Good post about gathering requirements a

Good post about gathering requirements as a BA http://ow.ly/ejVqy via @@LLBrandenburg @BealProjects_BA #BAOT

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Getting Your Mind Around Your Project – The WBS

In a project of any size the sheer number of things that need to be done can be overwhelming.  One tool that a project manager can use to get their mind around their project is to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) and the corresponding WBS dictionary.  A WBS is a deliverable-oriented grouping of the work involved in a project that defines the total scope of the project.  The dictionary is a document that describes in detail the information needed for anyone to understand what each WBS item is.

There are many methods for going about the creation of a work breakdown structure including: the analogy approach, mind mapping, top down, bottom-up or just using the guidelines established by your company.

Regardless of the approach, the WBS should be created in conjunction with the team members who will be working with you to produce the project deliverables.  This may be as simple as a meeting where everyone gets a stack of post-its and contributes their knowledge of how the work gets done by writing down their tasks and sticking them to the white board.  This exercise also helps give the entire team an understanding the project purpose and scope while at the same time getting their commitment and buy-in for the work that needs to be done.

Check out this short video by Rita Mulcahy, PMP, as she addresses the concept of the WBS:

Three Step Cure for Controlling Scope

On a project, scope is one of the key components a project manager must control.  It is the component of the triple constraint that most often invokes the ‘project management as art’ description, perhaps only rivaled with the art of stakeholder management.  This is likely because scope  expectations are  really deliverable expectations, as scope defines the deliverables promised at the end of the project.  What customer will not try to get more?  I think it is in human nature to always push to get the most out of a project.

It is also the case that no matter what we plan we cannot see the future. This means that we cannot know all of the opportunities and problems that will arise when producing something new, no matter how many times we have done something similar.  Projects are by their very definition unique.

In listening to project managers discuss scope I have come to realize that some are a little afraid of scope.  The hushed tones and slight trauma they express reminds me of children scaring each other with ghost stories.  Scope creep, or requirements change, is one of those areas that is always challenging in that it has the most potential to utterly destroy a carefully crafted a project plan.  Some project managers respond by trying to shut down all scope changes during a project, but while this can protect the project plan it also can lead to a project that has poor quality deliverables because opportunities were missed during the project.  It is important to come to terms with the fact that changes are inevitable on a project and that the important skill is not in preventing change, but in learning to deal with it effectively.

How to deal effectively with scope:

  1. Make sure EVERYBODY knows the project scope.
  2. Train the entire team to know how to respond to scope change requests.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Controlling scope is a team effort.  Everyone should understand the project’s baseline scope, what the outcome of the project should be, and everyone on the team should understand how to respond appropriately to a customer request.   The fact is that your team members want to make the customer happy and if they don’t know how to handle requests they may inadvertently commit the team to a change that has far reaching consequences for the project.  It is also critical that any changes that are approved are communicated and documented for everyone to see.

There are many good videos that discuss how to manage scope.  Here is one from Project Manager.com on You Tube:

Thoughts on Motivation

I am taking a Summer class on leadership that has a focus on organizational behavior.  It is an interesting class so far, but then I tend to like psychology and organizational behavior is really the study of psychology of people in the work place.  As part of the course we have been asked to do a group project and our group has to teach an hour and a half on motivation.

This has me thinking about what motivates me in the work I do.  I think that money is a long term motivator simply because if I didn’t make money at what I do I would be forced to do something else in order to make the bills.  As an incentive though, most research suggests that short term cash rewards, such as bonuses,  actually result in worse performance for work that requires thought.  This would suggest that since I do knowledge work my manager would need to focus on other areas of my work experience than money, although if they want to keep me around I do expect to make a competitive wage and some wage progress over the course of my career.  Money…not interesting, but a necessity to move myself up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs past the basics.

What I think motivates me is the following:

1.  A growth opportunity that stretches me but does not sabotage me, and that helps me progress in an area that I’m interested in.

2.  An environment that offers support and mentor-ship, if I need it, but otherwise gives me the freedom to work in a way that works for me and gives me some room to be creative and self-reliant.

3.  Honest and timely feedback on my work that helps me to hone my performance.  I want to hear if the project I worked so hard on was useful to others.  It is a major motivator for me to know or anticipate that the work I’ve done has added value.

I think that I have this vision in my head of who I am becoming, and I work best towards goals that help me work toward actualizing this vision.  Self reliance is important to me because I need to feel that I am creating this person and developing competencies.  If someone attempts to micromanage my efforts I start to feel like a robot accepting instructions and that kills my motivation quickly.

Outside of this it is really more about avoiding de-motivators such as an unstable workplace or management that seems anxious and unpredictable in their goals and actions.  High uncertainty in a workplace causes me stress and makes me wonder if it is worth forging ahead on initiatives as everything could change and all my efforts subsequently be rendered fruitless.

Being the self centered person I am I tend to think that what motivates me, also motivates others, but everyone is different.  What motivates you?

Fine Vines Cheese and Wines – Last Dinner on the Titanic

Out in the Northwest section of Reno, right next to where the second Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs opened up, is a charming and sophisticated little shop that specializes in selling cheese and wines.  The name of this shop is Fine Vines Cheese and Wines and Tom Stevenson, the owner, will happily engage any customer who is interested in passionate discourse about wine and cheese (oh and he has a nice selection of dark chocolate truffles as well).

Tom enjoys helping his customers pick out the perfect bottle of wine, gently guiding them to new wines to try, or inquiring about the meal they are planning to prepare in order to help them pick the perfect pairing.  The offerings of the shop are perfect for those customers that are looking for the quality wines that hide behind an affordable price tag.  This is a task that I always find daunting, but Tom has done the work of sorting through these wines for you so that you don’t have to worry about figuring out which wines are quality and which are horrid, as you must when you go to the big grocery stores.

Now, before I go any further I must extend the caveat that the owner is my Father.  So I’m definitely biased in his favor.  Still, the fact that his business has weathered the recession while other businesses collapsed around him, is a testament to his dedication and passion for his craft.

I didn’t fully appreciate how much of an art wine pairing is until I went to an event that was put on at the shop entitled, “The Last Dinner on the Titanic”.  Once a month Tom teams up with Jane Townley to put on a wine and food tasting and demonstration.  Jane Townley used to teach the Culinary Arts program at TMCC and now does catering and these special dinner events for Fine Vines.

This particular event was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the purpose was to recreate a menu similar to one that the first class passengers might have enjoyed.

Some of the attendees really got into the theme, as with this couple that came prepared with floaties.

The event lasted a couple of hours and came with a seven course menu.  Examples of some of the menu items included a Smoked Salmon Pate with Mustard Cress Sauce

A Pheasant Consumme

An asparagus salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette

And a delightful Earl Grey Blackberry Sorbet (all I can say is…yum)

Filet Medallions in a Mushroom Demi-Glace and Duchesse Potatoes

Peach Shortbread and Ice Cream with Chartreuse Chantilly (truly delightful dish for which, sadly I do not have a picture) and to finish up the meal a plate of assorted Cheeses, Chocolates and Port

As each course came out the diners learned about the Titanic, about the food of the era, and about the wine.  Each guest receives a copy of the recipes prepared that evening.   The food was delicious and the wine lovely, but the exciting part for a wine novice such as myself was discovering what happens to the palate when a well prepared dish is paired with just the right wine to create an entirely new experience than either could possibly produce on their own.

At the end of the event I felt like I finally understood what all the fuss was about.  I asked Tom to elaborate on the process of pairing and was surprised at the amount of consideration that goes into it.  Before each event Tom and the Jane (the chef if you remember) sit down together and discuss all aspects of the meal that is planned, including the various ingredients and spices that will be used, and then carefully evaluate the wine options as to how the wine will shape the taste profile and ultimately determine the diner’s experience.

If you are interested in seeing more of this particular event here is a video that we took.

Pictures by Michael Christian (of Reno, NV)

Agreeableness and Success

I think that when it comes to the work place I might be in the minority because even though I like my co-workers to be agreeable, I’d almost take competence to agreeableness.  I like to have a good discussion about the pros and cons of various ways to proceed on projects and I get frustrated when these important discussions don’t happen because the group prefers being easy to being good.  Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t like working with someone who is negative and/or nasty.  I just don’t value being agreeable over all other traits.   For this reason it did not surprise me when the article “When Nice Guys Finish First” by Daisy Grewal confirmed that while most employers prefer to hire agreeable employees those same employees are less likely to get promoted and tend to make less over all.  Of course this result may stem from the agreeable person’s orientation to good relationships, which seem to have a positive impact on the quality of their lives as,  “Findings from the field of personal psychology suggest that nice people tend to have stronger relationships, better health, and superior performance at school and on the job.”

In spite of these genuinely good life outcomes for the agreeable the advice in the article is that the nice guys (and girls) should use more assertive language and project confident body posture.  I honestly don’t know that I agree with the wisdom of trying to change others perceptions by focusing on posture and wording.  For while this may be a fun exercise I think that our posture unconsciously gives us away and that these signals developed naturally for a reason.  Our posture is a form of communication that accurately depicts us as we truly are and trying to artificially “make expansive gestures”, as the article suggests may backfire and cause a person to come across as unnatural or as giving mixed signals.  The more I read about how a person is supposed to change one aspect of their behavior in order to communicate that they are something they are not, the more I think that the place to truly change these attributes is to begin with your internal mental space and not the external representation of that space.

Personally, I am trying to develop myself as both agreeable but also willing to be assertive on improvement and quality of work.  I think that encouraging a team to challenge each other in a constructive and professional way is the only method that will get a team to truly function at a high level.  Without that level of challenge a team will be content to coast along at a happy mediocre consensus.  I think that this ability for a team to both be agreeable, yet willing to host dissent, comes from a corporate culture that encourages trust as well as setting up the team with the expectation that they will effectively engage in creative conflict.

There is my opinion then on agreeableness.  It is an important characteristic that need not limit a person’s success, but not because of artificial attempts at aggressive posturing.  Instead I think it is important to realize that challenges can be fun and a growth experience for everyone if the challenges are made in the right way and there is trust among team members.

Anyone disagree with this?  Is that an odd challenge to throw out to the ultra-agreeable of us out there?

2012 Class Trip to Toronto

I am trying to finish up my MBA and so I am taking three courses this Summer.  For one of my electives I chose to take an international business class that ends in a week long trip in Toronto.  I was looking forward to it as a class that would be more enjoyable than most but I was blown away by how much fun it was.

I now know much more about Canada than I had before and I got to see some interesting businesses while I was there, including a presentation by Barrick Gold Corp on their operations.  These operations are especially interesting because they have such a big impact on the economy of Northern Nevada.  It was also interesting to speak to the marketing director for Steamwhistle, a small local brewery that brews only a unique pilsner for a niche of the craft beer market.

One of my favorite visits was when we went to the financial lab at the Rotman School of Business and participated in simulations that give a student a feel for what it might be like to make real trades on the market.  They even gave us these hilarious puppets that are both a bull and a bear depending on which way is out.  What is not to like about that?

There was just so much crammed into that trip that I won’t try to go over it all, but truly the best thing about the trip was getting to know some of my classmates a lot better.  There is nothing like being in an  unfamiliar city with a ton to do and see to help bring people together.

In honor of the experience I thought I’d put together a video/slideshow of the trip.  It uses not only my pictures but the pictures of some of my classmates as well.  We all agreed that there was just too much to record for one person to capture it all.

I really like Toronto.  It is a large city that still manages to be clean, civilized and green.  It has a very friendly feeling to it and it is just bursting with culture.  The art, music, architecture, gardens and attractions seem endless.

So a big thank you to Jim McClenahan and Greg Mosier at UNR for putting together the class, and to all the wonderful people who make up the amazing city of Toronto, for a great experience.

Three R’s for Developing Charisma

With the release of the July/August issue of Scientific American Mind, I once again have some found some great articles that I just have to write about.  This article is entitled, “In Search of Charisma” by Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher.

I’ve always thought of charisma as something that was just a part of a person’s personality.  It just seemed to be this magic quality that a person either had or didn’t.  I probably think this because culturally that is what we’ve been taught to think.  Apparently Max Weber, a german sociologist, popularized the term “charisma” and described it as,

“A certain quality of an individual personality by which [a leader] is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with superhuman or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.  These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary…as resting on magic powers.”

What is interesting about the science in this article is that research suggests that charisma is not something inherent in a person so much as it is a social process wherein followers attribute a person with charisma.  A person is most likely to be attributed with charisma when they are perceived as a winner (successful), as representative of the group (being prototypical), and as being for the group (as one of “us”).

What all of this means is that,

“Charisma is not something we possess or lack.  Rather it is something we can actively construct. Successful leaders craft narratives of themselves…successful narratives of identity unfold as revelations [to their groups] not as edicts…[you must] lead the audience to draw the conclusions one desires rather than having to spell out those ideas for them.  The art of charisma, then, is to appear artless.”

In other words, you have to carefully craft an image of yourself within the group that you are trying to appeal to in order to seem both of and for the group.  This comes with some caveats however.  You must be seen as genuine and the impression you make on others must come as an unfolding revelation for them, you cannot just tell everyone that you are great and charismatic.

“A leader’s success is measured by how well that person pursues the top priorities of the group…a person who shines with charisma will also help shape those criteria and mobilize people in their favor.”

So, in order to gain charisma you can use the three Rs of effective leadership:

1.  Reflecting – learn about the culture and history of the group.

2. Representing – become both a member and proponent of the group.

3. Realizing – turn the principles and goals of the group into realities.

Focus on Tim Forman, Project Manager at Renown

I worked for several years with Tim Forman when he worked at NV Energy as a Programmer.  He is fun to work with and I was sad when he decided to move on to Renown.

The good news is, now that he is working as a project manager, I get to interview him for my blog on the interesting work he does now and his thoughts on the position.

Please tell me a little about where you work and about your role as a Project Manager there.

I am a Project Manager for Renown Health in Reno, NV.  My Role is to implement projects for the clinical applications team within Renown’s Information Resources Department.  What that means is that I manage projects for all aspects of the Hospital IT systems to provide process improvements for the teams that care for patients.  I manage everything from IT infrastructure during construction of new units to traditional information system implementations.

What projects are you currently working on, or have you recently completed and how do you feel they have positively impacted your organization and the community?

There have been several projects that I’ve worked on in the last year, but perhaps one you have heard of, and that I’m extremely proud of, is the opening of the New Pediatrics Unit at Renown Regional Medical Center.  We took a very sad 50 year old ICU and pediatrics unit and moved them into a state of the art unit at Renown Regional.  The new floor was brought on line with 100% donated funds and includes many state of the art features.  I was responsible for all of the IT infrastructure from the wiring and networking to the PC’s and 35 networked Playstation 3 units all connected to the internet and Renown’s Medical Record system.  The result is a truly wonderful place for kids to recover, and I sincerely hope no one ever has to spend time there.

What project management methods and/or software do you use to manage your projects? What are the pros and cons of using these methods compared to others you have used?

I’ve used the waterfall approach and have done some Rapid Application Development.  I tend to get caught up in the execution of projects more than the overall process.  I find that in fast pace high volume jobs that the emphasis tends to be on results.  What tends to fall down is a commitment and understanding that projects aren’t driven by desire and will, there is real work that has to happen it’s not just projects schedules, risk management, dates and budgets.  What I find most effective is that no matter what methodology you use, you need to know there is an attainable path to success.  Once you have that path you have to be very focused and ensure that you have the support needed to drive the project to that success.  Without a commitment to achieve the project vision you can use whatever approach you want and you can’t be successful.

What aspects of project management do you enjoy the most?

Finishing and looking back.  There is great joy in knowing you did all you could and achieved what you set out to do.  It’s very rewarding to know you had a hand in every part.  Looking back helps you know where you can get better and how to better manage the future.

What do you find is the most challenging thing about managing projects?

Commitment, understanding and accountability.  It’s very difficult to be visionary and have the right people understand.   Even if what you’re doing isn’t cutting edge or outside of the box, having people buy in and commit at the level you need is very difficult even when they are dedicated to the tasks to support your work.  Ensuring people understand really means that you have to be specific and even when people say they get it, go the extra mile to make sure they do.  When things go wrong it’s very difficult to hold people accountable.  There are a lot of ways to justify mistakes and in the end it all impacts your overall success.  It can be extremely frustrating and painful.

Are there any emerging trends in the Project Management field that you are excited about?

Yes, the tools that people are dreaming up to manage projects, tasks, costs, and resource capacity are incredibly helpful.  I don’t consider myself a gadget guy, but if something comes along that helps me work smarter and better I am excited about it.  People often perceive project management as building a project schedule and yelling at people so your dates don’t slip.  I feel like it can be so much more and if you learn to do it properly.  You can become an area of decision support and optimization for your organization.  Knowing your resource allocations, cost timelines and ability to take on more work can eliminate the intense feeling of being overwhelmed and wondering how you’re ever going to get everything done.

An Introvert at Work

I am guilty.  Guilty of liking those short quizzes that try to reveal something about you.  Most of the time I just think that they are fun, but I don’t take them too seriously.  For as much as it can be interesting to try and isolate some small aspect of the complicated being that I am, and try to analyze and understand it, I know that I cannot truly understand my nature based on one lone observation.  There are so many interdependent factors that make up who I am that labelling myself can be dangerous and counter-productive.  As much as I read about the mind I have come to embrace the theory that I can think myself into a way of being, so I need to work on a holistic and healthy 3-D view of myself not a flat 2-D one.

That being said, and with full awareness of my own fallibility, I do want to talk about the fact that I see myself as an introvert, one ‘personality trait’ that simply hasn’t changed much over the years and which I doubt ever will.  Should I want to change it?  Probably not, but cultures tend to establish preferences for certain personalities and American’s are notorious for there preference for extroversion and the supposed confidence and domineering swagger that comes along with it.  This is especially true in the business world.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told in business classes that executives are extroverts.  The problem with this assertion being, by what measurement?  Is this a self reporting survey?  If so, than these results could be confounded by the fact that most executives would feel pressure to self-identify as extroverts…but I digress.  Perhaps this would be something to look into at a later date.

So, what does it mean to be an introvert these days?  While I think that shy people are likely introverts with social anxiety, not all introverts are shy.  I certainly have plenty to say, and I am perfectly willing to speak up in class or at a meeting if I have something I’d like to share.  It takes a ton of energy for me to do so though.  I really have to push myself and I find myself exhausted after.  This is also the case with going to social gatherings with people I don’t know well.  It takes a lot of energy to turn my attention outward and engage someone with small talk.  One benefit to this is that I probably spend more time listening than talking when I meet someone new.  In fact, I think that there are lots of benefits to being an introvert.  Most of us are happier with what we have, or just being at home with family.  We may only ever get close to a few people but those relationships are often deep ones.  I also spend a lot of time thinking…just thinking things through and I think this makes me a deep thinker and a better problem solver.  I may examine every aspect I can think of when making a decision, but I really commit to that decision once it is made.

This does not mean that my fellow extroverts don’t have close relationships or don’t think deeply, just as being an introvert doesn’t make me anti-social, but I think that we have differnt personality traits because we do get stronger at certain types of functions within our social groups, whether that is bringing people together and lighting things up or thinking deeply, analyzing and listening.

These tips were written in 1999 by Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD of the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado.

Now you might be wondering at this point, what in the world does this have to do with the work place and project teams?  Well, introverts on your team may work differently.  Check out this article, Introverts: Managing stress in an extroverted workplace by Toni Bower. What I love about what she points out is that introverts are more effective in certain environments than others.  If you stick an introvert in a noisy, tightly packed project room day in and day out they will not be as effective as if they have a quiet space that they can retreat to when they need to think or finish a deliverable.  They should be able to work just fine in a team environment but may not enjoy, or in fact may have more trouble blocking out, the constant conversations that are the reality of most working areas where everyone is crammed in together.

Another point that Toni makes is that introverts like to take some time to think and prepare a response to questions that may come their way.  It is more stressful for most introverts to have to address a complex topic or give an update that is unexpected.  I know that I am not as adept  as some extroverts at just making something up on the fly that sounds good.  I want what I say to be concise and accurate.

I think most of us have some idea whether or not we are extroverts or introverts, but I did found a blog post that is a fun read and has a short quiz that you can take to get your extrovert/introvert extremity rating, so check it out.

My rating, well I am only one question off from the most introverted rating the quiz can give, and I’m not unhappy with the result.

What about you?  Are you an extrovert or introvert?  How does this impact you at work and what to you think of your opposite?