Saturday, October 30, 2004

 

Krispy Kreme Napkins and Microwaves do not mix

FYI, if you are going to heat up your favorite Krispy Kreme donut in the microwave, don't use the napkins they give you as your microwave container. As I found out this morning, the ink used to print their napkin logo must have metal in it. It will spark a great deal and will ignite the entire works.

This resulted in a really Crispy Krispy Kreme as the entire thing caught fire. This will also wake you up quicker than coffee, for sure.

Luckily, I had a piece of aluminum foil handy so that I was able to smother the inferno before the entire area caught on fire. Foil makes a great fire blanket, in case you ever need to use it for such a purpose.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

 

Project templates

Yesterday I was speaking with a potential customer of our Project Management solution. There was a great deal of discussion around developing a suitable project template. It seems that their current project template had about 200+ tasks in it. This conversation was very similar to others I've had over the years.

Are we making this too hard? Overall, I think we as project managers make template building too hard by attempting to capture every possibility in the plan. My take is that this is a starting point and thus, you should make your project templates lightweight and process driven. I think only tasks and milestones that are needed for reporting and standard process checkpoints belong in the template. If you have 200 tasks that are just those items, you may want to reexamine your processes. Are they all applicable for all projects? If not, take them out of the core template. Typically, our templates are between 35 to 55 tasks including summary tasks.

What shapes the plan? There are really two issues here with complex templates. First, not every project needs to look exactly alike as external forces typically shape the specifics of the plan. Larger templates make it harder to customize appropriately. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to design a project template that will apply to every situation. Since there's no built-in logic in Microsoft Project for conditional tasks, you are dependent on the Project Manager to make the right decisions as to which tasks are applicable. This decision making is harder as the number of tasks to decide goes up.

External influences. Let's look closer at the external forces that shape a plan. I'll speak to software development since that's my background. I find that the delivery model you choose at the beginning of the project drives the structure of the project plan more than anything else. If you've read Steve McConnell's Rapid Development, he outlines 7 models for delivery. If you think about each of those models, you can see how the project plan would differ greatly. I've used waterfall, evolutionary delivery and prototyping models and each plan was radically different. The waterfall was extremely detailed since it followed a standard process. The ED plan started small and grew as it was a great fit for rolling wave planning. The prototyping plan was the smallest since I only put the checkpoints in it. It was really impossible to outline the work given the nature of the approach.

I find this mix of approaches fairly common in organizations. This is why I would rather see a skeleton of a project template of tasks that are common to all projects but allow substantial leeway for customization.

Flexibility. Now, let's look at the flexibilty issue. There are several ways to allow for flexibility in a standardized fashion. For example, we have the concept of a work package. A work package is a process that may impact or be required of your project and has standard, repeatable steps. An example would be a risk assessment or server procurement.

So we implemented these packages as offline project templates that has very few or very specific tasks. We then insert this into the core project at the correct point as needed. BTW, Microsoft, it would be great if we could insert projects from a SharePoint site instead of a file share only. :-)

Advantages. This "lego" style approach provides several advantages. First, the project manager no longer has to become a process expert in each of these processes so that the relevant tasks can be captured in their plan. Secondly, the packages provide a feedback mechanism to the process owners. If they have preestimated the work based on typical case and have pre-resourced it, the process owners can then look back at actuals to see how well their predictions came out. If they are significantly off, they can incorporate the feedback into the template. Lastly, it allows the process owners to maintain their own packages so that the next PM to use it always has the latest process.

Lastly, templates should be living documents with set review points. I think this makes it easier for people to let go and not put so much overhead in their templates if they know they will review them again in 3 months.

Monday, October 18, 2004

 

Project Server Tip

In my day job, I am a deployment project manager deploying Microsoft Project Server 2003 to a large enterprise.

One of the big ongoing headaches has been performance support. For example, a user has a question on how to do something. If you've ever tried walking someone through a MS Project activity over the phone, you understand the joy. Even though Microsoft has improved help with Office Online, sometimes you just have to see it done.

To address this situation, we've been using a free PowerPoint add in called Microsoft Producer. This allows us to create a 2 minute walkthrough of an answer to a question. We then publish this to our support SharePoint site. In effect, you are creating a Visual FAQ. Overall, the response has been very positive since so much more information gets communicated via this technique.

My grand idea (that I never have time to work on) is to take the Project Guide and to modify it to show you the faqs available based on the screen that you are being shown.

If you wanted to push the content to the local workstation, you could use a SharePoint RSS Webpart and some podcasting software and push this out to people overnight as you develop the content. Again, I think podcasting could be used for training video updates.

More info on Producer can be found here: http://www.microsoft.com/office/powerpoint/producer/prodinfo/overview.mspx

I've also been very impressed with this product and OneNote. More on that later.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

 

Technology has not served parents well.

As a parent, I hang out with a lot of parents. One thing is consistent, technology has done a disservice to parents. For a group who is very busy, has demanding schedules and are in dire need of tools, they are underserved.

For example, Palm used to have this cool freeware package called DualDate. The idea was that you could share your calendar with someone else for coordination by beaming it to them. So, if you were at lunch, you could just share your latest calendars. 98% of the people who used it were husband and wife and usually for coordination of child activities. In fact, I know people who bought their Palms because of DualDate alone. Palm has managed to abandon the idea. However, you can still get it and use it as long as you don't have Palm OS5. http://software.palmone.com/PlatformProductDetail.jsp?siteId=291&catalog=0┬žionId=0&productType=2&platformId=1&productId=32264

Another product called WeSync had promise but was also abandoned. Palm has finally sold it to someone so we'll see what happens.

My latest project hopes to address some of this angst. I'm rolling out a new service called Free Your Time. It is designed to allow parents to find, research and purchase child activities. Try scheduling summer camps for three kids and you'll see the value. Check out Freeyourtime.com to see more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

 

The machines are conspiring against me...

I was reading about how some bright folks decided it would be a good idea if your appliances could talk to each other. After this week, I'm not sure that's a good thing.

First, it was my cell phone not wanting to ring when people called. Ok, so that wasn't so bad since it seems to ring too much as it is.

Then, my dishwasher developed a nocturnal incontinence problem. If you watched it run or if the repair guy was here, it worked fine. However, if you ran it overnight, you would find a puddle in front of it. Like it had to go in the middle of the night and couldn't quite make it to the bathroom or something. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

Now, our Neptune washer refuses to spin since the door won't lock. At least Maytag is covering the cost of that one since they've gotten sued over it.

So, I'm thinking, the LAST thing I want is for my machines to be talking amongst themselves while I'm at work. I'm leery of what they might discuss or decide.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

 

As heard on the radio...

Bubba Joe's first military assignment was to a military induction center, and, because he was a good talker, they assigned him the duty of advising new recruits about the government benefits, especially the GI insurance to which they were entitled.

Before long the Captain in charge of the induction center began noticing that Bubba was getting a 99% sign up for the top GI insurance. This was odd, because it would cost these poor inductees nearly $30.00 per month more for their higher coverage than what the government was already granting.

The Captain decided that he would not ask Bubba Joe about his selling techniques but that he would sit in the back of the room and observe Bubba's sales pitch.

Bubba Joe stood up before his latest group of inductees and stated, "If you have the normal GI insurance and go to Iraq and are killed, the government pays your beneficiary $6,000."

"If you take out the supplemental GI insurance (which will cost you an additional $30.00 per month), the government pays your beneficiary $200,000."

"NOW," Bubba concluded, "which bunch do you think they're gonna send into battle first?"

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