Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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The Play (Project) Isn’t Over

October 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The most important decision about a project may be when we say, “It is over.”

Watching college (semi- or mostly-professional) football this weekend. Several times today I see a 19 to 21-year old score a touchdown and in great glee make enough of the wrong motions to be flagged for excessive celebration or taunting or just plain getting on the referee’s nerves. This brings a major penalty “on the ensuing kickoff” as the referee explains in his personal microphone. Then I see a similar thing the next day with fully professional football players celebrating excessively and being penalized.

Perhaps coaches should teach players something different about a touchdown play. The play isn’t over when you enter the end zone and the whistle blows. The play isn’t over until you gently hand the ball to the referee and, without any untoward motions, you run full speed to me and I discharge you to sit on the bench. Then, and only then, is the play over.

Let’s move from plays to projects. A development project over when…

  • the system passes final testing
  • the system passes user acceptance testing
  • the system is installed at the user’s facility
  • we hand the user the admin password
  • all our people return from their at-long-last vacation
  • the user signs the contract for the next project
  • all our people start working on the next project
  • I retire and live out my days in a rocking chair on the porch
  • never

How we declare “It is over” makes a great difference in what we do, when we do it, and how we do it. It is best to explain this ending to everyone at the beginning.

→ No CommentsTags: Clarity · Decide · Management

Change and the Doorway

October 19th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The arrival and departure of persons has a major influence on who we are and what we do.

Every person who walks in the door changes the organization. The same is true for every person who walks out the door—they change the organization. Every entering and departing person changes who we are and what we do.

That’s just the way it works folks. The new person is not the old person. The new person is a different person. That is change; sorry if it upsets you.

And, by the way, the size of the organization does not matter. If we change one person in a 10-person or 10,000-person group, the result is the same—the group changes.

But I want the newcomer to literally replace the other person. And this is a contract situation. The contractor is supposed to have interchangeable parts, uh, er, persons.

Sorry, persons are not interchangeable. We are all different, and we know that.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · People

Say it Aloud First (in a safe place)

October 16th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Advice on preparing to bring a concept to others.

I have a great idea! I have a informed observation! I have something that others should hear or read! It’s obviously worthwhile. What should I do first?

Say it aloud (in a safe place).

There is something about saying the words aloud that helps me understand how others might react to my insight of brilliance. Try it.

And, say it aloud in a safe place, i.e., one where anyone who hears me understands what I am doing, gives me the benefit of doubt, and knows that I might drop the whole thing.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Ideas · Learning

Outsiders and Risk on Projects

October 12th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We review A fundamental of project planning, execution, and incurring risk.

Risk is the answer to the question, “What could possibly go wrong?”

The answer is, “Many things could go wrong.”

Some of the possible wrong, however, is avoidable. We can prepare better and ensure we do better. The key word in that statement is “we.” What, however, do we do when we aren’t involved?

In those cases, we incur risk.

Sometimes a project depends on the performance of an outsider—someone we neither control nor influence. If that person or group doesn’t perform, we lose. They may lose nothing while we lose everything. That could go wrong, that is risk.

How do we avoid that risk? Simple. We do everything ourselves, except when we can’t. Then we depend on outsiders. Maybe we can arrange a reward/punishment with the outsiders. That is influence. When we have no influence, well, that is risk, and that is bad.

→ No CommentsTags: Management · Risk

Wiring America, Again, and Again

October 9th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Once again, we march into the future doing the same thing we did in the past. And it isn’t a bad thing to repeat.

There was a time when a President and Vice President of America were doing a photo opportunity “wiring” a school. They were pulling Ethernet cables through conduit so every classroom would have one computer connected to that new-fangled Internet thingy. How ancient.

We are wiring America again. This time we are pulling smaller wires. At the end of the wires are USB ports. We have USB ports in theater seats, in couches in malls (remember malls?), at tables in restaurants, at bars in bars, at…well just about everywhere. Why? Because USB, which should be called Universal Mobile Power as that is what it has become, is the power outlet of the early part of this century. USB recharges our mobiles, and we all have mobiles, right?

So we are rewiring America again, this time with power. Sometimes even real 110V power outlets, but mostly with little USB wires.

Wasn’t electrification a big national program once?

→ No CommentsTags: America · Technology · Uncategorized

Replace the Weak Link

October 5th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

What do you do with a person who isn’t doing their job, but seems to do other things?

Fire him. He admits he doesn’t know how to do all the things you want him to do. He admits that he just doesn’t learn fast and will take along time to do the things you want him to do. It is simple, fire him.

But he has been on the team for ten years … so…

There is some value in a person’s ability to make everyone else feel good. There is some detriment in a person causing other persons to work harder all the time. This isn’t easy, is it?

The weak link is weakest at some thing.

There are always other things.

Gee. The textbooks said this project management gig wasn’t that difficult.

→ No CommentsTags: Management

Formative Years, Reformative Years

October 2nd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Most of us have been through our formative years. How about doing it again?

The formative years are…

  • we walk in new
  • we soak in things
  • we are growing without realizing it

This may be high school, may be college, may be our first job, may be our first professional job. We look back on it and wonder how we make it through to some level of competence.

And now here we are. Can we enter Reformative Years again or re-enter those formative years?

Do we have the energy? Do we have the desire? Can we stand the possibility that we aren’t yet fully formed, fully competent, or fully full of life?

Let’s jump in.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Learning

Too Close to Think

September 28th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Someone on the team needs to be a little farther away from the problem than the rest of us.

Once upon a time…a team of engineers and such had a major design review in Florida. The team didn’t live in Florida. The head of the team, thoroughly enmeshed in the details of the system being built by the team, decided to hold the review at the earliest possible moment.

The persons who scheduled that were close, very close to the problems of the project. We couldn’t delay that meeting a single moment, we had to do it as soon as possible to gain every day of schedule possible. Push. Push. Push.

The week chosen was spring break for local schools. Lots of people were going to the Orlando tourist attractions. The flights to Florida were booked. Members of the team were flying through Denver to reach Orlando with two stops in between. Rental cars were all gone. It was all a nightmare.

The team needed a team member who was not so close to the problem. The team needed a person who could sit back, look at the calendar, and say, “Yes, but…” And that team member needed to have a strong-enough voice to have the rest of the team listen.

I write this blog post from the comfortable table of a coffee shop a million miles away from the slings and arrows of project work. What do I know? Well, I was on that team of engineers who were told to make plane, hotel, and rent a car reservations in Florida during spring break. I raised my hand and pointed to the calendar. My warnings were ignored as I was the type of person to sit at a coffee shop table a million miles away from the slings and arrows of project work and mention local school calendars and tourist travel and such.

Please, assign a person to your team who sits a distance away at coffee shop tables and ponders the tedium of life.

→ No CommentsTags: General Systems Thinking · Management · Planning · Thinking

Facing the Same or Opposite Directions

September 25th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Which way is your team facing? When? Why? Consider a few options.

If we are all facing the same direction…we can’t shake hands, that only happens when we face opposite directions. We can’t see what is sneaking up behind our colleague, again that only happens when we face opposite directions.

If we are facing opposite directions…we can’t move in the same direction, that only happens when we face the same direction. We can’t see a common threat approaching, again that only happens when we face the same direction.

Which way do we face? Which way do we have our team face? The team members seem to already know the answer: Each individual changes the direction each is facing often. The total affect is what the group needs. Too much direction from “the leader” often makes a mess of this.

What does the leader do? Ensure that the leader doesn’t make a mess of this.

→ No CommentsTags: General Systems Thinking · Group · Management

Technical Budgets

September 21st, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A review of one of the fundamentals of systems engineering. We create and manage budgets of key technical performance measures.

System engineers work with technical budgets. Examples:

  • size
  • weight
  • power
  • attenuation
  • memory use RAM
  • memory use disk
  • time to complete an operation

We are building a smartphone. We are told to keep total weight under X. We allocate so much weight to the case, so much to the screen, so much to the battery, etc.

As the design progresses, we monitor the weight estimates for the designs of the components of the system. The screen folks are a little over, but the battery folks are a little under. We juggle the budget allocations and watch closely.

The prototypes have been built. We are over budget, i.e., over total weight. Where can we cut. We go back and forth among and within the different component teams.

And at the same time we have a budget and allocations for the amount of power the different components draw. We have to test and monitor those allocations. The processor is drawing less power than allocated. That is okay sort of as the screen is drawing more power than allocated. We keep juggling the budgets of the different pieces.

Sound familiar?  Then you have been performing one basic function of systems engineering.

Never heard of this? Perhaps you should explore the field of systems engineering.

→ No CommentsTags: Engineering · Systems