Scott Berkun’s book The Art of Project Management (now issued in a new edition and renamed Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice)) is the best book I’ve read on project management. It is fantastically helpful.
The other day I came across these brief notes I had jotted down a while ago from the book. They are very incomplete, hitting on just a few of the key things that stood out to me.
But sometimes, that’s what can be most helpful. So here they are, in case they might be timely for you as well:
- Requirements vs. specifications. Requirements are the what, and specifications the how.
- The three perspectives: Business (including marketing), technology, and user. User is most important but also most often neglected.
- The importance of planning: “Plans provide an opportunity to review decisions, expose assumptions, and clarify agreements between people and organizations. Plans act as a forcing function against all kinds of stupidity because they demand the important issues be resolved while there is time to consider other options. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘If I had six hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend four hours sharpening the axe,’ which I take to mean that smart preparation minimizes work.” (p. 41)
- On thinking outside the box. It’s not always best to say “think outside the box.” Eliminating boxes is not necessarily the hard part—it’s knowing which boxes to use and when to use them. Constraints are ever present. Art of Project Management, 93. “Do whatever you want with the box. Think in the box, out of the box, on the box, under the box, tear apart and make a fire out of the box, whatever, as long as you manage to solve the problems identified as the goals for the project” (p. 94).
- Where good ideas come from. To generate good ideas, ask good questions.
- Open issues list: “An open issue is anything that needs to be decided or figured out but hasn’t happened yet. It’s essentially a list of questions, and it should encompass anything that needs to be done, prioritized by its potential impact on engineering” (123).
- Different types of requirements and specs: Requirements, feature spec, technical specs, work-item list (the description of each programming assignment needed to fulfill the feature spec), and test criteria and milestone exit criteria (prioritized cases for the new functionality, along with goals for how well the code needs to perform on those cases to meet the quality goals for the milestone).
For those of you who haven’t yet informed yourself on what Facebook Connect is, here is a helpful summary.
Here’s the brief summary:
Facebook Connect is the next evolution of Facebook Platform, enabling you to integrate the power of Facebook Platform into your own site. Enable your users to:
- Seamlessly “connect” their Facebook account and information with your site
- Connect and find their friends who also use your site
- Share information and actions on your site with their friends on Facebook
I think there are some very exciting things that will be happening because of this!
It can be useful to do a quick estimate of the time it will take to accomplish each of the projects on your project list.
I’ve never really done that before. I used to think that doing so would be an unnecessary exercise that would only serves to take time away from actually getting my projects done. And, beyond that, something that would evoke stares of disbelief from any who heard about it (“you actually do that?? what a waste of time! I just get everything done without any effort, and certainly without wasting in time in trivia like that!).
But I just did it (took less than 2 minutes) and discovered that I have about 63 hours of work staring at me simply from my list of current projects.
That’s very useful to know!
Assuming that I could devote 6 hours a day simply to project work (no email, no new tasks that come up, no meetings), it would take me just over two work weeks to finish that (assuming working only 40 hour weeks). And then, after that, there are a bunch of upcoming projects waiting in the wings.
When I factor in the doing of operational and routine things, that’s probably about a month’s worth of work.
It might be easy to conclude, then, that I have too much work on my current list.
But that’s not necessary too much — it just says that I am looking out about a month at a time on my projects list (not in due dates — many of the due dates are farther out — but in terms of work length). Having about a month active at a time is probably not necessarily a bad thing.
Now, I do try to keep my projects list as short as possible, and so maybe a month’s worth is to much to have on there. I do have more projects than normal active right now.
But the main issue is: Without having done this estimate, I wouldn’t know what quantity of work my projects list really represents.
But now that I know that, I can ask the next question: Is this what I really want to get done over the next month? If I did no other projects over the next month, would I be happy with the result? If not, what should I take off the list, and what should go on in its place?
The payoff in those questions is very high. But if I had not estimated the length of my current projects, my default would have been simply to try to cram new stuff in when it came up — without really knowing the trade-off in time delays it would cause.
Now, I can be more informed about those decisions and make sure I really am getting the right things done over the next month.
With spring here (although it doesn’t feel like it yet in MN!), I’m looking forward to grilling again.
For those out there who like to grill, here is my all-time favorite book on grilling: Weber’s Big Book of Grilling. It is filled with great grilling recipes to try out, along with all sorts of tips and sage advice on how to grill with excellence.
Eric Ries has a great article on how to build companies that matter, based on a model that he calls the lean startup.
The way for the lean startup approach has been paved by recent technological innovations such as web 2.0 and has been made even more relevant by the current economic crisis.
Here’s the intro:
We’re living in a time of renewed possibility for startups. Major trends – from the pain of the economic crisis to the disruption of web 2.0 – are breaking the old models and paving the way for a new breed of company. I call it the Lean Startup.
The Lean Startup is a disciplined approach to building companies that matter. It’s designed to dramatically reduce the risk associated with bringing a new product to market by building the company from the ground up for rapid iteration and learning. It requires dramatically less capital than older models, and can find profitability sooner. Most importantly, it breaks down the artificial dichotomy between pursuing the company’s vision and creating profitable value. Instead, it harnesses the power of the market in support of the company’s long-term mission.
Tim O’Reilly has recently been advocating that as an industry we focus on building stuff that matters. In response, I want to try and present a way of building startups that can realize that dream. In particular, he as articulated three principles:
(1) Work on something that matters to you more than money, (2) Create more value than you capture, and (3) Take the long view.
Ries then goes on to present an approach for startups that builds on those principles.
Here is a quick list of some of the main tools I use:
- Laptop: MacBook Pro 15″ [I have the version prior to the one found in this link]
- Email: Mac Mail [I bring my Gmail and work mail into here]
- Calendar: iCal
- Contacts: Mac Address Book
- Task Management: OmniFocus
- Capture tool 1: Moleskine journal
- Capture tool 2: Jott for iPhone
- Mobile device: iPhone
- Web browser: Firefox
- Feed reader: NetNewsWire
- Keeping up with Twitter: Tweetdeck
- Twitter on my iPhone: Tweetie and sometimes Twitfire
- Office tools: Microsoft Office for Mac [but considering a switch to iWork at some point]; also use Google Docs a lot — great for sharing documents without doing attachments
- Diagramming, creating flow charts and org charts and etc.: MindManager and OmniGraffle
- Financial Management: Quicken [have to run this on Windows on my Mac -- I don't recommend the Mac version; I'll be doing a post on financial software for the Mac coming up]
- Running Windows on my Mac: VMWare’s Fusion
- Computer backups: Time Machine
At some point I will provide more detail on each of these and how I use them, but a straight list is hopefully a good place to start in the meantime.
Note that this list is just the electronic side of things (with the exception of my moleskine notebook for a capture tool), and I’m probably leaving several things out. I also have recommendations for the physical side — what type of stapler to get, what type of physical in box, and so forth.
Note that most of the above software is for the Mac. When I was on Windows, I used Outlook for email, calendar, contacts, and task management — and was relatively happy with it because I customized things very heavily (for details, see the David Allen Company whitepaper on Customizing Microsoft Outlook for GTD).
(Thanks to one of my readers for suggesting this post!)
The Washington Post has a Q&A with David Allen where he answers readers questions.
How does prayer relate to productivity? In many ways. One is: Focus on the important not just in your actions, but also in your prayers. Make sure you are praying for the most important thing of all.
On this, see John Piper’s great post, The Most Important Prayer Request in the World.
How do you keep track of your books to read?
If you do GTD and have a “books to read” list, do you consider that to be a type of project list, a type of next action list, or some other type of list?
That’s the mantra at IDEO, which they apply not only to the design of their products, but also to their organization itself.
Now, before getting into that, a quick aside. This principle, that “enlightened trial and error outperforms the planning of flawless intellects,” is quite profound. It is based on the reality that we are finite, and is in fact one of the key lessons of human history.
For example, it shows us why central planning doesn’t work as an economic system. Or, better, the failure of central planning as an economic system manifests the truth of this principle (which we can now use to discourage new attempts at increased central planning, BTW!).
The mass collaboration of the internet is also powered, in part, by this principle of enlightened trial and error — in this case, the enlightened trial and error of essentially millions of people collaborating (directly and indirectly) on a massive scale because of technology.
For example, the team at OmniGroup created the task management application OmniFocus. But they encourage user feedback and even gather data on how their program is used. They are continually building out and improving the program on the basis of how people actually use it and on the basis of what the users identify as potentially being most important to them.
That is only one small example of how many things, even though ultimately developed by a company, are now developed “in collaboration with” large groups of real people. There are also many other forms of mass collaboration that are now happening (on this see the excellent book Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything).
We are just on the cusp of some very powerful changes that will come about from this new way of working and thinking, made possibly by the web (and now, especially, web 2.0 functionality).
So this principle is very, very significant and has very wide application.
But back to IDEO.
IDEO shows that of the many areas where this principle is relevant, an easily overlooked but quite fascinating application is to the arena of organizational strategy and design.
Here is what we read about IDEO in What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management:
IDEO’s mantra is that “enlightened trial and error outperforms the planning of flawless intellects,” a philosophy it applies not just to the design of its products but also to itself, its organization, and how it conducts business.
It has built an experimenting, do-what-it-takes culture. IDEO had made a good living by designing products for the high technology industry. But during the technology crash of 2001, it needed to reinvent itself, and it did. The company began designing products for consumer goods companies like Procter & Gamble. And it even got into the business of designing experiences, which helped it garner business figuring out how to design hospital emergency rooms, for instance, to make things less confusing and fearful for patients.
Here’s the application:
So, instead of sitting in meetings and spending time preparing fancy PowerPoint presentaitons, develop your strategy adaptively, by using your company’s best thinking at the time, learning from experience, and then trying again, using what you have learned.
Building and experimenting, mistake-forgiving, adaptive culture provides a competitive advantage that lasts, because that sort of environment is much more difficult to copy than some dogmatic strategy. Under almost all circumstances, fast learners are going to outperform even the most brilliant strategists who can’t adapt.