Monday, December 18, 2006

Henry VIII as Project Sponsor?

Timothy at Carpe Factum has a great piece on project sponsorship. I've also added a link to his site which consistently brings high-brow humor to bear on difficult down-to-earth situations. Perhaps the latin for "Git 'er done" is the tip off.

Anyway, he cites five qualifications for a project sponsor, including the ability to clearly articulate the point of the project and the likelihood that he will be around as long as the project. But you really should read the whole post ... including a brief architectural history of Hampton Court.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Politeness and Project Management

I think Mark at Vertabase has some good things to say about communications as the key to why projects fail. He suggests that "Politeness can kill a project". And although I have been accused sometimes of saving my tact for a more important future display, I’m not sure that “politeness” per se is the problem. I believe that as a project manager, it is essential to be polite, but it is also essential to be direct and specific (and to require your team members to be direct and specific). Vague answers do not help … unless you count “helping to avoid blame”. Ditto for letting “consensus” determine due dates.

Jim Collins wrote a great article for Harvard Business Review a few years ago entitled “The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve”. He was addressing executive leadership, but I think the title could easily become the motto of a successful project manager. Even a polite one.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Winter Baseball

"The Perfessor" from the comic strip Shoe once remarked that football plays an important role in American society ... it keeps the brain warm between the World Series and Spring Training. This came to mind when a friend recently reminded me a response Rogers Hornsby once gave to the question of how he spent his winters:

"People ask me what I do in the winter, when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do: I stare out the window and wait for spring."

All of this brought to mind my disappointment at this year's near miss by the Astros and my elation at last year's NL championship. And so, having only recently launched my blogging voyage, I decided to dredge up a short piece I emailed several friends after last year's success. While the triggering event is dated, the insight is as valid (or not) as it was the night it struck me.

I was dozing in and out the night after the game that sent the Astros to the World Series. It was that time of day when the most convoluted and obscure philosophical problems seem to suddenly become crystal clear, and it suddenly occured to me that team sports, and baseball in particular, are a wonderful confirmation of the principles of federalism. After 43 years of waiting, we were going to the World Series. We had suffered from several near misses though the years (as well as extended period of genuine mediocrity), but now we were about to be ushered into the promised land. How is it that the we includes people like me? he of the .037 little league batting average? he whose slow-pitch softball career came to an end two decades ago? How is that possible?

Clearly, the principles of federalism are at work. The current crop of Astros represent me and my aspirations for victory in battle and the attendant glory. I cringe with them when things go wrong; I share their despair when victory is wrenched from their expectant grasp by a 9th inning homerun; and I somehow actually participate in the glory of ultimate victory; taking to myself some reflection (at least) of the praises that they have earned on my behalf. I didn't elect them to be my federal representatives, and they certainly did not invite me to the party in any formal sense; somehow it was just part of the natural order of things. Ordered, that is, by the One who orders all things.

When I try to capture these thoughts in the light of day, they seem somewhat less profound; less helpful as an insight into the meaning of life. But that night, it seemed that I had hit on an essential truth: we want to be included; we want to share in the glory. And that is what God invites us to do through Jesus Christ, our federal representative, who has earned eternal glory and invites us to join with Him in the eternal celebration of that victory.

Maybe its just baseball. Maybe its just entertainment. But for a moment that night, it seemed to me to be life's ultimate metaphor.


The whole idea that you can't manage what you don't measure is absurd. Among the faulty assumptions is the notion that anything important is precisely quantifiable. Furthermore, managing people as if they were mere multidimensional vectors of quantifiably measurable attributes is not likely to build trust and loyalty ... key components of long-term success. As Meg Ryan points out in You've Got Mail, "Whatever else anything is, it ought to start by being personal.

I stumbled across
this article at Slow Leadership which expands upon these ideas. It also makes the point, very consistent with theory of constraints, that measuring everything is not the most effective way to improve anything. This looks like an interesting site.

"Heaven save us from the audit mentality that measures everything and knows the value of nothing. And from those who no longer believe in the power of rational argument and proof to convince others to do what is in the best interests of all."


Even the liberals seem to mourn the dumbing down of American education. Who is this guy Aristophanes, anyway?

One and Many

One of the commenters on an earlier post suggested that I separate out my project management comments into a separate blog. This actually raises a broader issue, one which can be viewed from a number of angles. So here is my attempt to explain the eclecticity (sic) of my postings.

Some of you may have come here, perhaps even on purpose, expecting to find some stuff about project management. You may be wondering, "Why can't he just stick to the topic and leave all this religious stuff out of it?" Others may have come looking for insights on Christian worldview and are wondering why I waste space on anything as mundane as project management. My response to both groups is that there really is no neutrality. It is not possible for me (or you) to put up partitions in our lives such that we manage projects without regard to what we believe to be good, true, beautiful, significant, etc. Neither is it possible to maintain any sort of sacred/secular dichotomy; somehow excluding our vocations from our calling as Christians. [As an aside, notice that 'vocation' is just latin for 'calling'; we apparently use the foreign word to distance ourselves grammatically from the caller.] Ultimately, everything that is is both 'one' and 'many'; both connected to everything else in relationship and individually significant in its distinctive diversity.

If this sounds weird and you have not already abandoned this site as hopeless, I would encourage the following:
  • For those non-Christians who want their project management without the accompanying dose of Christian worldview, please purchase a copy of Trinity and Reality and read the introduction and first chapter. The least you can expect from this meager investment ($16 and 17 pages) is that you will understand Christians better. I hope, of course, that you will finish the whole book and begin to consult the source as well.

  • For those Christians who would prefer to avoid offense by leaving their Christianity out of their "work life", please purchase a copy of Against Christianity and read the whole thing. (Yes ... to whom more has been given, more is required, but it is a short book.) The least you can expect from this is that you will understand why "the world" tends to dismiss us so often as irrelevant.

For advanced students in either camp, feel free to begin the other group's assignment.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gaining Buy-In

One of the key aspects of "Project Rescue Operations" is that of gaining buy-in from all the stakeholders on what must be done. Theory of Constraints offers a six-step process that is quite useful:

(1) Obtain agreement on the problem.

(2) Obtain agreement on the direction of the solution.

(3) Obtain agreement that the solution will yield the desired results.

(4) Obtain agreement that no disastrous side effects will occur.

(5) Obtain agreement on the implementation requirements and plan.

(6) Obtain agreement from all key collaborators that they can move forward with confidence.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that permission to lead the charge is not the same thing as having obtained “buy-in” … it is most likely an invitation to get far enough out in front so that when someone shoots you in the back there will be many potential (and possibly even eager) shooters. That's why #5 and (especially) #6 are so important! (These are sometimes collapsed and represented as "Obtain agreement on overcoming obstacles.", which helps clarify that point.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Story and the Theory of Constraints

Carl Pritchard makes some interesting comments about communicating risk in some of his presentations, although (in my limited exposure to him) I fear that he may be overestimating our ability to eliminate uncertainty in our mitigation efforts. One of his best insights, I think, is that risk needs to be presented as "story". If we limit ourselves to a formulaic presentation we not only obscure all of the uncertainty, but we also discourage the kinds of 'common sense' approaches to risk mitigation that are most effective. After all, forwarned is forarmed.

The basic problem is people, as Pawel Brodzinski points out is typical with all sorts of project problems. People do not think about "risk" in mathematical terms. In fact, people tend to think about things in "stories". (As an aside, I believe that this is why use cases, when done well, are so helpful in system design ... the "story" bridges the gap between technical and business jargon sets). If we can effectively describe a potential risk in a way that includes story and context, then we probably understand it better ourselves and we have definitely expanded the universe of potential "risk mitigators". Some might even interpet this as the "Tom Sawyer" approach to project management ... other people will end up volunteering to "do the work".

Eli Goldratt, the most prominent and original proponent of Theory of Constraints certainly understood the power of story. His seminal works on the subject are presented almost as novels! His site (linked above) is a good resource. Most of the stuff is for sale (and he is … probably justifiably … proud of his efforts), but if you poke around some you can get some free excerpts of his insights. It is scary how much of those insights line up with some of the stuff I have put together in my Project Rescue Operations consulting practice, especially with respect to the importance of addressing uncertainty. As often happens to me, I persist in attending the school of hard knocks, finally slog through to the other side of the swamp with some reasonable perspective on the problems encountered, and then am presented with a nice, tidy theoretical framework that explains how I could have gotten through without all the mud and mosquitos. It's sort of a Project Manager's version of Pilgrim's Progress (albeit with lower stakes).

Enemy Theology?

In a previous post I discussed the habit of some to form camps of opposition that can barely bear the repetition of an "enemy's" name. One who has been the target of such, Douglas Wilson, has recently posted one of his typically cogent responses, reminding us of the dangers of blindly accepting charges, whether general or specific. With respect to specific charges, he reminds us to adhere carefully to the Biblical rules of evidence. With respect to the more general (he says 'paradigm'), we really should be like the Bereans ... willing to "search the Scriptures daily to see whether these things be true" rather than simply charging into battle against the enemy accused of having an "enemy" theology.

Educational Philosophy Statement

I promised to post something on education, and since I couldn't find anything short and pithy, I decided to post this template for a philosphy statement for a (hypothetical) Classical Christian school. NB: This blogging software is messing with my endnote references; behavior seems to vary by browser, but the hypertext links are not working for me ... you can just scroll to the bottom of the post to see the notes.

Covenant Classical School

Statement of Philosophy

The founders of Covenant Classical School are committed to providing an education that is overridingly Christian. This is based upon our understanding that the Scriptures mandate [1] [1] Christian education for all covenant children[2] [2] The following paragraphs serve as a brief overview of the educational philosophy.

It is Christian. We believe that Christ holds all things together and in Him all things cohere.[3][3] We hold to an historical, reformed understanding of what it means to be “Christian.”[4][4] We believe that Christ has revealed to us the invisible nature of the triune God. Since we are now “in Christ”, His love, humility and self-sacrifice should characterize all that we do and teach in a Christian school. Looking to the Scripture as the authority in all things, including educational methodology, we find that God chose to reveal Himself to us primarily through story. He has given us the history of His own creation and providence. Christ Himself also made use of parables for instruction. In fact, it is the coherence of God’s story that serves as the integration point for all truth. At Covenant Classical School we will emphasize the essential unity of God’s truth even as we explore the diversity of His truths, making heavy use of stories (both factual and fictional.[5][5]

It is Covenantal. We believe that God has called out a people for Himself, and has intended from the beginning to demonstrate His covenant faithfulness to all peoples.[6][6] We believe that Christian parents are commanded by God to educate their covenant children, preparing them to live lives that “Glorify God” and to “enjoy Him forever.”[7][7] This is another area where the notion of story is involved. One way of understanding the Bible is as the history of God’s redemptive actions on behalf of His chosen people.[8][8] At Covenant Classical School we will highlight God’s faithfulness throughout history with special emphasis on the history of God’s people, both in the Bible and in the life and growth of the Church.

It is Classical in approach. It follows the methodology of the trivium, seeking to identify appropriate analogies of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric in all subjects and to teach all subjects in a manner consistent with the appropriate stage.[9][9] It does so recognizing that the essence of a Christian education is to equip covenant children to think Christianly about all things and to have a reforming impact on our culture. This means that it must be tool-oriented, not [exclusively] content-oriented.[10][10] It also carries forward the classical idea of wisdom and virtue achieved through the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness. However, this concept of wisdom and virtue is not Hellenistic (and pagan) or gnostic,[11][11] but rather it is understood in the context of Christ’s statement that “If you abide in My word, you are disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[12][12] As we Christians make use of classical educational methodology, we are “plundering the Egyptians.”[13][13] We are equipping students with the tools for a life-long love of learning.

And finally, it is focused on the child. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be emphasized. Jesus tells us that we must “become as little children.”[14][14] Children have a natural sense of awe and wonder, which is all too often stifled rather than encouraged. At Covenant Classical School this sense of wonder will be nurtured, especially in the early years, through nature studies, picture studies, “living books”, biographies, etc.[15][15] Learning begins by being fun. This does not mean that it is not also hard work, only that the satisfaction of learning makes the effort worthwhile. The education will be rich and rewarding, but not rushed or rigorous for the sake of rigor alone. It will be “Life Prep” not merely “College Prep.”[16][16]

Of course, the real key is not philosophy or even curriculum, but gifted and committed teachers, who will “consider not only their own interests, but also the interests of [the students]”[17][17] and model Christ-likeness in all that they do.

[1][1] Among other places, this mandate can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

“O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the frames of your houses and on your gates.”

The New Testament reinforces this message in Ephesians 6:4, which requires that fathers bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

[2][2] The term “covenant child” is used to denote any child born into a Christian family and implies a covenantal understanding of the Scriptures and of God’s dealing with man. He has called His people out of Egypt and has promised His faithfulness to a thousand generations. By faith therefore we claim God’s promises on behalf of our children. By faith we baptize them as infants, marking them with the sign and seal of the covenant. Education, then, is the way we bring them up in the nourishment and admonition of the Lord in prayerful expectation that God will honor His promises and awaken saving faith in them.

[3][3] “Christ is the image of the invisible God … All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things consist.” – Colossians 1: 15-17.

[4][4] This understanding is consistent with the great ecumenical creeds of Christendom (Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds) and such documents as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession or the Heidelberg Catechism. The great rallying cries of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia [Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone] are also key to this understanding.

[5][5] Charlotte Mason, a late 19th century British educator, understood the importance of exposing even very young children to what she called “living books.” By this she meant not only the Bible, but also the great works of literature and history that pique the child’s interest in the world God made. She correctly pointed out that a child’s imagination is much more readily engaged by material that is interesting and well-written, even if it is (for the time being) above their own reading level. She also pointed out that teaching through stories, including well-written narrative histories, for instance, is much more effective than treating history as a dry set of facts. She dismissed the then-newly-introduced restricted vocabulary readers as “twaddle” and much of the mechanistic, rote-memory educational activities as mere busy-work.

[6][6] This is evident in the original curse of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), the promise to Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), in Isaiah’s call to Israel to be “a light to the Gentiles” and “My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6) in John’s declaration of God’s love for the world (John 3:16), in Paul’s declaration of God’s sovereign, predestining love (Ephesians 1:7-12; Romans 8:28-35; etc.) and many other places.

[7][7] From the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?”.

[8][8] Very often God uses a history lesson to remind His peoples of His faithfulness. For a few examples, see Deuteronomy 5:23-33, Joshua 24:1-26, Job 38 – 42, Nehemiah 9, I Corinthians 10:1-13, and Hebrews 11 among many others. Note also the failure of God’s people to keep this history alive in Judges 2:10 – “another generation arose after them [i.e. the faithful ones who had followed Joshua] who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. God is identifying failure to learn a history lesson as a root cause of unfaithfulness.

[9][9] This understanding of the trivium is best explained in the book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson and in Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” which is contained in its appendix. It refers to an approach to education that served western culture and Christendom well for over 1500 years before it was discarded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

[10][10] Content-oriented education is very popular. It is easy to measure (thus ensuring “accountability” through standardized testing), and can easily be used to impress friends, acquaintances and college admissions committees. The real reason for using the “great books” of antiquity, however, has to do with equipping the students to participate in what Mortimer Adler referred to as “the great conversation.” This requires more than just reading selections and commentaries from an anthology. In today’s politically-correct world, this often boils down to teaching the currently popular answers to the currently popular questions, perhaps bolstered by the deconstruction of an ancient expert. Questioning the reigning dogma is discouraged. But as students use the tools of dialectic and rhetoric to engage these ideas that have shaped western culture, they are equipped to engage the culture as it exists today. This emulates the classical Liberal Arts education, which was literally an education designed to equip students with the skills and methods necessary to exercise their civic responsibilities as free citizens. This is what Douglas Wilson and Dorothy Sayers mean by “Tools of Learning.”

[11][11] Many in the Christian community react to the term “classical” because of its roots in Hellenistic paganism. In one sense, this is exactly the correct response. The Greek philosophers (e.g. Aristotle and Plato) had a thoroughly pagan worldview antithetical to the Bible. To them, the goal of education was to attain the perfection of the ideal man, essentially by their own achievements. One of the most strikingly anti-biblical aspects of this philosophy was the dualism that elevated the abstract “ideal” above the real material world that God made. This dualism contributed to and underlay many early variations of Gnostic heresy addressed in I John and elsewhere in both the scriptures and the writings of early church fathers.

[12][12] John 8:31-32.

[13][13] Exodus 12:36. As Augustine said in On Christian Doctrine,

“If those who are called philosophers, and especially Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it .”

It is in this sense that we are “plundering the Egyptians” when we employ a classical approach to education. But as Wes Callihan has observed, if our plan involves plundering the Egyptians, that requires us to know where they keep their “gold”. As such, a classical Christian education will involve studying the “classics” from a Christian perspective, not merely rejecting them as works of unbelievers.

[14][14] Matthew 18:2-5.

[15][15] Many of these ideas are also taken from Charlotte Mason. It is worth noting that her approach to education was aimed primarily at students in what we would call Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Afterwards, her students would enter a more “traditional” (at that time) classical education. At Covenant classical School we see a natural correlation between the Grammar stage and Charlotte Mason methodology. Some of the more obvious “child-like” aspects of the latter will be phased out in the upper Grammar school (4th-6th grades), but the overall emphasis on engaging the students’ interests will be a continuing emphasis at all levels.

[16][16] When considering school options, especially “high school” options, many Christian parents give inordinate emphasis to “College Prep” curricula. In our concern to provide our children with all the advantages that “education” can provide, we often miss the fact that true education extends far beyond the bounds of “formal” education. A classical education at the primary and secondary level prepares a student for a lifetime of education. Furthermore, it is eminently practical in that it prepares the student to think about things Christianly and to make wise choices. It also inculcates both the value of hard work and the satisfaction of accomplishment. With respect to college, this kind of preparation is a far more effective guarantee of success at college than is a traditional “College Prep” approach. In fact, a common manifestation of this traditional approach is one made up of anthologies and excerpts, encouraging students to dabble in a little of everything and tie it all up with politically correct “research” papers. This may teach manipulation, but does little to stimulate a deep engagement with the ideas themselves. Furthermore, we should not presume that college is the automatic “next step” for every child. It is crucial that parents discern (and help their children to discern) God’s calling for their lives. Whatever it may be, they will certainly be better equipped to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” if they begin with a solid classical education at the primary and secondary school level. The church and the world certainly need theologians and cultural thought-leaders who have read and appreciate Beowulf, but the same is true for engineers, mechanics, plumbers, nurses and (perhaps especially) housewives.

[17][17] Philippians 2:3-11. See also Romans 12:1, I Thessalonians 2:1-9, James 3:1.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sharpening Iron

The Thanksgiving turkey provides me with one of my few opportunites to excercise my surgical skills (sic). The annual ritual involves breaking out the rarely-used carving knife and honing its edge against the long, steel, sharpening rod that it came with. I carefully draw the edge of the blade against the sharpening rod a dozen or more times on each side before pronouncing the equipment ready for battle. The battle itself, as is often the case with battles, rarely goes according to plan. Fortunately, however, the end result depends far more on my wife's skill with cooking than on mine with carving.

As I was contemplating the annual ritual of iron sharpening iron, however, something jumped out at me that I had not really given conscious thought to before.

As iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another

- Proverbs 27:17

Oh yes, we've all heard sermons about the rough edges (sin) removed and the friction (conflict) involved. And I (for one) have tended to use this to justify various friction-generating behaviors. But it suddenly struck me: In one sense, it is certainly the sharpening rod that is sharpening the knife, but only in an "instrumental" way. Unless I wield the instrument, nothing gets sharpened. And that brought me back to my long-standing interpretation of this proverb. Is it really about accountability (as I have often imagined)? Or is it really about community? I think the latter.

God has made us part of His body and has promised to conform us to the image of His son. To do this, He needs to "sharpen" us, but He is the one taking initiative. We are involved in the sharpening activity only as instruments. Perhaps encouragement and bearing one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) should rank higher on our list than "accountability relationships".

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Encouragement requires us to identify with a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1), and the last thing that brother needs ... the last thing I need when I have fallen ... is to have the fallenness explained as if the one on the ground was oblivious of his condition, which is rarely the case. Perhaps my temptation to explain is rooted in a falsely placed sense of pride that I am the one still standing?

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. - I Cor. 10:12

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Inconvenient Reality

One of these things is not like the other ...

Perspectives, New and Otherwise

Dan Phillips, a self-proclaimed Pyromaniac, has some very interesting thing to say about the common practice of congenital followers:

Some seem more temperamentally prone to it than others. These folks feel the lunar tide pull of strong personalities, present and deceased. Big-name preachers, teachers, writers, living and dead, functionally become their Canon. In seminary, you hear young preacherlets sounding off, and you can almost tell by their style who their pulpit idols are.

Or these folks wed themselves to a dead theologian, or a school of dead theologians. These worthies may make very fine instructors, but they are very poor gods. The devotees may be about as right as their exemplar—but no righter. If Right Hon. Rev. Dr. So-and-such didn't see it, then by gum they're not going to see it, either. They won't finger a rosary with a Romanist, but they're equally wed to tradition, and equally blinded to portions of the Bible. Just a different tradition, and different portions.

It seems to me that some of the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue/New Perspective controversies are characterized by this type of participant. In addition to those who follow blindly, however, there are also those who react allergically to certain well-known personages of the "wrong" party. Perhaps God will grant us unity of dogma, but let us pray first for the unity of the body ... characterized by a respectful and charitable exchange of viewpoints while dogmatic differences remain.

101 Lessons on Project Management

The Project Management Source site has an interesting list of 101 ways to organize your (project management) life. A few of the gems include:

6. Giving autonomy does not mean not keeping track of progress.
29. Minimize your supervision - Provide a sense of autonomy. Freedom is a major motivator and builds trust on both sides. (Tip: But don’t tune out completely.)
- Micromanagement is bad, but so is absentee management

18. When you pressure your team to deliver faster than is humanly possible, don’t be surprised to see a poor quality, bug-laden product.
- You get what you ask for, so ask carefully

27. The buck stops here: You are accountable for your task / project. However, this does not mean that you do not delegate. Delegate work to your team members, let them know that they are accountable for their assignment/s, and ensure that they have the resources so that they can deliver successfully.
- This is key (see also my post on Responsibility & Humility). When you start using the word "they" while describing a project problem, it is time to repent

39. Be Open: While you should not be a dumping ground for grievances, you SHOULD be accessible enough for team members to openly discuss concerns or delays.
- Be sure not to become Absalom, though

Keep your sense of humor: It helps – especially in situations where no one feels like laughing.
- I am often finding 'Dilbert moments'

Getting it right from the outset: The most important part of a project’s life cycle is the identification of its requirements.
99. Desiring the impossible gives rise to suffering It is also the root of many failed projects. When undertaking a project, you have the duty to question authority, to push back. Ask questions, rather than voice objections. Why is this the deadline? What if it isn't met? What do you really need, and by when? What assumptions are you making? What would you give up to get what what you really need? Will we have the right resources at the right time?
- Do not underestimate the challenge of gaining real understanding here (and do not mistake documentation for understanding)

86. No job in the world is worth neglecting your kids for.

- Why is this #86? And (as if I were truly puzzled here) why does it need to be stated at all?

Check out the site for the full list (and some other useful stuff as well).

Why Projects Fail

Any of us who are involved with “project work” (and I am speaking especially of software projects here) have seen the evidence: Projects fail. Often. They fail in spite of our Microsoft Project Plans, Work Breakdown Structures, Resource Leveling, Critical Path Analysis, etc. They fail in spite of our PMI Certifications, Project Charters, Requirements Documents, Functional Specifications, Change Management Processes, Time Tracking Systems and Weekly Status Reports. After so much energy and effort has been put into defining and refining various processes for project planning and execution, why is it that project failure rates remain more-or-less constant? As with everything else, the Bible provides significant insights into this problem.

First, we are inclined as project managers to believe our own rhetoric. In particular, we believe that we can foresee every eventuality and build every possible contingency into our project planning such that we avoid “surprises”.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

The problem here is not with the planning. After all, we are commanded to "count the cost" before we undertake a project. The problem is with the underlying assumptions of enlightened modernity. In our pride, we really believe that it is possible to understand and ‘model’ all of the interactions that take place according to nice clean rules with units of measure like ‘function points’ or ‘man hours’. But God did not create us like that. Individual team members will vary in productivity from day to day and different team members will vary in productivity both ‘in general’ and with respect to the specifics of the tasks to which they are assigned. The ‘interchangeable part’ approach to project staffing is like building a wall out of mass-produced bricks, but we are individually created ‘living stones’ … each with different sizes, strengths, etc. … that need to be carefully placed into the project “wall” to avoid gaps and weaknesses. So our first mistake is to ignore the reality of our God-created individuality.

Second, we are inclined as project managers to focus on law, not grace. For instance, there is typically a heavy emphasis on accountability which often takes the form of penalties of one kind or another for missed deadlines. As project managers, we seldom stop to realize that we may have imposed the deadlines themselves as a result of our failure to fully understand the complexities of the problem at hand. As Dilbert’s manager puts it, “Anything I don’t understand is easy.” Furthermore, if we do “empower” team members by having them set their own deadlines, we have only moved (not removed) the uncertainty. Holding people strictly accountable for predictions in this environment will only lead to longer time estimates and/or more elaborate excuses, not improved productivity or reduced time-to-completion. Grace is never free, and I am not suggesting any sort of project management antinomianism that absolves sinful team members from their obligations, but I am suggesting that a strict legalism is as counterproductive in project management as it is in the church. “Grace” in this context, then, refers to an approach to project management that encourages team members to take responsibility, to promptly “confess” when problems arise, and to accept the “forgiveness” that is available through the flexibility built into the project plan. [Note that these thoughts are based loosely on the application of Theory of Constraints to project management, and I intend to elaborate in future postings.]

But most importantly, we are inclined as project managers to believe that everybody else understands things in exactly the same way we do. With apologies to Lewis Carroll & Humpty Dumpty, “My status reports, design documents and work assignments mean exactly what I intend them to mean, nothing more and nothing less”. Communications problems of various sorts are at the root of every project problem and every problem project. Consider for a moment the most successful project in the history of the world: the construction of the Tower of Babel. My next post on this topic will elaborate on this passage, but in the meantime consider … With literally infinite possibilities available, God chose to remove only one small component of this otherwise successful project. He chose to "confuse their language.” By simply introducing confusion into their communications he effectively derailed the project without ever addressing such mundane issues as resource contention, scope creep, funding, etc.

Stay tuned for more on this topic. In addition to project communications lessons from Genesis 11 (next), I also intend to cover project planning, staffing and work breakdown (from Exodus among other places), project execution (from Nehemiah) and contingency planning (from Ecclesiastes and Proverbs). Betwixt and between I will also address project manager qualifications.

Friday, November 17, 2006


As I embarked on this voyage, one of the first things I was faced with was the necessity of populating a "profile". This involved (among other things) one of those odd questions that people ask: "What is your favorite book?" The question is essentially unanswerable (though I did take a stab at it), but it does include in itself a comment of sorts on us. We are a people who want to be popular and to be seen with the popular. We want a government "of the popular, by the popular and for the popular."

But that said, I have been particularly attuned to comments about the eclectic "favorites" I included in my profile ... including City of God. George Grant has a great piece contrasting Augustine with Aquinas:

While Augustine categorically rejected the principles of Greek philosophy, including the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas embraced them and wove them into his Christian understanding of the world. Augustine thought in black and white; Aquinas thought in various shades of grey. Augustine drew a line through all of history; on one side was the “City of God” on the other was the “City of Man;” nearly every fact, every event, every idea, and every movement could be sorted out on one side of the divide or the other. Aquinas drew lines of distinction as well, but they were far more complex, subtle, and broad. Augustine thought in exclusive Biblical categories. Aquinas thought in inclusive philosophical categories. Augustine drew inferences from Scriptural ideas. Aquinas drew inferences from Aristotelian ideas. Philosophers and theologians have said that Augustine’s ideas were based largely on antithesis while the ideas of Aquinas were based largely on synthesis. And never the twain shall meet.

More on Politics

George Grant quotes one of my erstwhile heros on the topic:

Eugene McCarthy, once the darling of the New Left, also said it well, "Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important."

Elections and Optimism

Ben House -- pastor, educator, historian, and one of my favorite bloggers -- did a wonderful piece on Political Pragmatism just before the recent election. A brief excerpt follows:

History can be so cruel. If it would just sort itself out into Golden Eras and Dark Ages, all would be fine. We could model ourselves after the one and flee the other with reckless abandon. History is such a tangled up mess for a principled conservative looking for purity. It can be worse for the Christian. After all, the Nicene Creed was formulated and financed by a government program. Being a Presbyterian doesn’t help. After all, the Westminster Standards came into being by government directive and Parliamentary sponsorship. Being a Calvinist doesn’t help. After all, Calvin’s Geneva had government subsidies for schools, welfare, hospitals, and other agencies, with a fair share of government involvement in church matters.

It is a long post (almost as long as this one) but well worth the read. As I pondered his premises, though, I couldn't help but be reminded of Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, who wrote an excellent History of the English in 1135 (available in the Oxford Medieval Texts series). Henry was commissioned by Bishop Alexander 'the Magnificent' of Lincoln in the 1120's to 'narrate the history of this kingdom and the origins of our people.' Henry took the task seriously, spending perhaps 10 years on the effort. The work itself quotes (extracts, really) extensively from Bede, Gildas, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and many lesser-known sources, not all of which remain extant. He seems intent on showing us all manner of moral failings on the part of various English leaders while explicitly repeating his central theme: God is in charge, not kings, and He causes all things to work together for His ultimate glory and ours. That message reaches out over the intervening nine centuries to our current situation with no loss of applicability. But then, that is exactly what Henry intended. He was explicitly and self-consciously writing to us. Nothing apart from following his own practice of quoting at length will do his words justice:

Book 8, Epilogue

This is the year that contains the writer. The thirty-fifth year of the reign of the glorious and invincible Henry, king of the English. The sixty-ninth year from the arrival in England, in our own time, of the supreme Norman race. The 703rd year from the coming of the English into England. The 2,265th year from the coming of the Britons to settle in the same island. The 5,317th year from the beginning of the world. The 1,135th year of grace.

This, then, is the year from which the writer of the History wished his age to be reckoned by posterity. But since I gave hope to those starting this book that we might turn back to moral purity, this computation will show what point in time we have reached. Already one millennium has passed since the Lord’s incarnation. We are leading our lives, or – to put it more appropriately – we are holding back death, in what is evidently the 135th year of the second millenium.

Let us, however, think about what has become of those who lived in the first millennium around this time, around the 135th year. [He comments on the emporer, the pope and the governor of ‘Christian Britain’.] … But who were the other people who lived throughout the countries of the world at that time? Let our present kings and leaders, tyrants and princes, prelates and consuls, tribunes and governors, magistrates and sheriffs, warlike and strong men – let them tell me: who were in command and office at that time? And you, admirable Bishop Alexander, to whom I have dedicated our history, tell me what you know of the bishops of that time. I ask myself: tell me, Henry, author of this History, tell me, who were the archdeacons of that time? What does it matter whether they were individually noble or ignoble, renowned or unknown, praiseworthy or disreputable, exalted or cast down, wise or foolish? If any of them undertook some labour for the sake of praise and glory, when now no record of him survives any more than of his horse or his ass, why then did the wretch torment his spirit in vain? What did it avail them, who came to this?

Now I speak to you who will be living in the third millennium, around the 135th year. Consider us, who at this moment seem to be renowned, because, miserable creatures, we think highly of ourselves. Reflect, I say, on what has become of us. Tell me, I pray, what gain has it been to us to have been great and famous? We had no fame at all, except in God. For if we are famed now in Him, we shall still be famed in your time, lords of heaven and earth, worthy of praise, with our Lord God, by the thousands and thousands who are in the heavens. Now, however, I, who will already be dust by your time, have made mention of you in this book, so long before you are born, so that if – as my soul strongly desires – it shall come about that this book comes into your hands, I beg you, in the incomprehensible mercy of God, to pray for me, poor wretch. In the same way, may those who will walk with God in the fourth and fifth millenia pray and petition for you, if indeed mortal man survives so long.

He then concludes with a discussion of why he has such an optimistic eschatology. Quoting his teacher, Bishop Herbert of Norwich, he argues:

According to my judgment and what I can conclude by reason, truth will endure much longer than symbol, light than shadow, the thing signified than what signifies it, the time of grace than the time of law. If the symbol and shadow preceding and signaling the grace of Christ stretched, let us say, for 5,000 years, would the light and grace of Christ be so much the greater? We see the folly of the theory of those who thought that after the Lord’s Passion the world would last only a thousand years, since Christ will come in the last age. … But rather I believe with good cause, on the authority of Jesus Christ, that the truth promised for many ages will endure much longer.

It seems to me that we would do well to share both Henry's and Ben's perspective on the relative importance of our civil magistrates.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Same old same old

The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Thy faithfulness.

- Lam. 3:22-23

"What's new?"
"What's happening?"
"What's up?"
"Whaddaya know that's good?"
The obligatory and mostly meaning-free greetings these days all seem to include an expectation of something new and different today. But God has not made the world that way. Sun rise; sun set; God is the same yesterday, today and tommorow. And His creation reflects the predictability that comes from His steadfast love and faithfulness.

So why do I crave the new experience? And why do we all so naturally fall into the trap of expecting each other to provide that spark of novelty, even in our weekly after-church greetings?

"Change is good."
"Variety is the spice of life."
Is it? Or is that just a not-too-latent dissatisfaction with God's good gifts today?

My sister has cancer. I would have been happy with "same old same old".

This is the day which the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
- Psalm 118:24

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Responsibility & Humility

Edwin Arlington Robinson's cast of characters stand out for their genuineness in an age of idealism. Two of my favorites, Miniver Cheevey and Richard Corey, also present an interesting contrast. Miniver, the daydreamer, "scorned the gold he sought" but was "sore annoyed" without it. Richard, on the other hand, "was rich - yes, richer than a king", yet thanks to Paul Simon, we all know how that ends. Richard Cory (sic) became a 60's icon of materialistic folly.

But I think another Paul provides better insight. Miniver refuses to take responsibility for his failures and Richard takes far too much credit for (and too little satisfaction in) his successes. Paul manages to be just the opposite of both: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (I Cor. 3:6) . Paul everywhere urges us to strive to accomplish the things God has set before us; avoiding Miniver's envy and excuses. But when success follows ... when we prove God faithful by beginning to reap what we have sown ... we are to recognize that it is all grace from first to last; crediting others, but most importantly, crediting God. After all, "What did [we] have that [we] did not receive [from God's hand]?" (I Cor 4:7).

As a Project Manager, I have seen the value of this approach over and over again, especially in "Project Rescue Operations" where I have been contracted to take over a project that is "in the ditch". It is hard work. It requires the kind of energy and focus that Richard Corey evidently put forth to get where he was. (And yes, I am rejecting Paul Simon's envious assumption that he just inherited everything.) And when aspects of it inevitably go wrong, Miniver's excuses will not help. A project manager is responsible and must take responsibility for achieving success. Yet it is not the project manager who actually does the work of the project ... it is the team members, many or most of whom are far more "essential" to the project than the project manager. For more on this Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, see the Harvard Business Review article by Jim Collins.

I have to admit that my temptations tend more toward Miniver's daydreams. I, too, "miss the medieval grace of iron clothing". But God has prepared us for battle with better weapons and better armor. And he has called us to battle, each in his or her own appointed role. Mine is often as a project manager ... a role that brings ample satisfaction when I remember to take responsibility, not credit.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Inaugural Voyage

Everyone I know has a blog, and as I cruise through cyberspace in search of wisdom, I periodically profundicate to myself in unpreserved response. Once or twice I have even ventured to post a comment or resort to the oh-so-yesterday practice of forwarding email. This post is the long delayed (if not long awaited) initial log book entry for my own virtual voyage of discovery.

Perhaps I will be like Columbus and stumble upon something truly noteworthy while searching for something else altogether. Or perhaps I will more closely approximate Miniver Cheevy who never found anything at all. Or maybe like Magellan I'll end up being consumed by the cares of the world and disappear part way through the voyage with the initial purpose all but abandoned.

In any case, I invite you all, dear readers, to join me as you will, comment as you wish, and guide me as you are able. As both the title and the exemplars above imply, the route may not be particularly direct.