Monthly Archives: March 2010

Crowdcast and “Collective Intelligence”

Crowdcast is an interesting start-up that applies the wisdom of crowds to organizations. Want to know how well a new product will do? Whether a supplier will remain solvent? When a new product will launch? Ask your employees, the wisdom of crowds should ensure an ultimately informed response.

Of course, the key to this system is getting people to participate, and Crowdcast offers reward to those whose predictions are more unique and more accurate.

It’s interesting to think about this from a project management perspective. When do you expect your project to be complete? Would harnessing “collective intelligence” of everyone involved produce a more accurate answer to that question?

Best of Craigslist and the wisdom of crowds

The are a number of examples of crowdsourcing, as formalized by James Surowiecki and his insightful book The Wisdom of Crowds. The idea that you can create good content, information or ideas by an open process where a broad collection of people can choose to submit and then vote on ideas, with the most popular ideas rising to the top.

My favorite if trivial example is the ‘best of Craigslist’ site here. As you’re probably aware, Craigslist enables people to buy and sell things through a low fidelity, but very successful mass posting board. Some of those postings are notably clever, funny or weird. Note the language and content of the posts isn’t controlled or censored.

I also discuss some of the media implications of the crowdsourcing trend here.

Improving your decision making

Do you conduct post-mortems on your projects? How about on your decisions?

Each time you make a decision of any magnitude, write down the outcome you expect. Eventually the outcome will grow to a list that you can revisit. Just as post-mortems make future project better, so this simple process will make your future decisions better.

Peter Drucker gets the credit for this idea:

“Checking the results of a decision against its expectations shows executives what their strengths are, where they need to improve, and where they lack knowledge or information.”

Book Review – The Checklist Manifesto

I was intrigued to read the Checklist Manifesto. Is the author’s intent to replace project plans with project checklists? Or is it more about complementing the project plan with a checklist? Or does a checklist apply in a completely different set of circumstances that aren’t really projects at all? The short answer, from Atul Gawande’s perspective, is that a checklist is more suitable for repeated processes and the unexpected results they can generate, rather than one-off projects. This is partly because getting a checklist absolutely right requires even more effort, testing and rigor than creating a project plan. However, where a project does include repeatable processes, a checklist may be an appropriate complement to the project plan.

Below are some of the differences between project plans and checklists, based on the way the book describes checklists:

  Project Plan Checklist
Criteria for inclusion in the plan or list All the steps of a project Just those that are crucial or often forgotten
Ownership Each task usually has one accountable party Encourages a team mentality with everyone able to identify problems
Duration Typically months or years Less than 3 minutes to perform in most cases
Presentation format Large document, often with pages of text and visual display of information such as a Gantt chart A succinct, plain text-based list (though sometimes multiple checklists can be grouped together into large documents)
Creation process Often derived from extensive estimates and pre-planning, will be updated for key changes Iteratively tested and refined over time – a living document
Roles/Industries using Large variety Primarily airline pilots and surgeons – some growth into fields such as finance

The book also notes that the value of checklists within the airline industry are partly the result of formalizing learnings from the extensive post-mortems the industry performs after any accident, and that a signficant side-benefit of checklists are to empower the team. Typically the pilot on a plane, or the surgeon in an operating theater may not be challenged by others in some situations and cultures, whereas the checklist creates a vehicle for this to happen.

I should also note that the book is pretty gruesome, there are operating table accidents and airline crashes (including the recent Hudson River miracle landing) described at a level of detail that will be too graphic for some. Still, it is a provocative and well-researched book with relevant implications for certain aspects of project management, and definitely for any aspect of process management. You can order it here on Amazon if it’s of interest.

Book Review – Rework

I just finished Rework, written by Jason Fried of the Chicago based software company 37 Signals. It took just over an hour to read, it shares concepts in a rapid fire fashion rather than using meatier chapters. It promises to offer new and innovative thinking, which is true to some extent. Ideas on process, planning, meetings and estimation aren’t completely new, but the writing is fresh and provocative. It’s not a book about project management, it’s a book about running a small business, but a lot of the ideas are generalizable to projects. Some of the writing on strategy is naive, for example the fact that famous chefs publish their recipes is taken as evidence that businesses should be more transparent in sharing their processes with customers, whilst that might be true for some industries, it’s not true for all. Generally this is an inisghtful and well written book, particularly if you own or want to own a small business. It is also remarkably short.

Project Management Salaries – Are You Paid Enough? Part 2

In a post last month, I discussed the drivers of project management salaries, based on statistical analysis. The summary of that research was that years of experience and management seniority were the only attributes that could be statistically shown to increase salary of project managers. So the conclusion was that if you want to earn more as a project manager, the best thing to do is to get into management.

Today, I’d like to broaden the analysis to look at skills that are specified on project management job postings in the US. These skills won’t necessarily earn you more money, but they will increase the range of possible jobs you are eligible for.

 Here I am focusing on skills that are verifiable. For example, a lot of job postings include vague terms such as “written and oral communication skills” or “attention to detail”, I don’t consider these verifiable skills, you may have them, but it’s hard to prove it either on a resume or in a job interview. I am not saying these skills aren’t important, just that they aren’t verifiable and so I exclude them from the analysis.

The chart below shows the percentage of project management roles in the US in March 2010 requiring particular verifiable skills. I’ve used the cut off point as 5%, because there were a number of ‘long tail’ skills (such as knowledge of SharePoint, Primavera or a CPA among many others) that were mentioned in some job postings, but didn’t exceed 5%.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an undergraduate degree was the number one required skill for a project management position. In fact, the number of jobs that need this may be greater than 54.4% because a number of the job listings were as short as a paragraph and likely omitted key requirements. Next on the list, is the PMP certification, as I mentioned before, I can’t prove that this will earn you more money, but it will open up significantly more jobs to you than if you don’t hold the qualification. After that “risk management” was the one skill that was cited frequently, more so that estimation, requirements management, budgeting, portfolio management and estimation that didn’t make the 5% cut, again perhaps due to poorly written job postings. Beyond that the focus on technology tools was interesting, with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Project mentioned in about 1 in 10 postings. Interestingly, SQL was listed in a significant portion of postings, for organizations that use databases in their project management process. Finally, the agile methodology was mentioned in about 1 in 20 postings. Many postings referred to awareness of project management tools and methodologies – but the language used was vague.

Conclusion – if you want to broaden your range of jobs as a project manager first get an undergraduate degree, then get a PMP. Finally, familiarize yourself with the basic technology tools.

A second (more anecdotal) conclusion, is that a number of job postings out there are poorly written and a call to the recruiter to a get a little more detail on the specifics might be worth it before sending in your resume.

Percentage of US project management positions requiring the skill specified

March 2010, publically advertized positions only

Prioritization

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Stephen R. Covey

It’s common to feel like you can’t get everything done, but the challenge can only be partly solved by becoming more efficient. The main challenge is deciding what to do and what not to do, because your time is ultimately limited regardless of your efficiency.

In practise this is remarkably hard. Try this simple exercise. Every morning pick one task you will do without fail. Start with with a ridiculously simple task such as moving a paperclip across your desk and then increase the size of the task slightly each day, moving up to meaningful, work-related tasks. See how many days you make. If you’re anything like me, this exercise will demonstrate how hard it is to achieve prioritization and focus.