Monthly Archives: July 2010

True Scarcity

Interview with Fred Brooks author of the Mythical Man Month in Wired written by Kevin Kelly can be found here. As Stephen Dubner points out in his Freakonomics blog, Fred makes the interesting point that the scarce resource on a project isn’t always money, time or people. For example, when building an oceanfront property the constraint is beachfront square footage, on the first NASA moon landing, the constraint was lightness. Therefore determining what your true contrainst is can help you stay focused on non-traditional projects.

Fred also subscribes to the principle, from Edwin Land, of starting with the vision and working back from that to a technically feasible design rather than aggregating a set of attainable features together to create whatever vision results, which might be easier but has less impact. He argues working back from an ambitious vision is the model that Apple follows to achieve visionary design.

He also mentions that he’s changed his thinking from doing a first design and then throwing it away and building a second version, towards a process of ongoing iteration.

The Wired article can be read online here.

The Challenge of Making Accurate Predictions

As I’ve mentioned previously, overconfidence is common. Below are a few predictions from the last century to remind you of this fact.

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” – New York Times, 1936

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Company rejecting the Beatles, 1962

“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” — Business Week, 1968

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

The Myth of the Triple Constraint

At its heart, successful project management requires softer skills such as communication and persuasion. This why the few more mathematical elements that do exist within project management receive such attention, from estimation techniques to Gantt charting and the triple constraint. However, unfortunately the triple constraint is more of an optical illusion than an effective representation of the project management trade-offs.

Let’s start with cost. The triple constraint is inconsistent with Frederick Brooks’ insights. If you add money to a project, you are more likely than not going to have to add people. Those people will need training and expand the communication nexus across the project team exponentially. This additional training and communication will slow things down, at least in the short term.This is the opposite of what the triangle supposes. So you cannot seamlessly flex the budget to ensure you hit your project goals.

Next scope, the problem here is representing scope as a continuum, where you can chip away or incrementally add work items to the project to flex schedule and cost to the right values. This approach works until it doesn’t. Project success is often binary rather than a continuum. The iPhone 4’s reception problems or the Deepwater Horizon rig show that only up to a point can scope scale up and down before the project hits major risks. In fact, the baggage system at Denver Airport shows that the scope of some projects are infeasible regardless of cost or time.

That leaves schedule as the one corner of the project triangle that can legitimately flex, perhaps this accounts for why most projects finish late. The other corners of the triangle aren’t as malleable as they seem.

Innovation – Seed Bombs

Often when gardening you want specific seeds. Tomatoes, sunflowers or some other specific plant, but sometimes you just want generic plants to cover an area of land. That’s where seed bombs come in, throw one at a patch of dirt where you’d rather see plants and voila.

Innovation – Parking in Manhattan

Parking in midtown Manhattan can run to over $750 a month. The cost of parking space for a year, can exceed the value of many cars. Because of this it’s not surprising that in New York cars are stacked on top of each other to more effectively use space.

Innovation – Japanese Vending Machines


One of the amazing things about Japan is how much can be purchased from vending machines. Below are some examples from a recent trip, which I didn’t have to try to hard to find – cigarettes, drinks, newspapers, more drinks and underwear and other assorted products.

The Value of Having Others Share Your Message

When communicating the value of your project, having others spread the word is far more impactful (and scaleable) than communicating it yourself. Surprisingly, electronics manufactures do well here. High Definition and more recently 3D television are big new categories for electronics. The value of HD and even 3D are now being communicated by all sorts of products far beyond the electronics industry, the examples below are toothpaste and paint, but the value of what electronics is selling is implicitly promoted as being premium.

It’s important to determine who can effectively communicate the value of your project.

The Value of Friendship

Insightful post from Havard Business Review on the value of friendships – spending money on others makes you happier than spending on yourself. More successful people at work tend to have more friends at work.