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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Best Predictor of Project Outcome - Project Initiation

I have developed and deployed numerous tools, techniques and templates that assist in completing high-quality projects on-time, on-budget and on-spec. However, the best aides in the world are of little use, without a framework or a way of thinking that guides their use.

The central idea of the framework that I advocate is that up-stream investments pay down-stream dividends. If you don't start right, it's difficult to finish that way. Simple idea, yes, but in the common rush to complete and succeed in an agency, groups of highly intelligent professionals (i.e. the team) frequently devolve into a 3-ring circus. "Ready, Fire, Aim" is a prevalent and unfortunate reality of day-to-day agency life.
Up-stream activities, such as information gathering, synthesis and dissemination are the preventive medicine that keeps agencies healthy.


Now, one doesn't want to get carried away. This orientation should not be misconstrued as a recommendation that the end-state should, or even can be, known at the outset of a complex engagement. In fact, the very value that project managers bring to the table - thoughtfulness about process, planning and up-stream focus, can choke the life out of the place if applied rigidly. There is value to be lifted and applied from both waterfall (stringent) and agile (flexible) methodologies.

Perhaps a bit overstated in terms of the uselessness placed on plans, this quote frames the issue well:

In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ike realized that the very act of planning and the frame of mind that it creates, lays the groundwork for intelligently dealing with challenges.

Do yourself and your teams a favor and apply effort up front. The finest minds in an agency are a valuable resource to be used wisely. Time spent in the early phases of a project is a far more effective than time spent scrambling to find and apply resources hours before a deadline.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Document Management - Where is the latest version of xyz?

Not being able to find the soft copy (the latest version!) of a printed document is pretty high on the list of things at an agency that drive me nuts.


To combat the effects of short, mid and long-term memory loss - effectively saving myself from myself, I have become reliant on inserting a field that dynamically generates the filename and path in the footer of all of my Microsoft Office documents. Combined with a proper file-naming convention, a "bread-crumb" path to the exact server or local hard-drive location of a document printed on the bottom of your document is invaluable. As far as I know, this doesn't work in PowerPoint, but as a bonus, it works like a charm in Microsoft Project.

I'm not going to go into detail on how to do this. It's easy enough to find out on the Microsoft site. As an example, you can find the instructions for Microsoft Word, in the Quick Reference Card on the Microsoft site.

If you've ever had the joy of updating a document from an older version, while a deadline or your boss is looming, you will agree that taking the time to include this in your and your team's SOP is worth the effort. The job you save may be your own.