The map is not the territory

The map is not the territory

Good project management requires visualization of tasks, duration and related costs… However, how far can we go?

I remember the good old days of detailed project management when it was customary to forecast the unpredictable where Project Managers spent 4 hours per day revising their GANTT chart in Microsoft Project.

Now, why criticize this type of method? Isn’t it still working? It obviously does, it’s been tested and it’s still working properly; however, these are all things of the past. For instance, GANTT charts were created more than a century ago for the industrial age where everything had its own place. An engine manufacturing 25 steel castings per hour did not manufacture 26; factories and engines were built to run for at least 20 years. Nowadays, the world has changed: work is more about connecting with clients, adding a few more lines of code, answering some emails and you’re definitely not expected to be doing the same thing over and over for the next 20 years.

No plan survives contact with the enemy
Sun Tzu

As the world has entered the service age and the digital age, such military planning is no longer useful. I am not saying that it’s not working, but that it’s taking too much time and it’s bad for your return on investment.

For instance, suppose you’re driving towards your holiday destination, do you stop on the side road and check whether you’re left with 121 or 122.5 km? No, this is ridiculous, it’s best to keep driving and know that you’re left with 120 or 130 km. The most relevant data are those related to road conditions, traffic jams or better ways to reach your destination. Unfortunately, when it comes to project management, too many people waste hours or work simply to update their forecast from 121 to 122.5!

the map is not the territory

If drawing the map takes longer than building the house, you have a problem!

Without recommending a specific method, here are some things you should avoid:

Revise Past Planning

Bookkeeping is the only thing that must always be detailed correctly. As for the rest, if you happen to find yourself performing retrospective revisions of your planning tool, just ask yourself the following, “What do I do with this?” If nobody in your company can answer this question, then you’re probably dealing with useless data.

Stick to the Plan

Too many people follow plans as if they were following the 10 commandments. The only pattern you should follow is common sense. For more information, read [#PROductivity5]

Multi-Annual Planning

Unless you’re a fortune teller, you don’t need to plan your project in detail over the next 5 years. Not implying that you don’t need to plan for the future, but if you can plan in detail both the following week and the following year, you are either not detailing enough, or you’re going into too much detail over future tasks. Think of a multilevel sieve in which each level is increasingly smaller; anything far away resembles big stones whereas anything next to you is nothing but fine sand. There’s nothing lazy about refining work in progress, it simply means that lots of long-term planned tasks disappear before being carried out or are subject to a substantial overhaul: you don’t need to detail the unpredictable.

Think that Everything Will Go With the Plan

Movies go beyond scripts and plans are merely guiding tools. Stop imposing them in real life to the extent of denying changes.

Hide the Truth

Some Project Managers feel somewhat ashamed if reality does not follow their plans and prefer to hide the truth about the real state of things. At that point, plans are neither simplified visualizations nor forecasts, but mere lies.

The Agile methodology (lean, scrum, kanban etc.) is the new kid on the block which favors estimates and trends, thus replacing old project management cascade tools which insist on detailing and pinning down every step of the working process for the following years.

Remember: if you’re spending more time on task planning than on execution, then you’re going too far!

 

 

Common Sense, Above All #PROductivity 5

Common Sense, Above All #PROductivity 5

Methods allow us to implement processes in a rational way. User guides are highly useful for beginners who wish to implement all processes by following instructions especially when one does not have the full picture about a tool. Conversely, once you master your tool, it is essential that you own these tools and make them yours.

“Reason is the only thing that makes us human.”

René Descartes, Discourse on Method

When it comes to Lean, RUP, PMI, PMP, or Prince, the advantage of using certain methods, aside from the possible related criticism, is that you can set standards and ask everybody to follow them. However, I have come across a lot of hardliners obsessed with methodologies that used a lot of resources to apply processes which proved useless in the end, but they still carried on: after all, they were simply following instructions.

Common sense is the most important tool that you can use throughout your career. Whenever you feel that your approach or method turns into an objective and does not serve its purpose, it is probably high time you changed it. In other words, if your method hampers your performance, you must challenge it to suit your needs!

Geneviève

Aside from managing various projects, the Project Manager measures 90 KPIs; he spends hours on it and shows pride in doing so. So, what is the ultimate goal? The aim of a KPI is to measure, to assess aspects of your company and finally, to suggest measures in order to adjust and improve its operation. But who can follow up on 90 KPIs and adapt 90 processes at the same time? I think it’s a waste of time.

Another way to approach a situation, which is not managed efficiently, is to remember the reason behind it. Why do you use those indicators and who benefits from it? What’s their worth? Who reads those performance indicators? From my own personal experience, I am always amazed by the number of times in which this type of work, which has its own worth, is left unused. What do you really need?

Geneviève

I oversaw quite a few development projects using the SCRUM methodology. It has some simple and useful features such as the 2-week or 4-week sprint planning and the option of calculating the velocity of each sprint (i.e. the amount of work delivered). This is highly useful if you need to operate billing changes in the account of the client who ordered this project (hourly invoicing). However, in all other cases, such as the development of your own SaaS product, there were some features that got in our way such as:

  • First of all, we did not want to stick to the original planning which restricted us to a few number of weeks. It was not important for us to follow a schedule, but to “provide a product with an added value”. It was wrong to say, “We’ve got 2 weeks to fill out with something”, so we just settled for, “I want my users to be able to pay for their booking; how long will it take?” Thus, we set up a milestone with a relevant delivery deadline: 1, 2, and 3 weeks; conversely, we kept all the relevant and useful data and prepared a release within one month of starting development.
  • Secondly, we asked ourselves whether all the effort put in measuring processes was worth it. No, not at all. I am not saying that it is completely pointless, but it was useless in that particular case.

It is very interesting to note how people measure work effort. Often, I get asked: what is the perfect mix of analysis, development and project testing? This is frequently asked irrespective of the project management methodology. I think that past experience can only be useful if, and only if, it is used in the context of an identical project with the same client and the same team in the same context. As soon as the setting changes, past experience becomes irrelevant. When I was Project Manager, I spent a lot of time going through Excel files calculating, analyzing and trying to understand the past in order to improve estimates. This effort is only useful for estimates likely to please the client and reassure the person providing it, but these are far from being realistic if this is a different project.

So, how should you manage deadlines? Irrespective of your project management methodology, the only thing that really works is working with the client, periodic deliveries and ESPECIALLY clarity of objectives you truly need. Did you know that your clients often ask you things they do not really need because they expect you to cut down to the essentials? Why not stick to essentials?

Geneviève

Your company does not need to adapt itself to a particular methodology; it’s precisely your approach that needs to flexible enough to provide you the best return on investment. Sticking to instructions is useful when you’re a beginner; however, seasoned professionals need to own methodologies or come up with new ones!

… let’s not forget that the most important thing is understanding the reason behind each project. Humans need to understand in order to act.

Geneviève

This post was co-authored by:

GENEVIÈVE DICAIRE

GENEVIÈVE DICAIRE

ICF Professional Coach, Author and Speaker

With more than 15 years of IT experience, Geneviève has moved on from specialist to manager positions. She discovered the power of coaching tools and founded Unique coaching.

The (Single) Real Reason Why Startups Fail

The (Single) Real Reason Why Startups Fail

For a long time, I thought the balance sheet is the most essential thing that makes or breaks a company, and bankruptcy as its primary source of failure. At times, some of these startups are granted the right to a premeditated ending: an “exit strategy” orchestrated for some time which puts an end (or not) to a company, but at the same time provides a return on capital to its shareholders.

I still cherished this idea as a student, although it faded away quickly upon entering the business world. I have stopped counting the number of times a company goes back to its startup capital. Some of these startups find other “rounds” of investment while others don’t. Not all companies that file for bankruptcy are dead and buried: it’s usually a good opportunity to liquidate debt and recover, a few months later, under another company name. This is how company “A” sets off again, six months later, with the same shareholders, although registered as “A plus”.

Shoot for the moon.
Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

― Norman Vincent Peale

Well, if lack of money is no longer the Grim Reaper that beheads these young sprouts, then why do startups fail so miserably? To put it simply: because at a certain moment, usually following a negative incident, motivation evaporates and shareholders jump ship. The death of a company is not the end of it, whereas the loss of one’s sense of entrepreneurship is the death of it all. Bottom line: the end of a company is not the end of your dream just like breakups are not the end of the world. Remember that the company itself is not your dream, it’s a mere registered trademark: your dream can and will survive.

Ever heard of Detroit Automobile Company? Probably not. This is an obscure company dissolved in less than 2 years, and reorganized as the Henry Ford Company among many other subsequent names. In conclusion, good causes deserve perseverance whereas bad causes are not worthy of obstinacy. The most important thing is that your dream must start afresh!

Therefore, the single real reason why startups fail is loss of motivation.

Never give-up!

 

Warning: This article refers to registered companies (i.e. legal entities such as joint stock companies or LLC) not to sole proprietorships that may engender personal bankruptcy!

How to Speed Up Your WordPress Website – Part 2 – Hosting

How to Speed Up Your WordPress Website – Part 2 – Hosting

Those hosting services that speed up your web load time – #PROductivity 3

 

Cheap and Fast Hosting Services

All hosting services are not the same. But beware: there is no point in comparing page load speed based on the various “premium” plans offered by web hosting providers! Quite often, marketing jargon pollutes clear and precise information. You’ll definitely hear about ‘TOP Speed’ or ‘Power’ modes, but what’s in it for you? To be honest, absolutely nothing!

Even technical data does not seem to clarify things. Some will sell you SSD hosting services! Pretty cool, isn’t it? But what’s so special about SSD hosting if the server’s processor is overwhelmed by queries from the rest of the 500 websites hosted on the same server with a permanently saturated RAM memory running at 98%? Well, it certainly looks less reliable than the old magnetic hard disk drives that would have always stored your top 10 favorite search pages!

It’s possible to find extremely fast web hosting providers, but are you really ready to fork out 1,200 Euros per month for a showcase website? Not exactly!

So, which are the fast and affordable hosting providers able to host WordPress easily (e.g. a Fantastico installer)? I would go for NameCheap and its Business SSD plan costing less than $20 per month if you’re looking for speed, or its Value plan is you want to save some money as it sets you back a mere $10 per month; otherwise, go for Site5 hosting.

 

name cheap hosting wordpress

Where Am I Going? Where Am I Headed?

Watch your destination. Your website will not enjoy the same load speed all over the world. Think twice before choosing your hosting provider. The worst case scenario is finding a hosting service close to your whereabouts, but which is slower than a service provider located on the other side of the world! Fortunately, there are alternatives you may test and content delivery techniques.

CDN

CDN (Content Delivery Network) is some sort of replica of your cache in different parts of the world. Thus, visitors will look for information on your website through the closest server at any given time.

Test and Improve!

There are no written instructions that you may follow as with IKEA’s furniture assembly; each website is unique with a unique audience. There are some major guidelines as the ones outlined in this article, and some great tools are readily available online allowing you to test the performance of your website.

Google Page speed is your number one choice: it’s essential since it will provide you a report on speed and user experience (at least in terms of desktop and mobile experience). If you happen to have other preferences, don’t forget to keep Google happy as Google is the number one search engine. Get my drift?

Pingdom is really interesting as it allows you to test your website in different parts of the world. It’s definitely more convenient than popping in every possible Internet cafe across the world, isn’t it?

 

Read more about making WordPress faster with plugins and softwares.

How to Speed Up Your WordPress Website

How to Speed Up Your WordPress Website

A few tips to accelerate your WordPress website page load time – #PROductivity 2

Load time, this shadow killer… 

Your website load time is essential. Many years ago, various expert reports indicated the clear link between website load time and the number of visitors abandoning your website. Consequently, it is absolutely crucial to keep page load below 3 seconds in order to secure an optimal retention of your readers or users on-site. There are two possible alternatives you can use: work on your website or work on your web hosting provider.

I calculated the total time that humans have waited for web pages to load. It cancels out all the productivity gains of the information age. Sometimes I think the web is a big blog to keep people like me away from normal society.

Scott Adams

Software Options

It’s probably less expensive, but it will definitely keep you busy. Here are a few things that you can improve:

Image Optimization

Images often take a lot of space, an awful amount of visual space. You should think of ways to optimize their compression in order to make your website load faster.

There are multiple tools to do just that. On Mac, I recommend you use the excellent Image Optim which is also available as a web service. For Windows users, File Optimizer is just as interesting as it does not only deal with image optimization.

In case you wish to optimize your images directly on WordPress, you’ve got an easier option: image optimization plugins, quite a handful of them, but ShortPixel looks pretty appealing.

shortpixel-image-optimization

Think Async to Speed up Your Loading Time

Synchronous and asynchronous, what’s up with that? Suppose your web load time is similar to a list of packs that the mailman has to deliver. If you have to wait for the delivery of package (A) in order to expect the delivery of package (B), and so on up to (Z) which is what synchronous loading looks like, it will take longer than having all packages delivered at the same time by multiple mailmen (asynchronous loading).

Beware: in practice, all changes cannot be operated separately, but it would be a great step ahead to be able to separate some of them.

Use Cache Solutions

Many users know how to clear their browser cache, but they don’t really know why they need to do that. Cache is neither a history nor a surveillance tool prying on your private life. The fact that browsers allow people to clear their cache of all that data at the same time might be confusing.

Thanks to cache memory, search results are readily available to users. To explain it metaphorically and to put it simply, suppose you’re ordering a drink. The waiter who comes to pick up your order already brings a customized selection of your favorite drinks for you to choose from. This means that you do not have to wait for the waiter to fetch your drinks: you have just saved yourself a lot of time!

Cache memory may exist on servers, but also on the computer who uses it. There are also other types of cache, but you will not be able to control them such as the cache of your Internet service provider: it will not search for Google’s logo each and every time; it will be stored in its cache.

There are two major WordPress plugins which dominate the cache solutions thanks to their excellent service and free available versions: W3 total cache and WP Super Cache. It would be difficult to say which one is best, so why not see it for yourself by using both on your website?

Productivity-2-Speed

Compress!

CSS and JavaScript files may be easily resized by removing all comments and breaks: you’ll be able to tell the difference immediately! Get yourself the minifying compression version; otherwise, some cache solutions which also get you the same results automatically.

Keep It Simple!

You have probably heard about the KISS principle designed by the US Navy which is the acronym for ‘keep it simple and stupid’. Restrict the number of modules (also known as plugins) as these often include “hooks” or anchor points which are in use each time there is a load in progress (e.g. page, website or other) in order to activate the module, and let it do its job. These are essential to website overall functioning, but it overloads your page: suppose you have 50 active modules or 12; impact will be extremely different. The advantage on WordPress is that you may deactivate a module without removing it, so you should definitely use this functionality!

Don’t add too many items or audiovisual components per page.

In Conclusion

It’s highly unlikely you will get to use all these tools at the same time; especially if your website boasts a responsive design, multilingual features and crisp layout! Remember, add one component at a time and see how your website loads. If certain things don’t work, use something else especially since some themes or plugins cannot function in combination with all these optimization techniques.

Our next post deals with optimizing your web hosting service.

#Productivity 1 – Stop Working!

#Productivity 1 – Stop Working!

Most people think of work as their #1 goal. However, work is less important than results, namely delivering value to customers. Your goal is to become efficient especially since work is simply a step forward to reaching your true target: product or service delivery.

Stop confusing work with productivity! Too many people miss their goals while sitting behind their desktops frantically absorbed by daily work: incoming emails, various distractions etc. In the end, you spent your entire day at your desktop and what have you achieved in terms of value? Is your To-Do list just as full? Have you considered creating a STOP Doing List?

Since the world entered the digital era, people’s sense of urgency has radically changed. The more technology permeates work processes, the more we experience a warped sense of urgency where short-term deadlines engulf long-term projects as well as our main work goals. Fear of missing deadlines – experienced as personal failure – triggers multiplied fake deadlines and loss of energy. The main consequence is that following a working day full of deadlines, we realize that we are just as productive as the day before.

Productivity is never an accident.
It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.
– Paul J. Meyer

Work is not a goal in itself; you need two things: a plan and deliverables

Stop working endlessly, and start focusing on your deliverables. For instance, if your goal is writing a book, you’re likely to experience what I like to call the ‘PhD syndrome’. First year, I’ll do my research; the second, I’ll take notes, the third I will start writing some bits… something, but we’ll see. Each morning, you need to set some goals, write them down on a post-it note and focus yourself in achieving those tasks. As for incoming emails, put them on the back burner for the time being. If needed, simply use the Pomodoro technique.

Efficient time management helps you reach tangible results useful on the long-term. Essentially, productivity must strike a balance between the time invested and the goals achieved. The more precise you are, the more productive and happy you’ll be!