Saturday, February 27, 2010

Project Potion Special Interview with Thushara Wijewardena

Working With an Agile Offshore Team

Project Potion #6 - Dave Goes to Macworld

Where the ProjectShrink intervews the drunkenpm about his visit to Macworld and his efforts at setting up a PM Mac User Meetup

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Mike Sutton Sessions - Part 3 - ScrumFest

Part 3 of the drunkenpm interview with Mike Sutton, CEO of Wizewerx and founder of ScrumFest.

In this part of the interview, Mike talks about his work putting on ScrumFest in the UK and his plans to hold additional events elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art of War Chapter 1 - Entry 5 - The Tao of Paradox

The next section of Chapter 1 starts by introducing one of the core strategies of Sun Tzu's teaching. In "The Art of Strategy" by R.L. Wing, the section is translated as:

Heed me by Calculating the advantages

reinforce them by directing outwardly.

This has a very direct relationship to the strategic work a PM does in that it calls upon the practitioner to measure and understand their true position and then "reinforce" (read as spin or manipulate) the perception of that position by how you represent it.

As he moves into the next section, Sun Tzu provides more clarity into how the perceived reality can be manipulated:

Thus, when able, they appear unable.

When employed, they appear useless.

When close, they appear distant

When distant, they appear close.

They lure through advantages,

And take control through confusion.

In the R.L. Wing translation, this is referred to as the "Tao of Paradox". The instruction is to create a perceived reality that is not necessarily accurate in order to gain advantage. This is "playing dead" or manipulating how we project ourselves and our situation in order to gain the upper hand. There are obvious implications in the context of an armed struggle, but think about it in the setting of a meeting at work, when you pretend to know less than you do in order to either gain more information, or learn more about another's understanding of a situation. Even down to basic interviewing tactics where you lead an interviewee towards an answer you hope to get by pretending you have a problem you have not been able to solve.

This tends to be one of the areas of the text where "nicer" people often get stuck. They perceive this as dishonest or misleading and, rightly so, if they consider themselves to be honest folk, it is something they would not purposely strive for. But beyond a physical conflict context, this is something which all of us do in our daily lives from childhood, often without even being conscious of it. As children we learn to get what we want by creating a sense of urgency that will draw the response we are looking for from our caregivers. While not many PMs would willingly admit to lying to create a false impression, how many would be able to say that they had never added a little spin to a status report to create a more positive impression, or led their team to believe that failure to meet a deadline meant certain doom for their employment, in order to drive the team to getting the work done on time.

As Sun Tzu says, "everyone uses the art of war". The Tao of Paradox is no exception. The question is, is it better or "more honest" to use it absent mindedly, or to understand it as a normal behavior without judging it and learn to be more aware of when and how you make use of this approach so that you can wield it with greater skill and a greater sense of responsibility.

When complete, they appear to prepare.

When forceful, they appear evasive.

As this paradox is created, what happens to the "opponent" is that they spend time gathering knowledge, interpreting and planning a response. This creates a window of advantage where, if you have followed the five measures and already have your approach planned, you can seize the moment.

They attack when the opponent is unprepared

And appear when least expected.

This is the Strategist's way of triumph.

It must not be discussed beforehand.

As someone managing a project, or a team, you need to be vigilant for those moments when you can achieve the little wins that build trust and drive the efforts toward delivery. The word "attack" is used above, but it does not have to be a negative attack. You can just as easily attack a lack of faith in the project or a negative perception of the team. As leaders, we are often able to have a greater impact when we bring order to the chaos around us if people have already decided that we are caught up in the chaos that has taken hold of them. When done well, this spin can make things look like you have saved the day with relative ease. It can be a double-edged sword, however, because when done poorly, you end up as one of those PMs who create a crisis just to solve it. The idea is not to create drama in the space around you, but take advantage of what is already there to engineer an impression of the situation, and your role in it, that will allow you to gain the position you desire.

Quotes in this entry from 

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Mike Sutton Sessions - Part 2 - Improvisation

Part 2 of the drunkenpm interview with Mike Sutton, CEO of Wizewerx and founder of ScrumFest.

In this part of the interview Mike talks about how studying Improvisation techniques have influenced his work building and leading Agile teams.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Art of War - Chapter 1 - Part 4
Having defined that which is to be measured, Sun Tzu provides examples of things to be considered when examining the five measures. He recommends determining which leader has captured the cultural mindset:

"Which leader
 Has the Way?"

And, which has the poitical and organizational advantage:

"Which side has
 Heaven and Earth?"

Who has the strength and rigorous enough approach to discipline to follow the processes they have defined as their path to success.

"On which side
Is discipline
More effective?"

"Which army
Is the stronger?"

According to Sun Tzu, understanding these will help you "know" victory and defeat. This is an important point to spend some time on. The idea is not that if you study these things, you'll win; but that if you study these things, you will be able to foresee who will win... which leads to a principle introduced later that is (simplified) never take on a battle you have not already won.

Following this thought, if you stick with Sun Tzu, follow his rules, he promises to lead you to victory. If you follow his guidelines, the Art of War will get your back and keep you from harm. However, this is going to include knowing when to back down, when to back away and when to take action in a way that is decisively final. In the workplace, my experience has been that the last part if often more difficult for people to adopt than the backing down. (But there will be much more on this later.)

Sun Tzu also goes on to explain that if you don't adhere to these rules, whether you use the Art of War or not, you've already ensured you will fail. This is another critical point in the Art of War. What Sun Tzu has essentially done is stated that if you stick with him 100%, he'll guarantee success, anything less than that, and you are not using the Art of War and you will fail.

For those familiar with Scrum, this would be "The Art of War, but..." and it has about the same chances of success as "Scrum, but..." (more on Scrum, but)

This level of commitment is something that appears a number of times throughout the book. It can seem a bit severe when put into practice, but it is something that (IMHO) truly differentiates practitioners of the AOW from those who merely dabble in it. Because war is such nasty business, once you have committed to it, Sun Tzu demands total commitment. At times, this means backing down and at times it can mean pushing further than you might normally. Even taking the time to determine, for yourselves, where the line is in terms of what you are willing to do in order to help the project succeed, can be helpful. As Sun Tzu says, we must know our opposition and ourselves. Often, trick for us as PMs, is to make sure there is a difference between the two.

Quotes listed in this entry are taken from John Minford's Penguin Books Great Ideas translation "Sun Tzu The Art of War (Strike with Chaos)" published by Penguin books in 2006. The passage covered in this entry can be found on pages 3 and 4 of the book. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

MacWorld PM Meetup

If you are a PM and you are going to be at Macworld I'd like to meet up with you because, well, I know you are out there and let's face it - there is strength in numbers. I am working on details now, but I'm thinking maybe either the afternoon/early evening of Thursday Feb 11, or Friday Feb 12. If you are interested, please send an email to with the words Macworld PM Meetup in the subject line and I'll keep you up to speed on the details as they unfold.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Mike Sutton Sessions - Part 1 - the Agile/NLP Mashup

Part 1 of the drunkenpm interview with Mike Sutton, CEO of Wizewerx and founder of ScrumFest.

In this part of the interview Mike explains how he uses Scrum, XP, and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in his Mashup approach to managing software projects and Agile teams.