Thursday, July 27, 2006

Air Show


Every year in Farnborough, the fast and the furious gather to show off the latest in aeronautic wizardry, and good ol' fashioned hotdogging. I paid £44 plus another £12 for the train (the traffic into that rather small town, with quite narrow roads, which are horrendous during the show, so even though it is only 10 miles away, we took the train). I am including a picture of the Airbus A380, the double-decker mammoth that will go into service some time next year, and will haul up to 800 people at a go.
Unfortunately, my normal digital camera with a 10x optical zoom lens gave up after a very few pictures, the battery running out. Pshaw! The image above was from my cell phone a Nokia N70, which isn't bad at all.
Unfortunately, after only about an hours worth of viewing pleasure, it started to rain and thunder, and we had to give up and go home, since we had no shelter, that only given to guests of the pavillions of various manufacturers. I actually have a guy working for me who used to build aircraft simulators, but forgot to ask him if he could get me tickets for one of the pavillions. One more thing on the list to do next time, in addition to taking folding chairs, waterproof wear, and earplugs. Oh yeah, and charging the batteries of my digital camera first.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Seat of My Pants

Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague that I had known since Japan. We had both worked at the same company, but didn't really work together, since he had worked in finance, and I worked in IT. We met at the Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL) 'marathon' (only 5 kilometres). Our company had a large contingent organised that year (2003). He is from Singapore, but married to a Japanese woman, and had just bought a house in Saitama. Since I lived in Tochigi, we had a little bit to talk about, there, and both being foreigners, in a company where that was not the most common thing, was something else. We would occasionally talk in the hall, or have lunch.
On Monday he e-mailed me asking if I wanted to have lunch. We talked about his new life here, and life here in general, and moving and relocation agents, and some of the hassles I have had. And then the talk turned to work. I had noticed that he now had a 'PMP' after his name on his e-mail signature. That, in case you have missed it, stands for 'Project Management Professional', and is a professional accreditation from the Project Management Institute. It is somewhat the rage in Japan at the moment, which is hardly a surprise: Great! A set of rules to govern the ungovernable! Yeah!
I should say that I have been involved in managing large and small projects for the last 5+ years, and flirted at different points with becoming a PMP. But the thing is this: On the small projects that I managed, it added way too much overhead, and would have meant unacceptably high costs or delays. I played the game, with project plans that looked fine, and documentation like risk analyses, and so on and such, but I was not particularly impressed with how well PMBOK was for managing smaller projects.
And then I got involved, as the leader of a vendor managment team, and concurrently the leader of a change management team, with the mother of all projects. 600 people working on it. The thing is, what I saw many, far too many, really, of these 600 people doing was working on the project, not on achieving what the project had been meant to achieve, the new billing system. When the project was brought to a halt, I remember sitting dejected at my desk, surrounded by reams of documents that I had to shred, and others that needed to be archived, and thinking 'my God! We weren't working on a billing system at all, we were working on a project.'
I had actually hired a PMP, U, an Indian guy, to be on my team, and introduce PMBOK and project managment as a dicipline, to the IT department. He did really well on this project, though he quit before it was completely finished, and went to work for Cisco. He and I are friends, but he was one of the worst: Rather than worrying about actually producing something that would help the project come to completion, he spent hours a day worrying about and creating worry among others about, documentation.
And that is what we had when the project was cancelled; lots of documentation. Absolute shitloads of use cases. Oodles of defect reports, most of which were only defects in the documentation of test cases. Tons of bright red powerpoints.
Sitting there, feeling like a real failure, the absolute feeling of having participated in a real sham, an absolute crock of shit that had nothing to do with building a billing system, and did not, in fact, end up building the system, I took some of it to heart, thinking that perhaps it was partially down to me.
Having a year and a half to think about it, and of course to spin it a little, has given me a more textured perspective. A lot of what I was doing on the project was bringing the additional costs of the inevitable changes to light. It was actually that which led to the cancellation of the project. From that perspective, I was successful in my own area of the project. But it is absolutely difficult to feel that way when the project is such a collossal failure.
I am managing about five concurrent small projects at the moment. I got an absolute bollocking for not having documentation that was very good. Guilty. Depending on the project, some are more or less date driven, have many or fewer dependencies on other departments, require more or less bureaucratic process sign-off, and so on. I just can't be bothered to create the sort of documentation which at it's heart tries to hide the ever-changing complexity that exists in even a small project, in order that upper-management are reassured that everything is ok. That same sick feeling came upon me.
My comment today, to an English colleague was "to those who see these projects from afar, this seems like seat of the pants management, and it scares some of them awfully. To me, this is both the fun, and the only real way to manage. Life, and business as practised by our company, is seat of the pants, and there is no reason that projects wouldn't be. Now what I need to learn to do is to make this a little less scary for my boss." I can manage by GANTT chart with the best of them, create GANTT charts in Project, Visio, Excel, or PowerPoint, and quote the processes needed in PMBOK. I can talk about PRINCE gates, and I can manage lists of issues, take meeting minutes, analyze an SLA, and exhort one and all to "just follow the process," as well as anyone. But I am really not convinced that will help me in the end to achieve what the project was created to achieve in the first place. Projects are about results, and results are about performance. And, in the end, that is more important to me than the letters after my name.