Monday, August 27, 2007

same client, new project

so i finally was able to get off the client with the bad client PM. i spent a couple of weeks off with my family, which is always appreciated. also, i had heard that the client PM had finally resigned. ;)

anyway, i'm in north carolina for the next several weeks with an old client doing a new project around identity federation.

they were a difficult client when i was here last, but that was almost a year and a half ago. they did mean well, but their execution was not the best. . .

driving up from the appalachians (where i'm staying, the client is in BFE, north carolina), i was again taken by the beauty of the drive. lots of trees and soft mountains. very nice.

we'll see how this engagement goes. nice folks and all. nice bbq as well. that is one of the good things about being on the road, you get to try many regional specialties, especially if you're foody like me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

co-dependent clients

or is it postpartum depression?

if you're an experienced, and good, consultant, you've often deal with the aftermath of an engagement. you know the drill:

1. client starts talking to you about how, "nice it is around here. nice place to raise a family.". furtively trying to gauge your reaction.

2. the client start asking about your family and how if they were you they'd want to get "off the road".

3. client flat out asks you to apply for the new job that your consulting engagement created.

you, of course, slowly back away and try to ease out of the conversation. you've run into this before. you know it's just client co-dependency rearing its ugly head. they have come to trust you and they don't want you to stop telling them what to do. you're tempted. maybe you do want to get "off the road". maybe the client is in a nice town.

but then you remember. you're a consultant. you're a sprinter not a marathoner. you fly in and solve their problems and give them guidance. you then ride off into the sunset. who was that stranger? that man just saved the town. et cetera, et cetera. you don't get into operations. you're not in it to keep the "plumbing running". you've designed and implemented. you're done.

and yet. . .

you remember. you remember the late nights and hard work. you remember the feeling of joy that comes when, some days, problems get knocked down as regularly as dominoes and your team and the client seem to be hitting on all cylinders. you want to keep that feeling of being in "the zone".

but in the end, you know it in your bones that you have to leave. there is always another problem for a different client. you love being that stranger that rides into town and gets rid of the desperadoes. so you climb on your horse (plane) and ride (fly) off into the sunset.

Monday, August 6, 2007

my thoughts on how people become project managers

this article describes a poll done by projects@work, a project management site.

mike ramm's blog entry piqued my interest and i had some thoughts on his thoughts on the poll.

Question No. 1: Did you pursue a position in project management or did you "fall into it"?
  • By choice: 30%
  • By accident: 70%
mike points concludes that this shows that senior managers do not value project managers and just stick in people for the role. i look at it a bit differently. i believe that senior managers are forced to deploy senior technical people (often architects) into the PM role because good PMs are highly valued, and thus, often unavailable. given this shortage, senior managers are forced to make team leads into PMs.

Question No. 2: Did you have formal project management training before your first assignment?
  • Yes: 15%
  • No: 85%
mike asserts that the poll response supports his observation that PMs are not highly valued, and thus, are not trained.

in my years in consulting i generally find that there is a strange truth to that. if you are a good PM that had been converted to a PM from a technical role, then you are generally assigned to projects (often multiple) as they become available. you are so valued (after all, you understand the technology and the PM role) that you are always utilized and are never free for formal training. does this mean that upper management does not value PMs? i assert that upper managers highly prize PMs with proven track records, regardless of training or certifications.

Question No. 3: Do you consider project management a long-term career or a "stepping-stone" in your professional aspirations?
  • Career: 60%
  • Stepping-stone: 40%
mike states that this poll response shows that PMs like their jobs. my opinion is that good PMs are often given promotions and upper management opportunities that technical people are not. good PMs must manage people, budgets, and client expectations. aren't these traits that make for good upper managers?

Monday, July 30, 2007

how to sleep in a hotel or hotel sleeping

if you're like me, you've probably had difficulty sleeping that first night in a new hotel room. i, generally, have problems getting a full 8 hours that first night. even if i had gotten up at 3:30AM in order to catch the first flight to the customer's site, i have a hard time staying asleep the first night. i often awake due to the unfamiliar sounds that my sleeping mind has a hard time ignoring.

here's some advice on top of the usual advice on how to get a good nights sleep:

1. don't watch t.v. in bed. i know the temptation is to watch t.v. or read. unless you do that at home, don't do that in the hotel. it gets you off schedule and prevents you from calming your mind before bed.

2. don't do any work in bed. try to use the desk and when you step away from it, you are done. prepare to calm your mind and get ready for bed. working in bed conflates the two distinct activities of work and sleep.

3. don't drink too much at the hotel bar. save it for later in the week. that first night any change in diet and routine can really interrupt your sleep habit.

hope that helps any sleepy road warriors out there.

clash of the consultants or how to deal with incompetence

those of you who are road warriors can attest to the difficulties when it comes to dealing with other consultants and/or contractors that the client employs.

my current client has "issued" us a project manager, who i am convinced, has never successfully managed a project in his career.

the client PM is a client employee who had spent the last 9 years as a "contractor" (his words). he spent the beginning of the engagement trying to convince me of his technical chops, but came across as fairly whingey. apparently his only experience was in training and coding for vignette. our engagement is for an identity management solution. needless to say, the client PM is in over his head.

so i've been tracking and dealing with the client PM's inability to keep track of tasks and requirements that the client team is responsible for. my team is on track. if you're a consultant with a bit of experience, you can probably figure out where this is going.

the client team is behind. so the client PM did what any good "contractor" would do. he tried to throw us under the bus.

luckily for me, the client PM is stupid as well as incompetent. he sent an email to my area partner and CC'd his bosses in complaining about minor issues that should've been handled by the client. his complaint is that we did not "hold there hand" enough.

of course he thought that since he's the client that my area partner would come down on my team and he'd have the upper hand. this was not how it happened. my area partner forwarded me the email, i was able to get in touch with the client sponsors and avoid a blame game train wreck.

so what have i learned and what should all consultants (read NOT contractors) do?

1. keep email communications clear. one of the big things that i was able to do was present email evidence contrary to what the client PM was accusing the team of.

2. never trust the client's PM. i've never had a good experience with client PMs. if they were that good, they'd be working for a consulting organization for more money. but they aren't, so they work in industry.

3. contractors are not the same as consultants. despite what many so-called consulting company's claim, they are not into consulting. they do not try to add value for the client. they are about resource augmentation. they are effectively the IT equivalent of the kelly girl and they are only interested in the billable hour. so if you know you're dealing with a "contractor" then it is best to remember to keep a diary of every time you question the "contractors" decision or note his failure to accomplish a task. keep it with you in case you have to "call out" the contractor and take him to task for his incompetence.

the above 3 items may help when it comes to dealing with clients. i'll post later on some more tips when dealing with an incompetent client who wants to play blame the consultant.

Monday, July 23, 2007

3 reason consulting project managers are important

in my experience most clients try to cut out hours from a project team any way they can. it's reasonable for them to try to get the most work for the least amount of money.

however, clients often cut out the project manager from the consulting project team. the rationale is that since they already have a client-side project manager for the program, why do they need a project manager from the consulting organization?

there are 3 reasons:

1.  experience with the technology.  the consulting PM has done a number of engagements that you are paying for.  they have the experience to know what to expect and plan for.  would you have a PM that only has experience with SAP integrations to PM a web application server consolidation?  of course not.  this leads to number 2.

2.  "soft" skills.   the consulting PM often has worked with the consulting team before.  this familiarity often pays off for the client in either tasks being completed early due to project team synergies, or it allows for potential problems to be identified early and reported to the consulting PM by the consulting team simply because the consulting PM is not the "client".

3.  the consulting PM is not the client.  one cannot underestimate this.  because the consulting PM is not part of the client organization, they can be objective and be counted on to call out personnel or other problems to the client PM organization.  they are their for the project sponsors success.  the reason the consulting PMs want the client sponsor to succeed is because this leads to more projects for the consulting organization. this is also the difference between consulting and resource augmentation.

if you ever find yourself being the client of a consulting organization, it is best to keep the consulting team humming along under the methodology that they are most comfortable with.  this includes use of their consulting PM.  it may cost a bit more up front, but it's worth it to raise chances of the project being successful.  and really, this can only help you, the client sponsor.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

how to, almost, always avoid delays at the airport.

well, i fibbed a little. you can't avoid delays at the airport. there are lot's of reasons for flight delays. weather, earthquakes, crew fatigue, godzilla, etc.

what you can do is utilize tools to help weather unexpected delays and convert them to expected delays. that way you can better plan when to head off to the airport or whether or not a change in flight plans are in order. or perhaps you can determine and plan how long that stay in the airport bar is really going to be. ;)

being a traveling consultant offers me many opportunities to sample the hospitality offered by the nations busiest airports.

i can go on and on about the efficiency of ATL's tram system, or the beauty of the tram system at the northwest world gateway at DTW. i can also comment and opine on the functional efficiency of hub-and-spoke terminal architecture versus parallel terminal architecture in terms of getting passengers from one gate to another in the fastest and most efficient way possible.

i don't pretend to have all the tricks and tips of the hardiest road warriors and frequent flyers, but i do have some resources that i use to help with business travel and to get me home to my family.

this airport performance calculator can help with planning.

the national weather service has full looping video of current weather conditions that can help you see what is coming at you and whether or not it'll ground you for the night or just delay you for the requisite 30-60 minutes (i'm looking at you ORD).

if you're a google earth user, you can get this plug-in which shows flight tracking data. you can track where your in-bound plane is. is it still at the airport? is it in the air? how far away from your airport is it? all those questions can be answered with the magic of google!

hopefully my tips can help you get home safely and close to on-time as is possible.