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This page is devoted to news, tips, and any other information the Project Management community may find useful or interesting.

October 2010

Bill C-300 Defeated

Bill C-300 was defeated in Parliament on October 27th. The bill would have given parliament the right to investigate human rights complaints registered against a company doing business in a foreign country. The bill had passed second reading, which is further than many private members bill proceed so the extraction sector should not assume that there is no appetite on parliament's part to enforce some form of code of conduct on the industry. The closeness of the vote on third reading also reflects the willingness of parliament to enforce some sort of code (the vote was 143 against to 140 for). This fact is not lost on the mining industry. In their response to the defeat of the bill, the Canadian Mining Journal's Marilyn Scales stated "That it got to third reading is a measure of how important corporate social responsibility is to Canadians."

The folks at the Canadian Mining Journal undoubtedly understand the importance of CSR and there are probably other organizations representing the industries that comprise the extraction sector (exploration, gas, mining, and oil) that have a similar appreciation. The PDAC would be one of those. The question for the industry is: does the PDAC speak for the entire mining and exploration industry and each mining company in the industry? Like most associations, the power the association has over members is limited and would not be able to enforce a standard CSR policy on its members. What they have done is to create a body they call the Office of the Independent Canadian CSR Counsellor. This office was created to replace the government as the oversight body responsible for reviewing complaints against companies in the industry.

The approach taken by the PDAC seems to assume that every company has the desire to create a CSR policy and the means to create and implement it. The recent study performed for the PDAC,
Corporate Social Responsibility & the Canadian International Extractive Sector: A Survey identified companies that had no desire to implement a CSR policy, they viewed CSR as a waste of money. These companies will only implement CSR policies if they are shown that failure to do so will cost them money, that's where the Office of the Independent Canadian CSR Counsellor can help. There are also companies who realize that CSR policies are the right thing to do but don't have the means or expertise to craft and implement one. That is also an area where that office could help. Providing smaller companies with the tools and expertise to analyze their business and craft a policy suited to their operations and the area they operate in would be a tremendous help to these companies. The ability to provide mentoring to the company resources that are tasked with the CSR project would also help.

The Office of the Independent Canadian CSR Counsellor could also benefit their constituents by defining goals and objectives that are feasible. They can do this by closing the gap between the accepted standards in this country and those where their constituents do business. There are larger, more mature, companies in the sector who are recognized as having quality CSR policies. I'm sure that these companies have lessons they can teach smaller companies who struggle with CSR.

The extraction sector received a reprieve with the defeat of Bill C-300. They opposed the bill because they claim they can police themselves. I hope they seize the opportunity and show they have the will to move towards CSR and the willingness to help companies struggling to implement a CSR policy. They will also have to bring the companies who resist CSR into line.
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Toronto Mayoral Campaign

The Toronto mayoral race appears to be heating up as the Ford campaign begins to use George Smitherman's past as Health Minister for the province of Ontario to score debating points. Ford questioned Smitherman about a single source contract awarded a vendor as part of the e-Health program to put Smitherman on the spot. Smitherman ended up denying any involvement in choosing the vendor or awarding them the contract, but I'm sure we'll be hearing lots more about George's history with the program between now and election night.

I wrote a piece about the e-Health fiasco and updated that information when the new CEO described a change in direction for the media. The interesting thing about the Smitherman situation is that regardless of whether he had any information about the contract Ford questioned him about, he was Health Minister from 2003 to 2008 when the bulk of the $647M (CAD) was spent and all the single sourced contracts were awarded. Smitherman handed the health portfolio over to David Caplan who subsequently designed when the scandal hit the media in 2009. Ron Sapsford, the deputy minister, also resigned.

It's interesting that neither of the candidates opposing Smitherman in this race have chosen to focus on George's past as Minister of Health. I would think there would be lot's of political points to be scored there, particularly if you are positioning yourself as someone who will be a careful shepherd of the public's tax money. Regardless of George's ability to deal with the question that Ford raised, he would still seem vulnerable as the person who had overall responsibility for the e-Health program (and its predecessor) during the period that auditors found all the procurement irregularities.

There is a point to this blog for project managers, even though George Smitherman is a politician. The stink of the mistakes we make as project managers will follow us long after the project is complete. We not only have to avoid our mistakes, but those of others on the team. Any mistake on a project we are given responsibility for and authority over will be ours regardless of whether we made the mistake ourselves or someone on the project team made it.
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Toronto Mayoral Campaign

The Toronto mayoral race appears to be heating up as the Ford campaign begins to use George Smitherman's past as Health Minister for the province of Ontario to score debating points. Ford questioned Smitherman about a single source contract awarded a vendor as part of the e-Health program to put Smitherman on the spot. Smitherman ended up denying any involvement in choosing the vendor or awarding them the contract, but I'm sure we'll be hearing lots more about George's history with the program between now and election night.

I wrote a piece about the e-Health fiasco and updated that information when the new CEO described a change in direction for the media. The interesting thing about the Smitherman situation is that regardless of whether he had any information about the contract Ford questioned him about, he was Health Minister from 2003 to 2008 when the bulk of the $647M (CAD) was spent and all the single sourced contracts were awarded. Smitherman handed the health portfolio over to David Caplan who subsequently designed when the scandal hit the media in 2009. Ron Sapsford, the deputy minister, also resigned.

It's interesting that neither of the candidates opposing Smitherman in this race have chosen to focus on George's past as Minister of Health. I would think there would be lot's of political points to be scored there, particularly if you are positioning yourself as someone who will be a careful shepherd of the public's tax money. Regardless of George's ability to deal with the question that Ford raised, he would still seem vulnerable as the person who had overall responsibility for the e-Health program (and its predecessor) during the period that auditors found all the procurement irregularities.

There is a point to this blog for project managers, even though George Smitherman is a politician. The stink of the mistakes we make as project managers will follow us long after the project is complete. We not only have to avoid our mistakes, but those of others on the team. Any mistake on a project we are given responsibility for and authority over will be ours regardless of whether we made the mistake ourselves or someone on the project team made it.
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Classroom PMP Exam Preparation Training

I'm frequently asked about the effectiveness of different PMP Exam Preparation training products. I always tell my questioner to avail themselves of a classroom course whenever possible. These courses are taught by trainers who are experienced project managers and also experienced trainers. Instructors on PMP Exam Preparation courses offered by R.E.P. certified training service providers are also PMP certified project managers. These folks have a lot to offer the trainee. Candidates who have an employer willing to pay for a classroom course should take advantage of the offer.

Some employers may send their project managers on a PMP Exam Preparation course simply to meet some HR or customer criteria. Most will have other objectives to meet that will solve project problems the organization is encountering. The primary objective for any PMP Exam Preparation course should be to prepare the student for passing the exam but many will also meet project management objectives as well (ours does). The instructor of these courses will elicit students project management objectives at the beginning of the course and attempt to meet them during the course. They will survey the students at the conclusion of the course to ensure that all objectives have been met. You should ensure that you understand all your organization's objectives for the course before leaving for the classroom. You probably won't be given these explicitly so you'll have to do some investigating. Find out what problems your organization's projects have been encountering and formulate your learning objectives to solve those problems. Articulating the problem and solution as a learning objective will help the instructor to meet the objective.

The project managers you meet in the class are also a valuable learning source. It is very likely that you will encounter a PM with the experience and knowledge necessary to mentor or coach you, in the class. Even PMs with 20+ years of experience managing projects are being asked to get certified! Some of this experience may rub off on you when students engage in class discussions of topics related to the course, or even topics which are not directly related. Pursue the solutions to your project problems when discussion turns to a topic that is closely related.

Group exercises are also a great learning opportunity (our course includes these). These exercises will provide participants with the opportunity to put the theory they have learned in the class into practice to solve a problem. Look for an exercise that covers a project management area where your projects struggle and then broaden the discussion to address your problems. You can still pick your coach or mentor's brain if none of the exercises suits your purpose. Buy your coach a coffee and ask for them to apply their knowledge and experience to the solution of your problem. Most seasoned project managers will be more than happy to help you.

Preparing students to pass the certification exam is a 2 step process: the first step is to teach the processes, inputs, outputs, tools, and techniques in the PMBOK and the second is to teach students how to pass the exam. All courses will get you passed the first step. Look for courses that provide a component that address the second step. The second step is important because over 40% of the questions on the exam are "situational". These questions require you to apply your project management knowledge to solve a real life problem. Your course should provide you with some experience in answering these questions successfully. They may also test your ability to memorize the processes, inputs, outputs, tools, and techniques. "Boot camp" type courses are typically good at this, particularly those that include the exam. Look for a software or CBT product to augment your class if it does not include this component. Do not attempt to pass the exam straight from the classroom if you haven't practiced answering exam questions. You'll know you are ready to pass the exam when you can consistently exceed the passing score for the PMP Exam.

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Hans Garre 4 years ago
Poor Comment Good Comment
In comparison to the classroom based PMP Exam Preparation Training, I found the online courses to be more convenient andflexible. But a learner will miss the regular guidance and assistance of an in-house trainer. Further,the students joining online

e-Health Data Warehousing Projects

Greg Reed has been handed the task of managing Ontario's e-Health program after the government tied the can to his predecessor, Sarah Cramer. Greg has inherited a huge undertaking which has been described elsewhere as a "program of programs". It is large both in terms of budget (>$3Bn) and schedule (projected finish of 2015). Its many stakeholders, the technology it relies on, and its many programs and projects makes it complex. One of the key programs in e-Health is the centralization and standardization of medical records. This is at the heart of the program - electronic records must be standardized and accessible in order to meet many of the objectives of this program. The program we're talking about here is a data warehouse program and the e-Health program will have to meet all the challenges that any other data warehousing program is faced with.

Reed says that the key challenge faced by the program is the standardization of the data which will define the electronic medical records. Hate to say it, but this is the same challenge faced by any Data Warehousing initiative: each group will have its own definition of a data element which means that data attributes will vary from group to group and the data cannot be used to communicate, or be stored in a central database. Reed is appealing for all the stakeholders who manage these data elements to collaborate and agree that to provincial standards for the data. Good luck with that Greg. It's not that I don't agree with the statement, it's just that without solid, visible support from the highest government levels, the collaboration you need won't be forthcoming.

The key to success for any Data Warehousing/Data Standards initiative is the championing of the project at the highest level of the organization. Everyone who uses a common data element must understand, that data does not belong to your group, it belongs to the organization. Then we come to the question of who is to pay for the effort to redefine the data according to the new standards. There is a continual struggle between hospitals and the minister of health for funds. Will the eHealth program pay for data conversions and application upgrades? Does anyone know how much that would cost? Would the hospitals pay for this out of their own budgets? Will doctors and clinics be expected to absorb the costs of conversion? It's not clear to me if these questions have been answered or not, but based on Reed's appeal in the Star, I'd say they haven't.

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Changes to e-Health

I've heard eHealth described as a "program of programs". I guess that description is accurate, the amount of work as represented by the cost (in excess of $3B) would indicate it is one of the largest programs on record. The sheer size of this program ensures that it will occur over a very long period of time. The lengthy schedule (12 years if it does conclude in 2015) will ensure that there will be many changes occurring at all levels from the main program down to the smallest project. There are many external factors influencing this program, and those factors are constantly changing so we can expect the program to change also. Let's look at technical change as an example. Since this is essentially a Data Warehousing project, it needs a database. The largest vendor in this area is Oracle, although I have no idea what product eHealth is using. In 1992, the year this program was initiated Oracle had just released Version 7. The current version of Oracle is 11. Keep in mind that each version brings a major change in the product requiring upgrade work.

Technology is just one of the change agents for this program, and probably the least volatile! Since this is a government program, it cannot help but be influenced by change. There have been 2 elections since the initiation of the program, 2003 and 2007. There is another due in 2011 and there could be another before the program completely delivers in 2015. The 2003 election saw a change in majority and the 2011 could well see another. A change in government could very well see major changes in direction for the program. Other influences the program must deal with are the economy, hospital budgets, changes in the market for IT resources, changes in hardware and software technology, changes in health priorities, and changes in other systems that eHealth systems must interface with.

The eHealth program will have to deal with these changes in a disciplined way in order to be successful. Changes that add value to the program should be facilitated while changes that don't should be rejected. Reed has an additional challenge because of this program's size: determining whether a change that would add value to a project would add value to the program it is part of and whether it would add value to the overall program. Managing change in even small, straightforward projects can be a challenge when different stakeholders become attached to their proposed changes. eHealth will face this challenge in spades. Reed will have to implement a change management plan that controls all these forces and support it. The key component is already in place, the program has a Program Management Office which should be responsible for ensuring that proposed changes are decided based on the value they add to the strategic objectives of eHealth.

One of the key components identified in the "Enabling Practices and Talent Management" portion of the Ontario's eHealth Strategy document is a Metrics and Benefits Measurement program. Acknowledging the importance of measuring success towards achieving the benefits envisioned by the program is a great start, although there are similar programs out there which can provide some indication on the affect electronic records are having on health care. I hope that the program will connect with the change management processes so that measurements and metrics will change when program, or project goals and objectives change.

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e-Health Consultants

e-Health Consultants

According to an article in Wednesday's (Oct 6) Toronto Star (http://threeo.ca/ehealthupdatec1015.php), e-Health CEO Greg Reed has reduced the number of consultants there from 385 to 118. This is stated as an accomplishment although the story does not explain how this benefits performance. Consultants are traditionally used in the IT industry to supply a skill or expertise that is not resident within the organization, usually because they specialize in a certain area and the organization cannot afford an in-house specialist. Even 118 seems like an extremely high figure for this type of senior resource so I'm assuming that the figure includes contractors as well. Contractors should be used to provide technical services for a specific period of time, often for the duration of a project. In this way, the organization avoids permanently hiring staff only to lay them off at the end of the project. The story does not tell us how Reed succeeded in reducing the number of consultants. We can only hope that the reduction wasn't achieved by acquiring 267 consultants/contractors as full time permanent employees.

The main focus of past news stories about eHealth and its predecessor, SSH, has been on the money paid to "consultants" and their greed in expensing items like cups of tea. While some of these consultants may have been greedy and may have used their relationship with senior eHealth and SSH officials, the vast majority did not earn $3K per day and did not expense their tea, they provided quality work and services for a fair price. I hope that the reduction was achieved because the work was completed, or the projects were changed such that the work was no longer required. The Ontario's eHealth Strategy document released in 2009 identifies the lack of resources to execute the strategy as one of the key risks in its Executive Summary, that's not very reassuring.

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The Social Network

Just watched a movie titled "The Social Connection" about the founding of Facebook and the people who founded it. I found the movie to be entertaining, I'm usually attracted to movies about people and events and this movie met that criteria. I'm also interested in stories about interesting people and these people were certainly interesting. I also came away with some thoughts on the lessons that aspiring project managers or entrepreneurs could take away.

Let me start by saying that we should realize that the primary goal of this movie is to entertain us, not inform or instruct us. A good movie won't alter the facts, but they will shade situations to reinforce the roles they cast their characters in. The effect that seemed to have on this movie is to portray Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook as a villain, and the other principal characters as victims of his villainy. I'm sure that the actual facts and people were much more nuanced than what was portrayed in the movie. Unfortunately for Mark, movies tend to make a lasting impression on those who watch, especially a well made movie. There may be some who will take the time to research the situation further but millions will form an opinion of Mark based on the movie. Even those who take time to research the subject further will probably come across some text messages which were sent by Mark at the time which don't reflect well on him, and that's what brings me to my first point.

The text messages I'm referring to are a little too short to guess what frame of mind Mark was in when he sent them, but I'm guessing that there was some degree of anger and/or frustration involved which tended to colour them. I'm sure that he never dreamed that they would come back to haunt him 5 years after they were sent, but here they are. The lesson I take away from this is to make sure the messages I send, either text messages or e-mails, are written in temperate language. I realize that this is more difficult to do for text messages than e-mails. Text messages are designed to be informal and quick but they are still records of your communication and can still come back to haunt you. The next time you find yourself frustrated or angry at a situation or a text message you've received, vent that frustration or anger before texting. Vent with a colleague or step out into the hall and vent where no-one can hear you. Send your text message after you've vented. You'll find that separating your message from your emotions will temper your language and your message will be less inflammatory.

E-mails are also enduring records of our conversations. They are much easier to store and access than text messages so they should be treated with even more respect. Use the same approach with your e-mail as you do with your text messages. Don't compose and send e-mails when you are in the grip of a strong emotion, vent the anger or frustration first. There is a simple method you can use to avoid starting an e-mail war or sending a "flaming" e-mail: don't use capitals, bold text, italics, or exclamation marks in your e-mail. If you're still in doubt as to the tone of the e-mail after these measures, get a colleague to look it over and judge its tone. Having asked for their advice, be polite enough to accept it and change the mail accordingly.

The other observation I have has to do with the reputations that we build and the legacies that we leave. I think that Mark might have approached the situation somewhat differently if he had been thinking about the effect his actions would have on his reputation and legacy. I had read an article about American tycoon Milton Hershey just before seeing the movie and am struck by the contrast between the two reputations, Mark's and Milton Hershey's. Hershey built a vast fortune from his chocolate making business (although he seems to have retained very little of it for his personal enjoyment) but does not seem to have made any enemies in the process, or at least none that I read of. Hershey built his fortune at the same time as the "robber barons", the internet billionaire entrepreneurs of their day, were making their fortunes. Although some made fortunes larger than Hershey's you won't find any towns named after them (Hershey, Pennsylvania). Mark was extremely young (still is) when he began making his fortune and his mistakes so some of his mistakes should be chalked up to youth and inexperience, but we can learn from the mistakes.

Always remember that there is an additional outcome from your enterprises: an addition to your reputation. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to build a good reputation and only a short time and one mistake to destroy it so act accordingly. When you manage projects always put your ego on the back burner, don't enhance your reputation at the expense of the project, the stakeholders, or your colleagues. The question for project managers is simpler, perhaps than for entrepreneurs: our success or failure depends on the project. Once we determine that we're comfortable with the project's goals and objectives our course is clear. Just remember that we don't deliver our projects in a vacuum and if we use "dirty tricks" to score that solutions architect from a rival project we may not be doing the organization any good and we will certainly damage our reputation with the rival project manager. As someone once told me "Be careful whose hands you step on climbing that ladder because you may meet some of those same people on your way down!"

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Titanic Lessons

The sinking of the Titanic was the largest maritime disaster of its time and indeed, has not been surpassed in terms of number of deaths since. The maritime industry learned from this experience. One of the results has been an avoidance of disasters of this magnitude. I think that the disaster has lessons that can also be of benefit to other industries.

Every new technology, or technology advance comes with high expectations. No one had built anything quite as large or opulent as the Titanic to that point so its owners can be excused for the hubris that led to calling the ship "unsinkable". When we build new systems, no matter how much better they are than the old ones, no matter what wonderful new technology they use, we should be wary of making unfounded claims for them. No ship is unsinkable and no system is without flaw. What we should be doing is making plans for addressing that flaw when we find it.

The fact that were places for hundreds more in the lifeboats that the Titanic launched compounds the tragedy. Added to that fact, is the fact that not all lifeboats were launched.  Lifeboats were launched well under full capacity because of a lack of coordinated effort on the part of the crew and coordination was lacking because of a lack of training. Had the crew and passengers been properly prepared with lifeboat drills it is likely that hundreds more could have been saved. No contingency plan, whether its a roll back strategy for a systems deployment or a plan to manage some other risk, can be considered fail safe without a test. The test might be a complete exercise of the plan, like the lifeboat drill, or a walk-through with subject matter experts. Only after the plan has been tested will you know how effective it would be in the event it should be triggered.

Lack of familiarity with the Titanic contributed to the disaster. The lookouts posted to the "crow's nest" of the Titanic could not locate the binoculars provided for the purpose of spotting icebergs. It is estimated that the iceberg that sank the Titanic was not spotted until it was 500 yards distant. We can't know if binoculars would have made it possible to spot the iceberg sooner, but they couldn't hurt. We should make sure that everyone working on our projects is familiar with the work they have to do. Providing them with the tools they require is not enough, we must ensure that they are proficient with them. If there is any doubt, arrange for training or recruit team members who demonstrate proficiency.

Communications were also an issue. The telegraph operator aboard the Titanic received numerous telegrams to the effect that the Titanic was heading into an area that was heavily populated with icebergs and some of these telegrams were posted on a bulletin board on the bridge of the Titanic. The last bulletin which alerted the Titanic to the fact that they were now in the ice field was ignored by the operator because he was busy sending and receiving telegrams for passengers. Communication is only successful when our communication is heard and understood (or we hear and understand those communicating with us). It is up to us to ensure that a communication warning of a project risk is not only received but understood. Warning the project sponsor of a risk is not enough, we must ensure that sponsor understands the risk, the probability of it happening and the impact of the event if it should happen. Then the sponsor can make an intelligent decision on whether to mitigate the risk, or accept it.

There are plenty of software development "Titanics". The next time you undertake the management of a software development project, learn from the mistakes of Captain Smith and don't hit that iceberg.
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