Why Ask Why

checklistBefore you spend the next week, redesigning the TPS report, you need to stop and ask yourself a simple question.


Why are you doing it?   If you can not map the task back to a stakeholder or customer objective/requirement (goal) you better stop now.  Some people call this gold-plating.  Additionally if you can not map the task back to one of your personal goals, you better stop now.  I call that flushing time down a toilet.

Do you sometimes feel like you're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?  Are you spending all of your time doing stuff that is not getting you any closer the real goal?  Well, stop for a minute and pretend you are a 5-year-old.

Whenever you ask a 5-year-old to do something, they never seem to do it without first asking why.

Go sit down Why?

Because it's dinner time. Why?

Because you need to eat your dinner. Why?

Because I don't want child protective services saying we don't feed you. Why?

Because we're trying to get you to adulthood without scarring you too much.

What's our main personal goal as it relates to our son?

Goal 1: Get him to adulthood without scarring him too much

Now, as project managers and leaders, what are your primary goals? Is it keep the project on schedule? Is it keep the project from going over budget? Or, is it one of the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto?  Whatever your answer(s), when asked to do something, keep asking why until you reach your main goal(s).

We want to add this change to the next deployed version Why?

Because it is now a priority Why?

Because it will either save time, money, or both

What's one of our documented goals related to our project?

Goal 1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

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What You Need Is Some Kaizen

Kaizen - Change GoodWhile sitting in a governance meeting the other day, I heard how (before I joined the team) a vendor brought in some high paid six sigma black belts to try to bring the vendor governance workflow in line with my client's governance workflow.  My client wasn't sure what they got out of the deal, but if you have a black belt in something, it should be good...right?  Because this venture proved fruitless, the vendor announced, "what you need is kaizen!"  That may be what they said, but it's not what my client heard. This was paraphrased by one of my client's team.  In trying to understand what she was saying, we had a quick back and forth that went a little something like this:

The vendor said there was something that would fix everything. Cry Pan or Pie Pan or something like that.

I looked at her and asked, do you mean "kaizen"?

Her eyes got really big and she then started to matter-of-factly point at me. That's it! That's it! Now, what does it mean? I said it just means improvement or refinement.

She looked disappointed.  That's it?

Yep, that's it.

Now, I know it's not that simple.  There are no silver bullets.  I do believe in using refactoring or refinement to get you where you need to be, but that's going to be another post.  This post is more of a shame on you post.  Anyone out there who uses a new term, particularly one in a foreign language without explaining it first, shame on you!  Anyone out there who proposes there are silver bullets in project management, shame on you! And, anyone out there who proposes there are silver bullets in project management, uses a new term to label it, AND charges a lot of money for it, shame on you!

I strongly believe approaches like Agile, Kanban, and others bring a lot of potential value to programs.  Customers don't need snake-oil nor do they need silver bullets.  What we have here is, a failure to communicate.

I was thinking, maybe I should start a practice and say it will solve all your problems.  I can call it Verbesserung.

Any takers?

The Critical Path Week Ending February 13

January 28 through February 5This week we dealt with the great blizzard of 2010.  It provided me extra time to write.  Then again, it took that extra time I thought I was going to spend on vacation.  My wife thinks I live in a world where everything is related to project management.   I go on a little rant about treating your customers right and then also lend an ear to my colleagues.  Read how I handle being both the sponsor and the project manager on a project.


Snow Removal From an Agile PM Perspective

With our home getting hit with over 30 inches of snow in one weekend, I compared our HOA and the snow removal team to an Agile team.  Read how they went from failure to success, in one customer's eyes...


My Big Fat Greek Project

My wife compares me to the father on My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  I'm no Gus Portokalos, but give me a word, any word, and I will show you that the root of that word is Greek.  Actually, show me a scenario, any scenario, and I will show you how it can be related back to Project Management.  If that doesn't do it for you, just put some Windex on it...


The FedGov Fail Day 3

Jhaymee (@TheGreenPM) Wilson inspired this post.  I was frustrated the Federal Government would be closed for 3 days in a row.  I believed we could all be working, at least in a limited capacity, from home.  If the Federal Government could have a plan in place for H1N1, why the hell couldn't plan for snow?...


MS Project Task Types – Fixed Work – Units – Duration

Upon reviewing a vendor’s Integrated Master Schedule, created in MS Project, I noticed something very peculiar. Where some tasks could clearly be marked as Fixed Duration, everything was Fixed Units.  In the post, I include a YouTube video to help you understand the difference between Fixed Work, Fixed Units, and Fixed Duration...

THE most important thing is the customer

...You’re welcome?  Did I say thank you? No, I didn’t.  I offered a pleasantry. Just have a nice day.  Goodbye, our business relationship has completed.  Have a nice life...Listen to them.  Be polite.  Deliver value.


How Do You Know Your Metrics Are Worth It

So you want to create some metrics.  More importantly, someone has told you that you need to create some metrics.  How do you know if you’re just making work for yourself or if you’re just putting a spin on the same old data?...


Sometimes It Is Best To Just Listen

It was the first day our team had been together in a week.  The DC FedGov closures have really rattled people.  As contractors and consultants, we are not Government employees.  We play by different rules.  Depending on your contract, if the FedGov is closed, you may not get paid...


The Difficult Task of Managing My Logo Selection Project

Using 99Designs has allowed me to crowd source a design.  I listed the price I was willing to pay, the duration of the contest and provided as much background information as possible to enable designers to provide me with quality submissions.  We immediately entered a rapid prototyping stage...

THE most important thing is the customer

Remember the last time you were at the grocery store and the clerk responded by saying something unrelated to what you asked? This cashier is focused on ringing up your items.  They don't engage you at all.  No hello; no how are you; no did you find everything.  He or she finishes ringing up all of your items and you forward a have a nice day and they respond with something canned like you're welcome. You're welcome?  Did I say thank you? No, I didn't.  I offered a pleasantry. Just have a nice day.  Goodbye, our business relationship has completed.  Have a nice life. This is just simple and common courtesy.  It is being polite.  Your parents should have taught you these things as a child.  If you want something, say please. If someone holds the door for you, you damn well better say thank you...and if someone thanks you, say you're welcome.

So, why do so many people forget this in business?  I understand some customers can be difficult.  I understand user expectations can sometimes be unrealistic.  But let me say this.  Take a minute to listen to what your customer is saying.  You should be polite and courteous to them as often as you wash your hands after going to the bathroom.  If you don't do that 100% of the time, you have more problems then being polite.  But I digress.

Your customer is THE most important thing in your job.  It's not the process you follow.  It's not the product or service you offer.  It's the customer. Wait, did I say that?  Let me say it again. THE most important thing is the customer.  Listen to them.  Be polite.  Deliver value.

(image from

The Critical Path Week in Review

January 28 through February 5This week I really wanted to turn up the volume of things I wrote about.  I have a lot to say (and write) about project management and if you missed reading my blog on a given day and don't have an RSS feed or follow me on Twitter, you'd have to go searching in the archives to find it.  I don't think that's good enough.  I should make it easy for you to read what I write.  Hopefully, this week in review will help you find something new while you enjoy your coffee or tea.


Seeing Value From The Customer Perspective

I don’t care if you’re using Agile, Waterfall, or other methods to deliver value.  What is important is you understand your process and what mechanisms provide the greatest value to the customer.  Just because a process does not appear valuable to you, it does not mean the process does not provide value...


Refine Your Process If You Must Deviate From It

If you’re looking for a free Microsoft Visio template of a Sprint process workflow, which you can edit at will, you can download it here.  As I mentioned in my post Seeing Value From The Customer Perspective, if you think you need to deviate from a documented or understood process, rewrite or refine your process to account for the deviations...


The Impact Of Social Networking On Project Management

Good leaders do not operate in a vacuum. They exchange ideas and information with people. Offer free information and it will come back to you tenfold. Listen to knowledgeable people and then make a more educated leadership decision... In this post I compared the traditional communication paths and how that process is turned on its ear, thanks to social networking...


This Is How You Know When To Kill A Project

A personal rant about paper telephone books and how I never realized, until now, who the real customer was. There is a very similar parallel between the newspaper industry and the printed phone book industry.  They both believe or promote the scarcity of information.  That scarcity justifies cost.  To the contrary, we now live with an abundance of information.  That information is freely distributed and reaches a broader audience...


The December Numbers Are In For PMPs

Yes, the December numbers are in.  December 2009 numbers for Project Management Professional (PMP®) certifications were published and it looks like there will be over 400,000 holding the certification in 2010...

December Totals
New PMPs (December 2009) 5,403
New PMPs (YTD) 75,107
Total Active PMPs 361,238


And The Best Methodology Is

I recently commented on two blogs that address similar topics.  Jesse Fewell wants to empower teams to succeed, equip managers to lead, and enable executives to unlock the secrets of high performing organizations.  Jesse wrote a blog post offering the real reasons behind the methodology wars.  It’s an insightful post and I would recommend you go and read it...

The other blog post was from Mike Cottmeyer, someone I turn to on a regular basis to find inspiration and wisdom within the industry.  Mike wrote a blog post asking Why is Agile so hard to sell? Again, it is a very good read and you should set aside some time to read some of his writings...

The Pain Of IE6 And Application Development

There are legacy applications out there that were built on IE6 and it’s not an easy migration.  There are some Agencies which ONLY use IE6 and the users don’t have permissions to install a new browser.  So, what do you do?...


Updated 10 Step Help To Submit PMP PDUs

All PMPs need 60 PDUs during a CCR cycle so don’t put it off until the last minute.  I document the process on how to claim your require 60 PDUs...


Using Common Sense With Documentation

Though I really love good documentation, going heavy on it does not guarantee a successful project.  My recommendation is you spend a little time identifying documentation that truly meets your needs.  More importantly, identify documentation that truly meets your customer’s needs...


Managing Risks and Opportunities

Washington DC is in the process of getting 20-30 inches of snow, over the next 24 hours.  Though I know you can’t foresee all possible issues which may occur over the course of a project, you should make an honest attempt to identify them in order to open a dialog with your stakeholders.  Has weather ever delayed your project or pushed it over budget?...