Monthly Archives: February 2009

Risky Business

I came across the following whilst finishing my paper Scheduling in the Age of Complexity.

Statistical and applied probabilistic knowledge is the core of knowledge; statistics is what tells you if something is true, false, or merely anecdotal; it is the “logic of science”; it is the instrument of risk-taking; it is the applied tools of epistemology; you can’t be a modern intellectual and not think probabilistically—but… let’s not be suckers. The problem is much more complicated than it seems to the casual, mechanistic user who picked it up in graduate school. Statistics can fool you. In fact it is fooling your government right now. It can even bankrupt the system (let’s face it: use of probabilistic methods for the estimation of risks did just blow up the banking system).

The quote is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan and Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute.

Read his full essay, THE FOURTH QUADRANT: A MAP OF THE LIMITS OF STATISTICS, at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/taleb08/taleb08_index.html and you will start to understand the current financial crisis.

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Working Together

Today is Australia’s national day of mourning for the losses suffered during and after the ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires. The theme of the service of remembrance was ‘coming together’ to remember, to mourn and to give thanks to the 1000s who have, are and will contribute to the emergency and the recovery. The Australian people as one celebrated the courage, the compassion and the resilience shown by so many.

One tiny detail of the ecumenical ceremony that highlighted the joining together of the community in the face of adversity occurred as the group of religious leaders left the podium, a Uniting Church Pastor offered his arm in friendship to help an elderly Muslim Imam make a dignified and safe exit down the steps. Adversity often brings out the best in people and organisations, encouraging them to put aside differences and join together for the good of the community.

After the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, the Australian Institute of Project Management and the PMI Melbourne Chapter joined together to support the establishment of Project Aid. Project Aid (PA) is focused on training and mentoring people working for ‘not for profit’ organisations in the basics of effective project management. PA’s role is focused on knowledge transfer and skills development to help disaster relief and aid agencies to do their job better, not on becoming another agency in the field.

The original focus of PA was almost exclusively to support Australia’s aid agencies working overseas. Following the ‘Black Saturday’ Victorian Bush Fire Disaster, PA will expand its work to provide Project Management assistance to relief organisations to help them deliver their outcomes and through them, to help the 1000s of small and mediums sized businesses and community groups that will need project management expertise to rebuild, refocus and survive the aftermath of the fires.

It’s early days but if PA is to succeed in its aims, there will be a significant need for volunteers and increased funding to help make a positive contribution. PMI, AIPM and PA volunteers have already met and are working to deliver a focused program that will make a positive contribution. To follow our progress and contribute, watch for details on the PA web site at http://www.projectaid.org

PMI Asia Pacific Congress KL

We are back from the 2009 PMI Asia Pacific Global Congress in Kuala Lumpur, and I would like to share my overall impressions.

The congress was definitely less crowded than last year in Sydney. A symptom of the tightening global economy, but paradoxically, this also made the event more enjoyable. There was time and space to meet and talk to interesting people, the quality of the papers was exceptional, and the social events entertaining and interesting.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Young Min Park’s paper suggesting many of the processes in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) were applied 200 years ago in Korea for the building of the Hwaseong fortress. This paper clearly demonstrated projects have been around for millennia.
  • Patrick Weaver’s paper on Improving Schedule Management was selected for an encore presentation. He linked a clear understanding of the history of scheduling to the emerging views of projects as social networks and temporary knowledge organizations to suggest improved ways of using a schedule to influence future team actions and decisions.
  • The Tastes of Malaysia reception–the food was interesting, the displays of local culture and music fascinating. And watching the dozens of project managers armed with wooden mallets hammering disks of pewter into bowls to take home was a sight to remember. What is it about us project managers that makes bashing something with a large hammer so attractive?

The congress has been fun and my SeminarsWorld workshop, The science and art of communicating effectively was well recieved, so overall our trip to KL was a week well spent.

Time IS NOT Money

Keith Pickavance, President of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) gave a keynote presentation at the 2008 PM Asia conference on how to manage the risk of delayed project completion in the 21st Century. I was privileged to chair Keith’s session and since then have joined the CIOB team working on developing a scheduling practice standard.

The presentation discusses research earlier in 2008 by the CIOB which revealed a high proportion of complex construction projects are likely to be finished more than six months late, due to poor time control. To make this important address available to a wider project management audience, the CIOB has now launched a free online broadcast of the presentation.

In this presentation, Keith highlights the history of managing time in construction, and shows how modern technologies can be employed to control the risk of delayed completion. He commented, “Time is not money; with money you can put it on the table and you can see it, and if you leave it, it may even accumulate – whereas with time, you can’t see it or touch it. It expires at a regular and consistent rate whether you use it or not.”

You can view the broadcast by clicking on: http://www.multichanneltv.com/ciob/cio004/

Another dimension of PM responsibility

I am writing this from Victoria, Australia where, whilst the dying has largely stopped for now, the bush fires are still burning.

Hills of Fire

Hills of Fire

The fires started on our hottest day in recorded history. This day followed on from a week with 2 more of the hottest days ever and 5 years of drought and below average rainfalls. We knew the fires would be bad, gale force winds, temperatures of 47oC (117oF) and almost zero humidity guaranteed any fire that started would be big – we just had no idea how bad! Whilst these conditions are not unusual in the deserts of central Australia, in temperate woodlands it’s a totally different story; the resulting fires were hot enough to melt metal. Thankfully none of our immediate family or friends seem to have been directly affected, but some came close.

Melted Alloy 'Hot Wheels'

Melted Alloy 'Hot Wheels'

The disaster relief efforts are now gearing up and in themselves will require a major project management effort. We would certainly encourage every project manager and reader of this blog to help with donations, support and any other practical assistance. Donations can be made directly to the Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org.au

For a better idea of what happened the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has posted a lot of photos on their web site at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/photos/2009/02/06/2484555.htm And whilst Victoria burned, the North of Australia was flooded and the UK had some of the worst snows in 20+ years, the climate is definitely changing.

Trees Explode

Trees Explode

The thought behind this blog has a longer term focus though. The Project Management profession is about to be asked to deliver $billions of stimulus projects world wide – as well as doing a good technical job (see Can Bob the Builder Save the World Economy), I would suggest there is another dimension of responsibility needed in their delivery, an acute sense of environmental awareness! 

Managing our projects in as green a way as possible is, I suggest, an ethical and moral responsibility for every project and program manager. We may not stop the climate changes but we can limit the additional damage we do whilst we help save the global economy. After all, an economy without an environment to operate in has no future!

It’s up to all of us to do our best to make sure the 200 to 300 people killed by these fires, not to mention the injured and homeless are the victims of an exceptional set of circumstances, not the first of many similar climate induced disasters. We may not be able to influence the design of the various national stimulus packages, but we can influence the way we manage our projects to minimize their impact on the environment.

PMI Congress – Asia Pacific

We are in Kuala Lumpur for the PMI Asia Pacific Congress. So far, it has been a great start. The congress sessions are diverse and interesting. The venue, food and hospitality of the Malaysians are wonderful. The city of Kuala Lumpur is defiantly a place to visit and enjoy with its shopping, tropical atmosphere and a cosmopolitan population. All of these facets were present in the congress with delegates from all points of the compass ranging from the USA to India, Japan to Australia and a number of Europeans. The congress sessions were animated and lively with plenty of discussions and questions that rolled into the networking sessions and receptions.

We are here for a couple of key reasons:

  • The R.E.P. breakfast is a key opportunity to talk face-to-face with PMI management. One of the key parts of the morning was debating the opportunities and challenges confronting the project management profession with PMI CEO and President, Gregory Balestrero. Doing what we did last year is not going to work but refocusing on the needs of project managers to up skill and move industries to focus on where the new work is will present opportunities for PMI approved Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.) such as Mosaic.
  • For Patrick Weaver to present his paper, Improving Schedule Management – this was well received and selected for an Encore presentation. Download the paper from http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Resources_Papers_081.html
  • For Dr. Lynda Bourne to deliver the official PMI OPM3 presentation at the congress, for more on OPM3 see http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/OPM3.html and Lynda is staying on to deliver her The Science and Art of Communicating Effectively workshop at the post-congress SeminarsWorld. For more on the workshop see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-Comms.html  

So far the Congress has been great – unfortunately it’s back to Melbourne tomorrow.

Can Bob the Builder save the world economy??

One of the construction industries best know characters (if you are under 5) Bob the Builder, is front and centre of the efforts to save the world’s economy.

Bob the Builder

Bob the Builder

As a start, his construction team’s cry of ‘YES WE CAN’ has been central to the Barak Obama election campaign. But this is only the beginning.

Obama in the USA, Kevin Rudd in Australia and a range of other governments are now asking the whole of the construction industry Bob’s key question “Can we fix it?”  Hopefully the answer is ‘YES WE CAN’. The amount of money being directed to construction projects to provide stimulus to the economy is enormous and will require a major response if the funds are to be well spent. As an industry we need to provide value and quality for the money being invested.

This opens up a two of interesting challenges:

  • How are we going to meet the current short term demand for professional constructors? Possibly by attracting with people with project management, administration and scheduling people from the depressed IT industry – project management is supposed to be a portable discipline.
  • How are we going to meet the looming long term skills shortage? Maybe one way to attract talent would be for the construction industry to set up a ‘Bob the Builder’ fund to ensure every child under 5 has access to this wonderful range of toys. After all as the old adage goes “The only difference between men and boys is the size of their shoes and the price of their toys” how hard will it be to persuade a young graduate it is nearly as much fun directing the operations of a back hoe, JCB or equivalent as playing with Scoop or Muck??
Bob and Friends

Bob and Friends

There are some interesting challenges ahead and Bob the Builder may not be able to fix everything but for the rest of us in the construction industry we have our work cut out.

Can we do it?    I certainly hope we can!

Note: Bob the Builder is a copyright brand owned by HIT Entertainment Limited