Essays on Teamwork, Conflict and Project Management

I have written a number of essays and white papers that are of interest and use to people who work in dynamic technology organizations. Here are some brief summaries. Click the essay title to see the full text.

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The Essays

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.
Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?
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.
Workplace Taboos and Change
In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they are 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.
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 are not held accountable for project schedules, yet decisions they make can have dramatic project schedule impact. How important is this effect?
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. How do feuds keep going? How can you end them?
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.
Who's Doing Your Job?
That's easy — you are. Or is it really so simple? Sometimes the answer to this question is not 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?"
Fifteen Tips For Change Agents
If you're leading an organizational change effort, you'll have a chance to learn firsthand how difficult it can be. There's a lot of literature about change and change management. But change, even organizational change, happens one person at a time. Here are 15 tips about how people change. Keep them in mind, and you'll find the change leadership experience more rewarding and less frustrating.
Ten Project Haiku
Ten separate haiku contemplating the lives of projects and of the people who work on them.
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.
Saying "No": A Tutorial for Project Managers
Have you ever thought "Why did I ever agree to do that?" ? Have you ever wished that you knew better how to say no — or even how to avoid volunteering to do something — without suffering undue consequences? Giving a firm and clear No can feel good if it comes from a place of high self-esteem.
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."
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.
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 deal with it. Here are 12 guidelines for dealing with hostile conflict.
Reviews and Inspections of Spreadsheets
When we use spreadsheets to provide support for enterprise-scale decisions, especially financial ones, it is 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.
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 Financial 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.
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. When this pattern is visible at the level of a project or an organization, we have big trouble. Here are nine strategies for reducing the blocks that keep people from getting things done by the time they would have liked to have gotten them done.
When Is Change for $1.00 Only 82¢?
In the good old days, each engineer worked 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?
Maslow's 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.
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 unworkable ideas before we know they are unworkable, and how we handle their authors afterwards.
Why Complex Technology Projects Are Usually "Late"
In 24 years in the Navy, I have been involved in many projects. I had strived to get them out on time, but always ended up having to commit substantial extra man days toward the end to get them completed on schedule. I could never figure out why. I understand now. Your essay enabled me to understand the core concepts of network scheduling. I thank you. — 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.
What Do You Do When You're Stuck?
From time to time in project work, a problem arises that has no obvious solution. And it can happen that the team might try a number of solutions and still come up dry. If the problem persists, you can reach a state where you simply do not know what to do. What do you do then?

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