Thursday, May 28, 2009

Today's Lesson Learned

I am wrapping up a project this week, and yesterday I brought the team together for our retrospective. One topic that came up was also brought up at my presentation at the PMI EMEA Congress in Amsterdam last week. The topic was how agile teams fit into a non-agile environment.

On this project, I brought my team in with me, agile and ready to go. My client said they were starting to use agile, but it wasn't widely adapted yet. The problem we had was at the intersection between our team and non-agile teams that were doing some of the development work for our project.

Since these other tasks were not complicated, I didn't take into account how long they could take. I also didn't account for the fact that these other resources were not dedicated to my project and had conflicting priorities. You can probably guess the results, we were held up waiting for delivery from these other teams.

So what do you do in this situation? In the future, I will be more actively engaged with these teams and not depend other group's managers to oversee delivery of their components. I'll make sure timelines are understood and deadlines are set. I know I need to engage these other groups sooner in the project and understand what their delivery approach is so I can follow any procedure I need to in order to meet my schedule. In addition, I'll think about contingencies in case there are delays with other groups.

Agile & non-agile can work together, but don't forget that everyone may not be moving at the same speed or the focus your team has on the project may not be the same as other groups that are supporting multiple projects.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How not to run a merger

A merger is a unique kind of project. You’re taking two different companies and jamming them together. There’s a blend of technology and culture that have to be understood in order to be successful. Back when I was at Sprint, I was involved in a number of mergers, some involving as many as half a million customers, so I’ve got some experience here. As a Delta frequent flier (I’ve been Platinum Elite for a number of years), I am observing and feeling the pain of their merger with Northwest.

A merger is in a large part an exercise in organizational change management. You are fusing two different cultures. A lot of people are going to be scared, resistant, or just unsure about the future. The first step in addressing this is vision. What is the future organization going to be? Is it an even blend of the 2 organizations? Is one organization going to dominate? In projects I’ve been involved with, I have been on the side of the dominating organization, assimilating the culture of the other company involved in the merger. Resistance is futile.

Delta is the “Borg” in their merger. In Kansas City, the NW operations were shoved into the Delta terminal. If you’re on a NW flight, it’s almost as if you’re an afterthought. I had to check in with an agent today and after being in the first class line, I was told I had to talk to a “NW” agent at the next counter over, even though it all looks like Delta. If Delta is going to assimilate NW operations, they have to make it seamless to customers.

Another key to a successful merger is understanding stakeholders. There are customers, employees, and suppliers to think about. Each group has separate needs that have to be thought through.

For example, I’ve noticed a decline in moral among the folks working at the check-in counters. I don’t know if they are from the Delta side or the NW side, but they don’t seem to be happy to serve customers. My guess is that these stakeholders have some need that the organization isn’t addressing.

Tied to stakeholder analysis is communications. What are you telling each of these groups? Are you making it easy for customers to understand what is happening? Do employees have the right answers for customers? Is there an effective channel for these stakeholders to provide feedback?

I’ve sent a couple emails to Delta with specific observations of problems brought on by the merger. I’ve received a canned response, so I don’t know if someone is actually addressing some of the issues I have brought up or just trying to pacify me by giving me a few extra miles in my frequent flyer account.

Obviously technology is a critical piece as well. Customer databases have to be combined. Systems have to be tied together. With the state of technology what it is today, with tools such as BPMS, this problem is not as challenging as it was a few years ago.

I won’t pretend all my merger projects went flawlessly. There were technical issues. There were times when people where spending some long hours fixing problems. But in the end, I think both the employees and customers came out better in the end without to much pain. From my perspective, Delta needs to be paying a little more attention to their customers and employees.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Final thoughts on PMI EMEA

I didn't get to see much on the last day of the PMI Congress in Amsterdam, I had a flight to catch.

I did see Bas de Baar talk about social media. His presentation was one of the best I caught. Social media as he described it is about conversations. We seek out groups or affiliations to have these conversations with, such as the #pmot group on Twitter. We make assumptions about people in our group based on their membership in the group, which can be the basis for conversation.

One interesting statistic he provided, about 1% of people are making the content in social media, another 9% comment on what's out there, and the other 90% are just passive readers. This statistic is in line with participation in professional organizations. I have heard the statistic that it's about 5% that are active contributors.

So to get going on social media takes 3 steps. The first step is personal. You have to overcome your fear about using social media and just start using the tools. From here you move to the stage of professional use. This is where you begin to build your reputation. Finally, as a project manager you can start using social media to help in your project (my article on use of twitter for project managers can be found here).

Social media is here to stay. The specific tools like Twitter may be replaced with other things, but the general concepts will stick around, so if you haven't jumped in, it's time to start.

Based on some of my conversations, I think the general consensus of the congress was that there were some good presentations but more that were aimed at a basic level of project manager. The networking opportunities were good. The rumour was that next year is going to be in Milan.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

PMI EMEA Congress, Day 2

This morning I attended a session on stakeholder management by Kik Piney. He used a metaphor of Newton's laws of physics to compare with stakeholder management. One interesting idea of his was that of inertia. He suggested having an inertia field on the communications plan to indicate how resistant someone will be to change, as some stakeholders may be much more resistant than others. The force then to get them change will have to be greater.

Kik also talked about the understanding the reasons people might be resistant to change. Some people resist because they just don't know what's going on. Others might not like what's going on. Some may not like the way a change is happening or are resistant because they're not part of the change, just an outsider being impacted by it. Knowing why someone is resistant will help formulate the correct strategy to overcome that resistance.

Jesse Fewell, Dave Prior, Juliet Andrew, myself, and Mattias Petren

Also today, I lead a panel discussion on the challenges of implementing agile. We had some prepared questions as well as questions from the audience. One question that always seems to come up is can you do agile with a fixed price contract?

The answer is yes. I explained my approach of working on fixed schedule and delivering as much of the scope as I can in that time. The customer prioritizes what the team works on. At the end of the fixed time the customer can decide if they want to pay for more work or roll out the project as is. I've had the decision go both ways. The key to the approach is getting the customer to understand you aren't promising a specific amount of scope. You have to build trust with the customer, which comes once you start delivering value.

Monday, May 18, 2009

PMI EMEA Congress, Day 1

The PMI Congress kicked off here in Amsterdam today. The morning started with a set of 4 pecha-kucha presentations on agile. After the 4 presentations, each speaker led a breakout session in a different room. Based on the questions in my room, there are a lot of people new to agile but very interested in learning how it works.

The keynote presentation was by Anne Larilahti from Nokia Siemens. Her topic was sustainibility. It wasn't one of those presentations that gets you all fired up. By her own admisison, it can even be a bit of a depressing topic. However, it did get you to think.

I attended a couple more sessions on agile in the afternoon, including one from a friend I met back at the Edinburgh conference, Sonja Koppensteiner (co-presented with Nathalie Udo). They focused on the planning aspect of an agile project and even had the attendees break up into small groups for an exercise of planning an iteration based on a prioritized backlog. In my group there was some questions about the roles in agile projects; what does the product owner or project manager do?

During the networking reception I had a conversation with Bruce Rodrigues, who is on the PMI Board of Directors. He was asking some of the same questions about agile; is it just the latest trend, how does it really work etc. My observation is that it has been around for a while, but mostly in software. Now it's starting to catch on in other areas.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Gold Rush

I've noticed a curious trend recently that reminded me about how history repeats itself. Back in the late 1990s the comparison was made between companies like Cisco and the the companies in the 1800s that made money selling equipment for people looking for gold. Not a lot of people became rich looking for gold, but look what it did for Levi Strauss.

Today it seems the big thing is using social media. There are a lot of people selling this. For example, take a look at this blog post by Shawn Kinkade where he's promoting other blogs that talk about running small businesses (and using social media). Shawn and I worked together at Sprint years ago and now he runs his own business coaching small businesses. He runs a workshop on social media.

Another example, the personal branding blog by Dan Schawbel. This is all about how to use social media to create the brand called you. Dan recently released a new book on branding called Me 2.0.

So what does this mean to the rest of us? It's hard to see how having a strong brand image outside of work will help us in the day to day running of a project inside a company. However, if you build a strong brand by blogging, building a following on Twitter, or actively participating in professional groups like PMI, you can create a reputation within your company as a thought leader. This increase in your expert power will increase your ability to influence, something that will help all project managers.

So if you've been sitting on the sidelines watching the show go by, it's time to jump in. If you say you don't have the time, I say you can't afford not to take the time. Just over a year ago I found myself looking for a new job and because I had already been working on my brand, my search was pretty short. Unlike the goldrush, it won't only be the people selling social media that are going to benefit from it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Ultimate Go Live

Image Credit: NASA/Fletcher Hildreth

I briefly turned on NASA TV this afternoon as the space shuttle approached its launch time. It was interesting to listen to the step by step approach to the launch. I can only imagine the time that went into planning the mission.

One of my customers is getting ready to launch the process we've been working on over the past couple of months. I have a standard checklist to help prepare for the go-live. In addition, there will be more detailed plans for the evening that the application is pushed to production.

Some clients I've worked with don't give much thought into deploying applications. They put them in production and if they have problems, they figure out what needs to be fixed. This is a little to casual of an approach for me.

A number of years ago I was involved in some very large, mission critical system deployments. We defined criteria in advance that would be used to make a Go/No Go call if everything didn't follow the plan exactly. If this system doesn't work, we'll try to fix it but if that other system doesn't work we will back out the release and go back to the previous version until we figure out the problem.

When I was in Florida in April, I saw a shuttle launch because of one of these delays. The launch should have been a few days before I arrived, but it was delayed until the day I got there. I'm sure there were a lot of people upset by the delay, but I was happy to be able to see the launch.

How careful are you with launches? Do you have every minute planned out or do you wing it and hope things work out?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Plane Crashes and Culture

I'm reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He is also the author of The Tipping Point and Blink. All of them are worth reading if you haven't read them yet.

This book looks at some of the factors into being successful. For example, a significant number of professional hockey players were born in the earlier part of the year. You'll have to read the book to know why.

At one point he starts talking about plane crashes. In particular, he talks about Korean Airlines in the '80's and 90's. Their flight record was so bad back then the US Army didn't allow military personnel stationed in Korea to fly the airlines.

What was the cause of these crashes? Gladwell talks about how culture is significant. A researcher named Geert Hofstede came up with a term called Power Distance Index (PDI).
Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others'.

The US has a low PDI, Korea has a high PDI. So in Korean culture, it is less common for a subordinate to directly confront their superior. In the case of Korean Airlines, plane crashes can be attributed to the captain making a mistake and the first officer or flight engineer not directly confronting the captain, leading to the crash. Granted, there are always exceptions. The crash of the Air Florida flight in Washington DC in 1982 can in part be attribute to this same reluctance of a subordinate to directly confront a superior, even though both members of the flight crew were Americans.

So what does this have to do with project management? In a leadership position, we need to understand how comfortable our team is in dealing with us directly. It's tricky enough if we're on a team of others from the mid-west US, but it gets even more complicated as we're dealing with multi-cultural teams. We can't expect people to change, especially over the short period of time of a project, so we need to understand our team.

As for Korean Air, they did change their culture. This was done in part by making English the official language of flight crews. This change in language, along with other training, enabled the crews to be more direct with their captains, significantly improving their safety record.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Winning Friends

I'm listening to the audio book of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is an old book, written in 1937, but the advice is still good. In the book he talks about the six ways to get people to like you;
  1. Become interested in other people - Don't focus on yourself, take the time to get to know other people.
  2. Smile (sincerely) - that's pretty simple.
  3. Remember people's names and use them. I always feel special when I'm on the airplane and the flight attendant uses my name when asking what I want to drink.
  4. Listen - Remember that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.
  5. Talk in terms of other people's interests - If you're wanting something from someone else, first think about how you can help them. It could be as simple as asking about their children, dog, or prized geraniums.
  6. Make other people feel important - The key here, and a point emphasized throughout the book is that you need to be sincere in everything you do. If you are just using these ideas as tricks to get what you want, people will see through you.
In this day of high speed, globally networked, virtually connected relationships there are some basic ideas that are still important. Keeping these ideas in mind and taking the time to practice them will result in developing real relationships with people and not just a network.