Project Management

Chaos Monkey with People Instead of Software

The Seahorse writes code for a living so, in the same way that I am obliged to follow sports ever so casually (for instance the Chicago Cubs have hired a new, adorable player) I follow some software/dev/tech blogs so as to be able to hold my own in conversation–at least enough to return the ball back over the net (see? sports metaphor!) So a big h/t to Jenn Webb at O’Reilly who clued me in to the notion of using Chaos Monkey on people.

Kind of Like a Fire Drill
Software isn’t one thing, it’s a lot of inter-connected little ecosystems that all communicate with each other. Chaos Monkey randomly selects one of these systems and terminates it. This happens during the normal work-week, not at 3 a.m., so presumably you have the staff available to troubleshoot and correct the problem. It’s a way to force weaknesses to the surface so that you can plan to mitigate them when you are fully-resourced and at your best.

People are Interconnected Too
So what happens if you send somebody (anybody?) from one of your teams away on short notice? Would the team figure out how to fill the gaps? Could you test this tomorrow? What would happen if you picked someone at 9:47 a.m., whispered in her ear, “Take the rest of the day off without pay. Do not respond to any messages from anyone at work. See you tomorrow morning.” What would happen if you whispered the same thing in a second person’s ear at 10:32 a.m.?

This Sounds Terrifying
I know, right? And yet doesn’t that point to the need to actually try it?


PMBOK and Boy Bands

PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge and folks tend to pronounce the acronym as PIM-bawk.

It’s all captured in a book full of jargon, diagrams, and math formulas. In other words, it’s kind of intimidating.

The best approach I’ve found is to pretend that PMBOK is like a fussy baby, a scared dog, or other savage beast that might be soothed by singing to it.  Fortunately Hanson is here to the rescue!

You’ll find that singing  PMBOK to the tune of “Mmmbop” will soon have your computations of earned value, planned value, and actual cost moving forward in harmony.

Management is not a science

Loving this interview between Scott Berkun and Phil Simon, author of the new book Message Not Received: Why Business Communication is Broken and How to Fix It.

Berkun starts by asking why jargon exists, and Simon blames a number of folks:

We can start with management consultants, arguably some of the worst purveyors of jargon. They try to make business and management more complicated than it is. Management is a discipline, not a science. There are no immutable laws of management. Period.

later on, when discussing solutions:

…remember that most people aren’t actively trying to confuse others. They just don’t realize that they’re bloviating.


When someone is routinely confusing others, don’t be afraid to call bullshit on jargon. At a minimum, say, “I don’t follow. Could you please explain what you mean by that?” In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Remember that the word communicate means “to make common.”

“Making common” is tough. I spend a lot of time at work trying to do just that. I don’t have any hacks to share.

Self-Organizing Teams and a Magic Question when you Get Stuck

I’ve been reading Galina’s post about self-organizing teams, and while she illustrates her thoughts with a picture of a unicorn, she has several thoughtful ideas about self-organization, including a realistic appraisal of what is reasonable and what is unreasonable to expect from a self-managed team.

Ever been in a romantic relationship? Congratulations; you’ve been on a self-organized team of two. Did you guys magically achieve consistent harmony, no matter what the situation, through the sheer force of your luuuuuuv? No, of course not; you had to communicate, and you had to rehash familiar territory over and over again.

That last part sucks, no? Here’s a tip for when when you are feeling stuck and keep talking past each other:
I’m concerned that I don’t fully understand your point-of-view, so I’m going to say what I think your p.o.v. is and I’d like you to please correct me where I’ve gotten it wrong. Then we’ll trade places.

Here’s why this works:

  • We repeat ourselves because I want to hear you but I want to be heard first. Making the turn-taking explicit (and giving them the first opportunity to be understood) breaks that cycle.
  • We repeat ourselves because we fear we aren’t heard, so the reflecting makes your listening tangible.
  • We repeat ourselves because we fear we aren’t understood, so accepting the correction (I assumed you were concerned about the budget, but it sounds like the deadline is a much bigger concern for you. Do I have that right?) helps us to move from adversaries who have opposing points of view, to allies searching together for a win-win solution.


How to Facilitate a Meeting when you have Skin in the Game

We are planning a series of projects at work that will bust silos and work cross-divisionally and so forth.

I’m facilitating an upcoming meeting, and I am not neutral–I will be directly affected by the outcome of this meeting. So the people in the room will be right to wonder if I am steering the conversation towards a result that suits me.

Here’s the plan:

  1. I’m going to be transparent with the group at the beginning — while I intend to be neutral facilitator, I have skin in the game and I will include my point of view in the discussion as a participant. I will ask the group to please keep me honest and let me know if they think I am not facilitating fairly.
  2. I have asked a meeting attendee, JP, who represents a different point of view, to please be a back-up facilitator if I get caught up in the discussion and need to step out of my facilitator role.