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Thursday, June 28, 2012

#017 - Implementing Organizational Change? Learn How to Grow a Desert

All projects are change projects. That is the nature of projects – to create something new, to improve processes or to introduce something new into the business – and all of this requires people to adapt to the change. To better learn how to approach change - especially organizational change, we need to take a trip to a place that seems timeless, but is constantly changing.

White Sands, New Mexico - home to the largest gypsum dune field in the world, covering 275 square miles (712 sq km).

The glistening dunes of the White Sands desert are one of the wonders of the world, rising from the Tularosa basin on the eastern edge of the San Andres mountain range. Every year they slowly advance eastward across the Tularosa basin towards Alamogordo.

Gypsum sand is not a "normal" sand. Usually a desert like this would not even exist - gypsum is highly soluble and usually washes out of the hills and works its way down to the sea through streams and rivers.

In fact, the Tularosa basin used to be part of an inland sea, created by a massive rift when the continental plates pulled apart - but now it is a land-locked desert basin. It is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, seeing only a few inches of rain a year with no rivers to carry moisture (or gypsum) away.

The desert basin is also very flat - really flat, as only the bottom of an old sea or lake can be. When driving up to White Sands from El Paso, I literally drove in a straight line at 70mph/113kph (yes the speed limit) for an hour or more. And it felt like I was crawling.

The White Sands dune field is a good model for looking at Organizational change - progress can often be slow and steady, with occasional bursts of movement. From a distance, change may not even be apparent at all over short periods of time. And with the "wrong" environmental factors, progress can be literally washed away. But with persistence and the right change agents working together, you can move mountains. 

Listen to the podcast, or read the article on Gazza's Corner blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

#016 - Developing Exceptional Requirements: Lessons Learned from Ice Cream and the Spice Girls

One of the things I looked forward to most on my business trips from Canada to New Zealand was a little town called Pokeno, south of Auckland on the edge of the Bombay hills.

Pokeno is famous for two things: Bacon and Ice Cream, most definitely not in that order. Pokeno used to be right on SH1, and everyone travelling to or from Auckland and the Waikato went through it - right beside the butcher and two of the busiest ice cream stores you have ever seen, summer or winter. And even though these ice cream shops are literally side by side, neither of them suffers in the least. Today, even though the SH1 is a newer road bypassing Pokeno, it is still as busy as ever, with people making sure to take the off-ramp into the little town.

There is nothing special about the ice cream itself - you get the same brands in the grocery store. Nothing special about the service either - and you only get the one tiny napkin wrapped around the cone, and no spares on the counter.

What made Pokeno famous - and still does today - is that they have the cheapest, largest scoops in the country. And 42 flavours to choose from! Not only that - you can have up to 11 scoops at once (on one double cone base) - for only $8. I am not kidding. It would be literally about a foot high at least, above the cone. I haven't tried it myself, as 2 scoops is plenty for me, but you can be sure my kids have been sizing it up as a worthy challenge.

These are by no means tiny scoops either - in Canada and the US you generally get a modest scoop most places you go, except perhaps the "premium" shops, with premium prices. Here you get good, honest scoops, twice as wide as the cone itself - for once, actually bigger than the pictures suggest.

I am getting hungry just writing about it!

Anyway, this article is about writing Excellent Requirements - and yes, it does relate to the Ice Cream. One of the challenges in Pokeno is there is a lot of choice - 42 flavours, 11 configurations (1 to 11 scoops at once). That is a lot to wrap your head around, and don't forget the Sundaes.

We have similar issues with eliciting and documenting requirements on projects - we need to get down to the details of what is exactly needed by the customer. When everything is shiny and new, sometimes customers simply want it all...and sometimes they kind of know what they want but can't commit to a specific choice and option.

Chocolate, Dutch Chocolate, Dark Chocolate or Triple Chocolate Chip?

Cookies and Cream, Gold Rush, Peppermint or Goodie Goodie?

Wait, let me look at the other 34 flavours first...

And which one goes best next to Liquorice?

It is so hard to choose...we need some help!

What we need is...a good Requirements Definition Process.

Listen to the podcast or read the article on Gazza's Corner (

Monday, June 18, 2012

#015 - Everything I Need To Know About Risk Management I Learned From My Pocket Umbrella

January 6, 1991: Standing on top of Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory, Australia. 
45C/113F and a cloudless, brilliant sunny sky. Humidity? near zero.

One of the driest, hottest places on earth.

So why am I carrying my pocket umbrella in my backpack?

And what does this have to do with Risk Management?

Interesting question!
To answer that we need to go back a few years earlier - and to a much wetter climate.
Listen or read the full article on Gazza's Corner (

Gary Nelson, PMP

Friday, June 8, 2012

#014 - Interview with Peter Taylor, The Lazy Project Manager

In this interview, we hear about Peter Taylor's journey of getting published and how he worked The Lazy Project Manager up onto the Best Sellers List. Peter shares his insights on Project Management, writing and getting noticed, with sound advice for those who would like to share their knowledge and make their mark - be it writing a book, blogging or getting involved in the wider online Project Management community by sharing their own experiences and ideas.

Peter also shares his thoughts about managing yourself as the Project Manager - so that you too can be "productively lazy" - and get the right things done more efficiently, so that you don't wear yourself out trying to do more than perhaps you should when managing the project. It's all about balance.

The Lazy Project Manager's Theory of Projects, from a Productive Laziness aspect:

'All projects are thick at one end, much, much thinner in the middle and then thick again at the far end. That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is too.'

- The Lazy Project Manager

Peter Taylor

Sunday, June 3, 2012

#013 - Leadership: You Can't Get There From Here (or, How to get things done in spite of it all)

Attitude, they say - is everything. Well, almost.
Perspective is a pretty big player as well.

On a project early in my career, the system deployment involved a group of technicians racing around the country installing hardware in switching and transmission sites in cities as well as some pretty remote areas. One of the technicians made a wrong turn off the main highway on his way to the Picton ferry terminal to come back up to the North Island of New Zealand. Standing by the beautiful shoreline and trying to work out where he was on the map (no GPS back then), a friendly local offered him some assistance. 

"Where are you trying to get to?" the local asked. 

"The ferry terminal" my colleague replied.

"Ah, you can't get there from here." responded the local.

Sometimes, our projects are like that. You know what needs to be done, but you are not sure how to get there - and when you seek directions or guidance, you seem to hit a wall. People are not usually obstructing you on purpose - they might just not have a wide enough perspective to help you with the big picture.

Listen or read the full article on Gazza's Corner (

Gary Nelson, PMP