Good PM 101: Involve Your Project Team Early and Often

One thing I really love in a project manager is bringing me in early, preferably before they even talk to a client, and then keeping me in the loop along the way. While I’m not a fan of time-interrupting meetings, I’d rather tell you about what sorts of things we do well, where we’re weak, and hear what sorts of problems the client is facing and your ideas to solve them than receive a set of requirements that have had no such input.

One of the keys to consulting, and problem solving in general, is that there is no one solution to any problem. There are usually several valid solutions, all with tradeoffs. While one solution may seem best from a client’s perspective, remember that your project team has to be able to deliver something on a schedule the client won’t hate you for later and on a budget your supervisor won’t fire you for at the end. So keep in mind that a solution that’s merely good enough for the client may be actually the better answer, as you can deliver it within their budget and according to their schedule.

Gung-ho, motivational execs and PMs who bang on about “instratovation” or “going the extra mile to deliver top-flight solutions to the client” tend to have several issues. For example, after hearing the talk of “insanely great” solutions, the client will imagine something far beyond their budget. They’ll believe, no matter how much you try to disabuse them of the notion, that you will deliver something that simply can’t exist in the real world (mind-reading is usually an unacknowledged part of the feature set). Unless you’re Steve Jobs with a Reality Distortion Field of your own, you can’t make them believe that your Widget 2.1 is really the answer to their prayers. So talk to your developers to get an idea of what you can deliver BEFORE you pitch those ideas to the client.

Another issue that can arise is the importance of details. While speccing out a new system, run the details by your project team before showing them to the client. It may be that the exact same functionality done with one widget or with a series of screens will be far easier to produce on time and on budget than the widget or single-page form you’ve imagined. You wouldn’t show a feature to the client without running it by your usability guru, and if you do it without running it by your developers, you’re begging for a budget-buster.

So remember, the key to keeping your client expectations grounded and your budget in the black is involving your project team from the beginning, and keeping their input flowing througout the design process. It seems like PM 101, but it’s the rare project manager who really understands it, believes it, and, most importantly, practices it.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? I’ll come back to the scheduling of such meetings and how to specify such functionality in later rants, I mean, uh, essays.

Marathoners, Stoners, and Other No-Good Drug Addicts

In a UC/Irvine and Georgia Institute of Technology study, it was found that intense exercize causes anandamide, a chemical similar to the intoxicating agent in marijuana. This may be the source of “runner’s high” that people like Jim Fixx liked to promote as the “healthy high.” As anandamide is a cannabinoid like THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, this means that the high may not be significantly more or less healthy than that of marijuana–with the exception that you get some exercize instead of smoke inhalation getting said high.

But if someone produces anandamide artificially and begins selling it, will people start testing for it the way they do other chemicals? Will running shoes be classed “paraphernalia” when overweight stoners buy them to disguise the fact they get theirs artificially?

Of course, the one thing that won’t happen is that the White House Office of Drug Control Policy decide that cannabinoids aren’t that harmful and regulation of them differently from alcohol is pointless.

I await their condemnation of runners as paranoid, unintelligent slackers who lie and cheat to have their way.

What I Watched On TV Last Night, Part XMLIV

So I finally bowed to the peer pressure I’ve been getting for the last year and watched “Old School” on TV at a friend’s house last night.


This is the lifetime performance of the usually unfunny Will Farrel? Really? The guy is only funny occasionally. I counted maybe 5 good bits in the entire movie that were attributed to him. One other was attributable to the fact that said friend is still miffed that I made him sit through Kansas as the opening act for Yes three and a half years ago, and Will Farrel’s character sings “Dust in the Wind” at a funeral.

Luke Wilson is at best amusing, the other guy in the trio is slightly more so, but the script just wasn’t funny, the pacing would be charitably called “uneven” and generally the film made “Dude, Where’s My Car?” look like an intellectual tour-de-force.

So I have now learned that nothing can save Will Farrel in a movie, just as nothing can save Keanu Reeves in a movie, and yes that includes the bloody Matrix, with its high-school stoner philosophy. *Toke* “What if, like, the world is just, like, a dream, man?” If you didn’t believe me with the first one, you for damn sure believed me by the third.

Please, people, just learn to admit that Steve Martin (yes, I’ve seen the bloody Jerk, I kept waiting for the funny bit), Will Farrel, and Richard Pryor (The Toy. Superman III. ‘Nuff said.) are the most overrated comedians on the planet. You’ll feel better liberating yourself from the herd. Honestly. Bill Murray still makes movies. It’s OK. There’s other stuff to watch. I promise.

2004 Starts Off Inauspiciously

Well, here I am on an unseasonably warm Saturday in January, at work.

Oh, and more soldiers have been killed in Iraq in what look like continuing attacks. Sure, I mean, that is much more tragic and important by comparison to me working over the weekend, but that’s not what has me pissed off.

What has me pissed off is that the reason why I’m working on a weekend was preventable. Generally, the only way you can avoid being attacked in Iraq is not to go there. Others have hashed that issue over many times, and I have nothing new to add. So it’s project management instead.

I’m going to start a series of posts on what I, as a programmer, value in a good project manager. It’s sad, but I think your average programmer has a much better appreciation of what it takes to be a good project manager than project managers have of what it takes to be a good programmer. I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest programmer, but, let’s face it, I was the one chosen for this weekend delight because I’d managed to get my projects done ahead of time. So I have at least some businessworthy skills.

I do this in hopes that maybe a project manager looking on the Web for info outside of the brain-dead Project Mangement press (5 Easy Ways to Use PowerPoint to Impress Your Boss! Unsatisfied in Meetings? 6 Ways to Know If You’re a Meeting Whiz or Fizz! 7 Ways to Seduce Your Intern!). I’ve seen what our management reads, and it’s like the playing sheets for Buzzword Bingo. Obviously, they’re not getting sufficient help from it, so this will be my contribution.

The purpose of this post, however, is just to gripe. I’m trying not to think about how I could be in the mountians right now. At least it’s not sunny…