Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Environment and Your Portfolio

It’s hard to find a good book, let alone one that is free. Without Hot Air, written by a Cambridge University professor, is both. You can download the PDF here.

I would recommend it to just about anyone, because it explains the environment in quite a simple, but immensely analytical way. For example, what is more impactful, cutting down on air travel, or switching to wind energy? This book runs the numbers to explain the impact of different decisions. If you’re running a portfolio or a project, this is a good first step to understanding the environmental impact for both you and your stakeholders. It’s a long book, but you can easily skim to get the key points, and since you can download the PDF for free, you don’t feel compelled to read every single page.

Note the free delivery of the book is very much the author’s intention, he’s keen to contribute to the environmental debate, rather than make money, and I think you’ll find his perspective is well reasoned and objective.

Without Hot Air

The New York Times has a great blog devoted to environmental topics, which you can find here

Doing the right things vs. doing things right

It’s interesting to think about the relative benefits of doing the right things vs. doing things right. For example, doing things right, might included sticking to deadlines, budget etc. Doing the right things includes deciding what projects to undertake, or deciding what to do at the individual level should I run 3 miles or update my blog? I think it’s clear that selecting the right things to do is far more impactful.

However, in practise, it’s very easy to rush into the implementation without first thinking about if we are truely working on the right things.

The Sydney Opera House and Project Management

The Sydney Opera House, along with Project Taurus and the FBI’s Virtual Case File is one of the canonical examples of bad project management with major budget overuns accompanying significant delays.
I was recently in Sydney and took a tour of the Opera House, it’s interesting to learn what went wrong.
Breaking The Rules
To summarize, there was no plan, only an aspiration. The original submission to the opera house design contest, which became the Opera House did not meet the competition rules. The judges put in place a ‘stage gate’ process to evaluate entries, but then were disappointed that the beautiful ‘sail’ design (the one ultimately selected) didn’t make it through, and basically chose it anyway, throwing process aside.
An Aspiration Rather Than A Plan
When construction started there was no clear concept of how the roof might be constructed. It’s not that the estimates were wrong, it’s that there was nothing to base the estimates on in the first place. Much of the delay and cost overrun was caused by iteration on roof design, eventually landing on a solution that constructed the roof out of interlocking tiles, but this solution was only discovered after a lot of time and effort.
In a sense, the Opera House shows the value of project management, in retrospect the inability to produce a ‘real’ plan from the outset – specifically for the roof – should have been a major red flag.
Do Masterpieces Require Budget Overruns?
However, the other lesson is that correct choice of metrics is key. Sure, the Opera House failed on cost and duration estimates. But it’s one of a handful of real architectural masterpieces from the last century, and that metric was not on the project plan. However, please don’t take away the idea that brilliance entails lateness, admittedly the Bilbao Guggenheim had access to more modern technology, but it was completed basically on time and budget and still won many prizes.
Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

This Blog Now Available on the Amazon Kindle

This blog is now available on the Amazon Kindle. You can subscribe here and for a monthly fee, Amazon will wirelessly supply updates to your Kindle.

And for the majority of you who don’t own an Amazon Kindle, it’s a digital reader, which retreives books, newspapers and blogs wirelessly. So you have all your literature stored on the device. The screen is optimized for reading, and works well both in low and bright light with very good battery life. It also does clever things that paperbacks can’t do, like remembering the last page you read and providing a dictionary definition of any word you ‘mouse’ over. There’s also a Kindle app available on the iPhone. I don’t think the Kindle concept will work for everyone, but after many weeks of going back and forth on whether or not to get one, I’m glad I did, and I’ve found I do read a lot more now I have it.

Update: nice article from Slate on Kindle and the publishing industry here

Kindle

PPM For The Individual

Nice post from Seth Godin, demonstrates how exactly the same processes used by businesses to optimize portfolios make sense for individuals too. John Estrella also echoes the topic here.

Toyota and process efficiency

Any student of process can learn so much from Toyota, and this book is a great resource. Even if you are focused on projects, portfolios and not process, Toyota’s concepts can be enlightening. One of my favorites is the notion of waste (muda) and how broadly it is defined, for example failure to capitalize on employee’s ideas is viewed as a form of waste. I think that’s a fascinating concept and another is the idea that any turning of a bolt that doesn’t serve to tighten it is a form of waste. Again, an interesting concept. Toyota’s method is littered with this thinking. Worth reading about if you haven’t already.

Project Management Circa 2025

An inventive book released in October speculates on what project management in 2025 will look like. You can order the book here.

Project Management Circa 2025 details the expected technological, economic, political and competitive changes, and identifies future trends and major characteristics that are implied by these predicted changes. It delves into topics such as globalization, space exploration, U.S. defense acquisition, project portfolio management and sustainable manufacturing. It is edited by David Cleland, PhD, and Bopaya Bidanda, PhD.

If you are interested in useful books on project management and related topics, I have compiled a list on Amazon here.

Project Management Circa 2025

Project Management Circa 2025

Heirarchy of Success

Interesting post from Seth Godin on the heirarchy of success. Though he mentions both strategy and execution, he sees attitude as the crucial element. Targetted at people, not organizations, but still insightful.

Dashboards Everywhere

Performance dashboards are being more common, and not just for businesses. On NFL.com it’s interesting to see the result of a football game summarized on a dashboard, with play by play data (with drilldown if needed) a ‘crowdsourced’ fan rating, and, of course, details on the score.
Dashboards Everywhere

Dashboards Everywhere

The key question for determining strategic portfolio management

It’s often trivial to reduce complex issues to a single question, but one which can help determine if your portfolio is truely strategic is… Have you ever killed a project that was performing on fully on target in terms of budget, schedule etc? If no, then you’re portfolio may be well managed but not be strategic. If yes, killing such a project might be an example of strategic alignment.

Of course, killing projects introduces inefficiency and cost so with perfect alignment, businesses could have sufficient foresight to never kill a project because all their projects were aligned from in the start and the strategy didn’t change, but in reality most businesses will have to kill performing projects to adjust for strategic changes.