understand this? Complaining about not having the right specialists (they never seem to be the right ones) and claiming that only the “right team”, maybe built according to contemporary psychological fads, could do the job is not project management – but this is just our opinion … and Musashi’s.
`To work fast and well, nothing is left to chance: it is necessary to know where and how to use something, and when; to encourage your men and understand the limitations of everyone.´
Project management isn’t just planning. Besides, ´nothing is left to chance´: isn’t it a wonderful definition of project management?
The job needs to be performed fast and well. When will this lesson be understood? Fast and well does not mean “I want it for yesterday”, nor does it entail doing the job … you must do it well!
Soft skills? In the end, then as well as now, all can be summed up in `encourage your men and understand the limitations of everyone´.
News – Project Management 2009: conference (with beef 🙂
Saturday, September 19th, 2009, near Padova (Padua), the international conference “Project Management 2009” will take place:
- Introduction to Project Management, with a slant towards training
- How to set up a project
- Introduction to Prince2, a project management methodology adopted also by NATO
- Examples linked to high technology, the social sector and the disabled.
Date and Venue:
Abano Terme, Saturday 19 September 2009
Sala Kursaal, Via Pietro D’Abano 18, 35031 Abano Terme (Padova)
Web link (please refer to it for updates):
At the above link you can find all the information you need, registration and logistics aspects (e.g., free parking) included.
As Project Management 2009 will take place in Italy, all the information is in Italian, but you can send us an e-mail at info(at)righetconsult.com to get all the information you may need in English.
Non coscrive mai le truppe
Una seconda volta;
Non trasporta mai le vettovaglie
“Misfits of project management” is free and can be freely forwarded: some healthy fun is necessary in these modern times.
Being an ironic newsletter, it reflects only ideas. “Answers” or assertions that are not between inverted commas [‘….’] are not to be considered as “true” answers or assertions: that is only a way to express ironically what is perceived.
We make use of another set of inverted commas [“….”]: those are no quotations at all, just a literary device of ours to make concepts clearer.
If you desire to contribute with your experiences or ideas, please drop us an e-mail at central(at)righetconsult.com