Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Review: Creative Project Management

Creative Project Management by Michael Dobson was the latest book I plucked from the local library. It was in a similar vein to my last read in that it was all about project management and given my recent career change this should surprise no one.

The book was a solid read and although it took me quite a while to make my way through it, I think that was more attributed to buying and remodeling a home than to the quality of the read. What I really liked about the book was the manner in which it illustrated fairly classic project management concepts. Instead of focusing on a few illustrations and concept diagrams, the book focused on well known (often military) leaders and how they successfully and unsuccessfully implemented project management throughout history. These historical events, viewed through a project management lens, did a lot to show how these concepts can be applied universally to projects instead of sticking with more generic examples of project management like IT implementations.

What I didn't necessarily love about the book was the way in which it dragged out relatively straight forward concepts. It wasn't that the length was the issue it was the fact that some of the concepts went into great storytelling depth with relatively little practical explanation. It almost felt like the second half of the book was filler to get the book to a certain length. Yet, taken in totality the book was a pretty solid.

Throughout the book there were great questions that every project manager should ask themselves and others regarding the project. The author even went so far as to compile these questions as an appendix at the end of the book. These questions are an extremely helpful guide in determining what elements of the project must be developed and at what stage they should be developed in order for the project to be successful. I enjoyed the way the author built the appendix so much that I copied the pages and plan on using them to help develop each stage of the projects that I manage. If anything, the book is worth picking up for that reason alone.


Chapter 1 - Why Do 70% of Projects Fail:
- 32% of projects were delivered on time, on budget, and with the required features and functions
- 44% were finished either late, over budget, or only partially completed
- 24% failed altogether, and they were cancelled or abandoned
- Two reasons projects fail: 1. Things that nobody thought of or prepared for 2. Things everybody thought of but no one prepared for
- Four PM questions: 1. Why are we doing this? (Business Case) 2. Who has an interest & what do they want/need? (Human Being Aspect) 3. What do we have to do & how? (Project Management, Planning, Qualitative) 4. Who needs to be involved & in what way? (Top Management & Other Involvement)
- Embrace the uncertainty & fluidity of the projects you manage
- What makes this project hard? (chart pg 13) 1. Constraints - How tight are time, cost, performance? 2. Complexity - Tasks, resources, technology 3. Certainty - How much do we know about risks & issues?
- Risk = Probability X Impact
- Cognitive biases pg 18
- When work is temporary & unique the unique part guarantees the presence of uncertainty
- 2 ways of learning: 1. Have an experience and learn from it 2. Learn from someone else's experience (The second it cheaper!)

Chapter 2 - What We Know & What We Think:
- PMs are supposed to challenge assumptions whenever possible but we all have blind spots, biases, & perceptual errors that keep us from recognizing our own misjudgments
- Johari's Window test pg 28
- More PM questions: 1. What aren't we seeing correctly or at all? 2. How will people react to this project? 3. What if I'm wrong? 4. What am I not seeing?
- Ignaz Semmelweis hand washing theory pg 31
- Vietnam quote "Anybody who thinks he knows what's going on clearly doesn't understand the situation."
- Sewell Avery & General Patton project management stories
- "The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown" - Carl Sagan

Chapter 3 - The Most Dangerous Word is a Premature Yes:
- "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected; therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning." - President Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference, Washington DC 1957
- First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is a mountain." Your first understanding of the mountain is an outline, a shape in the horizon. As you get closer the mountain decomposes into a million individual details. Finally you know the mountain as a whole. Zen koan.
- No one starts a war - or rather, no on in his senses ought to do so - without being first clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it." - Clausewitz
- A project isn't the end its the means to bridge the gap
- The first step in any project is to define the gap
- Eisenhower closing the gap story pg 55
- What is the minimum that can be done now?
- Project triage: 1. Likely to survive no matter what 2. Likely to fail no matter what 3. Projects where the level of effort will make a positive impact in success

Chapter 4 - Good Enough, Barely Adequate, Failure:
- 7 Levels of project outcomes: 1. Perfect 2. Outstanding 3. Exceeds Expectations 4. Fully Satisfactory 5. Barely Adequate 6. Failure 7. Catastrophe

Chapter  5 - When The Project Appears Impossible:
- "If an elderly and distinguished scientist says something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says it is impossible, he is very probably wrong." - Arthur C. Clarke
- Just because a project appears to be impossible doesn't mean it is
- Can you adjust time, cost, performance to make it possible?
- Ways to accomplish the impossible project: 1. Change the constraints - analysis, negotiation, problem solving, requirements management 2. Get around the constraints - creativity, exploiting holes, different approaches, rethinking assumptions

Chapter 6 - Knowns & Unknowns: The Risk Factors:
- "The revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk: the notion that the future is more than a whim of the gods and that men and women are not passive before nature." - Peter L. Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk 1998
- Risk is a proposed future even that would have a significant impact on you or something you care about should it happen. Positive or negative. Above all risk is uncertain.
- Risk -> severity and likelihood
- Pure risk is all downside
- Business risk has upside and downside
- Residual risk is leftover risk after mitigation
- Secondary risk is new risk introduced as a result of solutions to the original risk
- Risk management table & responses pg 134
- Managing knowns & unknowns pg 138
- Six dimensions of project management table pg 149
- Leverage, relax, absorb = triple constraints risk responses

Chapter 7 - Project Intelligence:
- Spies pay attention to their environment
- Intelligence process - Collection, Analysis, Packaging, Dissemination

Chapter 8 - It Takes A Village To Wreck A Project:
- "Normal people believe that if it ain't broke don't fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet." - Scott Adams, cartoonist, creator of Dilbert
- "Want to know if you are a leader? Look back and see if anyone is following." - Marilyn Moats Kennedy
- 4 types of managerial challenges - Martyr, Scapegoat, Hall Monitor, Peon
- 4 types of stakeholders - Positive, negative, tangential, conflicted
- 4 stages of managing stakeholders - Identify, Understand, Maximize, Manage
- There are 3 reasons to communicate: 1. You want someone to do something 2. You want someone to know something 3. You want someone to feel something or some combo of the 3
- Table page 88

Chapter 9 - Framing Change:
- I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions." Wilbur Wright
- Counterfactuals are examinations of what might have happened had an actual even turned out another way. A great way to analyze and cope with change

Chapter 10 - Salvaging Project Value:
- Closeout of a project is often taken for granted
- Closeout: 1. Complete 2. Turned Over 3. Closed Out 4. Value Captured

- Appendix A - Questions For The Creative Project Manager:
- Questions pg 227