Managing projects

Articles and posts about managing technology projects, especially in light of the distinctive characteristics of technical people or geeks

You can’t wear the manager and the developer hats at the same time

Posted by on Aug 21, 2014 in Computerworld Columns, Managing projects, Managing self, Managing teams | 0 comments

Here’s something that never works out well: A small project comes along, one that doesn’t necessarily need a full-time project manager. So it’s decided that one of the developers on the project can double as the project manager. After all, who better understands what needs to be done than the developer? That’s true, and many developers do make good project managers. There’s no inherent conflict between the type of person who makes a good developer and one who makes a good project manager. They’re both detail-oriented and results-driven. But it’s simply not possible to be a...

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Motivating the mercenaries

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Computerworld Columns, Emotion & cognition, Managing projects, Managing teams | 0 comments

Technology projects have long been staffed with a combination of employees and contractors, but now the balance is shifting toward heavier reliance on hired guns. If you’re a manager who’s being told to bring on contractors rather than hire full-time staffers, you need to be prepared for the implications of having a team that skews toward the temporary. Your focus is on getting your projects done, regardless of who is doing the work. To get there, you’ll need to motivate your people to perform, no matter where their loyalties lie. OK, I can hear your objections already:...

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The gifts and costs of working with ‘them’

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Computerworld Columns, Managing projects, Managing teams | 0 comments

Project postmortems, engaged with honesty and brutal dispassion, are among the most powerful tools for professional (and life) development. They offer a rare opportunity to claim the gifts of insight that lie dormant in experience. So I’d like to share some useful postmortem reflections at the end of an exhilarating and exhausting two-year project of writing a book with a co-author who is decidedly not one of us geeks. Writing a book is a grueling process, not unlike developing a technical system. It starts with vague and incomplete requirements, passes through stages of exciting...

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The secret to keeping process vital

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Computerworld Columns, Managing projects, Motivation | 0 comments

Processes seem to come and go. Too often, though, they wither away from disuse when they still have value. How can we ensure that our staffs remain engaged with worthwhile processes? Consider the life cycle of the typical process. It usually is created as a response to some organizational trauma, like a major project failure. For a while, everyone embraces it, testing, tweaking, celebrating successes and mitigating inconveniences. But eventually, enthusiasm wanes. Urgent needs come up, and people decide that, just this once, a shortcut is justified. The decay begins. Before you know it, the...

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9 Signs of Project Disaster

Posted by on Sep 9, 2010 in Managing projects | 0 comments

If you’ve been in this industry for any length of time, you’ve probably been caught up in some sort of project disaster. They happen to the best of us, and they cause financial suffering for our companies and personal pain for all involved. Careers are trashed and personal lives disrupted. Even by optimistic estimates, about 75% of projects are late, over budget, missing major functionality or canceled outright. So depending on your definition, most of our projects end up somewhere between failure and disaster. There are several important things to do once you realize that...

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What Does “Done” Mean?

Posted by on Sep 9, 2010 in Managing projects | 0 comments

I’m frequently called upon to help figure out what to do with a project that might be in trouble. Of course, determining whether a project is in trouble is often not a trivial problem. We like to talk about troubled projects as if there were a single bit that visibly flipped from one to zero, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. While the symptoms presented vary widely, there are a few questions that I always ask to help determine whether the project is indeed in trouble. Some questions are deceptively simple with surprisingly subtle answers. Perhaps the most important is,...

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Stop Gathering Requirements

Posted by on Sep 9, 2010 in Managing projects | 0 comments

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most destructive notions circulating inside technical groups involves “gathering requirements.” For decades, virtually everyone in the industry has accepted that the first phase of every IT project should be to gather requirements from business users. At least in theory, it should be the point of departure for all our efforts. (Of course, it’s also the phase of the project that’s most often skipped.) So now that our success rate for IT projects has risen to the still-dismal level of about 25%, perhaps we...

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