Monthly Archives: October 2011

VIDEO – Inspiring Leadership

Simon Sinek on the importance of starting with “why?” to inspire people and achieve great results based on belief. People too often focus on the details but not the underlying motivation and this is less effective. The rationale for this comes partly from psychological insights on how the brain works.

Turning Art Into Pie Charts

Fascinating visualization technique by the the British artist Arthur Buxton. Below he takes Monet’s paintings and turns them into pie charts based on dominant colors. Each pie chart represents a painting and the colors are in proportion to their use in the painting.

You can learn more about his art and purchase it online here.

Three myths of project management

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s
what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

Here are three ‘truths’ of project management that need to be examined more carefully:

1. The triple constraint is a rule to live by.

No, the triple constraint has limitations and it breaks down at certain times. Adding more people can slow a project down because of training and network effects. Cutting scope isn’t linear, it’s binary, at some point scope is cut so much that the project can never succeed.

2. A delayed project is a bad project.

It’s critical not the miss the bigger picture, admittedly harder to measure than cost and budget but just as important, Wembley Stadium, The Scottish Parliament and Sydney Opera House were all late and over budget, but architecturally valuable. Most unimaginative structures get completed on time, but are they really more successful? Of course, the gold standard is a project such as the Guggenheim Bilbao that came in on time and received architectural awards.

3. For good estimates you need experts.

No, reference class forecasting is the answer. Using historical data is much better than using experts. Of course, if historical data isn’t available, then using experts can be a second best approach.

Planes, Trains and Projects – The Lateness Problem

Projects often come in later than expected. It depends on who you ask and how you measure, but 68% is a reasonable guess for the proportion of late projects.

The cost of having a schedule

Arguably though, projects put themselves in an inherently tough position, they have a schedule and that’s precisely what makes extreme lateness possible. Without a schedule there’s no way to be late, since there’s nothing to measure against. Think of a colleague at work who never sets a deadline, but never gets anything done. They’re never late, but only because they don’t have any system in place to measure it. I’m not trying to defend lateness, but the point is projects have accountability because of schedules and deadlines, that’s a good thing.

Comparison With Planes and Trains

Airlines in the US are late about 20% of the time, and trains are late 10-70% of the time depending on the route. Now, bear in mind these are processes not projects, they repeat many times whereas projects, almost by definition have never been done before. And yet repeated activities still suffer significant delays.

What This Means

Maybe we shouldn’t be so harsh on projects. It’s great that we have exacting standards, but bear in mind that:

  • Projects are actually measurable, it would be easier to avoid deadlines altogether and eliminate measurement of lateness.
  • Even processes experience delays, and they have the benefit of learning through repetition whereas projects don’t.
Something to think about the next time you shoot for 100% on time completion. Even though that feels like a reasonable expectation, maybe it isn’t. On the other hand there’s a lot of value in aggressive goals.

Better Brainstorming – Logic Trees

Brainstorming can be a useful exercise, and many books can help you with that process, such as The Riddle.

However, logic trees often aren’t discussed as an alternative brainstorming, but despite using a far more structured approach they can achieve a similar result. With a logic tree you start with a problem and map out solutions to it, trying to be exhaustive and comprehensive. Starting with broad areas and narrowing down to specifics that fall within scope of the broader areas, hence the ‘tree’ framework. It’s a far more structured approach than brainstorming, but it can lead to more complete analysis and, if done well, be just as creative.

The example below comes from the powerful problem solving blog. It starts with the problem of establishing a company as a high-end tailor and then maps out possible initial directions (build a brand, focus on quality, create a unique shopping experience) and then fleshes each idea out in increasing detail such as using the finest wool or associating with celebrities. It’s a simplified example, but it shows the underlying idea clearly – click on the image below to enlarge it.

Data Visualization – The Economic Complexity Observatory

Cesar Hidalgo creates visualizations of economies as highlighted in Tim Hartford’s recent book Adapt.

This images are based on a mass of data to look at the materials an economy produces and compare different economies with each other, or with themselves over time. It’s a interesting approach to making sense of a large quantity of data.

You can try it yourself here.