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Engineering Management Project Social Media Best Practices January 28, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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How’s that for a title?

For some strange reason, the term “best practices” has been skulking around my little piece of the interweb lately.  Sure, they’ve been around for a while, but what do they really mean?

Generally, best practices refer to those tried-and-true processes and procedures that will most economically help you reach some end result.  It might be a particular way to build a component, reach a customer, or hire a new employee.  In any case, the point is that if you seek out and apply these best practices, at best you are merely implementing what your competitors have already proven (perhaps years ago).

Two posts in particular dealt with the topic today: here and here.  But the one that really caught my attention was this one from a month ago.

As an engineer, I depend on “best practices” on a regular basis.  Sometimes, there really is one best way to manage storm water or build a sewer system.  But from a strategic and innovation standpoint, best practices are all wet.  You can’t beat your competitors at their own game by showing up late and borrowing their competencies.  It’s necessary to move beyond and develop your own unique approach if you want to avoid being a commodity.

“The first time you do something, it’s science.  The second time, it’s engineering.  The third time, you’re a technician.” — Clifford Stoll

In My Estimation January 27, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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A long time ago, I wrote a piece about estimation.  It talked about the need for caution when faced with a client or manager who wants a ballpark estimate for a project or task.

This was reinforced recently (though not in the way you think) during an experience with a business case study.  It involved an estimate of a number that is in the hundreds of millions, and which made use of a number of units in the billions.

The problem is that without a clear, methodical approach to such an estimate or some prior anchoring point for the result, there is no way to “gut check” these numbers.  They are simply too big.  200,000,000 is way more than 100,000,000… or is it?  It’s the difference between 10% and 20% of 1 Billion.  Could be important, maybe not…

The point of the original article was that – at least in the civil engineering context – we depend on having that prior knowledge, anchor, or experience from which we can judge the validity of a high-magnitude number.  However, as I found out, that’s not always possible.  It then becomes necessary to carefully vet each assumption and calculation to ensure you’re heading down the right path.   Careless calculations lead quickly to a dead-end, or worse, circular assumptions that invalidate the result.

Read It Again – Camel Guest Post January 22, 2010

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I admit it.  I have kept almost every textbook from my college years.  There were a scant few that didn’t quite make the cut, but most have stood the tests of time and the occasional borrowing colleague.  On top of those, I am a sucker for a college library book sale, and have acquired just as many more for courses I wish I could have taken.  From philosophy to economics, from engineering to management (but not, alas, multivariable calculus) most have continued to serve me well.  I had the chance to really dig into a few for a recent project, and… MORE…

Burn Before Reading January 15, 2010

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Here are the rules:

  • You can’t use numbers, statistics, or complex math.
  • You can’t use simple math.
  • You can’t use words with more than three syllables (a few four-syllable words are okay if used sparingly).
  • You can’t use visual aids, unless it’s video
  • You can use examples, but only if they are really unusual and not true of the most likely scenarios
  • Anything you say or present must relate directly to the audience and must show how you will protect them from harm and loss.

That’s it.  Pretty simple, right?

Okay then.  Now, with those rules in mind, start persuading.

It’s not about statistics, features, or esoteric benefits.  It’s about perception, short attention spans, and self-interests.  It’s about how your business will prevent your customers from feeling loss, inconvenience, fear, and desperation.

If you can’t do this, you will find your niche ever more marginalized and in some brackish backwater of the modern media.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Just Making Conversation January 4, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Perhaps the most common advice for any kind of management or leadership position is to initiate and reinforce communication among the staff or project team. To accomplish this, managers are taught to ask questions of their staff and, whenever appropriate, to discover some of their personal goals and motivations. The purpose is clear: By engaging in meaningful conversation, managers are able to monitor and evaluate the employees’ capabilities and attitudes while promoting teamwork and moving projects forward. Many recommendations regarding communication do not, however, emphasize the information-gathering tools that are necessary to rise above simple conversation and engage in a real transfer of knowledge. Put simply, there is a dramatic difference between asking, “How’s it going?” and asking for specific details about progress, resource shortages, or training. (more…)