jim@millikenproject.com

jim@millikenproject.com 207-808-8878 Our book "Life is a Project: How are you managing?" is now available!


Monday, January 9, 2017

Team Is Work


     “What is a team, and why do we need to know what it is?”
     That’s a standard discussion point for any meaningful consideration of basic Project Management. After all, Project Management is all about people working together to accomplish something new. The “working together” part is teamwork.
     Actually, the basic question often doesn’t come up at all, because we believe everyone knows what a team is, and how it is vital to the effective management of projects. So we launch our projects assuming we’ll be a team and it will work.
     Well, do we really know what a team is or how it should work? Or what it could accomplish? Or how short most of our group activity falls from gaining the benefits of this invaluable concept?
     Most of all, we don’t realize how studiously we avoid developing teamwork and how seriously that mistake damages our potential for project success.
     We may not connect project shortfalls with inadequate teamwork. We sort of assume projects, by their nature, never get close to 100 percent – that’s just the way it is.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Assumptions, Risks & Selective Routine

   
     You can’t leave the house without assuming that your neighbors won’t attack you, that your car will start without blowing up and that you can safely travel across town.
     Those are pretty safe assumptions for most of us in the United States and around the world, but not so everywhere. There are places where you can’t assume safety, and where deadly risk is ever-present.
     Conclusion: Assumptions and risks are situational.
     We can apply that to life: We assume the car will start . . . and then one day it doesn’t. We can assume the front steps are safe, until the day an invisible sheet of ice makes them life-changingly not. Maybe the usual is in place. Maybe not. It’s situational.
     When we’re project managers, we herd uncertainty for a living. We can pay a high price for mismanaging the job.
     The devilish thing about project management is its lurking unpredictability. There’s the nine-times-out-of-ten factor. So much of any project is composed of procedures we have tried and found to be true countless times. We can’t justify meticulously examining each of them each time we employ it.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Love That Failure

 
 Most information we see about project success and failure falls into one of two major topic areas.
     Numerous studies have revealed the bad decisions that led to famous historical disasters such as Robert Scott’s 1911 expedition, in which everybody died after reaching the South Pole (while Roald Amundsen had led a flawless round trip to the Pole a few weeks prior).
     And we’ve read about the project management mistakes that sank the mighty Titanic of the White Star Line in 1912. And why the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (“Galloping Gertie”) destroyed itself in 1940.
     Big-time and big-budget, all of them.
     And then there are statistics that tell us what percentage of present-day projects actually make their numbers on cost, schedule and requirements. Results vary, but not many are outstandingly good. 
     In either category, there isn’t much of use to us small-timers with nontechnical challenges in unsophisticated environments. So innumerable project managers wrestle alone with issues of limited resources, demanding sponsors, resistant stakeholders, shaky budgets, distracted team members -- often with utter lack of precedent.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

When All Else Fails, Read the Directions


     “When all else fails, read the directions.”
     The landlord was a rough-hewn sort, a small-town developer and semi-retired owner of a construction business, constantly battling with the authorities over his penchant for doing things his own way, regardless.
     His wry counsel about the directions, though, was spot on. In the midst of some routine difficulty, he made that remark as he went back to Square One.
     After a quick chuckle, we stop to appreciate the implications of such a crack. It reminds us how often we entangle ourselves in ever-widening, totally unnecessary complexity.
     Until comes the revelation: Oh! It wasn’t plugged in. No wonder it didn’t work. Why didn’t we check that to start with?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

When the Buck Never Stops

 
  “I never put anything in writing,” the boss said.
     That simple admission said volumes about his view of his job and his responsibility.
     He confided it as a revelation straight out of the secret handbook known only to the highest level of management and leadership.
     I saw it as something of the opposite: A refuge for weak people, a selfish risk avoidance strategy and a loophole to escape blame. Don’t believe everyone else in that organization didn’t know that about the top guy, even without sharing his secret.
     When the buck has no place to stop, a major group activity is to keep passing it on.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Managing the Project People Resource


    I watched as a group of managers regaled themselves with tales of the laziness and incompetence of their employes. Their own employes, their workforce.
     It reminded me of a supervisor of nine specialists who said the job would be perfect if only he didn’t have to put up with the people. He was topflight at the work himself, but he couldn’t turn out that quality at 10 times the quantity. He needed those people and they needed him, but he didn’t see it that way.
     Such attitudes are not at all rare, and that’s too bad. They devalue one of the most important underlying realities of management, especially project management: Nothing happens without the people.
     Software engineering guru Watts Humphrey wrote that the work of technical managers is 90 percent people and 10 percent technology – but they spend most of their time on the technical management. It’s a lot less hassle that way.
     It’s also far less effective. The truth is that the human resource is the catalytic factor – the dynamic resource that makes possible the productive employment of all the others. Your equipment, materials, facilities and your very processes don’t do a thing until activated by your people.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Belief, Focus, Creativity

     


      “I’m not creative.”
     “I don’t have musical talent.”
     “I’m always late.”
     “I can’t do math.”

     Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense and nonsense.
     You can generate brand-new ideas. You can play instruments, make pictures, discipline your schedule, manage intricate formulas. You just have to want to, enough so you’ll invest the time and attention you need to make it all happen.
     You can do what you put your mind to. You can’t do something you’ve decided not to try.
     That summarizes this business of talents and skills.