Chaco Canyon for Project Managers
a collection of essays for people in problem-solving
by Richard Brenner
If you work in an organization that executes much of its work as projects, your life
probably feels like a slow-moving emergency — at least some of the time. When we've been
through a long stretch of such chaos, we sometimes feel responsible for it. That is, we feel
that we've done something wrong, or failed to anticipate something obvious, or that we lack
certain skills or capabilities. Usually, the facts simply do not support these feelings.
This e-book gives you a different perspective.
The essays in Skip to the Details: How To Orderthis ebook are based on observations
I've made of client organizations and others over a span of 15 years. They're intended
to get you thinking about how your organization deals with the
problems of project management in a dynamic, fast-changing world.
The book is packed with insights, new perspectives, and
tools for solving the problems that managers and project managers face every day.
Because every person and every organization is unique, you'll probably want to tailor the
approaches suggested in Chaco Canyon for Project Managers but they'll get you thinking about a
solution that will work for you. Write to me about how it turns out at the email address
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What's in this book
Here's a chapter-by-chapter summary of what you'll find in this ebook.
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- 1 Chaco Canyon for Project Managers
- A visit to Chaco Canyon leads to a gift of some important insights.
- 2 Conflict: Manage It or Manage Our Response to It?
- Conflict, especially unnecessarily hostile conflict, can reduce productivity. But conflict isn't actually good or bad, in itself — what matters is how we respond to it. Here are 12 guidelines for responding to hostile conflict.
- 3 The True Costs of Cubicles
- Although cubicles do provide facility cost savings over walled offices, they do so at the price of increased product development project execution delays and costs. Facilities planners and managers typically aren't held accountable for project schedules, yet decisions they make can have dramatic project schedule impact. How important is this effect?
- 4 Organizational Feuds
- Three-quarters of human resource managers now say that skilled workers in their industries are "scarce." The cost of hiring and training a replacement worker now averages 30% of annual salary, and it's even higher in critical occupations. Among sources of turnover, one that stands out is workplace stress. And nothing does more to create an atmosphere of stress than does an organizational feud.
- 5 Organizational Firefighting
- Sometimes companies or projects get into trouble, and "fires" erupt one after another. When this happens, we say we're in "firefighting" mode. But it's more than a metaphor — we have a lot to learn from wildland firefighters.
- 6 When Is Change for a Dollar Only 82¢ ?
- In the good old days, most people worked on one and only one task. As we've learned to "work smarter," this is less and less often the case — people split their time across several tasks that need their particular expertise. Is this really smarter? What are the full costs of dividing a person's attention?
- 7 What to Do About Organizational Procrastination
- From time to time, most of us have to do annoying or unpleasant tasks. And most of us, to one degree or another, procrastinate. There are numerous strategies for dealing with personal procrastination, but what do you do about procrastination as an organizational pattern? Here are eight strategies for reducing the blocks that keep your organization from getting things done by the time you would have liked to have gotten them done.
- 8 Metaphors and Their Abuses
- Our everyday conversation is more colorful and fun when we use metaphors. Examples: We get "revved up." We "roll out" a "product family." But metaphors have their dangers. They can be subtly abused. They can "wag our minds."
- 9 Organizational Coping Patterns
- If your organization doesn't cope well with adversity, it might be caught in one of several ineffective coping patterns. To help it to be more effective, begin by understanding how different organizations cope. In this essay, I adapt a well-known model of coping styles for individuals to describe organizational coping. You can use this model to recognize how to enhance or change the coping strategies of your organization.
- 10 Why Complex Technology Projects Are Usually "Late"
- Have you ever worked on a complex technology project that was completed on time? Probably not. And when a project is late, we usually feel bad about it, and the people who depend on us feel let down. The problem is that our intuition about scheduling is misleading us. It's all so avoidable — if only we understand what's really going on, we can dramatically improve our ability to project schedules.
- 11 The Hierarchy of Needs For Project Organizations
- Project organizations achieve their best performance when their needs are fully met. We can construct a model of the needs of the project organization by following the pattern of the hierarchy of human psychological needs developed by Abraham Maslow. This model offers insight into achieving peak performance in project teams.
- 12 Project Time
- When your project team is scattered over multiple time zones, just telling each other when something is supposed to happen can become confusing. "I'll call you at 3" just won't do. Which time zone did you mean? AM or PM? Adopting a conventional way of referencing times eliminates confusion and makes life easier for everybody.
- 13 Saying "No": A Tutorial for Project Managers
- When someone asks for — or demands — something that we know is utterly impossible, we sometimes agree to provide it. Why, we later ask, did I ever agree to that? Here are some ideas for avoiding traps of this kind, and some alternatives to that simple "yes."
- 14 Reviews and Inspections of Spreadsheets
- When we use spreadsheets to provide support for enterprise-scale decisions, especially financial ones, it's essential to take care that the contents of the spreadsheets are what we hope they are. Reviews and inspections, as adapted from the way they're used in software development, provide a useful means of enhancing spreadsheet quality and reliability.
- 15 What Software Quality Professionals Can Offer to Senior Management
- Much of the software quality knowledge within software companies applies not only to their software products, but to their financial models and reporting tools. Transferring that knowledge from the Software Quality organization to the Finance organization requires translation of terminology and an understanding of cultural differences, but once these are achieved, software companies can harvest additional value from their Software Quality organizations.
- 16 Workplace Taboos and Change
- In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they're taboo. When we're aware of taboos, we can choose when to obey them, and when to be more flexible. When we're unaware of them, they can limit our ability to change.
- 17 Managing Technical Emergency Teams
- When an emergency of any kind threatens or halts the operations of your organization, you activate contingency plans, if you have them. A technical emergency, such as Y2K or the Apollo XIII event, presents special problems, best dealt with by a Technical Emergency Team. Here are the basic issues you need to think about before you train, deploy, support, or manage a Technical Emergency Team.
- 18 Ten Project Haiku
- Ten separate haiku contemplating the lives of projects and of the people who work on them.
- 19 Fifteen Tips For Change Leaders
- By now, most of us understand that leading a successful change effort is a difficult job. It can be a little easier, though, when we recognize that to change an organization, its people must see their roles in it differently. If we focus on the people, and how they change themselves, we do a lot better.
- 20 The True Value of Unworkable Ideas
- We often think of unworkable ideas as a waste of time and effort. But unworkable ideas often lead to good ones. This happens so frequently that it's worth reconsidering how we handle ideas before we know they're unworkable, and how we handle their authors afterwards.
- 21 What Do You Do When You're Stuck?
- It sometimes happens in project work that a problem arises that has no obvious solution. And it can happen that the team might try a number of solutions and still not resolve it. If the problem persists, you can reach a state where you simply don't know what to do. What do you do then?
- 22 Who's Doing Your Job?
- That's easy — you are. Or is it really so simple? Sometimes the answer to this question isn't so clear. What if you're a project manager and you're also responsible for doing some of the work of the project? Or what if you're the project manager and the sponsor of the project? These dual roles can introduce inherent conflicts of interest that make it difficult to answer the question "Who's Doing Your Job?"
- 23 Emailstorming
- Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most of us would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?
- 24 Nine Project Management Fallacies
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know" just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
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