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The Principles of Project Management

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Programming 125

zedguy writes "Ask someone what 'project management' is and you're liable to get a few blank stares — it's one of those fields people have heard of, but probably have problems pinning down a definition. So that is what the first section of the book does: provides a definition that can be summed up as applying tools and skills to complete a project. That then leads to what exactly is a "project": a set of tasks with a time-frame and goal of somehow adding value. So yes, the introduction does involve a fair bit of terminology that isn't going to be familiar to many readers coming from a coder's background, but there's a helpful appendix that lays out many of the terms. Just as important, the introduction explains what project management is not, some of the misconceptions and why it's good to know." Keep reading for the rest of Zoltan's review.With the definitions out of the way, readers then get into the start-up tasks. First, there's looking for projects (find opportunities), deciding is it's a good opportunity (this is a bit of office politics — you want to know soon if the your project has the necessary support from management) and even if the task warrants a project — one of the key points is that a project is not on-going maintenance — it has a goal and a completion date.

Once you have decided to undertake a project, the next steps involve a proposal, identifying stakeholders, setting up an organizational chart and establishing communication protocols. This is the soft skill side of project management — a lot of the work is keeping the people the project is for interested and informed on where the project is heading. Much of the advice is practical — including dealing with the stakeholders who just aren't that interested in your project and picking a good project board — the less the better. Finally, once this is established it's time to make sure everyone is on the same page and agreed on the deliverables (the specific things the project will achieve).

By chapter three ("Getting the Job Done") we're into the actual material many readers (including myself) think of as project management — setting schedules, breaking deliverables into discrete tasks. For that, there's a lot of practical advice here — especially around making estimates and communicating them to stakeholders and team-members so they are not mis-interpreted as wild guesses or hard dates. Particularly good was the advice on refining estimates from a general size (is it a small, large or extra-large task), then, as the date got closer, change it to a more accurate estimate. As well as measuring performance, some management tools like work-flow and Gantt charts and issue lists are introduced in this chapter.

The last two chapters look at managing your team and completing the project. The "Keeping it smooth" chapter gives a good overview of the people management skills you will need working with team members. There's a fair bit of overage of team building (forming, storming, performing and adjourning) and a bit of coverage of collaboration over distances. Having done some small group management in the past, I think it covers all the bases well and it's applicable outside of project management as well.

Like many of the new SitePoint books this book explains a complex topic with a few illustrations and a clean layout. They're using that humorous information schema (light-bulb, bicycle horn, hand grenade) to good effect. One example of this is in Getting Started chapter: There is a section talking about what goes in a Project Initiation Document (PID), and there are break-out boxes on what it is not meant to take the place of.

For an example of the layout, the "Keeping it Smooth" chapter is a good example of how this book is organized; Topics are broken up by headings with points arranged as lists of short paragraphs, which makes it easy to skim. While it's a small book — 200 pages, about 25x20 cm — it's still good to be able to skim.

The glossary covers the particular usage of words in the project management domain.

Appendixes A-C list some tools,other resources (books and blogs) and C provides a list of qualifications and associations.

For a topic I was quite unfamiliar with when I started, I'd recommend this book as a good overview to the topic. The chapters follow a chronological order through a project — from picking a project — including those to avoid — planning and executing, managing the staff and stakeholders and finally, finishing your project and handing it off.

The author, Meri Williams, writes two blogs: GeekManager and Meriblog which readers might want to check out for further material. While each field has it's jargon, project management has a number to learn — and this book does a good job explain it.

You can purchase The Principles of Project Management from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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125 comments

first post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23906833)

I hope the PM doesn't mind!

Re:first post (5, Funny)

alexj33 (968322) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907675)

PROJECT PHASES:
Phase 1: Uncritical acceptance.
Phase 2: Wild enthusiasm.
Phase 3: Dejected disillusionment.
Phase 4: Total confusion.
Phase 5: Search for the guilty.
Phase 6: Punishment of the innocent.
Phase 7: Promotion of nonparticipants.

Re:first post (1)

ProfLuddite (1224204) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909747)

In my experience, Phase 7 all too often depends on the success or failure of the project.
If the project Succeeds: Promotion of nonparticipants.
If the project fails: Promotion of the responsible parties.
Odd, that...

Project Phases (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23911797)

PROJECT PHASES:

Phase 1: Uncritical acceptance.

Phase 2: Wild enthusiasm.

Phase 3: Dejected disillusionment.

Phase 4: Total confusion.

Phase 5: Search for the guilty.

Phase 6: Punishment of the innocent.

Phase 7: Promotion of nonparticipants.

Um.
Sorry to say this, but this should probably be moderated +5 insightful.

Recent bad experience, you see....

Also on this topic (5, Informative)

edwebdev (1304531) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906863)

See also: The Mythical Man-Month [wikipedia.org] by Fred Brooks.

Re:Also on this topic (1)

WolverineOfLove (1305907) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908269)

My Junior-year software design course at University issued Mythical Man-Month, and I was skeptical at first, reading about the development of OS/360. How could this possibly relate to modern development practices we were learning about? Agile, eXtreme Programming, etc. The more I read though, the more I was floored by how well Brooks had nailed the problem, and how we still have yet to find a "universal" solution to the problems presented. Progress has been made, of course, and methods may work better with one product than another, but there's obviously still a pain to be relieved if authors are penning new thoughts and methods. In the meantime, I'll pick this one up, as I'm very interested to see any new or evolved thoughts on the matter.

Re:Also on this topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23909951)

The Mythical Man Month is not really about project management. It is probably more about how traditional project managment techniques do not directly apply directly to the creation of software.

In general software development projects can benefit from traditional project management techniques outside of the direct software creation lifecycle. That is for things like scheduling, risk management, procurement, quality, requirements etc.

Is this (2, Interesting)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906897)

like the Cliffs Notes for the PMBOK [wikipedia.org]?

Re:Is this (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907033)

Cliffs Notes are for literary works that people can't be bothered to actually read. They don't have them for technical documents like the PMBOK. The technical equivalent is known as a "textbook".

Re:Is this (1)

j-pimp (177072) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908609)

Cliffs Notes are for literary works that people can't be bothered to actually read. They don't have them for technical documents like the PMBOK. The technical equivalent is known as a "textbook".

Theres some value to Cliff's Notes. I resorted to them once as a substitute for finishing Moby Dick. I was in 6th grade and chose to read the book on my own. I made it about 3/4ths through and give up the Saturday before the monday the book report was due. I also owned up to using them to my teacher. I think I was to young to appreciate all the symbolism that was in 3 chapters about pumping water out of the bottom of the ship.

If I saw Cliff's notes for the Similaron I'd pick up a copy, that's almost as dry a read as Moby Dick. Christopher should allow someone to reedit the book into something more interesting.

Granted, my HS teachers recommended monarch notes if we needed a supplementary aide./p>

Book version of a meeting? (4, Funny)

omeomi (675045) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906931)

That then leads to what exactly is a "project": a set of tasks with a time-frame and goal of somehow adding value.

Thank god we've gotten that out of the way. I guess now that we've adequately defined work, I can go get some work done. See ya'll at the next meeting.

project management is more like "time accounting" (4, Insightful)

mediocubano (801656) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906945)

It seems to make more sense to me when I think of project managers as time accountants. They have time budgets and scopes and reports and things that relate along the lines of a financial manager running a business.

Only Project Managers have completely different names for those things, but the better ones do a lot of time reporting and time budgeting.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (3, Insightful)

vvaduva (859950) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907335)

Focusing on time alone can lead you in the wrong direction. PMI offers some free information on their website on Project Management (pmi.org) that can help you get some hand on PM from a general overview perspective. It's about managing all resources, not just time or money and ultimately PM is about efficiency. Time is just one piece of the puzzle. One project can be closed ahead of schedule and be crap at the same time.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (1)

withoutfeathers (743004) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908577)

The triple constraint is Time/Cost/Scope. Any one of them alone means little in formal project management.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (4, Insightful)

metlin (258108) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907891)

Not really.

I'd say that Project Management involves juggling three things - Schedule, Scope and Budget (think of it as a triangle).

Usually, any change in project direction, requirements, resources or funding affects one of the 3, and you need to juggle between the 3 to find an optimal state.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908371)

It seems to make more sense to me when I think of project managers as time accountants.
Time accounting for a project is data collection, that's it. Technically, all accounting is just data collection.

It's the analysis and resultant actions that set apart good financial managers (and project managers) from the dreck.

In my experience, time accounting by PMs is used primarily for budgeting and budget allocation -- more as reporting to their superiors than anything else. I have had the pleasure of working under and side-by-side project managers who use the time data well. These have tended to be with managers who really understood what their staff were working on, and would step in to improve performance when tasks began looking like they would run over budget.

Sometimes this meant coaching (and/or training) staff, sometimes it meant reassigning tasks, sometimes it meant replacing incompetent resources.

I'd just like to add to your point about time reporting and time budgeting -- this only works well if the time budgeting is done well. Someone who cannot budget well will never be able to use time reporting well. Without good milestones/goalposts/need assessments/whatever, it is impossible to use reporting to assess progress.

To sum up, it's not just competent budgeting & reporting that are necessary, but also a good understanding of how to interpret the numbers and apply fixes. I believe this is something very hard to learn other than by experience (both working under a good PM and getting a chance to make your own mistakes as a new PM).

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (1)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909643)

Time accounting for a project is data collection, that's it. Technically, all accounting is just data collection.

That's not been my experience. As a former PM for a construction management firm, specializing in IT buildouts, I found that dealing with time frames were more about site-adjustment to new and unexpected things.

For example, the contractors labor who is putting in all the ethernet drops all decide at once to take off without telling their boss to Mexico to be with their families for some reason. Or there's a bad storm, and the person who is supposed to install the racks doesn't show up, so when the hardware vendor comes in the next day, he has nothing to put the machines in.

Stuff like that. (Countless other things). The PM has to deal with all this crap, and still try to figure out how to get everything done on time, which often is impossible.

You can yell and scream at the contractors/vendors all you want, but it won't change anything. You can deal with change orders which are so vague as to grant the vendors license to bill you up the ass, and when you balk and demand specifics they delay things even more, you can do all of that and it still doesn't change the fact that ultimatly your job is to explain to your client that it's not going to be on budget, on time, and to their specifications. At this point, the PM has to sit back and give the owner at least something that works.

Then again, I was never a very good PM.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#23910607)

I see where you're coming from... but time accounting is what I was referring to... which doesn't have much to do with putting out fires :)

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (2, Insightful)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908775)

Though project fiscal performance is important I think the most important aspect of a 'qualified' project managers job is knowing what to do when things do not go as planned. I think the best example of a project manager would be

General Leslie Groves
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Groves [wikipedia.org]

who's responsibility it was to keep everyone on task and on schedule. By taking on planning and logistics he allowed the scientists to focus on what they do best.

Which is the mark of a good project manager. The ability to take away useless task and decisions allowing you to do what you do best as a team member.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23910043)

Ok the time management side of project management is like computer science 101. The important part is communication, communication, communication and a little more communication. The other part of project managers job is process. Make sure that there is a process and that it is well understood by all involved with the project.

Alot of the communication goes along the lines of
- Dealing with difficult customers.
- Dealing with difficult developers.
- Dealing with difficult line managers.
- Dealing with difficult subject matter experts.
- Dealing with difficult testers.

Re:project management is more like "time accountin (1)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 5 years ago | (#23910191)

In my experience the major tasks involved with "time accounting" can and maybe should be delegated.

Counting beans (time or money) isn't that hard. It's the people skills or lack thereof that seem to make or break most projects. Thus "Wheel Greaser" is the way I've come to think of the good project managers I've worked with. "Keeping It Smooth" shouldn't be a chapter. It's a fundamental aspect of every part of a well run project. Projects are just that, projects, it's the people that need management, they're usually from many departments, don't get paid based on the project, and are usually putting up with the project manager as a "second boss".

It's unfortunate, but the accountant types usually run miserable projects while the diplomat types actually get people to come together and get real work done.

Actually... (2, Insightful)

Paranatural (661514) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906977)

I'm pretty certain that many people with a 'coder's background' will be all too familiar with some of that terminology, after they've been in the workforce a year or two.

I bought Microsoft Project a while back (4, Funny)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906985)

I had just started on this huge C++ app, that was to take a year and lots of my client's money to develop, and figured that being my own project manager would be helpful. The client also wanted a time and cost estimate.

Worst investment I ever made. My memory is hazy, but I seem to recall it set me back five hundred bucks.

So with the manual open, I created a new project, and then the manual said "Enter your tasks".

Well, Hell, if I knew what my tasks were, I wouldn't need a project management tool. I gave up on it completely.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (4, Funny)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907093)

Yeah, I had the same problem with Microsoft Word. I bought it to write a novel. But it turns out you have to supply your own words!

That title is very misleading.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

winomonkey (983062) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907801)

What, Clippy wasn't helpful? "It looks like you are trying to write a novel! ... "

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907999)

Clippy was useless. He wanted to know the "genre" of my novel. How can they call their software "user friendly" if you have to learn technical jargon that?

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 5 years ago | (#23911809)

Yeah, I had the same problem with Microsoft Word. I bought it to write a novel. But it turns out you have to supply your own words!
Your problem wasn't the application, it was your purchasing the wrong application. If you wanted to write a novel, you should have bought "Words".

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (2, Informative)

Amarok.Org (514102) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907123)

You missed the point of the tool.

The point of the tool is to allow you build your list, assign resources, time estimates, dependencies, track deadlines, etc.

Start simple:

Task 1: Write outline of application goals (X days)

Task 2: Create block diagram of expected modules and functions (X days)

Task 3: Code skeleton structure (X days)

Task 4: Write code for modules (X months)

No, I'm not a developer - and it's just an example. Once you have that in place, you start doing real work. And you realize, "Hey, I'm going to need to do these 12 things before I can do that one." Perfect, you go back and add those in, making them prerequisites. Little by little, you end up with a useful plan that lets you track your progress and estimate completion dates, etc.

Microsoft Project isn't a project manager. It's a tool for a project manager to use.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907489)

whoosh

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907823)

Let me put it in a different light. To do a project you need to answer the following;

1. What do I need to deliver to consider the project complete
2. Who will do the work for each deliverable
3. How long each deliverable will take
4. What is the flow of my deliverables (what happens first, second, third, etc)

So if you can answer What, who, and how long each activitity you need to do takes, then you have a project plan. Checkout the guys at Merlin2Users google group [google.com].

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (3, Insightful)

glgraca (105308) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907143)

MS Project paves the way to waterfall projects, mainly because most managers don't understand iterative development.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (4, Insightful)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907243)

MS Project paves the way to waterfall projects, mainly because most managers don't understand iterative development.

I'd say the problem is more general: most business people don't understand iterative development. They want hard deadlines and schedules and guarantees, even though software development doesn't really work that way.

Essentially, they stick their heads in the sand and want software development to be just like manufacturing.

Give most businesses a choice between a waterfall development PM and an iterative development PM, and they're going to pick the waterfall guy because he's willing to give them a (probably very inaccurate) deadline of when the whole giant project will be done.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

Jansingal (1098809) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907385)

>>>MS Project paves the way to waterfall projects, mainly because most managers don't understand iterative development.

I'd say the problem is more general: most business people don't understand iterative development. They want hard de

I second that!!!

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1, Insightful)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908265)

I don't know why iterative development excludes deadlines. Deadlines are important for businesses. If they can't meet a deadline for a product to be released, people eventually ignore you and buy the competition's product. Even if it sucks. I realize that sometimes it is better to let a deadline slip than to ship a crappy product (in fact I advocate it as my sig implies, and most PMs forget), but you should at least try to be close. Now I can't wait for my copy of Duke Nukem Forever to arrive.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (2, Insightful)

glgraca (105308) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909217)

Iterative development does not exclude deadlines. The main ideia is that you have to constantly review your plans, adjust to new information, and incrementally build your understanding of the product as well as the product per se. Of course some managers prefer to just lay the plan down and shout at you until you make it happen: it is easier for them not to have to think and replan all the way. I like to emphasize the point that your understanding of the problem at hand evolves along with the project. Building software is a creative process all the way, so it makes no sense to make all your plans upfront. Nobody tells an architect when to have the design for the doors, and then when to have the designs for the windows, then the bathroom, etc, etc.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23909375)

I don't know why iterative development excludes deadlines.

It doesn't. Depending on your implementation, of course.

Some approaches to iterative development have features but no deadline. The project is done when all the features are done, and no sooner. Tools give you projections on when that will be.

Other approaches to iterative development have deadlines but no features. Or rather, no guarantees of what features will be available by that deadline. This is sometimes called "time-boxed development." You say, "Ok, we will definitely spend the next three months working on that. We will give you a release on exactly that day. What will be in the release is whatever we managed to get done in those three months."

What iterative development does not give, when done properly, is both a committed list of features and a hard deadline. Why not? Simple: because in the vast majority of cases, a team will fail to deliver on these promises. This is largely due to a lack of process control (features changing during development, making the release an impossible-to-estimate moving target), misestimation, and discoveries (now that we have written this exactly to spec, we can clearly see why it utterly sucks, and why we need to change it all around right now).

I have had many conversations with executives/managers who say, "ok, this time, let's make sure not to change the requirements once we get started, and to put a lot of effort into our estimates to make them accurate. If we do that, we can have commitments on both features and deadlines, right?" And then, despite these promises, the requirements change anyway, the estimates turn out to be inaccurate, and the deadlines are missed, and everyone is upset.

If you are in an environment like this, it is better to not make promises, than to make promises and break them. Sell up the adaptability of your design process (sure, we can throw in your new idea right now!) as the benefit that justifies the lack of hard-and-fast promises of both features and delivery dates.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23911839)

Actually, they want software development to be like engineering. And it's not. Software development is still in its early stages. It's a craft. It's moving towards being engineering, but it's not there yet. About 1.5-2 engineering generations away. still.

The difference between a craft and engineering? The processes and tools. Ask two engineers to design a bridge or plane. They will use very similar tools, almost guaranteed they'll use the methods and math. They will produce almost exactly the same result (with maybe some superficial differences)

Ask two programmers to produce something and it's not even sure they'll use the same language or platform. Let alone methods and math. They may probably understand very little of their customers business or needs.

I assure you, aerospace engineers know *way* more about aircraft than their customers.

Do software developers know way more about accounting than their customers? Or way more about writing? Or way more about graphics? Probably not.

So, we're still early days of SW development. It's still a craft. My impression is that the generation of programmers coming out of school today will teach the first generation of actual software engineers.

And just like with every other craft that moved to engineering, there will still be a small market for handcrafted stuff. Very specialized or just plain artistic. And enthusiasts. You can see this move now when you see "old timers" talk about "back in the day, we wrote in assembly and by God we were happy to have 16k."

The automobile went through this. Airplanes did too. So did trains. It's the normal progression of technology.

So project managing SW development is like trying to project manage craftsman. Very light touch and spend most of your time fronting between the craftsman and the customer. Schedules are very sketchy estimates. A good PM actually understands the craft enough to be able to understand what's going on with minimal explanation from the craftsman. An excellent one also understands the customer well. Otherwise, you're just annoying the craftsman and lying to the customer. :)

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (2, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907279)

No; managers who do not understand iterative development pave the way to waterfall projects. Sometimes those managers use MS Project.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (2, Insightful)

glgraca (105308) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907451)

If your knowledge is incipient and your tool provides an inadequate abstraction, you will veer towards bad habits. If you're good at OO, you can do it even in Perl. But if you're not, you will probably get some nasty habits.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1, Insightful)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907149)

Well, Hell, if I knew what my tasks were, I wouldn't need a project management tool. I gave up on it completely.

Yeah. One time I bought QuickBooks, and it wanted me to create a bunch of accounts and set up transactions and everything. Hell, if I knew anything about accounting, I wouldn't need accounting software.

Tools are sometimes designed to be used by professionals, as a means of them doing their job; not as a substitute for professionals with a 95% accurate wizard.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23908231)

QuickBooks is not a tool for professionals.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (0, Redundant)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907169)

I am not sure if that was ment to be funny or stupid.
The point of the tasks is for you break down all the taks and phases the project will take. Microsoft Project doesn't make the project for you or estimate the time, it keeps your project organized so you can see where it is at at the time. The advantage is that the concepts are out of your mind and into the computer, where others can read and share... So when they ask you for for a new feature you look at the project plan and it wasn't there you can say well I have to requote you on it as it wasn't part of the scope. (And they will rebute that it was always part of their scope) however if you have them agree to the project plan it shows to them that it wasn't officially put into the plan.
Oh-By-The-ways can be expensive. Even if it seems like a quick adjustment you should put it in the project plan as they can add up a lot very fast.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

dedazo (737510) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907223)

You kid, but I've known "project managers" who have been hired solely on their ability to move little bars around in MS Project.

Like "developers" who are hired (or used to be hired) based on their acumen with HTML, these are the people who give the profession a bad rap.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

InlawBiker (1124825) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907511)

Agreed, because it's very easy to throw around project managment buzzwords and terms, but at the end of the day project management is real work requiring real skills.

Many people have low opinions of PMs, but once you work with a skilled one the difference is obvious.

Re:I bought Microsoft Project a while back (1)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908919)

far simpler, far cheaper, and far more true: Buy Scott Adams Dilbert DVD. This publication will lead you through a project and describe most of the pointy haired problems you will encounter along the way...right to the final release of a less then marketable product designed by committee.
  Old but timeless.
  Would that a sequel were published...

I'm a Project Manager .. (1, Informative)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 5 years ago | (#23906995)

Well thus my job title (Project Manager, Architecture). Now I know typically most /. topics are technology based, however I think there are similarities.

In my experience a Project Manager is someone with enough experience, resources to oversea the successful completion of a given project. Quick note green MBA's need not apply.

I think having a clear understanding of the product, the process, and the expectations is essential. In addition the ability to make assertive critical decisions based on experience.
Most importantly realizing the Project is No.1

Probably one of the most interesting projects I've worked on to date is Overseeing design consultants for an FAA funded Residential Sound Insulation Project. What made this a challenge was having to work with Airport Technocrats, Acoustic Engineers, General Contractors, Mechanical Engineers, Architects all in the same room at the same time. None of which having the desire to understand what the other did, and all believing his or her aspect of the project was most important. Insert politically motivated agenda's and viola a nightmare to oversee.
 

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (1, Insightful)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907121)

"Project manager" and "Architect" are mutually exclusive. You can't be an expert in both, let alone have the time for both.

Regards,

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907663)

Can you make that judgment without being an expert in both?

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (1)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907955)

Yes. As a Solution Architect that is responsible for the success of my projects I can.

Regards,

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908127)

So by induction, you are not an expert in project management. How do you know that the project managers you have worked with have not been a long string of bad luck leading you to believe that they work very hard to get the things they do done even though they (possibly!) do next to nothing?

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (1)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907943)

I am a project manager employed at an architecture firm who is also a licensed architect. I guess if you wanted to be anal about it, and it would seem so i would be a project architect.

Many companies are based on different team members all functioning at different levels. On any project it is possible to have licensed architects acting as designers, project managers, construction administrators, specification writers, you name it. It's a matter of what the project calls for and what your specific expertise may be.

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (2, Informative)

bobbozzo (622815) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908649)

Obviously it didn't occur to you that Architecture has meanings other than what you do.

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907125)

Probably one of the most interesting projects I've worked on to date is Overseeing design consultants for an FAA funded Residential Sound Insulation Project. What made this a challenge was having to work with Airport Technocrats, Acoustic Engineers, General Contractors, Mechanical Engineers, Architects all in the same room at the same time. None of which having the desire to understand what the other did, and all believing his or her aspect of the project was most important. Insert politically motivated agenda's and viola a nightmare to oversee.
Ok, change the job titles to any you like and you have defined the (IMO) basic problem of a project manager. Technical politician == project manager?

Succinctly well stated.

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907411)

True. A viola by itself is a nightmare, adding all those other noises to it would be worse.

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (2, Insightful)

cowscows (103644) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908645)

I'm a couple years into my architecture career, and I've been working at a firm where there's basically zero organization. What that means is that everyone gets put in charge of their own projects and is basically left to fend for themselves (even the summer interns.) It's a very inefficient and strange way to run things, but somehow the guy running the firm has run it that way for decades and still manages to get tons of work, so he'll probably never change.

But I'm not going to refute your point, my experiences actually reinforce it. The first project that I was in charge of (started less than 6 months into my architectural career)was an absolute nightmare for me. The biggest problem that I had was in terms of understanding the process. That's something that you can't just sit down and figure out, no matter how many hours you put into it, it's something that can only really be learned through experience. I think it's even more of an issue for architecture than it is for something like your average software project, because there are a lot of very specific hoops that a building design has to go through in terms of government regulations/building codes/etc. Lots of little things that aren't necessarily hard to deal with, but if you don't know that they're an issue and don't deal with them at the appropriate time, you're going to have some serious headaches somewhere down the line.

It was a ridiculously stressful experience for me, and while I learned a lot, I feel like I learned more about how not to do things, instead of how to do things. That's bad, because while there might only be a few or even one right way to do something, there's usually thousands of wrong ways to do it. So I'll just make a bunch of different mistakes next time.

The other thing that you're spot on about is the ability to make assertive decisions based on experience. Lacking in experience, I was very reluctant to make decisions on many issues, and you can be sure that the contractor could tell I didn't know what I was doing. Many more headaches resulted from that.

I've read articles and interviews of college kids where they say that they were hoping to get a job as a consultant. I can't imagine why anyone would want to consult with someone who just got out of college.

Re:I'm a Project Manager .. (1)

byronf (649750) | more than 5 years ago | (#23911251)

Well thus my job title (Project Manager, Architecture)
This is why IT sucks!

Sad but so true (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907117)

The sad part of my exposure to project management as it applies to Software development is that any project large enough to require use of a project management approach is destined to fail simply because of its size.

Re:Sad but so true (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908055)

any project large enough to require use of a project management approach is destined to fail simply because of its size.
Try telling that to Boeing and point to the Future Combat Systems contract... 550 contractors, 41 states, contract through 2030, $340 billion dollars (source, wikipedia, and my daily existence...) True, this behemoth may ultimately fail, but I've got some pretty serious job security.

Re:Sad but so true (3, Insightful)

spaced-cadet (922123) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908399)

Large software projects can succeed but they require

1) A PM experienced in software development
2) Good communication and trust between the PM, the developers and the client
3) Support from management, especially in making the correct resources available to the project at the correct time

In my experience the two most common factors that contribute significantly to the failure of a project is poor specification and constraints exerted by the rest of the business on key resources.

Something they rarely teach managers (4, Insightful)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907127)

Know when to cut your losses if you can. I used to work for a team that managed a component used by several projects at a large client, and one of those projects was run by a real textbook case of a nearly psychotic bully. After a while, my management decided that the pay wasn't worth the damage he was doing, and pulled our people off the contract.

Our management was smart because they actually gauged the cost-benefit ratio of keeping our people on that contract and realized that yes, numbers might go up for a quarter or two, but employees would start leaving, and that would be worse for business than dropping the contract.

Re:Something they rarely teach managers (2, Informative)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908113)

Project managers shouldn't have that issue. The project sponsor should be advised by the project manager, and is the one to make the call. Yes, the project manager is the one to bring it up if no one else has, but it is always the call of the project sponsor of when to cut their losses.

Re:Something they rarely teach managers (1)

rsborg (111459) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908539)

Project managers shouldn't have that issue. The project sponsor should be advised by the project manager, and is the one to make the call.
Clearly in this case, the contractors felt they were being abused and ended the contract and the income rather than subject their employees to the abuse. Seems like the "sponsor" if they had one, was turning a blind eye to the bullying done by the PM, or actively promoted it.

Sad to say, I've seen this on more than one occasion. I applaud the contractor's higher ups for putting well-being over profits.

Re:Something they rarely teach managers (3, Insightful)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909285)

and one of those projects was run by a real textbook case of a nearly psychotic bully
In fact there is an anti-pattern [wikipedia.org] specifically for that type of manager: cage match negotiator. The cage match negotiator takes a "win the argument at any cost" approach to dispute resolution, up to and including driving other team members off the project. The name comes from the cage match [wikipedia.org] format in wrestling where multiple wrestlers enter the cage but only one exits victorious when the match is finished.

Project Management is..... (5, Funny)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907205)

the technical discipline that tells us that nine women can make a baby in one month.

Re:Project Management is..... (5, Funny)

VisualStim (130062) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907291)

the technical discipline that tells us that nine women can make a baby in one month.
... yet still misses the requirement of at least one man on the project.

Re:Project Management is..... (1)

suggsjc (726146) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907815)

I think you are forgetting that this is /.
Most of the readers don't know what to do with a single woman, let alone 9 of them at the same time!!!

Re:Project Management is..... (2, Interesting)

fyoder (857358) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909001)

Most of the readers don't know what to do with a single woman, let alone 9 of them at the same time!!!

Duh. You get them to get it on with one another. Live porn!

Though it might be more productive to teach them to code. If I had a team of nine babes who could take over low level coding while I focussed on high level design, that would be sweet.

Re:Project Management is..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23909033)

the technical discipline that tells us that nine women can make a baby in one month.
... yet still misses the requirement of at least one man on the project.
Not true!! You don't necessarily need a man on the project, that is solving the problem in the requirements! Your REAL requirements are:

a) You have at least 9 live male human sperm. NOTE: more would increase the chances for success

b) A method of impregnating the nine females with the sperm

Guess I've been doing way too much requirements analysis. FYI, I am a testing project manager, so I get to address software testing for very large projects. Project Management is a collection of principles, and can be applied in many different ways depending on what you consider a project. I have gained much more respect for project managers over the last couple of years.

Re:Project Management is..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23910029)

... yet still misses the requirement of at least one man on the project.
Thanks for killing my happy place, Shooter.

Re:Project Management is..... (1)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907375)

The downside to this methodology is that you have all the fun at the beginning and then you are REALLY screwed.

Re:Project Management is..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907417)

the technical discipline that tells us that nine women can make a baby in one month.

You're confusing cycle time with duration. The trick is to time it right so that the nine women make one baby per month for nine months. Of course, the first woman whose workstream you help kick off is going to start getting suspicious when you spend all your nights "working late" while her group of friends starts to look like a set of Russian dolls...

Re:Project Management is..... (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908041)

No, those are the accountants/bean counters. Project managers are the ones who try to actually GET 9 women to make one baby in a month, because their PHB said do it.

OMG ZOMBIES! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907251)

Obligatory Dilbert:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=0qmO19BnQk8C&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=dilbert+project+management+zombie&source=web&ots=xdbnRLJusA&sig=kZuXH1Iq6zqTRyNHzF4w0vkniqs&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

Seriously, been to some training. Project Management Center of Excellence and Body of Knowledge and PMBOK sound a lot like the "Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence award"

Sad thing is if I want to make more money it seems pretty much a necessity.

Remember when using a shovel aim for the head!

I forgot if I am talking about the Zombie or myself.

Definitions of PM and project (1, Informative)

kanwisch (202654) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907527)

As a working PM, I can attest that even in our own field there is a flexibility to the terms "project manager" and "project". Consider it a holy war of sorts. So when someone applies for a position as a PM, it often helps if they have a PMP certification so its clear what their definitions look like.

http://www.pmi.org/CareerDevelopment/Pages/Certification-and-the-Job-Market.aspx [pmi.org]

Re:Definitions of PM and project (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907969)

Great. Just another piece of paper put out by an organization to make it exclusive. Sort of like attorneys. Can't be an attorney unless you pass the bar which in no way guarantees you are qualified to represent someone with the reverse also being true. Take a look at this article [typepad.com]. Do you really want the guy who took 47 times to pass the exam to be representing you?


On the PM note, our CIO likes to think of himself as a PM, what with his MBA and all, but I wouldn't put him in charge of taking care of my cat for two days let alone any project. Disorganization and incompetence are two words which describe his skills. Not to mention no people skills whatsoever.

On the other hand, there are people out there who have the natural ability to organize tasks, communicate goals and have the phrase, "Plays well with others" stamped repeatedly in their personnel files but who will never be given the chance to manage projects because they don't have that little piece of paper.

Here's an idea which I'm sure will drive people nuts who have been in the business for a while: how about taking people under your wing and mentoring them on how project management works, what skills are involved and the other basics.

Better yet, for someone who shows an aptitude for organizing processes, put them in an entry-level job doing minor projects and let them grow. You'd be surprised at how well people who want to do PM perform under such conditions.

Re:Definitions of PM and project (2, Funny)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908089)

"I can attest that even in our own field there is a flexibility to the terms "project manager" and "project". Consider it a holy war of sorts."

Of course that happens only when you use Vi. Try Emacs instead.

Re:Definitions of PM and project (1)

greg1104 (461138) | more than 5 years ago | (#23910951)

I've found the more comprehensive Project & Integration Management Professional certification to be more useful than this one. The main advantage of that more comprehensive program is that if anyone disagrees with your project plan, you are allowed to smack them with your cane.

Project Management for Executives . . . (0, Offtopic)

CG_Man (993435) | more than 5 years ago | (#23907841)

You may have your project completed (pick two):

1. on time;

2. on spec;

3. within budget.

Have you ever managed to ship a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907869)

"Ask someone what 'project management' is and you're liable to get a few blank stares â" it's one of those fields people have heard of, but probably have problems pinning down a definition."

With a comment like that, I would hate to see the kinds of projects you've worked on. They must have been total chaos. Tell me, did they ever ship? If so, how bad was the quality? How far over budget was it?

Everyone in my company knows what a Project Manager does. I can't imagine running a project without one.

Re:Have you ever managed to ship a product? (1)

galego (110613) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909265)

Yep, we all know .... a project manager is the person who gets all the accountability with no authority ... TAG! Your'e it!

Shoot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23907873)

...you mean PM's do more than ask "Are you done yet? How about now? Now?"

The Two Key Project Management Thingys (5, Informative)

avecfrites (605293) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908297)

From long experience, I can say that there are two things to do which get products out on time: 1) Pare requirements to the absolute minimum. Decide which features are required, and which are nice to have. And forget about the latter. (The engineers will stick some of those in on their own, according to their passions). 2) Keep everyone working in parallel. Ferret out any situations where someone is waiting for something, and eliminate those. And you'll see that in many cases those "waiting" scenarios indicate more serious misunderstandings about who is doing what.

Well speaking from a military point of view (1)

Erie Ed (1254426) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908337)

I'm a Comm project manager for the air force (3C351) and let me tell ya with the way the military operates we are the unnecessary middle man in the process...truly truly a shitty job

Kind of like Project Management... (1)

Jon Anhold (661) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908829)

"The Nemesis function used to be handled informally. Now it's a profession, kind of like Project Management."

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2006-08-12/

Really...(in Sat night live news inflection) (1)

dangineer (687802) | more than 5 years ago | (#23908971)

Really...there are not literally tons of books about this subject. Really...there are not numerous certifications for Project Management. Blank stares from some maybe, but really...this is presented as a topic that is breaking ground? Really.

Um. Yeaaah (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909289)

In the modern uber large multinational large cap corporations, project management is actually done by a bunch of people. 1 guy manages the workers. 1 guy manages the schedules. 1 guy sells it to the customer. Insecure guys at the top hire more & more mediocre managers to pass the blame on to so it is more finely broken up over time.

Another PMs Perspective (5, Informative)

Stook (1270928) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909483)

So I've read through many of the comments and have a few thoughts regarding them. My background comes from being a BA transitioning into a PM. I also have the PMI certification.

1) While delegating out tasks and keeping track of time and budget are part of what a PM does, it's been my experience that the above is the minimum for a good PM. I've found that companies value not only someone who is going to manage the tasks, but also work with the business to help finalize the definition of the project and realize all the various business scenarios they will face before the project ever starts. This helps prevent scope creep and gives the architect a clearer picture of what is wanted. From my experience, I've never managed a project solely on tasks alone. If I don't understand the entire business aspect, I don't do the project.

2) There is certainly a need for a PM and a Technical Architect. The distinction I've experienced is as a PM, it is my job to define how the system should work from an operational perspective and outline all business rules. It is the architect's responsibility to design the systems in a manner that will be reliable to meet the above directives.

3) Waterfall vs. Iterative Development. My personal thoughts on this, and this is up for interpretation by anyone, is that the best method is a hybrid of the two. There's no reason I can't go through an intensive definition and design exercise prior to starting the project and outline all the business rules/operations. However, a good PM knows how to manage the business' (read executives) expectations on when the project will be completed. Always build in a buffer. Once the Project Plan is complete, iterative development can begin, working on chunks of functionality broken down into short term goals.

4) Good PMs should be honest and stick up for the technical team as much as the business. They should know when to push back on which side.

Now open for complaints...

The term "Project Manager" has has been corrupted (2)

vinn01 (178295) | more than 5 years ago | (#23909867)


There are (at least) two definitions for "Project Manager". One definition is what we would like the term to mean. The other definition is how most others use the term. The term "Project Manager" has has been corrupted, like "Engineer" and "Hacker".

In the non-slashdot world....

1. An engineer could be a person to cleans toilets (building engineer or sanitation engineer).
2. A hacker is a person who engages in fraud and who uses a computer.
3. A project manager is an administrative assistant who distributes schedules, meeting minutes, and status reports.

I've only worked in one company that did not use definition #3. All other corporations where I've worked have used definition #3. There was even one company that asked that a new hire have a PMP. But the actual work they did was definition #3. They only managed paper, not people or money.

...truly scary (1)

thoglette (74419) | more than 5 years ago | (#23910543)

Ask someone what 'project management' is and you're liable to get a few blank stares it's one of those fields people have heard of

Followed by: "Yeh, I dropped of school/college because there was nothing they could teach me about programming".

Yup, the software world is special - Big Yellow Bus Special.

Yes I realise this is a broad brush and some pax have read Brooks etc. But then we still get fundemental project management and systems engineering niches reinvented every few years as "Xtreme" or "Agile" or some other crap.

"Critical Chain" by Goldratt is an awsome book (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23911799)


Completely different approach to project management, genius-level guy at thinking through business processes from fundamental principals.

"Critical Chain" is written as a novel, there is a technical book behind it, I believe. He sold 2M copies of his first novel, the one about "Theory of Constraints".

These are important books, I learned a lot about OS scheduling problems from TOC.

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