Thursday, September 3, 2015

PMPM -- Planning Part Three

Part One
Part Two

Finally, we're coming to the end of planning. There seems to be a lot of planning, doesn't there? Well yeah, but there are reasons for that:
  • Full disclosure -- when you're a project manager for a living, you can't really underestimate planning. It's like a tax accountant telling you that professional preparation isn't really important or a realtor reminding you that you can save thousands by selling your house yourself.
  • When you are looking at a very big or complex project, it's only fair that the planning portion will also be big, it should scale in relation to the size and scope of the project itself.
  • It works. Seriously, if you want specific results from your life, you need to get specific on how to accomplish those results. If you want to end up right over there (rather than just wherever life takes you) you need to figure out what road goes to that place and how to travel on it.
Still, and I really can't emphasize this enough, you also have to start doing stuff while you are planning. So if you've gotten this far and have a PMPM goal in mind... but you haven't actually done anything yet, well stop reading and get doing. Make a commitment to yourself and your stakeholders and do, oh, five small things to get you closer to your goal.

OK, gotten started? Fine, then this is the final segment of PMPM planning.

You may have noticed a trend in planning where the process is really just about expanding the items in your project charter.

Requirements and Objectives --> Scope
Summary Budget --> Project Budget
Milestones --> Schedule

The last item in our charter is the Success Criteria. And that gets expanded as your Quality planning.

When you identify success criteria, you are defining how you will consider whether you've met your goal. If you don't include success criteria, you may technically finish the working, but not really be successful.

The Quality plan is about identifying and documenting how you will ensure that you are being successful in your working. There are tons of quality methodologies, from six sigma to total quality management, but the tools that work for IT or manufacturing aren't necessarily going to work here.

Instead, you are going to need to identify the metric you will use at each phase of your project. Here are some tips:

Base your quality measures on logical points in your project. Look over your schedule and milestones and figure out where you want to have a check-in. Find pause points where certain phases are wrapping up and others have not yet launched. This gives you maximum flexibility in terms of changing course if things aren't going well.

Pick the correct granularity. If you're trying to change your weight in any way (either by eating better to slim down or bulking up through exercise) you know it's a mistake to weight yourself every day. It's too granular. It encourages you to obsess over the natural day-to-day weight fluctuations that everyone experiences and makes it difficult to see the larger trends. On the other hand, if you are trying to kick off a business, the faster and more frequent the feedback, the more agile you can be. If a new advertising method isn't working, you ditch it as soon as you can.

Avoid the sunk cost fallacy. This is the misguided view that you should continue doing something that's not working because of all the investment you've already made in it. I'm not talking here about investment in something that has a small chance of paying off big but a low downside (like giving your cousin $500 that you don't need right now to launch an addictive new app). I'm talking about things that continue to require ongoing investment even though they don't seem to be paying off. Things where even the most optimistic payoff isn't exponentially more than the investment. It's human nature to try to stick with things that aren't working because you've already invested so much time into them (so many marriages are like this, aren't they?). But resist the urge and ax the stuff that's not working. Cut your losses and move on.

Try to make everything as measurable as possible. One of the quirks of magic is that the results are frequently not that measurable or quantifiable. Was the job spell I did responsible for the offer, or was it the connections and years of experience? Hard to know. However if your project has any kind of mundane outcome (from improved health or happiness to a successful book launch or improved career prospects) you need to be able to measure the real-world results.

Figure out how you will document your results. Don't trust yourself to remember and don't trust yourself to keep good records without prompting. In science class, when you first start learning the scientific method and doing experiments, one of the things they do is give you a chart to fill out. It keeps you honest with your recording methods so you can access better data and trends. You don't have a kindly science teacher, so make a chart for yourself.

For starting a business, you can easily measure profit and loss -- good record keeping will help you adjust course and make things easier at tax time. For moving to a new house, your success will depend on looking at a lot of places and ranking them by various criteria. Coming up with a rubric that allows you to track and remember what you saw. For being happier, you can record your results from a couple of well-chosen psychological inventory tools.

Maybe this seems like the boring stuff, but it's really important. You need to validate your ongoing results and check that what you're getting out of your project is what you want. Over the course of a long working, this is hard to track without some kind of record keeping.

It's possible that the quality tracking will actually make you rethink your goals. This is a good thing! The truth is that people often have a goal but don't really know whether meeting the goal is right right thing for them. Look at our super squishy goal to be happier. People know next to nothing about what will make them happier, it's almost a cliche. Maybe you want a new career but once you get close to it, you realize that your quality metrics aren't panning out. Turns out that archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones and if your goal is international travel and adventure, you'd be better off becoming a ESL teacher.

Finally, don't let perfect be the enemy of the good. You have to roll with the situation and adjust your plan as you go.  This means that sometimes you don't get exactly what you want, but something close or similar. And sometimes you get what you want but not at all in the way you expect. All this planning isn't to make your working rigid. It's to make it well thought out. Plans are fungible.

In fact, in magical workings,  the planning itself can start things in motion behind the scenes, so that you see results as soon as you start to move forward. But as with all magic, things don't always happen exactly the way you expect.

So you're starting to see houses and apartments, plan in hand, and suddenly your cousin needs a house sitter for a year for her amazing place that you could never afford. And it's free if you just keep keep an eye on it.  You don't turn that down because it's not in your plan! You jump on it and know that far from being wasted,  your plan is what helped at the wheels in motion. Instead, you wrap up your house hunting project and kick off a new one: to get financially set over the coming year so your next house hunt won't be so hard.

The last item we're going to cover in our plan (and yes, there are more in the big PMBOK that we don't need to worry about for our working) is risk. I've already written a whole series of posts on risk and mitigation that can easily apply within a PMPM working:

A Stitch in Time -- Risk Management Part 1
Saving Nine -- Risk Management Part 2
So You Think You've Got Issues -- Root Cause Analysis
Solve for X

Tracking risk in a project is similar to general risk analysis. You create a list of items that are possible risks and identify possible mitigations. For those that can be implemented now, add them to your plan.

For example, there's a risk that your new apartment, while beautiful and affordable, might be in a high crime area. This is a risk that you want to avoid. To avoid the risk, you need to find a way to check the crime rate in the neighborhoods where you will be searching. So you add that to your plan (research how to check, then check for each of your target neighborhoods).

For those that can't really be avoided, you can ready your mitigation strategy. For example, you know that your new business will be harmed by competition in the space. So you mitigate the risk by having differentiation points ready to show how much better than your competition you are. Again, add that work to the plan (research competition, identify things that make you different, figure out how to market those things).

For any risks that you can actually benefit from, you want to be ready. So there's a risk that a sudden downturn in the economy could impact your business. But if your business is resume writing, you can benefit from the risk by finding alternate approaches in a poor economy. For example, your local unemployment office may be willing to sponsor, subsidize, or at least advertise a resume writing class for the newly unemployed. They will actually be more likely to do this is a rough economy, when they realize the immediate cost can save them long term payouts into the future. So maybe you make some calls and see how this could be accomplished should it be necessary. All part of your plan.

Phew. I'm glad we're finally to the end of planning. The deeper content should go out shortly to those who signed up. Up next in PMPM, we'll be talking about the absolute most important part of any working: getting shit done.



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