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19 August 2015

Lines of Communications

I created this figure for a survey about the routes of information needs within an engineering group.

Blogspot is not making this easy. 
You may have to right-click on the figure and save the file to your desktop to view it properly. 

31 July 2015

Two Steps toward Making Stakeholder Management Manageable

Two Steps toward Making Stakeholder Management Manageable

The materials I've found about Stakeholder Analysis have not explained much more than the PMBOK Guide explains. What grids other than the Power/Interest grid tell me remains a mystery.

However, I have found two hints that simplify the whole Stakeholder Identification (and Analysis) process.

Divide Stakeholder Analysis 

PMBOK 4 describes Stakeholder Analysis as a single Tool/Technique. I would split off the elicitation of information as a separate technique and call it Stakeholder Survey.

Use a form as you visit around the office eliciting detailed stakeholder information. Transfer that information to the Stakeholder Register at the end of the day. If you put the register on a server and can access it register through Wi-Fi, you can save on data entry time.

Fill in what you can before bothering stakeholders. Then verify that information and elicit the rest, as much as you can, face-to-face. For what remains, you can use a questionnaire.

Simplify through Progressive Elaboration 

Consider an analog in Risk Management: First, you use Qualitative Analysis to identify the key risks. Then you use Quantitative methods to analyze only the key risks.

Now, take these lessons from that model:
  • You don't need to perform full analyses for all stakeholders.
  • You need only a small subset of the information to start.
  • Decide what information you need in order to identify Key Stakeholders.
  • Use the Power/Interest grid to identify Key Stakeholders.
  • Collect further information and perform further analysis only on the Key Stakeholders.

Increase the degree of Stakeholder Analysis through progressive elaboration.

  1. First iteration: Key Stakeholders
  2. High Power/Low Interest stakeholders
  3. High Interest/Low Power stakeholders
  4. Low Interest/Low Power stakeholders

Remember, subsequent iterations should require less information and analysis.

This may be as much a delaying tactic as a simplification, which is what I really wanted. However, reducing, breaking up, and delaying the work relieves some of the stress of a potentially overwhelming process.

22 July 2015

3 Factors in Risk Management: Probability, Impact, and Velocity

Risk Score

Qualitative and Quantitative Analyses in Project Risk Management both take into account Probability (P) and Impact (I). A Risk Score is the product of the two.
Qualitative Analyses use subjective estimates of probability and impact as a screening process that categorizes risks for management, monitoring, or ignoring. Risks placed in the management category go on to Quantitative Analysis and Risk Response Planning.

What about Urgency?

A third value should be considered: Velocity (V), which is the inverse of the time-to-impact.
Seldom can we deal with all risks at once. The value of considering Velocity lies in prioritizing further effort so you have enough time to respond to urgent risks. We would not consider Velocity when assigning risks to the three categories because we want to deal with the important things, not the urgent things. (Consider Pareto's 80/20 rule.)
If Probability times Impact describes an area, then to be consistent, we would add Velocity as a third dimension. That is,
Priority Score = Priority x Impact x Velocity

Another View of the Priority Score

Priority times Impact has another label, which is Expected Monetary Value (EMV). EMV is often used by itself for guiding decisions. If we express the Priority Score as
Priority Score = EMV x Velocity
then we give EMV a weight equal to the weight of Velocity.
The reason we would not consider the Velocity by itself goes back to the principle about the cost of rework. The later you deal with a problem, the more it costs because you have to repeat and fix work that came before. The previous effort becomes wasted, costs rise, schedule lags, and you have to use extra resources to get back on schedule.
Similarly, the longer you wait to deal with a risk, the more rework you have to do. Therefore, we need to factor both Velocity and EMV into prioritizing work: Velocity to deal with urgent risks, and EMV to control costs.

A New Step: Priority Analysis (when needed)

I recommend inserting a new step into Risk Management when there are risks with high velocity and you have to prioritize which risks to deal with first:
  1. Qualitative Analysis with Risk Score = estimated Priority x estimated Impact
  2. Priority Analysis with Priority Score = EMV x Velocity = Priority x Impact x Velocity
  3. Quantitative Analysis with Risk Score plus other factors such as Velocity and Cost Effectiveness
I bring up Cost Effectiveness because you want to ensure that you don't spend $150 to prevent a risk whose EMV is only $100.


Hall, Harry, PMP, PMI-RMP. 30 Quick Risk Evaluation Tips. PM South. Accessed 21 July 2015.

28 February 2015

The Black Hole of the Agile World: Systems Thinking

Agile fanatics (excuse me: practitioners) love to do things in tiny increments.

That's OK for products where bite-sized deliveries have value, but it's fantasyland for many real-world projects.

Take, for example, the design of a new car. Sure, you can break the car into systems -- chassis, body, safety package, motor, and so on. Waterfall does that, too, but let's consider the airflow over the body. The airflow is affected by the whole assembly. Every part affects the whole. You can't just design a fender in isolation and say, "Looky, looky, I've delivered value!" No, you've delivered an irrelevant piece of scrap.

In any course on Business Analysis, the importance of a unit on Systems Thinking cannot be overemphasized because the Agile world has completely forgotten its value. 

Before the 1990's, there was a role called Systems Engineer.

That title is still around, but the job is not. At least, the job has become a rare grain of wheat a vast field of tares.

A Systems Engineer had many skills of a project manager, a BA, a Systems Thinker, and a cross-disciplinary engineer, all rolled into one.

Along come companies such as Microsoft and Cisco, dropping the qualifying word from titles such as Network Systems Engineer, Software Systems Engineer, and Server Systems Engineer. Suddenly, every engineer, analyst, and administrator is a Systems Engineer. I wish I had a paycheck for every time a recruiter has contacted me with a so-called Systems Engineer job that turned out to be for an IT admin or a software coder.

True Systems Engineering jobs have become needles in a field of haystacks, and systems thinking has almost been forgotten.

Thousands of Systems Engineers lost their jobs due to decimation of the US Defense sector in 2009. (I proud of myself for not pointing out the predictable political element of that.) They still find three strikes against them:
  1. Transitioning to a different job category such as Project Management or Business Analysis
  2. Getting a foot in the door of a different industry (other than fast food)
  3. Living in a job market where all the growth is in part-time service jobs and has gone to low-skilled workers
Hiring managers would do well to consider bringing in experienced cross-disciplinary, systems thinkers. It would not take much training to bring them up to speed in new roles such as PM or BA.

Have you ever thought of a project as a system of people, or a product as a system of technologies? Systems Engineers do that instinctively, and such integrated systems thinking could prevent a lot of headaches for maturing companies.

Now, if you'll pardon me; I need to clean up a spill in aisle five.

Models versus Prototypes

What is the difference between models and prototypes?

Some people are confusing prototypes with models. Most of the examples given in other comments are engineering models (and they are valuable). A prototype is one type of model.

1. Before prototypes, you have engineering models. For example, a wireframe diagram just sits there. It's not a prototype, but it's still valuable. On the other hand, you might have a program with a generic GUI. It might be fully functional, but without the semi-final GUI, it's still not a prototype.

2. A prototype is the first (proto-) thing of its class (-type). Prototypes would include the Beta version of a software product or a widget built in a shop.

3. After the prototype, you have the production model. That's the model you sell in the store, the one you send out samples of, or the one that comes off the assembly line.

Off my soapbox and on to the questions:

1) Does prototyping have to be studied by external institution?

That depends on the product. Suppose you work in IT and designed a SharePoint site for the Engineering department. You will want Engineering to see models and then the prototype in order to identify the refinements that will take your product from "Gets the job done" to "Delights the customer." If your customers are other companies: Yes, you want it to be reviewed by them. And if you are subject to regulation by government agencies and licensing authorities, it's far less expensive to get their approval early than to get it later.

2) What information can we get from prototyping? Does the information we get show us the quality or preference or anything else?

Quality means, "how well the product meets the needs." If showing the prototype to the customer helps ensure that it meets the customer's needs and preferences, then the feedback helps to ensure quality.

For example, before converting Office from drop-down menus to ribbon bars, Microsoft probably let hundreds of users play with it. They would have found out preferences for how many icons to fit in a frame, which functions to place in the ribbon, which functions that were now hidden people would have to go hunting for, and how much they'd have to spend on marketing to convince people to accept the transition.

From a systems perspective, when Microsoft converted Office from the old file types (.doc, .xls, .ppt) to the new formats (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx), they used prototypes to investigate compatibility between programs.
For example, could you still import a section of an Excel spreadsheet into PowerPoint? Could you still save a Word document to Open Document Format or RTF files? Will Word and Excel compete for the same memory space and slow down or even crash the computer? Will the new version of MS Access have a reduced startup time?
Even after that, Microsoft still puts Beta versions in the hands of thousands of users to find the problems nobody thought to test for.
You can't answer such questions with confidence until you build working prototypes to test and experiment with.

01 June 2014

Differences between Risks and Issues, Part 2

Differences between Risks and Issues, Part 2

Threats; and Another Side of Risk

Part 1 (click here) of this series defined issue.

Threat versus Risk

If a situation, such as a cause and its effect, is certain, then it is an issue. With risk, we deal with uncertainty. If the probability of something is zero, it has no uncertainty. If the probability is 100%, again, it has no uncertainty. The term Risk only applies when

0% < probability < 100%

In Risk Management, we avoid the term "threat" because in everyday discussion, "threat" could also mean "promise of harm" or "logical sequence resulting in harm."

For example, a bully "threatens" to call you a bad name. If we believe the bully, this type of threat would be an issue, not a risk, because there is no uncertainty. If we don't care what the bully says, there is no effect, so it is neither a risk nor an issue.

Another side of risk

Most explanations of risk concentrate on the probability of the event. What if the event is certain, but you don't know what the effects will be?

Risk has two real parts:
  • Cause - A condition or possible change in conditions
  • Result - The effect that may happen
Risk has a probabilistic part, too:
  • Uncertainty
PMP study materials usually focus on uncertainty about whether the cause will happen. However, we can also have uncertainty about what effect a condition or change in conditions may cause.

Therefore, a condition (or change) may be certain, but you still have risk if you have uncertainty about the results.

As PMs, we are communicators. We listen. Others often use terms and definitions different from ours. So we ask people what they mean and negotiate a common vocabulary. We do this to control the risk of broken communications.

If we find that somebody says "the bully is a threat" and means "the bully poses a risk," then we could enter this in the Risk Log in one of three ways:
  • There is x% chance that the bully will call another worker a bad name, causing that worker to quit.
  • The bully will call another worker a bad name, and there is y% chance that the other worker will quit.
  • There is x% chance that the bully will call another worker a bad name and y% chance that the other worker will quit.
If there is 100% probability that the bully has or will call the coworker a bad name and a 100% probability that the coworker will or has quit, then we have an issue.

And if you go around calling my coworkers bad names, we have an issue.

Further study: Use a search engine to learn more about "aleatory variability" and "epistemic uncertainty." However, please don't ask me about them because, the way other authors explain them, I do not understand at all.

(c) Copyright 2014, Richard Wheeler

25 May 2014

Influencing without Authority

Does anyone have advice or resources for managing up when you have proposal contributors or stakeholders who are Sr. to you? (Especially when they have no idea of proposal best practices but they still have...opinions). -- Etiak Y.

Learning to influence without authority

I love the way Etiak worded that, "but they still have... opinions."

My inability to manage or influence without authority hindered my own career. I didn't even know until a few years ago that it had a name.

Because my title (Senior Systems Engineer) did not match the titles of the supervisors and directors whom I was supposed to monitor as part of my job, I limited my attempts to influence them, even when they needed somebody to hold them accountable.

Because I did not see myself as having authority and did not know how to "influence without authority," those in authority did not see any reason to promote me. Remaining at the same level for decades will stunt and eventually kill your career.

Challenging authority challenges experience

Be sure you have a good case before challenging the stakeholders. What is the authority of your "best practices?" Have you considered the impact of the changes you want to make? What will stakeholders have to change in their current practices and relationships in order to make the changes you want? Will it really make a difference? Are you sure the customer is ready for the new practices?

Communicating the challenge

You might consider laying out, side-by-side, the old and new ways. Be ready to explain, "if we do it this (old) way, then (problem). The Standard recommends doing it that (new) way, which prevents (problem) and (other benefit)." Appealing to logic does not always work because "old ways" take root in the subconscious. You want them to visualize (fear) the problems of the old way and visualize the benefits (reward) of the new way. Communicating through story can help.

If you get buy-in from the stakeholders who are in your chain of command, then you move from a position of influencing without authority to influencing through the halo effect. That is, you borrow the respect given to those who wrote the standard; and as a representative of those who do have authority, you can get the other stakeholders to at least listen.

Manage issues with change

If you have to ask stakeholders to re-write their sections because you failed to communicate your needs, it will reflect poorly on you. Announce that the format will comply with (standards) at the very beginning. Help them do their parts correctly the first time by describing the purpose and methods at the very beginning. Give them templates or easy-to-follow guidelines.

Be sympathetic when people whine and moan, but remind them of how the new way provides a way to escape the problems of the old way, remind them of the rewards of the new way, and thank them for their flexibility.

More on influence

You can find materials on influencing without authority in various places. I just finished reading The Science of Influence, by Kevin Hogan (Wiley, 2005). Understanding more about influencing others will give you the side benefit of having more power to influence your own behaviors.

(c) 2014, Richard Wheeler