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4 posts from September 2011


Experts: A Non-Technology Tool

IStock_000000548970_web I often times talk about project tools in the context of technology tools, such as project management software.  However, there are many tools that we can use that are not technical in nature (for example, see my last post on "The Detective's Notebook").  Another tool that we can and should utilize is an expert.

Elizabeth Harrin writes a blog called "A Girl's Guide to Project Management".  I just read her recent post on "Use your experts", in which Elizabeth suggests that we should use the experts that are around us.

It can be tempting, especially if you are "experienced", to believe that you are the expert on everything and simply have a knack for knowing everything.  I find that this generally happens before some humiliating event that proves that I am most certainly not the expert I thought that I was.  You know, "pride comes before a fall." 

The best project managers, and I would even say the best leaders, are not the most knowledgeable experts.  But they are really good at knowing they do not know something, not assuming they have all the answers, finding the right expert who does have the right answers, asking the right questions, placing the right people around them, and making sure they have the right information at all times to make good decisions.  They have a "knack" for getting things done, which really means that they can find out what the current situation is, and gather the right information to determine what needs to be done and how.

So...what experts are around you that you can utilize?  If there are no experts around you, first look again because more likely than not they are there and you just don't realize it.  Then expand on that to find and develop a connection with experts that you need to supplement your own expertise.

If you don't need any experts, good luck and watch out!


The Detective's Notebook

IStock_000006399293X_web It is nice to be back to posting.  Between traveling, projects, and not feeling well, I have had precious little time.  I love a good detective story.  Every once in a while, I will find myself reading or watching an old Poirot or Sherlock Holmes story.  Do you know what makes them such good detectives and everyone else an "amateur"?   They weed out fact from noise.  And they test their theories to make sure they truly fit the facts.

Of course, I thought of how this could be applied as a tool for project managers (wouldn't you?).  How many times have you jumped to a conclusion and later realized it was based on incomplete or erroneous information?  I sure have. I have heard "I'll have that critical task done this afternoon" and believed it because I really, really, really, really wanted that task done this afternoon.

I would suggest two "tools" to help separate fact from fiction:


Project managers should constantly ask questions.  I used to worry about annoying people, but that's the job.  I certainly don't want to go overboard, but I need to ask questions until I have uncovered the facts.  For example, "what do you have left to do to finish this task?", "what else is on your plate?", "what problems have you run into?", or "what have you accomplished already?".  If you have a teenager working on a school project, I have found similarities.  "This will only take me a few minutes to finish" is a common refrain when in reality the most difficult part of the project has not yet been started.  I applaud optimism, but unrealistic optimism is detrimental to projects.  So don't be afraid to ask questions.

The Detective's Notebook

A project manager should have a "detective's notebook" when trying to deduce the situation or status.  Perhaps this is really a little black book, or perhaps it is a spreadsheet.  It is a "fact book".  At the top it may say "FACTS ONLY".  Only verified facts go in this book.  That will force you to be sure that you are dealing with facts.  You cannot write that "Joe will have this done this afternoon".  That is not a fact, but a presumption.  You can write that "Joe has finished x,y, and z; he still has to do a, b, and c; a, b, and c are more difficult; and Joe also has this other task he has to complete."  Those are facts.  Now you can form a theory that really fits the facts, and not what you want to be true.

These are forms of risk management (you can't know your risks if you don't know the true state of affairs).  Let's see if we can't play a little Poirot or Holmes and stop getting blindsided by information that we should have uncovered in the first place in our project management practices.




4 Questions to Ask the Cloud Computing Vendor of your Project Management Software

IStock_000007651615_web In my last post, I discussed 4 downsides to cloud computing.  In this post, I want to give you four questions to ask the cloud computing vendor that is hosting your project management software.  These are questions that you should have the answer to so that you are not surprised down the road.

1.  What happens when we ramp up our use of the system?

George commented on the last post about another downside of cloud computing, which is limits the vendor may place on transactions in the system.  Find out what happens if you double your use of the system, add users, greatly increase the number of documents you are storing, or otherwise increase your use of the system.  Is there a storage limit for your documents?  Are there thresholds in place that you may hit?  Are there costs involved?  It would be best to get this in writing from your vendor.

2.  How can I get my data?

What happens if you need to change vendors, you need your data to push it into another system, or you simply want some insurance in case something happens to your vendor?  Can you get your data?  In what format can you get your data?  Will they send you a backup file?  Do you have to do some sort of download?  What formats will these be in?  How will you use these formats?  Are there extra costs involved?  Be prepared and find out the answers up front.

3.  How do upgrades work?  Do we have control over when an upgrade occurs?

You probably will not have a lot of control over when an upgrade to your system occurs (unless you are a large customer).  That does not mean that you should not understand how the process works.  Ask the question.  How often do they upgrade?  How much notice will you get?  Do you have any control?  Can you have access to a sandbox prior to the upgrade?

4.  How do we change our subscription?

It is hard to predict the future.  You may grow and need to add additional users.  You may find additional uses for the system and want to bring on another department.  You may find that you no longer need the system as much as you thought and need to reduce the number of users.  Find out what the process is for making these changes, and if there are any hidden costs involved.

What other questions do you think should be asked of your cloud computing vendor?



4 Downsides to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is hot.  I cannot seem to look at any sort of technical website or magazine without hearing about it.  There are a lot of very good benefits to cloud computing for project management and project management software.  In fact, I am a big fan.  However, let's not forget about the flip side.  No solution is 100% perfect.  There is always an upside and a downside to everything.  I thought it prudent for us to consider the downside of cloud computing.  Here are four of them.

1.  You'll Love a Good Internet Connection.

This should be obvious, but has to be mentioned.  Cloud computing means that you only have access to your system(s) if you have a good connection to the Internet.  Is that a big deal?  In many cases no.  Good bandwidth is everywhere these days - in the office, at home, in the coffee shop.  But this is not the same as using a Word on your laptop.  If you are on an airplane without fast wifi, you go to a cabin in the mountains, or take a trip to another country, you could be out of luck.  If your power goes out, you're out of luck.  Personally, if I go to a cabin in the mountains and cannot work, that's a good thing.  But I digress...

2.  You Lose Control.

We can spin this any number of ways, but you cannot go to cloud computing without losing some measure of control.  You no longer decide when to upgrade your system.  You no longer have access to backups of your system.  Even if a vendor provides you with access, what are you really going to do with that backup file?  You also give up a lot of responsibility for security to the vendor.  You trust them to keep your information secure.  You may not even know exactly where your data is physically stored (although a good vendor will tell you).

3.  The Hodgepodge Effect.

I just made up that term.  It is easy to sign up for a cloud service for this, or a cloud service for that.  You can easily wind up with all kinds of cloud-based applications that your organization is using with no coherent strategy to use the systems together in a strategic fashion.  There is a certain innovative attractiveness to groups finding the solutions to get things done.  But it is also important to strategically use technology to accomplish organizational objectives.

4.  You Marry Your Vendor.

Your vendor becomes a partner.  You rely on them.  Once you have your data and processes in place and have used your system for a while, you are reliant on them to perform.  You rely on them to enable you to get at the data you need.  After all, you can't just have someone run a quick query to pull data from the database anymore.

What happens when the vendor updates the product?  Is it a good update?  You probably will not have the option of simply not installing the update.  Is training provided?  Do you have to pay for it?

There are many things for which you will be reliant on your vendor, more so than with an installed system.


As I said, there are many benefits to cloud computing, but let's not forget about the downsides or pretend they don't exist.  What downsides have you seen?




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