Olympics…..We’re Dooooooomed!!!! Jubilee….We’re Dooooooomder!!!!

April 25, 2012

The Delivery Demon isn’t really much of a spectator so she didn’t bother tying up her credit card limit in the fiasco of Olympic ticket sales. Why put all that effort into a lottery level probability of seeing an event that might be of some slight interest? She stood back from that, leaving the remote chance of getting a ticket to those who really wanted to watch. As the chaos was delivered, she felt a few pangs of sympathy to those sportspeople who, even if they managed to get tickets, had very little opportunity of getting tickets to see the sports they actually participate in. The whole setup seemed pretty half-baked.

Beyond some vague plans to avoid the areas of transport mayhem during the Olympics, the DeliveryDemon has tended to ignore the media hype, but a recurring theme has been carping for her attention in news reports. There seems to be a developing assumption that the Olympics, like the equally-hyped Jubilee, will damage the economy. The DeliveryDemon recollects some reference to think tanks in those reports but a cursory web search hasn’t provided any hard evidence, so perhaps the reporters concerned are inventing or misinterpreting. Whatever the case, the DeliveryDemon has become interested in what those reports imply.

The general theme is that workers will be taking holidays and days off, will be surreptitiously following the events on their mobiles and their work PCs, will be spending long lunches in pubs, watching events unfold. Transport chaos will make people late for work. Workers will be tired and hungover from late night TV watching and alcoholic celebrations. Production will plummet, customer service will suffer, the economy will drag its way into another recession. Two big events in a single year? We’re all doooooomed!!!

So what are the facts behind the scaremongering?

  • Yes, people will want time off – they usually do in the summer. But it may be easier to achieve a spread of holiday dates as a significant number of people may choose to avoid holidaying during the Olympic peak times – much as many people avoid taking their break during school holidays.
  • Transport chaos? Commuters are used to this but it’s likely to have a worse than usual impact on venue access routes and the air and rail hubs which serve them. That’s not the whole country, and the areas concerned have a relatively high concentration of work which can be carried out remotely with a little bit of forethought.
  • People will spend more than they plan then cut back after the event? Pretty normal for any holiday type event, except that the spend will be in the UK.

So far, so normal. No reason to predict a recessive impact from normal human behaviour. So what might these pundits be suggesting?

  • All that well-paid Olympics work will disappear in the aftermath, true. Why should that be a surprise to anyone?
  • In some – but not all – businesses, less work will be done during the various events and celebrations. Really?
  • There will be a fairly heavy demand for time off during the peak period. A bit like Christmas and the school holidays. After all, people work to live, not the other way round.

Either the reporters who come up with these doom-laden headlines lack the most elementary understanding of business planning, or they are trying to deliver the message that UK management is so lacking in basic business skills that the entire country went down the plughole years ago.

The DeliveryDemon wishes that those recruiting for media positions would realise that those jobs have a need for basic commonsense and the ability to use data sensibly.

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Delivering Sports Participation

April 3, 2012

The DeliveryDemon isn’t hugely fascinated by the 2012 Olympics. She didn’t bother with the ticket allocation fiasco. She hopes she won’t be in London, or near one of the few non-London venues during the event. She has no intention of going anywhere to peer through crowds at anyone trotting along with a badly designed bit of metalwork, which is the nearest many Brits will get to the Olympics. She certainly won’t be watching the Olympics on television, as she still hasn’t found a good reason to go out and buy one.

According to BBC talking heads, this means that the DeliveryDemon is not interested in sport. No matter that she walks for miles in the mountains and across country – that doesn’t count. Nor does bodyflying, an activity which tests muscles most people never get round to using. As soon as she finishes rehab from last year’s skydiving accident, she aims to be back flowriding and doing the occasional bit of running. But she’s not interested in sport. The DeliveryDemon was delighted when recovery reached a point that allowed her back in the gym and the pool – but that’s not sport. She’s looking forward to being able to take winter holidays with ice climbing and snowshoeing and cross country skiing and dog sledging – but according to those in the know, she’s not a sporty person. Obviously not, since she isn’t inclined to sit on the couch, munching and drinking, while watching others do something which may be active – or which may be as inactive as darts or snooker or angling or even poker, all of which are skilled, none of which contribute much to the body’s need for physical activity.

There’s a lot of justification of Olympic costs on the grounds that the fact of the Olympics will increase sports participation. It’s a pity that those who made the decisions to spend shed loads of public money didn’t do some realistic thinking:

  • What does participation actually mean?
  • How can you demonstrate that it’s happening?

Since the powers that spend our taxes clearly haven’t done this thinking, please allow the DeliveryDemon to suggest a few actions and measures.

Work is spread throughout the country so that people don’t have to spend so much time commuting that there’s no weekday time for anything else and no weekend time because weekends are used up with recovering from the week’s commute and doing all the chores there wasn’t time for during the week.

School offer a range of activities within the timetable with sufficient variety so that all children can particpate without feeling useless or stupid, and sufficient competition to give the competitive a way of measuring their success.

Sports funding includes reasonable support for public facilities which provide ready access for the public at times when people want to use them.

Bylaws and bureaucrats do not use health and safety as an excuse to prevent popular and emerging sports like inline skating and skateboarding and freerunning in public places.

Planning decisions require provision of public open spaces including green space, and sports facilties, with properly thought out arrangements for their long term upkeep.

That’s just for starters. The Olympics will long be remembered for the white elephant developments it leaves behind, but any effect it has on sports participation will be as transient as the annual blip  in tennis court use around the time of Wimbledon – but without Wimbledon’s annual influence. If the powers that be seriously want to influence public health for the better, they need to think more pragmatically than low usage monolithic development and nanny state pronouncements.


Expectations and Single Point Estimating

June 7, 2009

Bob Barnes and Fred Baker have an interesting blog post entitled Project Life Cycle is Essential in Managing Risk. Their blog is at http://www.pmprofessors.com/ This is an interesting example of stakeholder expectations, and here’s the DeliveryDemon’s take on it.

Common understanding of an estimate is that it is a single point value. As project managers we know that there is an uncertainty range associated with any estimate, which narrows as more knowledge becomes available through the life of a project. Business processes tend to force us to provide a single point estimate, and expectations are adopted on the basis of that value. It’s an ongoing piece of work for a project manager to keep stakeholders in touch with the reality of what is happening, and that is no guarantee that a stakeholder won’t suddenly revert to the original expectation.

This is a reflection of the current level of maturity in non-PM understanding of project management processes. It won’t go away until PM becomes a core business competency, at the level exercised by today’s above average PMs, and we are still some way away from that.

Today’s PM needs to be aware of the issue and factor it into stakeholder expectation management.


Expectation Management

June 7, 2009

Any well trained project manager knows that surprises are bad news. Underperform, and it’s your fault. Overperform and people want to know why you didn’t make a more challenging commitment in the first place. Such is the lot of the project manager!

Every project is surrounded and permeated by expectations. The team has them, so does the project sponsor, and all the suppliers, not to mention customers, and the operations team. All those expectations are coloured by the recollections and assumptions and experience of the individual stakeholder. Ask a stakeholder what their expectations are and you will get a response but that won’t be the whole story. Often expectations aren’t identified until they are not met, and the stakeholder sees it as a project failure. As project managers, we talk glibly about expectation management, but it’s a complex and delicate subject. A project manager needs to analyse the project environment and decide how much effort needs to go into expectation management. It’s not a one-off exercise either. This decision needs to be reviewed at each stage and major change and decision point, and at any time their are indications of loss of confidence in the project, or excessive expectations. And of course the communication plan needs to be updated to deal with the reality rather than the situation which the project manager *expected* to exist!

Thinking about expectation management in general, DeliveryDemon did an analysis of her own expectations during a recent trip to Edinburgh for a Saturday meeting, and was surprised at the extent of the assumptions made during the trip and how they affected her.

Lift to the airport DeliveryDemon assumed the driver would head for the motorway, the driver preferred the direct route through towns. There probably isn’t a lot to choose between the routes but at each red traffic light and school crossing the DeliveryDemon got twitchier and twitchier.

Before check-in the DeliveryDemon was hungry and popped into M&S for a sandwich and bottle of water, an obvious thing to do in an airport mall full of food shops. Full marks (sorry, pun!!) to the checkout girl who recognised the assumption of eating the food on the plane, and provided a gentle reminder that drinks can’t be taken through security.

Airside is really designed to take expectations, shake them up and leave the traveller feeling jumpy. On the one hand shops and restaurants encourage browsing and relaxing over a meal or a drink. On the other hand the departure boards demand attention. When the distant gate is finally announced, the delivery-oriented DeliveryDemon wants to head straight for the gate, and is frustrated by the shuffling, 6-wide groups who expect that others will match speed to that necessitated by their in-depth discussion of last night’s soap or football match. Then once the gate is open, airline staff rush the passengers through and chivvy them along  – to wait in a queue. Rush, stop, rush, stop – the metabolism doesn’t know what to expect. What a recipe for high blood pressure and heart attacks!

In the sky the DeliveryDemon tends to expect interesting clouds and clear, photogenic, views, and feels vaguely cheated by a flight through grey cottonwool.

Meeting people provides a good test of assumptions. The DeliveryDemon and colleague got the mobiles out to make contact with another colleague arriving on a different flight, arranging to meet at the luggage carousel in arrivals. After some confusion the invalid expectation became clear – the colleague had arrived on a European flight, coming through a different arrivals area.

The hotel was one of two in a larger chain, situated in the Grassmarket. Expecting to stay in the same hotel as other colleagues, several people were annoyed to lose out on the opportunities of discussion over breakfast or a late night drink as overbooking meant the party was split between two hotels. For the unlucky group diverted down the road, the hotel failed to meet expectations of cleanliness with rooms where evidence of previous occupants had not been removed, and failed to meet expectations of construction standards with double glazing so ineffective that it would have been as quiet sleeping out in the Grassmarket during the Friday night festivities.

Finding a restaurant also upset a few expectations. Nose to the steamed up glass, DeliveryDemon waved to colleagues crammed round some window tables in the recommended eatery. There was no way that three of us would be able to battle through the crowds to the tables, never mind find seating space. But we did. And the staff conjured up chairs and created elbow room from a fifth dimension. The DeliveryDemon was very glad of being persuaded to ignore her expectations of not getting a seat, more so when faced with a steak served up on a hot stone with a pile of jacket wedges!

Grey days Having lived in Edinburgh, the DeliveryDemon expected and was prepared for grey skies and sharp winds, seasoned with the odd rain shower. Fortunately the DeliveryDemon also favours contingency planning, and adapted her expectations when faced with warm sunshine and clear blue skies, sneaking out between sessions for some impromptu architectural photography.

 Lunch hadn’t been a high spot at previous meetings, but the DeliveryDemon’s expectations were overset by a tasty cooked lunch which was light enough to avoid doziness during the afternoon session. Of course, with the Edinburgh hotel showing what can be done, expectations have been reset for lunches at future London meetings.

The return flight DeliveryDemon had hoped for a return flight to Luton, much closer to home than Heathrow but the expected evening return didn’t exist. DeliveryDemon is unimpressed with the UK’s domestic transport arrangements. At least Edinburgh airport was quiet, the rugby fans still celebrating in town. But the expectation of a leisurely browse round a selection of malt whiskies was upset by the feeling of urgency generated by a departure board announcing that the flight was already boarding, well before departure time. The flight left on time and arrived early. The DeliveryDemon expected problems on arrival, given the publicity Terminal 5 has attracted, so the quick baggage arrival came as a surprise.

Just a step on the way Of course, whatever expectations the advertising raises, Heathrow is not a destination in its own right, and the hapless traveller is often faced with an onward journey of a few miles which takes considerably longer than the flight.

London Underground For decades, a big red circle with a blue bar through it has raised the expectations that a Tube station is nearby. It’s a simple, brash, logo whose message is well known. Brash, not sophisticated, and that’s the problem. When designers are let loose on the signage of a transport hub, the prissy result has no place for such a dominant and informative graphic. They tone it down so it doesn’t stand out among all the other information. The result is that the tired traveller, looking for train or toilet or taxi, has to search through an undistinguished clutter of signs for the information they need. Not good for the traveller, not good for the traffic flow, and not particularly clever, given that the purpose of signage is to deliver information. So it is at Terminal 5.

And finally the train home Saturday evening. London. The last train. One might expect it to be full of happy people who followed a show with a meal and a glass or two of wine before returning home. Not with East Midland Trains’ final departure at 10.30. It made a nailbiting journey from Heathrow for the DeliveryDemon who couldn’t be sure if she could expect to catch the last train, or have to rely on the slow and uncomfortable line which goes no further than Bedford. And not knowing the train meant having to buy the ticket on the day. UK trains are notoriously expensive, but who would expect the cost of a single ticket to be the same price as a return?

It was just an overnight visit to Edinburgh for a meeting. But what a lot of expectations and assumptions arose. Some were met or well managed, others not. If that’s the expectation pattern for a single person on a simple trip, how much more varied and complex are the expectations and assumptions of the many stakeholders over the lifetime of a project? For a project manager, expectation management is a serious business, and a major factor in the success of a project. Forget this at your peril!