From the President

Posted by amc on 11/30/2017 1:07 pm  /   Presidents Letter

My leadership term is drawing to the end. 

Thank you to our members for entrusting me to lead this organization.

It’s been an amazing opportunity to serve you and work with some fantastic volunteers.  Three years have passed since my election to SVP Internal, the first step in the procession to chapter president.  After finishing my tenure as president, I will serve as an advisor to the board.

I look back on our accomplishments of the last 3 years with pride.

We partnered with the Points of Light foundation to provide pro bono project management help, and introduced networking events in addition to our chapter meetings. As SVP External I managed our annual “Power of You” conference. PMIH supported the HISD back to school senior event by teaching basic project management life skills.

This year we’ve improved our website, and continued to promote regional networking opportunities. We’ve updated chapter meeting locations. The annual conference was successfully delivered in June. The Board has worked to balance our budget by reducing costs, to ensure that our PMIH remains solvent. Finally, open board roles going into 2018 have been filled, and we are fully staffed for the first time!

Thank you to our volunteers. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Volunteers provide the initiative to support our membership and grow our profession.

These individuals have a vision and love for PMIH, evident in their contributions of time and energy. Again, thank you so much for your support!

PMI Houston’s future depends on development of leadership!

As I hand the reins of the presidency over to Terry Minhaus, I encourage him to work with the organization to recruit volunteer leadership among individuals with a love for our profession who want to support and grow PMIH.

There are opportunities to serve.

Lead or Director Roles - Leading a group of volunteers provides an opportunity to grow leadership skills. The Get Involved tab on the PMIH website (http://www.pmihouston.org) is a great place to start.

Running for a PMIH board role is an opportunity to give back to our profession. Assume a leadership role to enrich one of our 6 committees and define direction and services for our membership.

If you can, I encourage you to run for office in 2018 for the term starting in 2019. Roles that will be available include VP Finance, VP Marketing, VP E Business, and VP Membership. These positions provide great opportunities to contribute through mentorship and service. You can learn more about these roles on our website (“About > Organizational Documents” tab).

I am leaving you in good hands with our 2018 Board of Directors. Please support our board by volunteering, participating and providing feedback. This is your chapter! Support it, grow it and define its future.

See you around Houston, home of the World Champion Houston Astros!

Amy


You, Robot! by Thomas Goebel

Posted by amc on 11/30/2017 1:07 pm  /   Professional Interest

Isaac is an alien robot on The Orville, a new comedy series from Fox.  He comes from a planet inhabited entirely by non-biological beings who feel they’re superior to humans, accepting the post as a way to study that inferior lifeform.  Predictably befuddled when introduced to the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of human life, Isaac proves a quick study and is soon with the program, carrying out practical jokes and using slang.

Is this going to happen?  We read daily of new applications for robotics.  Some, like a recently introduced faux dog, are innocuous.  Others raise questions about ethics and the survival of our species.  Designers are getting better and better at creating robots that mimic human actions and speech.  But how close are they to thinking like people, solving problems, or maintaining complex relationships with others?

Academia and the private sector are hard at work trying to answer this question.  While the former concentrates primarily on the larger questions (human-like thought processing, motion, mimicry), the latter is dedicated to creating robots that solve industrial and domestic problems (cleaning, dangerous occupations).  Ethical questions, when they come up, are typically brushed off with a kind of myopic optimism.  This peculiarity is also evident when the subject is worker displacement.

Enter Project Management.  It is tempting to invoke expert systems when trying to discern the effect of robotics on the future of our industry.  An expert system takes a systematic approach to problem-solving through a tree-type algorithm that explores decision branches and settles on the best possible outcome.  It’s simple enough to plug such an algorithm into the “brain” of an android that’s also been programmed to drink coffee and talk about football.  This formula, on second thought, is fraught with stumbling blocks precisely due to the unpredictability of humans and happenstance.  Humans can invent problems where none have ever existed, and happenstance will conspire with Murphy’s Law to ensure that the impossible occurs at the worst time.  Voila!  Our “expert system” has just become an “update system”.

You techies out there are now itching to ask about machine-learning.  Much more advanced than expert systems, machine-learning algorithms actually learn from experience and apply these lessons as they keep working.  Used heavily in the financial industry and increasingly in the medical sector for activities like microsurgery, machine-learning technology is growing by leaps and bounds.

But you, Project Manager, have a secret shield.  Your job not only involves making multiple decisions, taxing for the most advanced algorithm, you are also regularly required to arrive at these decisions simultaneously.  This means that the outcomes of any or all of the decisions affect both inputs into, and outcomes from, the rest.  Sound like something a machine can do easily?  Additionally, a significant part of your job is a little something called stakeholder management.  The “management” part of this often has far less to do with the mechanics of solving problems than with soothing ruffled feathers and offering reassurance.  In other words, the emotional component of project management remains high, and it will be some time before the AI industry is prepared to jump into that pool.

So, while the auto industry and agriculture are snapping up robots for assembly and planting, it would appear that project management, for the time being, is safe.  R2D2’s not coming for your job.  He can’t even hold his own in a conversation at the water cooler.


Commander’s Intent, by Keith Willeford

Posted by amc on 11/30/2017 1:07 pm  /   Professional Interest

In my last article I discussed the differences between the armed forces approach to planning, and that of PMI.  As project managers, we often undertake projects for which there is some precedence, and we would be remiss if we accepted a contract before we were fully confident in the scope and risks involved.   The armed forces also draw on a body of institutional knowledge.  And, while it may seem to junior officers (guilty) that “war-gaming” every scenario is a waste of time, the fact is that the scope of a military operation is never fully known and the risks are often dire.   

Ultimately, however, military planners must settle on a “plan” (we call it an Operation Order or “Op Order”).  Just like PMs must settle on a project execution plan.  In many ways, a plan is a plan is a plan.  We planners document what we expect to achieve and how we expect to achieve it.  There is one concept, however, that is present in the military sector yet feels foreign in the private sector.  That concept is called “commander’s intent.”

It is commonly stated in armed forces that “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”  If you will, contemplate that sentiment for a while and apply it to what we do.  No, our “adversaries” do not often engage us in open hostilities.  However, the universe itself is often the adversary (the “enemy”).  We cannot predict every eventuality, and thus cannot prescribe actions to our subordinates for every circumstance they may encounter.  Once we launch our endeavor, our grip on control becomes increasingly weak. 

This is where commander’s intent becomes important.  The military Op Order contains a Mission Statement.  This tells the ”who, what, where, when, and why” of the effort.  Immediately following comes the Commander’s Intent statement.  This says, “If all this goes to heck, here is what we ultimately need.”  Example: The Mission might be something like, “At H time, assault E enemy, at X objective, by way of Y route, in order to deny access to Z asset.”  Alright, cool.  But on the two-way rifle range, the guys carrying out this order might discover that Y route is no good.  Maybe it is impassible by vehicle, or thoroughly defended.   Or, maybe X objective is in the wrong place to deny access to Z objective.  In fact, maybe a million complications.  So, the order follows with a more general statement of what is expected, should the plan go awry.  For example, “Deny the enemy access to Ellington Air Field so they cannot reinforce their troops, as your sister forces assault Houston.”  The commander implicitly admits that there might be other ways to accomplish the ultimate objective, should the original plan go south.  Remember, the enemy gets a vote, too.

When the commander issues a statement of intent, she cedes a certain amount of power to her subordinates.  However, she also empowers them to continue to the objective, in the absence of orders, when they are met with the fog of war.  Hand in glove with this philosophy of Intent, is the idea that orders should be as simple as possible.  In other words, convey the minimum amount of instruction necessary for effective execution of the plan.  Why?  Because this enables creativity and critical thinking among subordinates.  While this may not fit the stereotype of armed forces operations, I know the Marine Corps, in particular, embraces this way of doing business.

So where is the “Project Manager’s Intent” statement in our Project Execution Plans?  Are we so confident that we understand the scope of our efforts that we do not need one?  Are we secure enough in our understanding of project risk that this idea is quaint?  Or, are the consequences of failure just not bad enough that we need to hedge our bets?

I honestly don’t know the answers to the questions I have typed above.  I don’t even know if I have typed the correct questions, or all the questions.   All I know is that I, personally, like the concept of “commander’s intent” because I don’t want anyone reporting to me sitting there waiting around for instruction every time they hit a snag in the process.  I also fully understand that I am not at war in the business world (some may disagree with that), and that the consequences of “failure” are not blood on my hands. 

Maybe this isn’t even about the Project Execution Plan.  Maybe this is about Monitoring and Controlling our projects, in general.  Where are the times that we can save ourselves work by consciously communicating intent to team members of our projects?  Where can we make our plans more clear by expressing intent?  Where can we empower team members to push forward in the absence of explicit instruction, thorough the conveyance of intent?  And, could this make our lives as project managers any easier?