Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

Archive for March, 2009

The Most Important Project Management Skill

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 March 2009

The often overlooked skill that every PM needs

What skill is essential for project managers?  Is it EVM?  Is it using MS Project?  Is it creating a WBS?  No, it is none of these.

Many people have a misconception of what a project manager does.  Unfortunately, many of these may themselves be project managers.  If you believe that playing with spreadsheets and MS Project schedules are all that is required, then it is time to sit up and take notice.  If your idea of project management is running around with a notepad checking up on people’s tasks every couple of hours, then perhaps you need to step back and give that some reconsideration.

A project manager is responsible for quite a few things.  Since many came up through the technical ranks, some of these activities may be new when promoted to a project lead or project manager.  Let’s look at a few of the things a project manager is responsible for:

1. The completion of the product the project was intended to produce.  In other words, you must meet the needs and expectations of the user.  In order to do this, you must be able to communicate and build a solid understanding with the user and sponsor.

2. The completion of the project on time, on budget and in scope.  In order to do this, you must be able to talk to the subject matter experts (SMEs), understand their estimates and concerns.  You must be able to tell the user what is and is not in scope for the project.  You must be able to communicate the schedule and the budget to the sponsor.  You must be able to influence resource managers to give up resources for your project.

3. The tracking and communicating of changes throughout the life of the project.  You will likely have to negotiate and renegotiate scope throughout the life of the project.

4. Motivating the team to complete the project.  You must do this, even though in many organizations the team does not report to you.  You must sell them on the project and motivate them to put out a quality product.

5. Clearing obstacles to getting work done.  This can be anything from people who interfere with the team’s work to access to a particular piece of equipment.

6. Ensure that risks and issues are dealt with in an effective and timely manner.

I could go on, but I think this is sufficient to point out some skills that aren’t necessarily found in a book on PM: Communication, ability to influence, negotiation, ability to motivate, sales, obstacle removal and resolution of risks and issues.

What do these have in common?

A project manager is put in charge of a project to help ensure the success of a project.  How do you ensure the success of anything?  Don’t you influence people, motivate people, lead people, collect and organize resources?  If so, you are managing them.

Yes, the one skill that is often overlooked in project management, believe it or not, is management.  You, not the resource manager, have to influence and motivate the team.  You, not the sponsor, have to lead the team.  You have to manage them.  Fortunately, people usually do want to do a good job, and that makes the job easier.  Yet, too many times PMs can get in their own way and affect how the team performs if they are not conscious of their leadership role on the team.

Manage – To direct the affairs or interests of.  To succeed in accomplishing or achieving, especially with difficulty.

It is time to put the “management” aspect back into project management.

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Posted in PM Basics | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Book Review on The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

Posted by iammarchhare on 26 March 2009

This post is for the bloggers and would-be bloggers out there. Release your inner blogger, I say!

It was with some amusement that I picked up a copy of The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging. Why did I pick it up? It’s written by the staff of the Huffington Post. Why was I amused? It’s written by the staff of the Huffington Post. No matter, how you slice it and dice it, a book about blogging from the Huffington Post is simultaneously the best and the worst of things. They are certainly the most well known and widely read political blog out there. Arianna Huffington herself has been interviewed by the BBC and others. On the flip side, it’s difficult for anyone with 2 brain cells of common sense to read half of the articles on that site without cringing. It doesn’t seem to matter if the writers are more on the liberal or on the conservative side of things (yes, they have some token conservatives, it appears). You just have to scratch your head and wonder how people can believe half of what they write sometimes. Yet, if you are going to read about a subject, it helps to learn from those who are doing it well. Agree or disagree, Huffington Post does it well.

During Passover, we are supposed to take inventory and examine ourselves. After moving a lot of articles onto a new blog site, it is time to take stock and remind myself of why I’m doing this. Perhaps other bloggers can relate (I know there are a couple of you peeking in). Perhaps others who have considered it can relate.

So, Why Blog?

  1. Today, we have instant communication. Yet, it has created a paradox that there is so much information that important information gets overlooked or even ignored by the traditional media.
  2. It is a lot more open than traditional media. It becomes personal, conversational and allows the writer to express their passion.
  3. Writing blogs can be a lot of work, but they can be a lot of fun.
  4. “Why blog? Here’s a better question: Why not blog? As you’ll learn in the upcoming chapters, blogging is easier than smoking, can take less time and money, and isn’t banned in restaurants.” ~ p 18
  5. To know you’re not alone. You can get instant feedback.
  6. To establish yourself as an expert. This is one of the reasons I recently started the Random Acts of IT Project Management blog. I was recently certified by the Project Management Institute, and I have 13 full time years in IT. However, some things a resume just do not do justice to.
  7. To make money. It doesn’t pull any punches about telling you that you won’t make oodles of money right away. Of course, the Huffington Post does make money, and it is one of the few really big ones. Don’t forget that if you own a business, then you can use a blog to drive people to your product if done correctly.
  8. To create a community. To me, this is important thing for the Church of God Perspective blog. I want it to be a place to have discussions and civil debates on topics of doctrine, prophecy and current events. It has become obvious to me that with the COG community scattered everywhere, it would be nice to have a place where real discussions about some of those differences can take place. Furthermore, print media all over is failing, and even The Journal has had difficulty getting its editions out on time. While there are a lot of websites, there didn’t seem to be that many blogs at the time. Print and web sites are fine for static content, but they don’t allow for other points of view.

Getting Traffic

The book goes a little into Google alerts, Technorati and Alexa. In addition, some mention of tools is in the book. I’m not convinced that enough time was spent on these, especially the former. In addition, some sites like MySpace, Facebook and StumbleUpon aren’t even mentioned until the appendix.

One thing the book does do a good job of is explaining Search Engine Optimization. Although it is not listed under it, the book talks about the URL, and states in several places that good content is the main key. It even goes into keywords. It explains it with just enough detail, I think, for the beginning blogger.

Downsides

Jonah did not take “a dark journey in the belly of the whale for his complacency and relentless triviality.” Someone needs to lay off the wacky weed.

Well, like I said before, it is Huffington Post, and the example blog posts reminded me of why I don’t frequent that site. The language is enough to turn me off towards visiting it regularly, quite frankly. One of the example posts perpetuates the lie that Bush vetoed a bill that would have enabled health care for “poor kids”, when in fact the bill in question tried to raise the bar to somewhere over $100k per year. It even had the audacity to praise Communist medicine. Seems they have forgotten that people in the Soviet Union often had to stand in line just to buy bread, let alone that many waited so long for medical care that they died in the meantime.

If Huffington Post wants to use borderline language or use metaphors and language with graphic sexual imagery, that is their right under the 1st Amendment. However, please don’t call it “journalism”. Furthermore, Arianna & gang, it isn’t a requirement to sell your book!

Wanna Blog?

I hope that a few of you may be considering taking up blogging as a result of this post. I hope that more of you will be encouraged to comment on blogs you follow. If you are a fellow blogger and have an interest in the COG or IT PM, please stop by and leave a comment or two (on the appropriate blog, of course). We are all a virtual community, after all.

Posted in Book Review, Mostly off-topic rambling rabbit holes | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

I’m a Geek!

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 March 2009

<rant>

Listen, I’ve had enough!  I am a geek!  Just because I’ve been a “manager” doesn’t mean I didn’t earn my stripes in the trenches!  I’ve done desktop support, and I’ve written software.  I’ve even run a BBS.  I’ve even coded TCP/IP modules!

I am not going to “process payments” and launder your money from Nigeria.  I am not looking to “repackage” your stolen goods from Poland.  I’m not giving you my bank account number for “transfers” in order to speculate on currencies (like that’s what you’ll do with the information anyhow).  I am not a salesman, and I’m sure as hell not going to sell your bloody insurance!  Do your sales people run the networking cable for your office?  I didn’t think so!

I’m not interested in MLM.  I have no money to buy a franchise, and I certainly don’t want to buy into a financial consultancy!

I’m a geek!  Just because I advertise or post my resume online doesn’t mean I’m interested in a lot of crap!  Stop it already!  If it doesn’t have “computer”, “information”, “project” or “technology” in the description, then send your spam to /dev/null!

</rant>

Posted in Editorial, Mostly off-topic rambling rabbit holes | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Project Management for Non-project Managers

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 March 2009

When you were growing up and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, did you exclaim, “I want to be a project manager”?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

All of us had to start somewhere, though.  We all had that first project.  In addition, if you are a project lead or a supervisor, you will likely have to head up some projects yourself.  That’s why I wrote “Project Management for Non-project Managers” on Helium.   It will take you through the (very) basics.

Enjoy!

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How to Manage a Troubled Project

Posted by iammarchhare on 20 March 2009

This isn’t my first blog, nor is this my first writing site.  However, rather than reproduce a lot of material in many places, I will occasionally direct you to where some of that material is (don’t worry, I fully intend to make sure unique content is placed here as well).

One of the articles I am most proud of is the one at Helium on Project management basics: How to manage a troubled project.  Before you go there, though, let me give you a little background.  I was at one company in which a new, not even out the door, product ran into difficulty.  I got pulled into this project in order to do triage.  I got permission to pull in some architects, a DBA and I rallied the team to come up with a solution.  We came up with a solution, which we presented to my manager.   After her approval, it was presented to the executive team.

They (well, OK, the President of the division) had 2 questions.  The 1st initially took me by surprise, but it actually made sense.  “Is the patient on life support, or is the patient terminal?”  He wanted to know if the project was worth saving.

I have had to occasionally go over in my mind why this question took me by surprise.  In retrospect, I fully believe it was because that division almost never turned down a project.  I had seen money thrown at projects that perhaps 40 customers would use, which was well below the break-even point.  Even the President was known for “killer projects” where everyone was expected to work 60 hours per week for a couple of years!  Frankly, it has always bothered me that this question would have been so much the exception, but I believe it was tied in to that particular organization’s difficulties.

The other question was, “Can you do the remediation and still finish the required project by the end of the year?”  This one was tougher.  If I answered “No”, then it was time to update my resume, and I knew it.  Yet, if I answered “Yes”, then it meant a lot of very hard work for everyone.  It wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Deep down, I knew what the answer had to be.  The project team deserved a chance, the product management team deserved some backing and the customer deserved what they were promised.  Saying “No” was a lot worse for everyone involved than saying “Yes”.  It wasn’t just my employment on the line, either.

Posted in Troubled Projects | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Welcome to Random Acts of IT PM!

Posted by iammarchhare on 20 March 2009

This blog is dedicated to project management, particularly IT project management.  Here I would like to share the successes and blunders of the wild world known as IT project management.

I am an IT PM with 9 years of experience.  I have worked full-time in IT for 13 years.  I started out studying a lot on my own, writing text adventure games and such.

After 11 years in the Army, they were paying people to get out, so I went out and got my BS in Systems Analysis.  While at school, I did some freelance programming, ran a BBS and worked part-time in a computer lab.  At the computer lab, I learned about Novell and AppleTalk networking.  I was Sr Tech by the time I graduated.

Since I was already doing networking and PC support, I landed a job doing Desktop support for a while on contract with BP Oil.  I got tired of that gig, and I wanted to get back into writing code, so I got another contract job doing just that.  They liked my work, so I got hired on full-time as a project lead.  After about 6–8 months, I got promoted to project manager.

Unfortunately, in some of my experience, project management was more of an after-thought.  Mind you, I don’t mean that no one managed it, but no one formally trained in project management oversaw it.  Project management was done by the “seat of your pants”.

I have some articles published on Helium, a writer’s website, about project management and other areas of interest as well.  However, I decided to start a blog because it gives me a little more freedom.  I may cross-publish some posts, but undoubtedly not all of them.  Besides, this gives me a chance to test drive WordPress, and what PM can resist a shiny new toy?

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