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Ruminations on work life balance August 22, 2014

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Behavior, Grab Bag.
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Labor Day is right around the corner as we approach the end of another vacation season.  Taking time off is an important part of the balance between work and play. Going on vacation is beneficial for multiple reasons and mental health is a primary one. Companies like to proclaim how important employees are and that having paid time off (aka, vacation) is a benefit they  (sometimes grudgingly) provide. We all look forward to the annual summer sojourn to a familiar place. Or, the thrill in going to new places while taking time off.

So I find it interesting the strong reaction people have when the media reports our elected officials have vacation plans. Not only plans, but, actually going on a trip for vacation. The shock, the disappoint from people when a state senator, city mayor or even the president takes a few days to recharge.

summer_vacation-5188Why are we surprised by this? Do we really expect politicians to work all the time? Of course not. However, there is perhaps an unrealistic expectation that a politician will stay at work during a crisis or when there are lots of events that may require their attention.

Consider the furor from two recent events. One involved NYC Mayor, Bill DeBlasio. He and his family planned a trip to Italy.  The timing of this trip upset many residents who use mass transit. The nerve of him planning to leave the country while there is the threat of a transit strike. He should be at work!

A second event involved the POTUS. Aka, the President of the United States. Critics state he should not go on vacation while there are issues in Ukraine, Middle East and Ferguson, Missouri. He needs to be in the oval office. Taking vacation now is in poor taste, shows bad judgement.

Hold on. Everyone likes to go on  vacation. We eagerly look forward to taking time off. Studies clearly show the benefit in maintaining a work balance with life outside the office. This applies to everyone regardless of their job. Also, our elected leaders are never really out of touch with current events. Not anymore. They may not be in the office yet staying connected has never been easier. Politicians, like the rest of us, can and often do, work remotely.

Taking a few days off is not so dire. Consider a vacation from 1927 with then President Calvin Coolidge. He and his wife spent three months in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Three months!  Taking that amount of time off today is unthinkable. How times change.

Great leaders can, and should, delegate effectively. When done well, we do not notice a difference. How many times has a co-worker post poned vacation plans to stay at work? Was it really necessary? I say, enjoy your planned vacation and let our leaders do the same.

By the way, how was your summer vacation? Do anything exciting?

Enjoy the long Labor Day weekend and the time off. Comments always invited!

Ruminations on Software Development Life Cycle (aka, SDLC) July 18, 2013

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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In my last post, I covered my recent efforts at software programming after a self-imposed hiatus. As a follow up, I wanted to talk about the development cycle. More specifically, the software development lifecycle. The most traditional development method is the Waterfall method. As it’s name implies, the lifecycle flows across phases with the result being a finished product that is tested to satisfy design requirements.

sdlc_lifecycleDeployment methods I have used include Waterfall and Agile among others and hybrids of these. As shown in the image, there is a feedback loop with testing that can introduce new/revised requirements. That starts the cycle over again, from the beginning. From my experience, there are two phases that seem to get short shrift. One or both of these typically get compressed due to project constraints and are sacrificed in order to stay on schedule. Those phases include Design and Test. What I have also found is that if you accelerate either of those, the project will reap a short term benefit. But, ultimately the project will not stay on track. Instead,  the project will re-visit one or both phases, which causes waste, and any gains in time expected are then not delivered.

As a programmer, I admit I have squeezed several phases. My advice – whatever process you employ, don’t cheat it. Having a solid design ensures requirements are addressed and adequate testing provides confidence for success at launch. Whatever method you use, adhere to the diligence in each phase and then keep progressing forward. Each phase should be  sized according to the project goal. Changes to existing code base can be minimal and have little design impact. Great! Testing should then focus on regression impact to ensure everything is working with new changes integrated cleanly.

Does your mileage match mine? Comments invited!

Ramblings on Work Units August 12, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Trends.
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I am fortunate that in my career I have worked at both the management and individual contributor levels. The positions I held have mostly been technical roles in  IT, Marketing and of course, Project Management Office (PMO). I have also worked at multiple companies and while there are consistencies, I have also encountered unique processes, tools and ways to measure units of work.

Those development and management jobs I have had require many skills. Common in this non-inclusive list are : effective communication, organization, detail focus, decision making, analysis (technical and business) and the ability work work well with anyone in the company. The way a unit of work is measured in these positions will vary, but at a fundamental level, work is work. Which bring me to the focus of this post.

Job descriptions provide some insight on the unit of work involved. I find it amusing the lengths some companies go to when posting for open positions. There should be more consistency in job functions and the work required within those roles. By that I mean the skills required should be equivalent and measured against a consistent standard. I realize they should be; some would say they are. I do not agree.

In some job descriptions, the unit of work can easily be discerned. Project Managers manage projects. Developers write code. QA ensures it works as designed. Each of those can be measured as a unit of work. The variance is in what tools and processes companies use to measure (assuming they do). Too often, the job description contains fluff about the company, what a difference you can make, etc..

Next time you read a job description, look for the terms that describe the essential unit of work. If you don’t find it, I submit it is poorly written.

I’m interested in how you measure your work. Do you measure your productivity with units of work? Have you used them to generate estimates? For yourself? For your team?

Ruminations on blog metrics June 16, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Miscellaneous, Trends.
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The old saw about what gets measured gets managed comes to mind when I think about blog metrics. When you collect and analyze measurements, that is part of the management. You watch for changes; learn what works and repeat those. You also learn what does not work and avoid repeating those.

So it was interesting to me watching the traffic for this blog grow over the past few months. I was measuring and managing very well for quite a while. Then, the floor on the blog traffic measures fell out. My blog posts stopped for a time. While I was measuring, I was not managing. Perhaps I had a few too many spinning plates and some fell and broke. I was managing other things but not the blog and there was a definite impact on traffic.

I also managed comments to this blog. Some real genuine comments submitted, many other comments that are just spam. The spammers are amusing in that they repeat themselves. Or, better yet, they repeat each other. Verbatim. So I manage the spam by deleting it. The positive comments are accepted and shown.  Thank You to all who take the time to submit those.

Since this blog started, I have been measuring using the metrics provided by WordPress. I also use tools from Google Webmaster and  Bing webmaster  (which looks quite different these days) to measure and then manage. From these tools and managing the comments, I learn what works and watch the traffic.

Perhaps this post will bring traffic back to more recent levels. I’ll be measuring and then manage from there.

What blog metrics do you measure? How does that drive how you manage your blog? Comments invited and I will share the good ones. 😉

Ruminations on 5 New Management metrics December 14, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Project Management.
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I saw this article today on Forbes.com about new ways to manage. I agree with each and have used several of these metrics with success. To read the full article, use the link provided. My comments on each metric are included below. While it is a catchy title, I don’t think managers need to know these to be successful. You can adapt one or more for your own use easily and look for ways to subtly employ each of the strategies described. These metrics won’t drastically change management styles, but they do provide ways to improve your management ability and help drive your team to be successful.

Metric 1: Flow State Percentage

Basically indicates that people need more think/soak time. When you have time to concentrate (i.e. – no interruptions), you are more productive. Getting to, and staying in, the zone more often makes you a better performer.

Metric 2: The Anxiety-Boredom Continuum

Keep a balance here. Not too easy, not too hard. Stay engaged and tune the level needed as it suites your team.

Metric 3: Meeting Promoter Score

I have used this to great effect. If you rate the meetings, you get instant feedback on what works, what does not and what people are really interested in. I found that once you have a consistent score, you don’t need to track it and your team knows what to expect and is engaged. Bonus – if you end meetings early, expect your score to increase.

Metric 4: Compound Weekly Learning Rate

My Father-in-Law, who came from the old country, always said “Every day you learn.” You do if you are motivated to do so. Even if you just did this for yourself, measuring your progress would change your priorities and how you spend your time in the office.

Metric 5: Positive Feedback Ratio

Catch your team doing things right. Even the mundane tasks. The author mentions the payback is realized that when you have legitimate criticism, your reports will listen.

These strategies are easy to implement. You can try one or more with your team and tune them as needed. With the new year just around the corner, now is a great time to look at ways to improve your management skills. Who knows – you may influence your peers and your boss by doing this.

Good luck and let me know what your metrics look like over time.

6 Vital Signs on Project Health June 30, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Project Management.
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There are multiple tools and measures available to manage projects. Here are 6 metrics that provide vital signs to monitor project health. These metrics can assist you to identify trends and define your level of comfort during implementation. They are also useful in communicating status to your team and stakeholders. Additionally, they help identify when to stop a project and provide the data to support that decision. Based on an article I read a long time ago, I have recapped the salient points in this post and included additional comments.

Health Monitor

Here are the 6 vital signs :

  1. Critical Path status – this is the big picture view of how the project is tracking. It accounts for factors such as budget, resources and time. Use ratios of 15/20/25% as a vital sign. If the status of the critical path is off by 15%, identify tasks with your team to get back on track. If the status hits 20%, use change control methods to adjust scope, increase budget or reduce quality with buy-in from the stakeholders. When the critical path status hits 25%, suggest the project be shut down.
  2. Deliverable hit rate – A measure of the team’s success at completing project subtasks or deliverables. This also indicates pace and how well your estimates are tracking to the project schedule.
  3. Milestone hit rate – Similar to deliverable hit rate but refers to major task completion of the project.
  4. Issues vs. deliverables ratio – Simply the measure of the number of issues (or, problems) raised during the execution of the project divided by the number of remaining deliverables. When you have more issues than deliverables, you don’t have a plan anymore, you have Swiss cheese. How fast you close these issues is key as well and is connected to the deliverable hit rate.
  5. Planned budget vs. actual – Using the same ratios as with critical path of 15/20/25%, if the project goes too far over budget, check the return on investment (ROI). The stakeholders will need to decide if the costs are still justified by the benefits.
  6. Planned resources vs. actual – Includes employees, hardware, software and time. Measure this the same as planned vs. actual budget.

How your organization uses project management will determine how many of these you can use. You may not use the critical path method (CPM) to track projects. There is a built-in assumption here that collecting the data signs will not detract from other project tasks. It also implies that your team will embrace this in addition to, or, replacement of whatever monitoring practice is currently in place. If you collect these measures and routinely monitor them, you have a good idea of your project health. Use these or tweak as fits your style and organization.

I appreciate that you can use this to communicate with the team and stakeholders. I like the vital signs 2, 3 and 4 – hit rate measures for deliverables, milestones and issues. Charting these and displaying them on a regular basis provide great performance indicators that your team and sponsors can easily understand. Trends are visible to all and your team may even provide solutions before you ask. Remember, shutting down a project is not a sign of failure – it is always a valid recommendation. Having the data and trend supports the decision.

There are many ways to run projects. As a project manager, you will use a lot of different styles, tools and measures.  I have used success criteria based on QA results, stoplight traffic controls and even the statistics from the project schedule to communicate project progress and health.

What signs do you use to measure project health? What are your favorite, time tested ways to monitor progress?

Management Types to Avoid March 27, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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Management styles evolve over time yet certain fundamentals remain constant. Planning, communicating and getting commitment from your team are a few of the essential fundamentals.  Good managers also provide clear and actionable deliverables. You recognize those effective managers easily. They have successful teams; people who are motivated. Then, there are those managers who are not so good. You know the type. They don’t know what they want until the last minute, have unrealistic expectations and never acknowledge your efforts. The management types to avoid.

We all have worked for both good and bad managers. I hope you work for more good managers than bad. For those occasions when working for a less than good manager, I offer this adage that helps deal with fear, uncertainty and doubt (aka, fud).
“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long,with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing at all.”

A coping mechanism for sure and a way to gently express frustration. It also helps rationalize an irrational situation.

What ways do you use to work with good managers and avoid the bad ones?

Has Worker Productivity peaked? October 13, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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A recent report from the Labor Department indicates that worker productivity may have peaked and actually be in decline. That can be good news for the economic recovery as companies will need to hire more workers to maintain growth.  Companies are beginning to realize they simply cannot get more work from current employees and they need to be aware of the burnout effect. To maintain growth then, companies will need additional workers.

This is good news for job seekers and will have a positive impact on consumer spending.

Are you as efficient as you can be? Has “doing more with less” been played out at your company? Do they plan on hiring?

Old and New Visuals for User Experience October 4, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in User Experience.
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When it comes to web design, User Experience (UX) is one area where I learned a lot and, came to appreciate the value of, early on in projects. Having a good UX design is a key success factor in a good web site.  As the web is a visual medium, using a simple graphic to describe the site design elements is a wonderful thing.

Having the UX defined is typically an early deliverable and is useful as the project goes along. It may be tempting to minimize the time spent on UX. If you skimp on the UX, as with other project fundamentals, you will revisit it later many times until you get it right. Pay early in the project and allot the proper time required to get this as complete as possible. In a visual medium, good design can be an intangible thing. You know a good design when you see it. Trying to articulate what makes a design work can be simplified by using these graphics.

Elements of User Experience

Classic UX from Jesse James Garrett

The classic image from Jesse James Garrett shows the elements involved in UX. This timeless visual is now 10 years old also and still relevant. I keep a copy of this with me constantly on web projects. When the discussion turns to UX, I often refer to this image to understand and help drive a solution.

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Fast forward to our current gestalt with User Centered design and here is a great graphic that uses the familiar iceberg analogy.

Elements in user Centered Design

There is a lot of information conveyed in this visual and includes the elements from Garrett’s classic UX. I like the progression taking a strategy to concrete concepts, showing how planning drives design and results in launch taking while into account the personas, user testing (!) and observation. Last, I really dig the various ways the user goals are shown. It gets to the intent of the site and who will use it – instruct (tell me), inform (show me) and reveal (involve me).

This visual captures a lot of the current best practices for web design. Notice that the design is agnostic on platform delivery. This approach on basic design concepts works for the web, mobile and tablet platforms.

Both old and new visuals are useful for UX (and information architecture) discussions to convey the concepts for a site ‘look and feel’ . Each clearly shows what is required in UX and helps ground everyone on how the site will be used.

Have another useful visual? What is your favorite?

Project Roadmap and Holidays December 14, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Project Management.
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One of the benefits of being an experienced professional is being able to define an annual roadmap. The roadmap in this context is a list of project level commitments defined in a schedule. Crafting a roadmap visually is a great way to communicate with your team, clients and sponsors. Through experience and some lessons learned, I found that using holidays for project milestones has many benefits.

  1. Using the holiday schedule enables creativity and great team discussions.
  2. Holidays are easy to remember. They are highly visible to everyone.
  3. It keep the team focused on key dates.

I found that using Thanksgiving as the roadmap end date was useful also. That left time (a.k.a. slack) if any project slipped but more importantly, it left time for the 11th hour rush of requests from internal clients. Typically, the month of December is when my team would need to deliver on many unplanned updates. By having our roadmap finished, there was enough time to accomodate those requests. Client happy, staff happy, boss happy. A good place to be. 😉

Everyone is familiar with the holiday schedule. As project milestones, holidays are great motivators also. Everyone wants to complete a major effort before a 3-day weekend, right?

As a manager, you need to envision how to position your team for success. Keeping things simple is always a good mantra. Using common tools and techniques is a powerful thing for you and your staff. Communicating in a clear and consistent way is a key enabler also.  By knowing the team roadmap, my staff planned their individual vacations accordingly.

It has taken some lessons learned over time for me to appreciate this as a routine planning process. Having that experience, I can have rational conversations at any level about the merits in this approach. I realize it may not work for everyone. Many times, project dates are assigned for you. Been there, done that.

Remember, the magic quadrant is a reasonable level of insanity. The least preferred quadrant is unreasonable level of insanity.

Hope your roadmap is in good shape and you are able to manage the time left to complete it in time for the New Year. Happy Holidays!