Praise for WordPress 1.5.2

eWeek praised WordPress 1.5.2 for its “good administrative capabilities, extensive customization options and easy-to-use end-user posting interfaces…”

The article also touches on the concept of corporate blogging, but doesn’t go into much detail, choosing to spend much of its editorial content on what is essentially a positive review of WordPress. In my opinion, there are two facets of corporate blogging. Firstly, there is the employee who blogs about his working life. Secondly, there is the executive who blogs about what he and his company do/are doing. Unfortunately, both are sensitive to politics, confidentiality…the former (employee blogging) is more likely to happen sooner than the latter (executive blogging). However, both have the opportunity to bring a company closer to its client-base and to act as an new form of marketing device.

Luckily, Mark has written some good advice that falls into the corporate blogging arena.

As regular readers of this blog might already know, I’m a great believer in the power of the blog. It’s an excellent marketing tool and it’s fair to say that DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper 2 (October 22nd 2005) has received a great number of sign-ups simply because of blogging – no marketing has been performed whatsoever!

Respect…instead of blame culture

I read this week’s QSWeek magazine. Sadly you have to register (it’s free) to view content, and even to contact them…but that’s another story.

You might find the fact that I read such a publication a little odd, especially considering that I’m “in software”. I believe that it is important to keep up with what’s happening elsewhere in my employer’s business, hence I read many of the magazines that appear in the office!

Anyway, our Business Relations Director was interviewed and came out with a few useful gems worthy of note here:

We have to all work together to make projects succeed.

Projects don’t manage themselves, nor do they succeed if there’s only one person doing all the work…it does take team work, it does mean we all have to work together.

A lot of other things can be added to quantity surveying to make a wider offering to the client and I don’t think that will stop.

As many of you know, I have written “value add” applications for my employer, generally these applications augment the existing quantity survey, cost management or project management function that the primary business is providing. I’m sure that software falls into these “other things”, and I’m glad to read that it has a future.

Lastly, the If I ruled the world box-out really caught my attention:

IF I COULD change anything it would be to bring back respect for people and property. We have lost the ability to respect other people and get on with each other. I’m not going to say ‘bring peace to the world’ – that’s crackers – but if people went back to respecting each other instead of this continual blame culture, I think the world would be a much happier place.

I think that last bit strikes true, as I noted here and here, a blame culture isn’t a good thing: it doesn’t do your project or your organisation any favours.

PM#10 – The truth is best…admit it…

Project managers aren’t interested in listening to or reading about all the excuses that you might use to explain why something hasn’t been done. Nor are they interested in watching you try and get off the hook by listening to or reading about who you believe is to blame for your failure to do something.

If you haven’t done something that the project requires of you, or if you have made a mistake, the best thing you can do is admit it. The truth is best. Don’t send e-mails citing reasons why something hasn’t been done. Don’t write e-mails professing your apparent innocence and attributing blame on somebody else – if you haven’t done something, or if you can’t do it, tell somebody, tell the project manager. Feeble excuses don’t bring projects in on time or on budget, honesty is the only helpful option.

We’d rather know that something hasn’t been done, or that you can’t do it, as early as is possible – it gives us the chance to consider our options and still stand a chance of bringing the project in on schedule and close to budget. If you provide us with a barrage of e-mails with content similar to the above (blame-mail), the project is likely to incur schedule and budget hits (time is money).

If you admit the failure honestly, early and without blame-mail, you will be respected for your decision. It helps you, it helps the project manager, it helps the project, it helps the business.

The truth is best…admit it…admit it early.

Early attribution of blame…

It’s amazing how quickly the Americans want to blame “somebody” for the terrible devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Blame – is it a cultural thing? Is it the American way?

Whatever it is, early attribution of blame seems to the order of the day, as reported in today’s Guardian: Bush team tries to pin blame on local officials. I don’t think anybody could have predicted the scale of the devastation, so why bother trying to blame somebody now? Just get on with solving the problem, that’s the real order of the day.

However, there is the other side of the coin, and it manifests itself in a plea to postpone attribution of blame. Good call, I’d even go a step further and postpone it until after the rebirth of New Orleans and the other affected townships.

Early attribution of blame isn’t going to help anybody. Instead of pinning blame on somebody, greater focus should be made to solve the problems of the moment: rebuilding the land-based infrastructure, creation of jobs, restoration of law and order and an examination of the damage done to the offshore facilities that provide America with much of its oil. It’s basic project management, solve the problem before going into post-mortem mode (even then, is it really worth it for all projects?)

On another related note, I read with interest a letter in today’s Guardian:

Donald Rumsfeld declared the looting in Iraq following “liberation” to be the consequence of “the pent-up feelings that result from decades of oppression”. We await his wisdom on New Orleans.
Chris Mazeika, London

My interest stems from wondering just how Mr Rumsfeld might answer were he asked to comment on this letter that quotes him to the letter.

Whilst it’s not the best news to read, I’m glad to see that blogs are rapidly playing their part in news provision: Hurricane Katrina – blogs and links

What’s your most optimal process?

If I had a business, I would choose to have some of my “overhead” processes optimised such that they cost me the least amount of hassle, downtime and thus money. I would do this because processes that are an overhead to a business can really eat into folks motivation, especially if the amount of red-tape they have to handle gets too much. One such process that I would optimise is the “admin” process. Nobody likes excessive admin, yet in business we find it an increasingly popular activity. The trouble is, too much admin can lead to de-motivation which can then lead to stagnation, something that was covered in today’s Guardian.

De-motivation and stagnation are the two things that you don’t want your key personnel falling foul of. These folks are the first to be heard lamenting about the excessive overhead of admin, using phrases like “we’ve lost sight of where we’re going” and worse like the potentially blasphemous “our head is going up our own backside”. If you hear these phrases, it may well be too late. But if you’re early enough, all is not lost, something can be done! How do you identify “what” can be done? Well, the answer is remarkably simple: just ask your key personnel to list what’s bothering them from an admin perspective. You’ll them have a ready-made list of ways in which you can save money and motivate your team. It’s one of those “win-win” situations.

Key personnel don’t want to spend time “out of process”, where “process” means their job function, i.e. what you pay them to do, their professional service to you. They want to focus on their job, focus on the project and focus on what they can do to make everything easier all round. However, if your business plants landmines of administration in the paths of key personnel, any projects that they are working on will take a serious schedule hit. Key personnel will attempt to side-step the landmines, but eventually they’ll stand on one, and boom, de-motivation and stagnation are the injuries…injuries that are very difficult for the business to recover from (ultimately, the injured personnel find another job).

It’s very important to recognise that admin need not be overwhelming, just enough is enough. Admin activities are overhead, they do not contribute to the bottom line, every admin hour costs you at least two hours of at an hourly rate on a project. Focus on activities that increase your turnover, and anything that can increase your profit: seek out activities that eat into your turnover and profit, optimise or eradicate them.

The old adage of time is money stands true. Don’t thwart the progress of key personnel by making them meander through an administrative minefield.

PM#9 – Avoid duplication of effort

Doing the same job once is optimal.

Doing the same job twice is criminal.

Doing the same job three times is just plain stupid (this happens, I’ve seen it)

Doing the same job four or more times is criminal and plain stupid (this happens too, really, it’s true)

Duplication of effort manifests itself in many ways, a few of which I’ll discuss here:

  1. Procrastination.
    We’re all guilty of this. Put simply, we look at our to-do list and we “hum and haw” about which item(s) we want to work on. Some items are too big, we feel that we’ve not got the time to do the item justice so we put it off. Other items are boring, so we focus in on the more exciting and less tedious items. In reality we should be focusing on the items that will add the most value to the “big picture” or the overall project. If you don’t think you procrastinate, try following the suggestions in the Touch it once topic below.
  2. Two (or more) groups expecting the same information from the same source (often in a slightly different format).
    This is a “duplication of effort smell”. Folks start seeing project-related data that is of some interest to them…they start to ask for reports based around that data without realising that reports actually take time to create, they fail to recognise that the report author has other things of greater importance to the project to work on. Similarly, if the underlying data changes, the report author has considerable round-tripping (going back’n’forth) in order to push the updated information out those who [claim] that they need it.
  3. The wrong people being involved.
    Hi-jacking of information is not uncommon and is one of the “duplication of effort smells”. A project can be making good progress, then all of a sudden, somebody starts taking an interest in parts of the project that really are outside of their skill-base. This is actually similar to 2 above whereby the wrong people sudden get involved by asking for reports/data in a format that suits them. They often join the party late, i.e. they did not realise that the data might have been important to them at the start of the project. If the wrong people are involved, it often manifests itself by virtue of the fact they have arrived on the scene after the scene of crime officer has been and gone, or by virtue of the fact they do not use the report/data correctly (or at all).
  4. Failing to start it…finish it.
    Similar to procrastinating, we often find ourselves revisiting an activity or task thus incurring the “start-up smell” whereby we have to spend time “getting back up to speed”. Interruptions are a key indicator that tasks will be started and returned to at least once prior to completion.

Touch it once
During a discussion about time management, a colleague pointed out a technique that appealed to me. How often do you pick up a document, look at it, procrastinate over it, then put it down again? You’d only be human if you agreed that you frequently pick documents up more than once! My colleague presented a well-known technique that catches this procrastination: each time you touch the document, you mark it with a red dot…the measles inducer. When you reach three red dots, you should agree with yourself that something has to be done with it. More about this common time management technique can be found here.

Of course, touching it more than once is a duplication of effort smell and the red dots will be the give-away…

The perils of the solution…
Obviously solving any duplication of effort requires that the duplication is identified. There are many reliable methods of doing this, not least a basic work-flow analysis. However, identification is the least important part of the solution. Once identified, removing the duplication enters into the realms of a political quagmire. The parties responsible for each part of the duplication will endeavour to prove that their duplicated process is the best one and that one that should be kept. They’ll also argue that their process is required for their day-to-day business, or that it is critical to the project or is just part of the fixtures and fittings (an unwritten policy or procedure if you prefer). This is your biggest problem, convincing those involved in the duplication to change their ways, to accept a single more optimal, more efficient way of achieving the same – a way that costs less, is completed quicker (early access to benefits, etc.) and generally makes the project more friendly and more approachable.

You may also encounter push-back when tackling item 2 above. Folks will cite “systems” as their need for the same data in different formats. “Our XYZ system needs project activities to be recorded in days”…whereas…”our ABC system requires project activities to be records in hours”. An easy conversion between hours and days may be possible, however in reality, different folks work a different number of hours per day. In such situations, where folks are perhaps being blinkered by the proximity of their problem and the need for the data in their format, where folks are unable to think out of the box, we must find a way of allowing them to take a step back from the problem itself. This will allow them to see the bigger picture, to understand the problem in context, to realise that they might need to change their processes in order to provide a better service now and in the future.

Whether you identify those involved in the duplication before or after you streamline the duplication down to a single activity, is up to you. In some instances it might be better to invite “the duplicators” into a [stand-up] meeting that can be used to determine the streamlined activity…this might win you friends and get you more buy-in. Either way, identification and removal of duplicated effort is paramount and should be embraced by all parties.

In this series:
#8 – Multi-tasking is evil
#7 – High workload means lower productivity…
#6 – You were right and I was wrong
#5 – Whose schedule is it anyway?
#4 – Start it…finish it
#3 – Use e-mail properly
#2 – Focus on the project
#1 – decision making