Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Project management lessons in snowmaggedon

This past weekend, we had such a large amount of snow dumped on us - it was quite beautiful. Nowhere near as much as we used to get in Northern Illinois near the Wisconsin border, but a lot.

The husband and I went out to shovel, and I recruited the kids to help. The repetitive, heavy labor of shoveling gave me time to think about some project management lessons.
Snow shovelImage by dianecordell via Flickr

First, what were our goals? "Clearing the driveway" was my first answer. But when I thought about it, actually the goal was to be able to get the cars out of the garage and the people out of the house safely. So I changed my work plan to focus on removing enough snow to make driving safe (recognizing that we wouldn't be going at high speeds down the drive) and to sweep and salt the walk. Since we're all able bodied and everyone has boots, having dry and completely clear pavement wasn't required to meet our objective. Don't over-engineer your deliverable. (Six sigma practitioners refer to this as Muda a.k.a. over-processing - activity that is wasteful because it doesn't add value.

Were there any secondary goals? Yes, I'd like the kids to develop their work ethic. This meant accepting a certain amount of snowball-throwing, fort-building, and jumping-into-snow-piles as the work was progressing. The actual contribution to the work effort from the kids was non-trivial, but not as substantial as it could have been. (But yes, boys - I thank you!) So two lessons here: first, adding resources to a project does not necessarily reduce the time line (especially if the resources are unskilled). Also: helping or managing new resources on a project reduces the efficiency of the other resources. So consider all the factors carefully when looking for new resources for a project.

Finally, what happens to a project with two objectives? In my case, the objectives were safe travel from home and developing a work ethic in the kids. Most project managers know this intuitively - adding objectives reduces the speed with which those objectives are achieved. Probably I could have done two projects separately and gotten them done sooner. But, cumulatively they may have taken more time. So consider the need for speed carefully before adding objectives to your project.

For those still digging out, I wish you luck!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, February 8, 2010

Google grammar tricks

I recently read an article and saw a delightful gem of a comment thread between two responders.
"@Commenter: " . . . miss a typo after pouring over a document . . . " I'm not sure if your use of 'pouring' here is an intentional demonstration of the point, or not - but note that it should be 'poring' instead. "
Grammar policeImage by the_munificent_sasquatch via Flickr
I think having good grammar and writing well is a really essential skill, but sometimes the nuances of a language can be tricky to master. (Especially for non-native speakers; you have my sympathy.) This example above is a good case in point: which is right? Poring over, or pouring over?

One simple way to check is to use google. Open a search, and type "pouring over" and note how many results you get - today for me was 398,000. Then type "poring over" and compare the results - 624,000. (Mind those quotes, they're important for search.) Based on these numbers, I can see that "poring over" is correct.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Not everything is amenable to a simple popularity contest. Check out a book or two for a more thorough understanding of grammar. I think grammar generally is adequately judged by common usage, because grammar arises from conventions. But be warned: acting as the grammar enforcer at work or around your friends won't win any popularity contests. Another good resource to check and see if an expression you're using in writing is a problem is Wikipedia's page on common misspellings/grammar and Misc.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]