New Articles posted to the Web #13

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

The moral underpinnings of good policy.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve needed to look at the relationship between morals, ethics, values, principles and policies to help define several of these terms for use in ISO 21503, Guide to the governance of projects, programs and portfolios.  All of these terms are important aspects of governance but the interrelationships are far from clear.

The best construct seems to be something along these lines, but any thoughts or suggestions to the contrary will be appreciated.

Morals and ethics are the starting point, both deal with distinguishing between ‘right and wrong’ behaviours, but morals are internal to a person, ethics are rules developed by others:

  • Morals are the internal code of behaviour that define what is considered right or acceptable by the person, usually derived from a religious or philosophical base. The choice of which morality to follow is made by the individual, and therefore ‘morals’ tend to refer to that person’s ideals regarding right and wrong; within the framework of the society they live in – there can be different moralities.
  • Ethics involves systematising and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct, and refers to the series of rules provided to an individual by an external source, typically in a ‘professional code of ethics’; eg, the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

Values are an expression of a person’s fundamental beliefs, founded on their ethical and moral framework. Values are used to define and differentiate right from wrong, good from bad, and just from unjust based on what is important to the individual – things the person ‘values’. Where are group of people operate within an organisational culture, the ‘values of the organisation’ are derived from the values of the members of the organisation. An organisation’s values are the standards used to provide guidance to the members of the organisation as they determine what is the best decision or course of action to take.

Principles are similar to ethics; they codify a fundamental truth or proposition to define an aspect of an organisation’s overall values in an objective way. They are positive statements of what will be done or achieved. An organisation’s enunciated principles serve as the foundation for its policies, behaviours and reasoning.

The final link in the chain is the organisation’s policies. These are a set of rules used by an organization to define how its members will implement aspects of its principles or objectives. Policies provide the guidance and constraints needed by management to operate he organisation effectively.

Ideally, in a well governed organisation, the connections between morals and ethics, values, principles and policies are direct and free of contradictions and ambiguities; with each policy clearly supporting the underlying ethical and moral foundations of the organisation’s culture. In reality there are frequently conflicting pressures and imperatives within the policies that make choosing the best option difficult – in these circumstances the decision maker’s personal morals and ethics come to the fore.  For more on ethics see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1001_Ethics.pdf

The Psychology of Effective Learning

We are always looking at the best options for our course design to help people learn the masses of material needed for the PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP examinations in particular.  A report published on the 9th January by the Association for Psychological Science, written by Professors John Dunlosky, Katherine Rawson, Elizabeth Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan and  Daniel Willingham, suggest most of what we do in our PMI courses aids effective learning (read the report).

Teaching and learning are interrelated – a successful examination outcome requires good materials, good teaching techniques and effective learning on the part of the exam candidate;  but people lean in a variety of ways and have different learning preferences. This post and the referenced reports highlight the most effective learning options.

Learning styles

The term learning styles refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Whilst there are many different models of ‘learning styles’, they all basically include variations on these three modes:

  • Visual learners have a preference for images, they ‘think in pictures’ and like visual aids that represent ideas such as graphs, charts, diagrams, symbols, etc.;
  • Auditory learners learn best through listening to lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.;
  • Kinesthetic or tactile learners prefer to learn via experience – moving, touching, and doing things to ‘build experience’.

These styles are overlaid with a person’s preference for learning is a social or solitary environment and how they absorb and process the information through reflection or other options to create a complex web of possibilities:

Learning styles

There is plenty of evidence that, if asked, people will express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them. There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information. Derived from this starting point, the most common hypothesis about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preferences of the learner

However, there is very little evidence to suggest this ‘meshing hypothesis’ is valid. Whilst we try to include elements of all three styles in our courses, a person’s preferred ‘learning style’ is not a measure of effective instructional design: see: Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence http://psi.sagepub.com/content/9/3/105.short.

Learning techniques

Techniques are partly instructional design and partly student behaviour. However, unlike ‘learning styles’, there is a significant body of literature evaluating the effectiveness of learning techniques. From this large resource, the Dunlosky report examines ten of the most popular learning techniques to assess whether the technique’s benefits generalise across four dimensions:

  • learning conditions (e.g., studying alone vs. studying in a group),
  • student qualities (e.g., age or ability),
  • materials (e.g., scientific concepts, historical facts, mathematical problems), and
  • the criterion tasks on which learning is measured (e.g., essay tests that require transfer of learning, multiple-choice tests).

The report’s conclusions rate each technique from high to low utility on the basis of the evidence the author’s amassed:

Study options

The least effective techniques

Highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing were all rated by the authors as being of ‘low utility’:

  • Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning because it draws attention to individual facts, which may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences.
  • The practice of rereading is common (and to a degree essential) but it is much less effective than some of the better techniques you can use.
  • Summarising, or writing down the main points contained in a text, can be helpful for those who are skilled in the practice, but again, there are far better ways to spend your study time.

More effective techniques

Techniques in the middle ground are better, but not especially effective and were rated of “moderate” to “low” utility by Dunlosky et al because either there isn’t enough evidence to be able to recommend them or in other cases, the strategy has been shown to work in some situations but not in others. These include:

  • Mental imagery, or coming up with pictures that help you remember text. This practice is time-consuming and only works with text that lends itself to images (eg, for McGregor’s Theory X, Theory Y imagine a lazy person laying on the X axis of a chart);
  • Mnemonic, using words, phrases or images to link more complex ideas. A mnemonic aims to translate information into a form that the brain can retain better than its original form; for example:
    –  Learning the French word for key, la clef, by imagining a key on top of a cliff;
    –  Using the letters of a word to spell out the first letters of a process; SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed (applied to objectives or delegations).
    –  Using a phrase to remember a sequence. For example, to memorise the colours of the rainbow, use the phrase Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain – each of the initial letters matches the colours of the rainbow in order: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
  • Self-explanation and elaborative interrogation were shown to be reasonably effective in experimental studies. Elaborative interrogation involves students ask themselves why the information they are reading is true; and self-explanation is where students explain some procedure or process to themselves. But, the effectiveness of the techniques depends on how complete and accurate your explanations are;

The Best
Learning strategies with the most evidence to support them, rated as having “high utility” by the authors, include distributed practice, and practice tests.

  • Distributed practice and interleaved practice. This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions. Learning can occur quickly under massed-practice conditions and is an efficient way to teach, but hundreds of studies have shown that distributed practice leads to more durable learning. Certainly cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through a test, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time and mix up different types of problems and learning. This is core to our course design – topics are taught in blocks (unavoidable for intensive courses) but each test and revision element always covers a range of subjects covered to ‘this point’. Interleaved practice (in which bouts of study for one topic are interleaved among study for other topics), seems promising in some situations, but lacked the general utility of distributed practice and retrieval practice via testing.
  • Testing – but not for a grade. Research shows that the act of recalling information strengthens that knowledge and aids in future retrieval. Again, practice testing is central to our course design and there is robust evidence supporting its value!
  • Flash cards are a good option for implementing distributed learning and testing. We offer a free ‘daily flash’ via Twitter, see: https://twitter.com/PMPQuestions; and our PM final on-line simulator can be used in a similar way and possibly the best option – make your own. We are exploring the concept of ‘electronic flash cards’ – watch this space.

So in summary, the authors recommend you spread out your learning, ditch your highlighter and get busy with your tests and flash cards.  And you do need to practice!

We all know we have to practice a skill to get better at it, but the improvement we’re aware of making is only part of what’s going on. Well past the point when we think we’ve ‘got it’, continued practice allows our brain and our muscles to become more accurate and efficient in carrying out the task, using less energy to do so. As decathlete Daley Thompson said “An amateur practices until they get it right, a professional practices until they cannot get it wrong!”  And lastly, the easiest way of all to improve implicit learning is sleep. Research has shown that during sleep, the brain identifies meaningful patterns in our memories from the preceding day and makes them stronger and more permanent.

A final thoughts: studies from 1901 onwards have shown that learning is context specific. Practicing memorizing one type of material (eg, lists of words) may improve performance on memorizing similar lists (the phenomenon of learning to learn), but the benefits of such practice will not generalise to learning other materials. If you want to study for a multi-choice project management exam, your training and study needs to be focused on that challenge. For more thoughts and ideas on learning see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1028_The_Art_of_Learning.pdf

New Articles posted to the Web #12

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

New Articles posted to the Web #11

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

PMBOK Health Warning

Health Warning:  Do not attempt to read the PMBOK and drive!

Animal tests undertaken by Mosaic show that reading a single chapter of the PMBOK can induce a state ranging from drowsiness to deep sleep; with the effect on younger animals being significant.

PMBOK-Health-2

Similar effects have been observed from exposure to PMP training materials in the office……

PMBOK-Health-3

As a result of these and other ‘real world’ observations, we recommend any prolonged exposure to the PMBOK and any associated training materials be restricted to either the safety of your own home, or a carefully controlled classroom environment under the supervision of a qualified trainer.

Notes:

  1. No cats were injured during this study.
  2. We have designed our courses to minimise the effects identified in this study.
    1. For more on our classroom training see:  http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/
    2. For more on our Mentored email training see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-Mentored.html
  3. Apart from Note 2, this post is simply a gratuitous excuse to publish some really cute cat pictures sourced from: http://pulptastic.com/29-photos-cats-sleeping-weirdest-places-positions/  we hope you enjoy the other 26 pictures.

Mind your language

Communicating ideas effectively to another person needs a common language, and a common understanding of the meaning of the symbols used in the language. While this sounds simple, language can take many forms including images, sounds and writing. This post is going to focus on the design and use of images as the language for communication.

The use of images as a language stretches back to the Ancient Egyptians. They developed a written language based on stylised pictures whereas the civilisations in the ‘fertile crescent’ developed cuneiform text.

1.hieroglyphics

Whist we may not be able to read the Egyptian script, many of these hieroglyphs are easily understandable.

2.cuneiform_script

Whereas the cuneiform script is completely indecipherable. However, just because we can identify a goose at the top of the third column of the hieroglyphs, it does not mean we understand its meaning!

A simplified graphical language can provide a really useful way of communicating complex information but when you use the language, you need to be sure the people you are communicating with have the same level of understanding you do and ‘see’ the same message.

One of the first attempts to stylise complex information and to make it accessible and easy to understand was the development of the London Underground map.

The London Underground Map

The London Underground is one of the most complicated systems in the world.  By the middle of the 20th century the map was becoming too complicated for easy use.

1930 Underground Map.

1930 Underground Map.

The concept of the topological map we all know and use was developed by Henry Charles Beck. ‘Harry’ Beck was an English engineering draftsman at the London Underground Signals Office. He developed the first ‘topological map’ in his spare time, based on an electrical wiring diagram.

London Underground was initially sceptical of Beck’s radical proposal and tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. It immediately became popular, and the Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since. There is even a book on the map: Ken Garland’s, Mr Beck’s Underground Map (Capital Transport Publishing 1994). The book describes the enormous care, craft, thought, and hard work of Harry Beck that went on for decades (exactly what it takes to do great information design).

4.underground_london_Beck original-drawing1

Beck’s version of the 1930 Map.

This style of communication has carried through to modern times but is not without its problems – you can easily get to the station you want, but there is no indication of how close or how far apart different stations are ‘on the surface’ – particularly if the stations are on different lines.

The current London Underground Map.

The current London Underground Map.

Success is contagious; most transport maps world-wide follow Henry Beck’s lead and a new universal language has been created.

Part of the new Melbourne Tram Map, using a version of Beck’s language.

Part of the new Melbourne Tram Map, using a version of Beck’s language.

The Melbourne map uses the same style as the underground map – lines are vertical horizontal or at 45 degrees, but unlike the underground stations, tram stops are not shown; the designers believe the street names and route numbers are more important.

Part of the Stuttgart Metro map.

Part of the Stuttgart Metro map.

Based on your knowledge of the London or Melbourne maps, you do not need to be able to read German to have a good idea how to navigate the Stuttgart metro from the Hauptbahnhof to the Zoo. The language of transport maps has become fairly standard world-wide.

However, design of the communication is still important; the designers of each map need to decide what is important (eg, the route numbers on the tram map), what is emphasised, what is suppressed, and what is left out – bad design can reduce the elegance of the communication and block understanding. Whereas innovation can enhance it – the Tokyo train system has its trains painted the same colour as the line used on the transport map – the orange trains follow the orange route and you get to the right platform by following the orange signs!

A similar convergence of communication style has occurred with in-car road maps. Most books and electronic sat-nav systems use a stylised language similar to the map of North Sydney (below) – another language designed for a specific purpose.

North Sydney

North Sydney

For the purpose of navigating a car to the ‘Aiki Kunren Dojo’, this ‘simplified road map’ is far more useful than the 100% accurate photograph of the same location!

North Sydney

North Sydney

The style of the road map above has been taken ‘virtual’ and global by several organisations including Tomtom. You do not need to be able to read the street names or understand the spoken advice ‘turn left in ……’ to follow the map – the pictures say it all and are just as effective in Shanghai and Munich as Sydney or Melbourne.

10.TomTom

When designing a graphical communication language, useful, accurate and fully detailed are not synonymous! Both of the mapping languages discussed so far are really simple to use provided you have learned to ‘read the language’ and interpret them correctly. But as we all know North Sydney looks like the Google Earth photograph (not the map) and Melbourne’s geography only has a passing resemblance to the tram map – but we have learned how to read the ‘language’ and can then use that knowledge of the language to understand similar maps in different cities.

Project Maps

The same challenge applies to project dashboards, reports, and artefacts such as bar charts and CPM diagrams. Creating an appropriate level of understanding in a person’s mind about the true situation of the project and your intended work plans requires appropriate information to be communicated in a language that is understandable to the stakeholder. In this context, ‘appropriate’ does not mean complete or fully detailed; selecting the right level of detail is in itself an art form.  The bar chart below may be fully detailed and precise but it is not a good communication tool!

11.CPM

And while preferred by many project controls professionals, the CPM logic diagram below is even less likely to work as a communication tool for stakeholders.

12.cpm

These specialist languages are useful to trained project controls professionals and some experienced project management professionals but are too complex for most communication needs.

As suggested above, effective communication does not need fully detailed or accurate representation. What is needed is ‘useful’ information that can be used!  You do not need to be an expert in directional boring to understand the plan for this project (all that is missing is the timing for each stage):

13.storyline

Simple is good, simplistic is dangerous! One of the popular options for reporting project status is using simplistic ‘red-amber-green’ (RAG) traffic lights such as these:

14.RAG health_image

We know there is a scope problem but there is no real indication of the seriousness of the situation or how far into the ‘red zone’ the project actually is.  Rather than the simplistic 3 point RAG scale, the same information can be displayed using more insightful tools:

15.Beter option

Any of the ‘gauges’ will tell you where within each band the project is situated, add in a simple ‘change’ report and the trend becomes apparent as well. The art is knowing how much information is enough.

Conclusion

From the hieroglyphs of the Ancient Egyptians to the Tomtom road map, the art of using pictures for effective communication is creating a set of symbols that communicate your ideas and information simply and accurately, and then taking the time to teach your stakeholders how to read the language.

Effective communication, focused on obtaining the understanding and buy-in from a stakeholder needed to deliver a successful project requires:

  • Understanding who are the key stakeholders at ‘this point in time’ that you need to influence;
  • Understanding their needs and the best way to communicate with them (the Stakeholder Circle® methodology is designed for this purpose);
  • Communicating the appropriate amount of information in a way that can be understood by the stakeholder; and then,
  • Taking the time to help the person reach a proper understanding.

The communication challenge is recognising that some concepts will be easy to communicate in some communities of stakeholders, others will be more difficult; and people are frightened of things they don’t understand.

Designing an effective communication strategy requires the project team and project leaders to firstly derive a common understanding between themselves, then determine what the key stakeholders actually understand, then determine how to communicate effectively with the key stakeholders to build their understanding to the level needed to get the ‘buy-in’ required to make the project successful.

Effective communication is the tool that builds understanding, reduces opposition based in ‘fear of the unknown’ and generates a framework for success – for more on effective communication see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html#PPM07