Monday, January 26, 2009

So, what exactly DO you do??

I run a youth group a couple weekends a month. It feeds the part of me that worked at overnight camp for 6 years through and after college and still enjoys informal education and just doing good stuff with teenagers. And I'm sure there are some parallels between running a teen youth group and managing projects, but that's not what this post is about.

This past Saturday night I had a program with the kids at our local synagogue, we were painting a mural and making bead bracelets to sell to raise money for charity. While we were breaking for pizza, one of the girls saw me sneak away to check my phone for email/etc. She asked me what my real job was (always a funny thing, because for the longest time the kids didn't think I did anything else besides organize their little programs).

I told her I was a project manager.

She said (with not so much enthusiasm), "Oh, ok. What does a project manager do?"

I said, "Well, I help build web sites and applications. I make sure that people working with me know what they have to do and when it needs to get done. I have to keep things organized."

At which point she said (with still not so much enthusiasm), "oh...ok."

And then I thought later, "Boy, she must think my job is utterly boring!" But then I realized, had someone told me when I was 16 that I was destined to be a project manager, I would have laughed! When I was 16, I wanted to be a concert marimba player, then a professional soccer goalkeeper, then a special effects artist for the movies. Well, I ended up studying mechanical engineering and after a handful of years as a web developer, ultimately became a project manager. After almost four years of working as a project manager I was still not even sure if it was the career I wanted. I decided to go for the PMP, to get some formal training to complement the real life experience I had from managing web projects for a large scale custom content management system. I told myself then that if after my PMP crash course that if I didn't like what I learned then this would be the right time to leave project management and try something else.

Well, the course was good and the content was just the start of a whole new chapter of professional development. I actually really enjoyed topics like risk management, estimation techniques, change control process, work breakdown structure, and more. The course was just a very brief overview, enough to wet your appetite. So, that began my quest to learn more about what it really means to be a project manager. Picked up lots of used books on amazon and surfed the project management blogosphere. It's been a great ride and it still continues.

So, why do I like it so much? It's interesting, it's challenging, it keeps your blood pumping. There's drama with quick and intense decisions, there's "ah-hah" moments when you can figure out something to improve a process and watch your team benefit from it. Where I am working now at Horn Group, I love the opportunity to be able to experiment with new communication methods and try figure out what processes will help improve the groups project work. There's the fun and challenge of working with different personalities and trying to keep people happy, and for that I'm sure the years of being a camp counselor and youth group leader must have been good preparation. Not to say that every single day has the roller coaster ride, but there's always something interesting to do.

So, will the girl from the youth group be inspired by my words and go on to be a project manager? Probably not...I don't remember meeting anyone in college who was actually studying to be a project manager. But, I'm happy I found my way here and enjoy what I do enough to make time outside of work to read & learn more about how to become a better PM. If that's not a satisfying career, I don't know what is!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New post on NYC Moms Blog

Yes, I'm blogging around these days... this one isn't exactly about project management, but touches a bit on the poor management of a process.

It's the therapists that made me crazy...

When my 4-year-old was younger, she would call balloon "a-boon", balloons "buna", and yellow "wellow". All kids do have cute ways of saying things, when they are still figuring out how to put the sounds together. And it's fun, it's fun to listen to them say those cute things and know exactly what they are trying to say, and those are the things we write down or save somewhere in the baby memoirs (more about that in another post)....

Read More....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Blog post on Brass Tacks - Horn Group Blog

Getting the Word Out, about the After School Art Class and Project Tasks

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication lately, both because I’m a project manager and well…that’s what project managers are supposed to do, and because I’ve had my share of frustration with my older daughter’s preschool and their process of sharing information. It’s funny to me that professionally I try to be completely on top of information and making sure it gets to where it needs to go, but yet I can’t seem to keep anything of importance about my daughter’s school, the schedule, meetings with teachers, etc. anywhere on my radar. A few times already I’ve had to dash out to get her because she had a half day that I didn’t know about, or the after school program was canceled that day. Fortunately I’ve been able to keep straight what days she gets school lunch and what days she gets lunch from home…so I am proud to say I have not let her go hungry yet!

Read more....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Lesson in Software Specifications, from Amelia Bedelia...

I read kids books a my kids of course. I've also been on a software/project management book reading kick lately, but more about that in a minute. Tonight I was reading Amelia Bedelia to my 4-year-old and it got me thinking about something else I had just read in Steve McConnell's Rapid Development this week.

So, for those who may not know, the Amelia Bedelia series is about Amelia Bedelia, a house maid for a wealthy family who always gets the instructions wrong because she uses a different meaning of the key words. So, when asked to 'trim the steak' and 'dress the chicken', she procedes to add bows and ribbons to the steak and put the chicken in baby clothes. She always saves herself from being fired by cooking something really great for her employers.

While reading the story (probably for the 60th time since we got it a couple years ago) I thought about how you can never just assume people will understand what you want them to do or what you are trying to describe to them. The more you can get out of your head and on paper the better. Amelia Bedelia is a great example, and another way to think of it is when there are not enough details and too much left up for the next person (let's say a software developer) to design on their own. When given this opportunity, the sky is the limit for how basic or extravagent the feature can be designed.

Steve McConnell gives a great example of this in his book Rapid Development. He discusses the importance of making clear goals, and uses an example of a specification that is silent on the question of whether to provide the user with the abiliy to control polymarker's sizes. The developer is left to answer that question and has any number of paths to take:

"1. Do not provide any control at all.

2. Set up the source code to be modified in one place for the whole set of polymarkers (that is, sizes of all polymarkers are set by a single named constant or preprcessor macro).
3. Set up the source code to be modified in one place, on a polymarker-by-polymarker basis, for a fixed number of polymarkers (that is, size of each polymarker - square, triangle and so on - is set by its own named constant or preprocessor macro). "

all the way up to..

"8. Allow for interactive, end-user modification of a single polymarker-size specification.

9. Allow for interactive, end-user modification of polymarker-size specifications, with one setting per polymarker, or a fixed number of polymarkers.

10. Allow for interactive, end user modification of a polymarker-size specifications, with one setting for polymarkerfor a dynamic number of polymarkers."

And you can just imagine the differences in development and testing time between option 1 and option 10. Unfortunately project teams can't cook killer brownies or lemon merengue pie to make up for overblown budget or to soothe angry clients or end users. So, learn from Amelia Bedelia and make sure that the software specifications include as much detail as possible. And save the great brownies for celebrating a sucessful launch!