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20 October 2016

Steps to Avoid Becoming Another Samsung

"What should I focus on or watch out for in order to prevent a calamity from happening to my business?"

Asked at

Study Risk Management

  • I strongly suggest studying the Risk Management sections of Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide Guide (PMBOK). Add to that the corresponding chapter of a PMI-PMP (Project Management Professional) exam study guide such as the one by Rita Mulcahey.
  • If your organization can bear the cost, consider hiring an employee or consultant with a strong background in risk management to help establish a risk management program or to review the program you establish.
  • One such expert is Glen Alleman. I recommend the materials on his blog, Herding Cats.

Systematically Define Your Business and Identify Potential Risks

  • In general, you need to systematically define and examine every facet of your business, processes, products, services, and business environment. (The whole of the PMBOK Guide will help you classify those areas for projects.) As you examine each facet, you compile a list of risks. Clarification: I'm not saying you have to do it all at once.

Evaluate Risks

  • To evaluate the identified risks, you make a subjective, rough estimate of their effect and probability.

    Risk = Impact x Probability

    You then accept the low-risk items or place them on a watch list and make a more objective evaluation of high and medium risks.

Aleatory and Epistemic Risk

  • One of the characteristics of risk that you need to consider is what you know about the risk. Epistemic risks can be reduced by learning more about them. Aleatory risks cannot be reduced because there's a random element. For example, knowing how many sides dice have lets you know the possible range of values, and testing them can tell you whether loading or poor workmanship make some results more likely. On the other hand, after that, you cannot reduce randomness. This is part of the information you use when evaluating strategies for managing the risks.

Identify Candidate Responses

  • Identify possible responses (accept the risk, sidestep the risk (e.g., plan your road around the mountain instead of tunneling through it), reduce the effects, take steps to reduce the probability, transfer the risk to somebody else (outsourcing or insurance), or wait and see.

Evaluate, Select, and Implement Responses

  • Evaluate and select responses based on their cost and probability of success. Note that risk responses become policies, changes to processes, or new requirements. 

Monitor Responses and Watch List

  • Set up a risk monitoring system that tracks risks in the watch list as well as implementation of responses. This feeds into controlling performance and also into Lessons Learned (you have a Lessons Learned archive, don't you?) that save you work in the future.

Iterate and Integrate

  • Risk identification is iterative because risk responses can create secondary risks, because everything eventually changes, and because . Many companies miss new risks because they perform risk identification and planning and never re-visit the subject.
  • Many organizations delegate responses and leave them isolated from the . However, except for responses that are experimental (e.g., try it on a limited scale before rolling it out to the entire organization), they must be integrated into the business, project, product, etc.
  • Like process improvement, risk management (RM) needs to be part of a company's culture. Some say that RM should dominate status meetings because it is more proactive and more actionable, and also because "status" is actually a facet of risk.
Copyright 2016, Richard Wheeler

04 October 2016

Managing an Aggressive, Disrespectful Employee

Question from about a situation every manager eventually faces:

How can I be a strong leader of a company?

I’m the managing director of a company in a national competition. I appointed ‘Billy’, as we’ll call him, as deputy managing director. However he’s trying to take charge and criticising me as a public speaker, which I am actually very good at. How can I be strong and prove that I’m in charge?

Manage or Lead?

Mr. Asker is right to focus on leadership. A good manager guides the business whereas a good leader guides people. Success comes when you do both. 

One responder correctly stated that firing "Billy" is an option. However, since Mr. Asker saw value and ability in Billy, it’s probably better to help him grow, so firing him would be the last option. A manager would fire Billy first; a leader would fire him last. 

That having been said, let's consider some options. Everybody has a unique personality, motivations, and needs, so we no single response fits everybody. However, we can identify some common, general methods. 

Rise above the challenge

Mr. Asker should not focus on proving anything, although, after settling the problem, he may need to take steps to restore his stakeholders’ confidence in him. The following excellent advice is offered by Kim Bunting:
Prove that you’re in charge by taking charge.  The first thing about being in charge is to not get caught up in the emotion of the situation.
Criticism is only as impactful as you let it become.  Make sure you hear what he’s saying and look (without emotion) at it to make sure it isn’t feedback that might help you improve your already good presentation skills.  If it’s not, say “thanks for the feedback” and keep going.  If it is, work on changing.  A leader takes feedback and isn’t injured by people offering it.
If he’s trying to take charge of things you are doing, say “thanks for the help, I’ve got this” and move on.  Assign him something else to focus on, such as saying “rather than both of us spending time on this task I’m doing, we can get more done if you get the spreadsheet finished. Let me know when you’re done.” (or whatever)
The most powerful thing you can do to someone who is trying to upstage you or discredit your authority is to NOT react to them as if your authority could be taken away.

Confront the challenge

Containing the situation limits the damage to your reputation, to company morale, to business, and to Billy’s reputation, too. Jesus stated a rule about escalating an issue (Matthew 18:15-17). You start one-on-one, then bring in witnesses if you must, and then bring in the broadest authority; sanctions are the last resort. Some companies have Human Resources professionals who specialize in managing interpersonal conflicts, so involving them may be one of the routes for escalation.  Needless to say, the best option benefits everybody.

I recommend a two-pronged approach. One step is urgent while the other is important.

Feedback is urgent.

Billy needs immediate, private feedback. I suggest using the feedback model taught at (You can join to access their content or you can search their website or the iTunes store for their free podcasts on the feedback model.) The script goes something like this, and it should only take a minute or two:
  1. Describe what Billy did. Focus strictly on one event, not on personalities or general behaviors.
  2. Explain the result of what Billy did. Remember, this is about what’s good for the business. It’s not about judging Billy or defending yourself. However, you can describe the perceptions that his behavior causes and the feelings it triggers as they impact business. 
  3. Explain your standards for profitable business behavior.
  4. Ask Billy whether he can support those standards, and ask him what he will do to meet those standards. 
  5. Thank Billy for his time and for the improvements you expect to see.
  6. Move on. Don’t mention it again unless another feedback session is needed. 
Notice two things about the model: First, the model identifies the problem and its costs and then conveys a vision, a to condition, before seeking change. 

Second, if Billy agrees to take steps to correct his behavior, Mr. Asker now has a standard against which to hold him accountable. If Mr. Asker keeps thorough records, he now has a basis for future actions such as rewards for improvement, withholding rewards for failing to improve, or sanctions such as demotion or termination.

Treating the cause is vital.

Feedback is urgent, but identifying the root cause is important. Knowing root causes enables making a plan for how to will deal with the problem, just like a manager would make a plan for dealing with any other business problem. 

Toward that end, Mr. Asker should work on his relationship with Billy. He could take him to lunch. He could establish weekly one-on-ones (learn about those in the Manager-Tools podcasts, too). Determining what drives Billy him and his goals will help determine how to direct his energies and help him grow as a human being.

Manager-Tools’ also has a coaching model. Mr. Asker can also help Billy by assigning research or reading that would help correct his behaviors. Sometimes a bad behavior expresses some other frustration. Dealing with the root cause may mean helping Billy learn some technical skill rather than teaching him the social skill.

Leaders are learners. They prepare by collecting tools for dealing with issues and problems and by investigating to learn the root causes. Their plans for how to deal with issues may include a variety of approaches, and they may change approaches. Finally, the leader works for the benefit of everyone, including the offende

Copyright 2016, Richard Wheeler

20 September 2016

When the Customer Holds You to the Rough Estimate

How can a project manager prevent rough estimates from becoming fixed project boundaries?

The answer depends partly on who sets the boundaries. Let's assume that both your company's management and an external customer are involved.

Understand the Estimate

For the purpose of explanation, let's assume that a rough estimate's required accuracy is +/- 50%. If we spell out the estimate, "The most likely cost, time, or availability of resources is X, the optimistic is X/2, and the pessimistic is 1.5X." 

If management approves that estimate, it implies that the company accepts three stipulations: 
  • The project will be judged "successful" if the time or cost at completion is between 0.5X and 1.5X. 
  • The company is ready to fund a cost of 1.5X. 
  • The company schedules resources to be available when the project requires them. 
In summary, your budget is not X, but 1.5X.

Understand the Risks

When the company insists on running with the rough estimate, it creates several risks: 
  • If the cost at completion turns out to be 0.5X, the the fees and interest on borrowing (1.5-0.5)X will have been wasted. 
  • Your company will lose other business for which it could have used the funding and reserved resources ("opportunity cost"). 
  • Since a rough estimate does not include a deep consideration of risks, risks exist that you would only discover through the processes associated with performing a more accurate estimate. 
  • The high cost estimate (1.5X) creates a risk that the customer will go to another company that offers a more mature estimate.

Educate Stakeholders and Enforce Definitions

An explanation of the risks and responsibilities of using the rough estimate should convince your customer to allow a more accurate estimate. If you insist on the stipulations above and everybody accepts the risks and responsibilities, you should be able to live with the situation. 

Remember that, as you progressively elaborate your project plan, you will derive more accurate estimates anyway, and you will keep your stakeholders informed about your progress, allowing them to adjust affected plans.

Copyright 2016, Richard Wheeler

30 September 2015

Name Your Files for the Readers — If You Care

Filenames — A Trivial Time-waster that Adds Up

How do you react when you see a filename like 500002p.pdf

Is this a file that you want to open? 

Do you think that the author of the file cares whether you open it? 

This one's a little better, but not much:  BBP3.0FactSheetFINAL.pdf.

What Do You Want to Know?

When I look at a filename, the first thing I want to know is what it is. After that, I want version information. 

Some people put their initials first.  In a team folder, the listing will group the Jim files, then the Joe files, then the John files, and so on.  (And then there's Jack who sometimes uses JB and sometimes JEB.)

Then you have to search up and down the screen to find all the versions of the same file.  The larger the team and the longer the project goes on, the more this wastes time and leads to mistakenly working with outdated versions.

A government website has a folder of presentation files in this format:  


Placing the date first is redundant because you could always sort by date in the file explorer view.  Apparently, the Welby made the presentation and worked for Draper, and the topic was some cryptic initialism.  Now, how are we supposed to find presentations on risk management among 74 files with names like that?  Do you have an hour to spend opening all those files?  

There's another human element. When a filename starts with initials or has a serial number instead of a name, my eye says, "random, meaningless letters." Then my amygdala says, "look away!" 

Sometimes my amygdala wins, and sometimes my cerebral cortex wins. That contest creates stress. wastes time, and sometimes blocks communication completely. 

If you have a Content Management System (CMS) or Configuration Management System (also CMS) such as SharePoint, you have ways around this.  You can add fields for author, date, version, and subject.  

Often, however, we are stuck with filenames.  Even if your team has a CMS, you will still sometimes wish to download a file to your own drive.  If you don't remember what's in that cryptically named file three months from now, will you even bother to open it?

Since I read from left to right, and since an alphabetical sort proceeds from left to right, I recommend the following name format:

topic - [rev or yyyy-mm-dd [24-hour time if needed] ] - initials


meeting notes, team, 2015-08-01, rev A, rw.docx

Filenames should be in plain English. 

When I download files, I hate seeing files with names like BB097834.pdf.  I should not have to download and open a file in order to determine whether I want to download and open it. 

And by the way, who is JS, and does he or she even work here any more?  Does it feel professionalI to use your initials?  How professional will it seem to others, two years after you've taken that big promotion at another company and nobody here remembers whom JS was? Spell things out.

Some content management systems assign garbage names automatically.  We cannot do anything about that.  And some authors write only for their own vanity.  They do not care whether anybody reads what they wrote.  Try not to obsess over it; I've already done that for you.

A filename is like a headline or the title of an opus.  

A good author or editor knows that Job One is attracting an audience and, therefore, puts a lot of effort into creating a meaningful, eye-catching filename. Which would the classical music lover in your life rather listen to?
  • PITop066.mp3
  • Sleeping Beauty, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, opus 66.mp3

It's about more than efficiency. It's about consideration.

Copyright 2015 Richard Wheeler

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.