Learn to walk before you run

9th  Installment: Learn to walk before you run.

8th Installment: Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals 10th Installment: Don’t plan beyond your uncertainty horizon (Available Soon)

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

You can work really hard, but if you’re not training in the right way you’re not going to improve and get to the level that you want to.Michael Chang (1972-

An assumption is often made that project management techniques can be applied without any learning curve. A manager decides to use them after attending a seminar or reading an article.

How often it is forgotten that project management techniques are tools. Successful use of a tool requires that a worker become familiar with its potential. We don’t expect someone to walk up to a lathe for the first time and produce to a tolerance of a thousandth of an inch. It takes time to understand what the lathe can do.

In the same manner, it takes time to understand what project management tools can and cannot do. Effectiveness is a function of experience. As experience increases, a worker becomes more effective.

Mentorship_helping-othersInvest in training. Everyone involved in managing should be instructed in project management techniques and the use of the software package you select.  A good way to learn is to assign an aspiring project manager to work as a deputy to someone who has extensive experience managing projects. I was very fortunate  to have a few great Project Managers mentor me in the early part of my career and help me up to their level of skill.

Many companies start using a project management system on too big a project. This would be the same as setting out to build a house right after you buy your first hammer. It’s best to start with a short, small project-—-one for which you really don’t need a project management system. This gives you the luxury of making mistakes. When I’m working with new Project Managers I have them lead a small project that teaches them how to break the work down into manageable packages and then to manage those packages. Experience helps avoid mistakes, but mistakes produce experience.

Also remember, that there is more to managing a project than knowing how to calculate a critical path. Don’t forget the goal of the project is to build something, not just learn a project management system oir methodolgy.

A Manager can never sit back and relax thinking that just because there is a design methodology or project management system; every thing is going to be okay.

I’ll be back next week with more.  Remember that the cleanliness of theory is no match for the clutter of reality.

Best Regards,

Michael Hughes

8th Installment: Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals 10th Installment: Don’t plan beyond your uncertainty horizon (Available Soon)
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Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals

8th   Installment: Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals

7th Installment: Don’t Over or Under Manage 9th Installment: Learn to walk before you run 

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan (1963- )

Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” – Alexander the Great (356BC – 323 BC)

Psychologists have long understood that people respond to rewards. If management makes a point of counting the number of pages in each design document an engineer produces, be prepared to have very thick documents with little or no substance.

The the point that Project Manager (and any other manager for that matter) need to learn is to be sure to reward actions that contribute to the progress of a project (or organization). The Project Manager must continuously focus upon the goal of finishing the project.  If some action doesn’t help you finish the project, don’t do it. Rewards can be as simple as a “good job” memo after a presentation or recognition at a project meeting.

There is much debate on whether you should reward individuals or teams.  The question I always ask in return is what behavior do you want?  If your reward structure is overwhelmingly given to individuals, then you get individuals trying to maximize their individual credit to maximize their individual reward instead of the group goal.

2004 Dream Team

2004 USA Olympic Basketball Team

You disagree?  What about the NBA dream team at the 2004 Olympics that lost three games? It was a collection of NBA all stars who couldn’t (wouldn’t?) work together.  This is a common theme in Sports [1] and also occurs in business.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t reward individual accomplishment.  Individuals do make a difference.  Just make sure that the individual rewards are not out of balance with the team awards.

Derek Irvine wrote “Regardless of how you dress it up, behavior occurs because it is rewarded, whether it is some external reward or some internal reward. The bottom line is you get what you reward.[2]

So it is important to communicate that even the lowest level person’s contribution is important to the success of the project.  If the recognition is going to a chosen few “top performers” be prepared for individual actions that increase an individuals reward while destroying teamwork.

I’d rather have a team of average people enthusiastically working together toward a goal, than a team of the best who don’t work together.

It’s important to find ways to reward actions which contribute to the progress of the project. People enjoy being recognized for their work. Build into the project ways of publicly praising individual staff members and also the accomplishments of groups.

I’ll be back soon with more.  Remember that the cleanliness of theory is no match for the clutter of reality.

Best Regards,
Michael Hughes

7th Installment: Don’t Over or Under Manage 9th Installment: Learn to walk before you run 

[1] “A Recent History of Failed Dream Teams. ”, ComplexSport.com, by Jose Martinez,  April 10, 2013.  Click here to read the article

[2] “A Workplace Truism to Remember: You Get What You Reward”, CTLNT.com,by  Derek Irvine on Nov 5, 2012  Click here to read the article

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Don’t Over or Under Manage

7th   Installment: Don’t Over or Under manage 

6th Installment: Don’t chisel first estimates into stone 8th Installment: Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”  ― Theodore Roosevelt  (1858 – 1919; 26th President of the United States (1901–1909)

I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” – Tommy Lasorda (1927 – ) 

There are two extremes which should be avoided in developing schedules and especially in managing people.  One extreme is having too much detail, too much direction.  This results in hour by hour or even minute by minute scheduling.  Many projects and staff get drowned in a sea of detail.  

Here’s a humorous example of too much detail: I had a college friend who worked at the first gas station to open on I5 in California’s southern central valley. At the end of each shift his manager would give a long  directive of how to sweep the lot instead of saying just “sweep the lot”.  Everyday the manager would include a detailed direction of how to get a piece of cardboard to act as a dust pan, which included the location of the trash bin, the size of card board box to find,  how to locate and then how to safely use a box cutter and how to brush the dust onto the cardboard.  It also included a discussion of how to sweep.  This was repeated every day to the same people.   What a waste of time.

The other extreme is too little detail  The result is scheduling in months, quarters or even years where your staff doesn’t know what their objective are.  

I have observed the problem of too little detail many times in my career.  Here’s the most humorous:  I once got a call from a potential client who said that He’d had someone build him a website, but it wasn’t any good.  I asked him what was wrong with it.  He replied “I just don’t like it.”    I then asked him if we could spend an hour to discuss what he wanted so I could get an idea of the work involved.  He replied “It’s just a website, I don’t think it should take five minutes to get the work defined.”  I then politely declined the job.  

What this means to a Project Manager is that the level of detail in any planning or direction should reflect the amount of guidance the people doing the work need. 

The figure  below shows a work accomplishment curve which describes the amount of work done under various amounts of management. On the left hand side, it shows that with no management (i.e., no objectives, no guidance), no work is accomplished. On the right hand side it shows that if everybody’s job is to manage (over management), no work will be done. Too much direction has the same effect as too little direction.

Work Accomplishment CurveFigure 1: Work Accomplishment Curve

The “trick” is to give the appropriate amount of detailed instruction to maximize the amount of work accomplished. The tendency of most project managers, when faced with a problem, is to move quickly to the right side of  the curve and heavily increase the amount of management. Unfortunately, the problem may have been caused by being too far to the right on the curve in the first place.

Another lesson from the work accomplish curve for Project Managers is that careful consideration should be given to the selection of the time unit used for scheduling. The time unit should reflect the amount of guidance the staff doing the work needs. For most projects, a duration of days or weeks is best.

Use the unit of time that makes sense. On some projects, tenths of hours is reasonable.  I’m also aware of a project, in the Middle East, for which scheduling by months was best because of supply problems.

 I’ll be back in a few week with more.  Remember that the cleanliness of theory is no match for the clutter of reality.

 Best Regards,

Michael Hughes

6th Installment: Don’t chisel first estimates into stone 8th Installment: Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals
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Is your Website Content Mobile Ready?

A good article was published earlier this month by Arnie Kuenn  at marketing land.com entitled “It’s 2014, Is Your Content Mobile Ready?”[1]

 The point he makes is not new, but it is growing more important.   The fact is, desktop computers are not the only way people view websites.   20 percent of all website views are now done on tablets or smartphones and that percentage is increasing.  

The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of sites look terrible when viewed on a tablet or smartphone.   They are hard to navigate, hard to read and drive people away from your site.   You cannot afford to ignore mobile users anymore.  

With today’s tools it’s not that hard to build websites that work across platforms.  Responsive web design is a technique that uses existing web tools to build websites that respond to different devices and displays content in a format that works for that device.  

Take a look at this website on your laptop/desktop and then on your smartphone.  The content is the same, but the layout varies to work better on your device you are using.

The drawback for responsive design is that you have to watch page load times.   A slow page load time negatively affects your users engagement and your SEO work.   So you need to keep pages short and limit graphics that show on  the mobile site. 

In some cases, a Mobile App makes a lot of sense.  Mobile Apps require more time to build, but with tools like livecode  [2] it is no longer a monster task to build apps that run on many platforms.   My rule of thumb is if it’s just text, stick with a responsive designed website.  It you have interaction, like ordering a item, then an app makes sense. 

 Another interesting observation that Kuenn makes is that half of all mobile traffic is online video.  To make video work across all the platform you have to avoid using flash.  Instead use CSS and HTML 5 to provide a quality video experience for all visitors regardless of the platform they use.

The way the internet is used and viewed continues to change and your use of it must change to be responsive to changing nature of your visitors.

[1] Healthcare.gov website ‘didn’t have a chance in hell’,  Patrick Thibodeau, October 21, 2013, ComputerWorld, Click here for the article.

[2] Livecode is a programing environment that enables you to create cross platform apps from one programming file. Their shareware version is quite good. Click here for the livecode.com site.

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American Nations

American Nations:

A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America 

  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition (September 29, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0143122029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143122029

American NationsThis book shows how American’s immigration history  has resulted in the different cultures of the United States.   It goes beyond the simplified red and blue state discussion that we hear so often in the news.   

It puts the political struggles of our democracy from the first settlements right up to current times in a framework that makes a lot of sense.  

Woodard’s main thesis is that the original immigrate cultures in each of these regions are still the basis for each regions’ culture.    We are not consciously aware of these differences and should be.

Woodward fills in a hole that the book “Generations” by William Strauss and Neil Howe theory didn’t explain.  Generations explained that the “Boomers” would bring great amounts of passion to their political activities, but not why they would differ on what they are passionate about.  American Nations explains the passion focus difference.  It proposes a theory on why a boomer from the left coast has as much passion about about expanding voting rights as a boomer from the Deep South has about avoiding election fraud.   

The map (below) that is in the front of the book shows the location of the 11 cultures of North America. Woodward included Canada and Mexico in this cultural explanation.   You can see the current political divide in the US on the map.


I grew up in the Southern California part of El Norte and my ancestors came from Yankeedom and New Netherland.   I could clearly see my views of the world were formed by this heritage and how close friends with Far West and Great Appalachia backgrounds formed their different view of the world.  

This book helps you understand the roots of America’s continuing partisanship. America has always been a collection of fragments, always at tension, and only rarely cohesive.

View all my goodreads reviews of anthropology books

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Don’t chisel first estimates into stone

6th    Installment: Don’t chisel first estimates into stone

5th Installment: Manage the Project not the Project Management Tool 7th Installment: Don’t Over or Under Manage

  “It is a bad plan that admits of no modification”  – Publilius Syrus (1st century BC)

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

There is no dishonor in rethinking a problem”  -Royal Bank of Canada Monthly Letter

When preliminary schedules are first developed, we all make SWAGs (Sciencetific Wildly Aspirating Guesses) on a projects work-breakdown structures or durations.

These estimate will rarely be accurate, because at the beginning of a project, our estimates are based on fuzzy requirement, they suffer from a lack of our experience doing similar work or from an uncertainty of what to do after the initial steps.   

cropped-cassiniThat’s why it’s important to have some contingency time built into every project. The amount depends on the uncertainty of the project.  I’ve been on projects that needed a lot of contingency time built into the schedule because they tackled problems that had never been done before, such as building a deep space probe to Saturn that has a narrow launch window. 

I’ve also supported the scheduling group for the construction of a major military facility, where there was very little uncertainity in the project.   When the schedulers got to a task such as building a warehouse of a certain size they’d pull out their reference books and look up the days for construction, the amount of contingency appropriate for that construction.  Then, from other reference books, they’d figure in the lead time to order and ship materials. Then depending on the method of shipment, they’d compute how much extra to order to handle five finger discounts.  There wasn’t much need for contingency on that project.

For projects with high uncertainity, As the requirements of the project are clarified and understood, the Project Manager must make corrections to the original assumptions.  But how many  times have you heard the query from higher up in an organization “But you said in the original schedule that it should take “n” days to do that? “   That is the reason that you have to set up a workable process to correct the schedules.  Each honest iteration of a schedule will produce a more accurate estimate.   The Project Manager has to regularily remind management the the detail schedule is only good up to the uncertainity horizon of the project. (More on that topic later)

3489708_blogAs stated in an earlier installment of this blog,  the Project Manager has to establish an environment in which the staff is not afraid to tell the truth.  This applies when correcting or updating the schedule.  It is the process of  honestly updating and statusing  the schedule that gives the manager insight into the project’s status.  The Project Manager’s response to problems which arise will determine how successful the rest of the project will be.  The Project manager must establish an environment in which people are willing to share all problems before they become unmanageable. 

I’ll be back in a few weeks with more.  Remember that the cleanliness of theory is no match for the clutter of reality.

 Best Regards,

Michael Hughes

5th Installment: Manage the Project not the Project Management Tool 7th Installment: Don’t Over or Under Manage
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Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel:

The Fates of Human Societies

By Jared Diamond

Publication Date: April 1, 1999 | ISBN-10: 0393317552 | ISBN-13: 978-0393317558

Guns, Germs and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book attempts to explain why Europeans dominated the world for a period of time and now no longer do. It has nothing to do with some mysterious genetic superiority of one people over another. Diamond summarized his findings as follows: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples environments, not because of biological differences among people themselves.”

The major driver was that the Fertile Crescent contained seed crops and animals (sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, and horses) that lent themselves to successful domestication. This domestication then spread roughly along the same parallel east to Asia and west to Europe. Domestication didn’t spread in the America’s and Africa’s due to their north-south orientation. Advances quickly moved back and forth between east and west, but climatic zone differences inhibit flows north and south. This resulted in massive food production in Eurasia. Food production, in turn, led to stationary populations and excess food that supported artists, bureaucrats and soldiers and sophisticated technologies (guns and steel).

Population density along with close contact with animals, led to germs affecting large numbers of people. As infectious diseases killed large numbers, the surviviors developed immunity to them. The black death is a good example. Anywhere from 30% to 60% of the total population in Europe died. The population did rebound over time. In the Americans, disease killed 95% of the Native American population, which was estimated at 20,000,000 decimated in 1492. Germs didn’t have the same impact in Africa as it wasn’t isolated from Eurasia and so had been affected my the same diseases.

Technology advantages, plus immunity to most germs, allowed Eurasians to easily subdue the natives of the Americas, Australia and Southeast Asia.

At the end of book Diamond addresses why Europe instead of the Fertile Crescent or China end up on top during the last 500 years. For the Fertile Crescent he states that it is due to resource depletion. For China Diamond claims it is because there were no geographic barriers in that part of the world so China was unified politically – so a decision made centrally affected all of China. In Europe the opposite was the case. There are so many geographic barriers that Europe was not unified politically. China was ahead of Europe in almost every area in the 1400s. They had massive fleets with ships orders of magnitude bigger than Europe had at the time exploring under the command of Zheng He from 1405 to 1433. However, when the faction that support the fleets fell out of favor, the exploration were abandoned and the information about the fleets suppressed and China turned inward. In Europe. Columbus was able to go from court to court until he found backing for his voyage. My personal opinion is that this doesn’t fully explain the China vs Europe issue and that there were more factors involved.

I highly recommend this book as it does shed light on how the world got the way it is.

View all my goodreads reviews of anthropology books

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Bloody Skies: A 15th AAF B-17 Crew

Bloody Skies: A 15th AAF B-17 Crew: How They Lived and Died  – April 1, 1999

by Melvin W. McGuire (Author) , Robert Hadley (Author)
  • Publisher: Yucca Tree Press (April 1, 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 1881325075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1881325079

51RED2NPPYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This book has special meaning to me as my Father William J. Hughes served in the 15th AAF B-17 20th Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group, 5th Wing, Amendola Air Base, Foggia, Italy with Melvin McGuire.  The book covers the period of time that my father was in combat and there is one mission when McGuire and my father are on the same plane. 

McGuire gives a personal account of his training and missions.  I learned how a B-17 operated while on a mission.  The B-17s climbed slowly compared to what we experience on Jet Airlines.  They spend hours climbing to altitude and spent most of the mission breathing bottle oxygen. 

McGuire arrived on the base on the day that the 20th lost every plane on a mission to bomb an Oil Refinery on Czechoslovakia.  My father arrived later that same week.  This event sets the undertone for the whole book that they didn’t expect to survive.   My father confirmed with me that he had no expectation of surviving the war, but he and his comrades firmly believed that their sacrifice was worth the goal of defeating the Nazis.   McGuire devotes a chapter explaining how all the planes were lost on mission 263.   

In Chapter 27, McGuire described a mission he flew with my Father on Christmas Day, 1944. McQuire had been assigned to fly with my Father’s regular crew to fill in as the Bombardier.   McGuire only needed two or three more missions before his tour was done and you can taste the beginning of the realization that he might be one of the few that makes it home.   It was mission to Bomb an oil refinery in Brux, Czechoslovakia.  McGuire gives you an idea of what it was like to anticipate the started of the flak and then to be bounced around the sky by the turbulence caused by the flak.   On that mission McGuire saw the plane he normally flew with be hit.  The plane was able to make back to Italy and fortunately, the pilot wounds were not fatal.

There is so much in this book to give you a picture of what these men went through.  The contribution of the Tuskegee Airmen is also included.  My Dad always told us that the Tuskegee Airmen are the reason he survived the war and McGuire’s account backs this up.

I highly recommend this book to understand the personal experience of B-17 crews in WWII.

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Manage the Project not the Project Management Tool

5th  Installment:  Manage the Project not the Project Management tool

4th Installment: Reward Bad News, Question Good News 6th Installment: Don’t chisel first estimates into stone

 “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”  – Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

Before 1950, project management was considered a black art, whose practitioners had only Gantt charts available to2511292_blog them. The late 1950s saw the introduction of many project management techniques including Critical Path Method (CPM), and Project Evaluation and Routing Technique (PERT). However, despite these tools, or perhaps because of them, project continued to fail just as often as before. So why, with all these great tools, don’t projects automatically succeed? Could it be that automation alone doesn’t solve all of the project’s problems?

The error that some Project Managers make is that the tool becomes the project. We must remember that our project management processes are a framework, not a physical law.  Don’t get me wrong; Project management systems are great tools.  When used correctly, they model the real world environment, which helps the Project Manager see problems in reaching the project goals.

3461119_mWhen the focus shifts, the Project Manager becomes a manager of the network model, and spends more and more time building and modifying the model than in making progress toward the project goals.   In effect what often happens is that instead of the network helping to manage the project, the network becomes the project.  The Project Manager becomes buried in data.  Too much data crowds out the information needed to effectively manage the project.

I observed one project where more money and effort went into running the project than into any other activity on the project.   Naturally, the project was failing, when upper management put a new team in place.   I was part of the team brought in.  We reduced the schedule group on the project to 15% of it’s previous size.   The change in the leadership team saved the project and it was delivered on-time and on-budget. 

I’ll be back in a few weeks with more.  Remember that the cleanliness of theory is no match for the clutter of reality.

 Best Regards,

Michael Hughes

4th Installment: Reward Bad News, Question Good News 6th Installment: Don’t chisel first estimates into stone
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How Secure Is Your Password?

Create a strong password that you can remember.

How to come up with a password


  • Substitute numbers or symbols for letters or words:  For example: I becomes 1 or !, e becomes 5, b becomes 8, the letter o becomes the number 0 (zero), s becomes $, for becomes 4, at becomes @, to becomes 2


  • Combine 3 unrelated words and some substitution:  For example, use Mail + Phones + Home and then substitute some letters = m@!lPh0n3$H0m5.  It would take a desktop PC about 2 billion years to crack that password. 


  • Abbreviate a phrase or sentence:  For example : “I enjoyed skiing at Mammoth Mountain in 2012″ = IesaMMi2012. It would take a desktop PC about 412 years to crack that password.  If you substitute some letters = !5s@MM12012 it would then take  a desktop PC about 4 thousand years to crack that password.


  • Use a Music lyric: For example: “In the town where I was born,Lived a man who sailed to sea” = Ittw1wbLamws2s. It would take a desktop PC about 98 million years to crack that password

3093162_sCheck the strength of your password.

I highly recommend using howsecureismypassword.net to check how long it would take for someone who got access to your computer to crack your password.  As you type in the password the site background goes from red to green and tells you how long it would take a desktop PC to break it.

I recommend – and so does the site – that you don’t use your actual password to do the check, but to modify it.  If your password in Dogcat4 put in Topsit7.  Both passwords have the same combination of Uppercase, lowercase letters and numbers.   BTW, it would take a desktop PC about 14 minutes to crack that password.  Not very strong.

Don’t over do it

Since you have to type your password in on regular basis balance complexity with usability.  My current password would take a desktop PC about 109 thousand years to crack.  I think that is good enough.

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