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Managing the Next Step September 8, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I’ve written before about some of the differences between technical and managerial skills – a condition that shouldn’t come as any surprise to someone who works with technical teams.  All too often, project manager roles are filled by people who happened to be very good engineers or designers, but who lack the additional skills required to motivate the team.

So it is with consulting, illustrated quite well by this article by Wayne McKinnon.  His number one statement stands out, as it describes perfectly some of the mental blocks that engineers deal with, especially when moving into managerial or other influence roles.  He says,

In school, technical specialists are taught that there is one best answer, not degrees of better. Buyers like options, and technical people are often too focused on the theoretical “right way” versus achieving objectives to varying degrees.

This has been my experience as well.  A good project manager will often absorb the changes in scope or deliverables and pass them along to the engineers who must then ‘simply execute’ them to the best of their abilities.  If that is the limit of the engineer’s involvement however, he misses the compromises and trade-offs that led to the change in the first place – exactly the personal interactions and business decisions required to be able to become a manager or consultant later in his career.

So, McKinnon’s advice to technical folks applies to their managers as well – make sure to expose your technical team to the decision making processes.  It will pay dividends in both of your careers.

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

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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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…

How Much is Too Much? June 30, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Knowing when to break the rules and adjust the scope of your responsibilities to meet the needs of the project —

Read my latest guest post at “How to Manage a Camel”:

http://projectcentric.co.uk/how_to_manage_a_camel/projectmanagement/how-much-is-too-much/

Getting What You Pay For April 14, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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The other day, I stopped in for a hamburger.  As I sat eating, I overheard another customer complaining about getting the wrong order.  From what I could tell, it was something fairly minor (like, the burger was right, but there was something that was/was not supposed to be on it).  Regardless, it got me thinking about the concept of a commodity versus a more “experience” based product or service. (more…)