Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Project Management Blog Posts You Can't Miss

Here are ten of the last week's most insightful, challenging blog posts from the project management field. This week saw a flurry of discussion on Kanban (here's my contribution to the Kanban debate). Other highlights include a reflection on costs and benefits (particularly how hard it is to convince someone that the costs are real!), and a lecture that started off great and then fell flat.

Without further ado, and in no particular order: ten great project management blog posts you can't miss:

  • Eight to Late on "Why visual representations of reasoning are more effective than prose". I actually disagree with this one a bit: I'm suspicious of any argument that can't (or won't) be boiled down to simple language. But visual aids absolutely do help enhance an argument.

  • Rob Bowley: "Kanban is just a tool..." kicking off the recent Kanban debate, Rob Bowley articulates the "Not so fast!" side. It's always good to have a reality check like this: Kanban isn't going to make you an extraordinary performer, and it isn't even a necessary component of many methodologies. But take heart, Kanban fans! Rob is not completely negative:
    If you’re getting into Kanban, be warned. Kanban is just a tool and in my opinion no more important than say, pair programming, unit testing or domain driven development. It is certainly a lot less important than the white elephant in the room which very few people seem to be addressing which is building the right thing in the first place. As Peter Drucker famously said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.

    That's a sane, balanced view.

  • Round Two in the Kanban Fight: David J. Anderson of Agile Management: "Is Kanban Just a Tool?" David explains why using Kanban has such a huge impact on project management success:
    Pull changes everything! When implementing pull, you first have to embrace the concept (or paradigm) of flow. Flow and Pull are two of the 5 pillars of Lean. The other three being Value, Waste Elimination and Continuous Improvement.

  • W. Scott Cameron, writing at PMHut: "Lessons Learned Again and Again and Again." I don't want to spoil the whole thing, but Scott spots a common problem with explaining projects to another party: people are much happier visualizing benefits than costs, so if you tell them about both, they're likely to become much more attached to the benefits! True and trivial, but it has a big impact. As Scott puts it:
    The reaction was, “I love the scope but hate the cost.” My response was if you like the scope, then this is the cost.

  • From The Art of Project Management: "Risk? What Risk?" This piece analyzes two diametrically opposed, comletely wrong attitudes towards risk: the happy-go-lucky, "I can't control anything, so why bother?" attitude, and the "We must reduce all risk to zero" attitude. While nobody seriously articulates either side, people do tend to lean pretty far in either direction. The risks are huge for both: overreaching is as bad as inaction.

  • The Tao of Project Management: A Matter of Life and Death. Great concept, great writing. This post is actually closely related to the previous one from The Art of Project Management: accepting the existence of risk means doing something about it, but knowing that what you do might not work out in the end.

  • Via Bob Sutton: Julia Kirby at the Harvard Business Review warns you to "Beware the Baboon Boss. Julia looks into how evolutionary psychology comes into play, especially in tough economic times.
    Humans have evolved a bit beyond the need to check on the boss every 20 seconds, but the basic phenomenon remains that subordinates in an organization study the behavior of bosses far more closely than bosses study subordinates. Bob Sutton of Stanford University, who's writing a book on bad bosses and how not to be one, told me this is the key to understanding why bosses so frequently disappoint--and why it's almost impossible for them to do anything but disappoint their charges in a downturn. The boss's natural tendency to be inattentive seems like brutal callousness at a moment when people are feeling vulnerable. And, with the sense of danger in the air causing everyone to watch the boss even more closely than before, no dopey moves go unnoticed.

  • Paul Ritchie discusses "CIO job rotation and commitment to IT value" based on an interview here. The key takeaway? Developing a sense of "shared urgency" (more than "We're all in this together," but less than "We're going to die!") can enhance productivity. It's a tricky balance: the extra stress on a team can make this counterproductive, especially when everyone's worried about the broader economy. But this is a useful concept.

  • At A Girl's Guide to Project Management, a great summary of this year's Lovelace Lecture, by Maurice Perks, standing in for Tony Storey. Perks gives a solid speech, about -- breaking big projects down into small tasks. Yes, that's true, but where's the insight? Someone that experienced, standing in front of a large and highly qualified audience, should go to the trouble of outraging a few of them.

  • And finally, at Better Projects, a visual aid to answering the question: "Agile, Waterfall, or Something else?" In this case, a visual aid does a good job of illustrating the question: how does complexity and available domain knowledge affect which techniques are more effective for completing projects? This led to a great discussion in the comments.

That wraps up this week's top ten. If I missed anything, please drop me an email: pm.revolutionary@gmail.com .