Poetry in Projects

May 26, 2009

a haiku’s message

is structured to deliver –

are projects haikus?

Putting the ‘Live’ into Delivery

May 17, 2009

The DeliveryDemon has recently had the good fortune to spend time with some world class athletes. They are at the very top of a highly demanding minority sport and the pressure to deliver is intense.

  • In competition there is no second chance to deliver the goods. Just a little less than top performance on the day, and the medal goes to someone else.
  • Delivery in competition depends on rigorous training and other preparation prior to competition. It’s not just a one-day effort.
  • There’s a lot of risk management to consider – highly trained athletes operate on the fine line between top fitness and injury, where a brief misjudgement can lead to weeks of layoff.
  • It’s impossible to operate at competition level all the time, and athletes need a cycle of preparation, peak performance, and relaxation / recuperation.

There’s another aspect of minority sports where delivery comes into play. In the absence of commercial sponsorhips, athletes may fund their training by coaching others. Some may branch out into the production of specialist clothing and equipment for their sports. Since minority sports by their nature have a limited number of participants, the coach or equipment supplier will become known quite quickly. They will be judged both by the quality of what they sell, and their sporting achievements. Other participants will quickly become aware of any new or innovative products which they introduce to the marketplace. Equally, news of poor delivery is quickly passed around.

There is a surprising number of well-run small businesses in this field. Because the reputations of the business and its owner are intertwined, the athlete is under intense pressure to deliver quality in competitive results and quality in goods and services. There is also a need to balance peaks of performance with periods which allow for both physical recovery and product development. The athlette lives constantly with a focus on delivery.

The principles which apply to delivery by these micro businesses are equally applicable to large scale commercial enterprises. However, the complexity of large organisations means that they often lose this single-minded focus on customer delivery. Large organisations often look to high profile sportsmen to deliver training on individual motivation. They would do well to look closely at the less well-funded areas of sport. These microbusinesses provide a delivery benchmark which many large companies are incapable of equalling.

Ethics? That’th in the eatht, ithn’t it?

May 15, 2009

The DeliveryDemon has been restraining herself from adding to the torrent of commentary on the UK MPs’ expenses scandal, but she can’t hold back any more. It is so blindingly obvious that the vast majority of voters choose their representatives in the hope that they will deliver a fair, honest and secure environment for the voters to earn a living and go about their daily lives. If only in the interests of re-election, one might expect MPs to deliver the impression of doing just that.

Are the UK’s MPs really blind to the impression they deliver, or doesn’t it matter to them? What’s fair, honest and secure about a country where:

  • An MP can build up a property portfolio and have the taxpayer subsidise purchase and maintenance across the portfolio by calling first one property then another the main / second residence, while an ordinary taxpayer working away from home and family is subject to strict rules about what can be claimed, and must even pay tax on expenses if it looks likely that the working away period will be more than 2 years.
  • Husband and wife MPs can claim on the same property, but in small husband and wife businesses, the owners have had to fight to ensure that the wife can have earnings in her own right instead of being treated as the husband’s chattel.
  • A private individual’s expenses must have a demonstrable link to the job, whereas an MP may treat an expenses limit as an entitlement.

It’s shocking when it happens, more so when it happens on the recent grand scale. It’s embarrassing when the ethics of the situation are glossed over and ‘the rules’ used as justification. There’s a kind of grim comedy in the attempts to divert attention to payments made to the architects of recent banking failures. But the worst of it is the total absence of any way out which would restore to the country a parliamentary system which could be trusted to act in the interests of the electorate.

The DeliveryDemon has a suggestion to offer.

Historically, MPs had allowances because their working situation was unusual in that many needed to live away from home and family and local responsibilities. That’s not unusual now. Soaring house prices have made it impossible for many to live near work. Inconsistent quality of schooling and healthcare has forced some taxpayers into weekly commuting in order to avoid moving the family somewhere which doesn’t provide a reasonable quality of life. The flexibility of this country’s economy relies on a pool of people who are prepared to work on the basis of short term contracts, moving where the work is.

MPs are no longer a special case when it comes to working away from home. There’s no longer a justification for special rules and allowances for them. If MPs were subject to the same rule as the normal taxpayer, there would be no opportunity for them to manipulate the rules and take advantage of their position.

Cats Don’t Do Risk Management

May 1, 2009

A couple of ginger kittens decided to take up home with our neighbours last year. They are now just about adult and curious about everything. And dangerous into the bargain.

We were heading out for a quiet evening walk when we noticed that another neighbour’s house had acquired a ginger cat on its steeply pitched roof. It had obviously scrabbled up a fence onto an equally steep garage roof and leapt across the small gap to the main house. As we watched, it turned to make its way back down, dabbing a tentative paw on the row of tiles below. The tiles, it seems, were slippy, and the cat didn’t like it. The cat headed upwards till it reached the roof ridge. Attempts to come down the far side were equally unsuccessful – the cat was stuck up there.

Cat on the Roof

When the owners realised the cat’s predicament, the ladder came out. Up climbed our neighbour onto the garage roof – as slippery to his trainers as the main roof to the cat’s paws. The cat made a few tentative moves towards him but just couldn’t manage to reverse the moves it made to get to that position. Other members of the household tried to tempt it with various titbits, all to no avail. Cats are normally to cool to look terrified but this one was quaking every time it placed a tentative paw on the downward slope.

Eventually the cat decided to chance all with a slithering descent of the roof and a leap over to the garage, narrowly avoiding dislodging the neighbour’s footing. The neighbour edged his way down the garage roof, down the ladder safely to the ground. Happy ending, so why is the DeliveryDemon talking about Risk Management?

Well, in going from fence to garage to roof the cat gave no thought to its ability to reverse the moves. It certainly didn’t think about the consequences of a move going wrong. No way did it consider potential consequences such as:

  • A pathetic starved ginger-furred skeleton on the roof ridge
  • A flat cat on the ground
  • A flat neighbour on the ground
  • Dramatic fire engine rescue of cat and / or neighbour

Cats are egotistical optimists, confident that things cannot go wrong for them, or that the universe will sort things out if it does. When they decide on a course of action, it’s the one which best suits their purpose at the time. There’s no thought of consequences for others, no thought of an exit strategy.

Does this sound like anyone you know? The DeliveryDemon gets very nervous when she identifies a ‘cat’ on a project team. If a team member is making decisions without considering and communicating the knock-on risks to their own work and to others, that’s putting the whole project at risk. That’s one reason why informal project communication is so important – it’s the only chance you have of identifying this feline attitude to risk BEFORE the consequences start to hit.

Do you have any cats on your project team?