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Saturday, November 15, 2014

#049 - Why should we choose to have less choice?

Everyone likes to have choice

No, that's not quite correct. These days people demand choice, especially in the arena of consumer goods and services.

The more choice the better, it would seem - or at least the manufacturers would have you think so, as you try to pick out a new cell phone from the hundreds of similar models available on any given day. 


But the truth is we don't handle choice all that well. Choice means change and uncertainty - and offering too much choice can literally stop you in your tracks - or make you leave the shop dazed and confused, without buying anything

Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog.   

Friday, November 14, 2014

#048 - A Practical Case Study in Cost-Benefit Analysis - did you want Popcorn with that?

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A process by which you weigh expected costs against expected benefits to determine the best (or most profitable) course of action.

A few years ago I was at a customer site in Independence, Missouri. It is a classic American town, sitting on the eastern edge of Kansas City. One of the advantages of working for a company with a wide-spread customer base was that I had the opportunity to visit a lot of different places.

When money has been spent to get you there, you had better make the most of it - so you maximize the hours you spend with the customer. However, when the working day is done there is an opportunity for personal benefit and exploration as well. So wherever I went, I made sure to learn about the local history and try to see a few attractions.

It's all about maximizing the value for the cost - which is the primary basis for cost-benefit analysis. In this case, the personal cost was not financial, but in time away from family - so it was worth my while to see the sights that I could in the time that I had. Especially when somebody else had already paid to get me there.

With a population of 119,000 Independence is more like a small city, but they have preserved their identity and character despite the closeness to their larger next door neighbor, Kansas City (pop 467,000). It's just what you might expect from a town called Independence.

Although I was only there for a few days, I made the most of my visit and thoroughly enjoyed having a look around the place while I was there. Few attractions were open after working hours, but I did manage to fit in a tour of the Harry S. Truman national historic site before it closed for the day. It was a nice southern-style building - not huge, not opulent - but it was a good, solid building with nice architectural features.

Source: Wikipedia (cc) Nationalparks

In fact, it was his family home. We were only allowed to tour the downstairs, as Bess Truman wrote into her will that in order to protect her family's privacy, the second floor was to remain closed until the death of her daughter, Margaret. Though Margaret died in 2008, the second floor has remained closed in order to better preserve the home.

For a President who took America from its traditional isolationism into the age of international involvement, it was a sign of his firm connection with his roots that he and his family lived in this same comfortable house since his marriage in 1919 until his wife Bess died in 1982. Having visited a number of other presidential national historic sites, this was the one that I liked the most. Unlike the imposing columns and the expansive property of Mount Vernon, this felt like somewhere a real person lived - not someone larger than life.

The next evening, I finished work too late to see any other historic sites, so I decided to see a movie. At least, that was the plan.

Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog.   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#047 - Why we all need a little Project FIRST AID

I recently attended an Outdoor First Aid course at Camp Waingaro, which is an old scout hall nestled in 19 hectares of New Zealand bush. Quite a long way from anywhere - or at least it felt like it when I found that I could no longer get a cellphone signal. It was a beautiful site, surrounded on three sides by a creek that wound its way down the valley.

I initially thought it would be something of a refresher course, as I had attended first aid courses before, but in many respects this was an entirely new experience.

Granted, the last in-depth First Aid course I took was over 30 years ago - but as it turned out I had remembered most of the basic concepts I needed to know over all of that time. The first day of the course was a lot of theory - with some practical exercises using CPR dummies, various bandages, how to deal with choking and so on. Of course, some practices and techniques have changed over the years - in fact, some first aid practices seem to change every few years as they learn more and best practices change.

On occasion, I have had to use my first aid skills in the past - beyond the basics of blisters, small cuts, splinters and burns. One was a full-out mountain rescue involving a victim 200 feet (61m) down a steep slope, his near-vertical evacuation and the treatment for scrapes, lacerations and embedded gravel. Years after that, I had to deal with a victim who had become engulfed in flame. It was a long drive to hospital as we worked to cool and protect his burns. Fortunately, both victims fully recovered.

As it had been a long time since my initial training, I was nervous when I first arrived at the course, but I grew progressively more confident throughout the day as we covered familiar topics. However, things changed when we got into the practical outdoor scenarios the next morning.
(c) 2012 Mathew Frauenstein
When it all hit the fan, I felt like I knew almost nothing.

 Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#046 - Index Card Planning - An interview with Bryan Barrow

Today's interview is with  Bryan Barrow, a widely recognized Project Management and Risk Management consultant and Speaker.
Bryan is the founder of Nova Consulting Ltd in the UK. Over the past twenty years, he has worked with Project Management Offices, Project Directors and both public and private sector organizations, helping them to improve project planning and rescue troubled projects. He also provides coaching and mentoring to help develop the skills of the next generation of project leaders.

Bryan is the author of The Project Planning Workshop Handbook, which introduces the Index Card Planning Method. He publishes his subscription-only newsletter Project Leadership Tips every month. Subscribe at

Join us and listen to Bryan Barrow as he talks about the changing world of project management.

Bryan Barrow

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#045 - If only every Project ran like an old Honda Civic

When I was in my late teens, I bought my first car. My friends were all doing the same - we all had our licenses and we wanted to put them to good use. Of course, not having a lot of money, we each ended up buying older, cheaper cars. I bought a 1974 Mazda RX4 from a family member, one friend bought an old Chevy Nova, another had an old sports car, and one had bought a 1977 Honda Civic.

CC Source:

All of these cars were made near the end of an era- close to the last generation of vehicles you could actually fix yourselves. All of them even had carburetors - no fancy fuel injection, and definitely no computer control systems. My car had only an AM radio, which I updated to AM/FM (but no cassette deck). When these cars were made, most computers filled a small room, and Personal Computers were not yet available.

Wheels = Freedom

Well, we were all very happy to have our own set of wheels, so we took good care of our cars - washed them regularly, learned how to do our own repairs, change the oil and spark plugs, the whole bit. Besides, we couldn't afford to send them in to the shop for anything but the most significant of problems; the rest we did ourselves, brake pads, shocks and all.

Although we had our own cars, we helped each other and worked like a team. We learned from each other, and each became the "go-to" person for a particular specialty. Brian went into auto mechanics in a big way, eventually extending it into a career that included welding and being able to fix just about anything. He quickly became the expert in everything automotive, and for anything major we all went to him for help.

As you would expect, Brian was the one with the best car.

However, at the time, we didn't think so. My RX4 was sleek and fast, the Nova was solid and gutsy, and our other friends' cars were sporty. We all kind of felt sorry for our mechanic friend Brian who only had a little red Honda Civic.

I mean, a 1977 Honda Civic wasn't really a serious car. Sure it was small, and good on fuel - but it wasn't much for show, not really. Not something you would want to take a girl on a date with, compared to any of the other cars we had. It wasn't gutsy, it wasn't fast, it wasn't much more than a tin can on wheels. Four or five people could pick it up and move it (and occasionally we did).

But over the years, Brian proved us just how wrong we were about his car.

 Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

#044 - What's the big deal with Team Sports, anyway?

When I was a child, I didn't like sports.

Well, that's not exactly true - I loved swimming and spent almost every day during my young summers in the water at our local pool, and was part of the swim team. Wrinkly skin, and a persistent smell of chlorine - it was a wonderful way to spend a good part of your summer's day. Besides, when your town had an outdoor pool that was only open for 3-4 months out of the year, you made the most of it. The rest of the year it was either too cold, or just plain closed, as the pool was left drained for 6 months of the year while the temperatures plummeted from freezing down to -40 degrees Celsius in the coldest months.

In the winter, starting sometime in November, the outdoor ice rinks were getting into full swing. I spent a few winters trying to perfect long, graceful glides around the temporary oval of a Speed Skating rink on our Elementary school field, while my younger brothers were just starting getting into ice hockey at the PeeWee level.

I think I managed two or three years of Speed Skating before I stopped going, while my brothers went on to play hockey with a passion - and still do today, over thirty years later.

My favourite sport fell back to swimming, which I pursued through to Bronze Medallion, and still enjoy today.

The key thing about swimming is that it is very much a solo sport, even if you are on a swim team. Separate swim lanes, individual competitors - even when they held "team" races like a relay, you were still the only person in your lane at one time.

I did not enjoy team sports at all - not even Hockey, which is close to sacrilege for anyone born in Canada.

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Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

#043 - Dis-Orientation: The importance of Project Vision

"Where there is no vision, the people perish..." Proverbs 29:18

One of the most important things you will do as a leader or Project Manager is to communicate a compelling vision to your team or organization. It not only sets the direction for the team and the project, it also begins to pull a group of individuals into a cohesive unit - and eventually, if all goes well, into a high-performing team.

Without vision, all is lost - or has the potential to be, unless you bring things back on track. This not only applies to your projects, it applies to "real life" too, as I learned first-hand many years ago...

Image (C) Fotolia 49516437

Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#042 - May Your Projects Never Be Late Again: Secrets from a Road Trip

How do you make sure your projects complete on time? When you set a deadline, you are supposed communicate it to everyone, right? Then, presumably,the entire team will work towards that date, vendor and client alike, to make it happen.

That is usually what happens on most projects - you may be a little late on some target dates, a little early on others, but generally all of you are working towards the same dates, and hopefully the same priorities.

But what about when it doesn't work out, and deadlines are missed repeatedly?

Certainly you can apply contract penalties to a vendor, but that does not always help to achieve the desired effect of getting finished on time.

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  What do you do if it seems like part of your own team is disregarding your schedule? What if they seem to have a different sense of timing altogether, no matter how clearly you communicate the priorities and schedule?

This can be particularly problematic as you near the end of the project, when there is still a lot left to get wrapped up. People may be getting tired and losing focus - but you need to keep them delivering, right to the end. 

Tempers may flare, relationships can suffer, and you can end up with an even bigger mess on your hands if you are not careful, with little to show for your project as you near that all-important deadline. All the while, the clock is still ticking.

A family friend was plagued with this problem for many years - until he figured out the secret. He not only found out a way to keep a very important chronologically-challenged team member/stakeholder happy, but he also managed to bring things back on schedule, time and time again.

So how did he do it?

Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

#041 - All I want is a little change to the Project Scope...

The Cost of Change

We have all heard about how the cost of change increases exponentially the further you are along the path of project delivery. If the unit of effort is, say, (1) at requirements stage to accommodate a feature change, in design it increases to (10x), in development it increases to (100x) and once delivered it may increase again to (1000x) or more. Or perhaps a different scale applies to your project, but you get the idea.

The same rules apply when you are doing construction, when scope becomes set in stone - or at least in concrete. Changes are easiest when you are still talking with the architect and drawing up the first set of plans on a napkin, but after they have been formally submitted for review and approved by Council, it gets more complicated and costly. Any changes to the approved plans require rework by the architect, then a review by another dozen or so eyes, and when that is done, it needs to get re-approved by the city planning department. Oh, and to top it all off, yet another cheque written out to the builder to pay for the change in scope.

Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog.

Monday, March 24, 2014

#040 - Is your Project Team like a Light Switch...or a Candle?

A few years ago I went on a fly-fishing trip with a group of work colleagues. I was working on a project in New Zealand, and we were going to be staying in an old company-owned holiday "bach" just outside of Taupo. You could book these properties for a weekend and pay a small fee. A basic type of unit - furnished with several beds, kitchen, TV, tables, chairs and couple sofas - nothing too fancy.

We unpacked our gear, loaded up the fridge and headed back outside for fly-fishing lessons. My first ever lesson - and apparently you need to learn how to do it while on dry land (without a hook) just to get used to the back-and-forth action before you try it standing hip-deep in a river. Perhaps to make sure you didn't fall over while casting - or hook anyone around you.

After about an hour of practicing casting, it was getting dark and our arms were getting tired, so we headed back in to get dinner ready and settle in for the evening. One of the guys was frying up dinner while the rest of us chatted and watched the little black-and-white TV. I was just walking back into the living room with a fresh beer when the lights went out.

"Who turned off the lights?" I asked.

"There's some coins on top of the fridge," one of the locals called out from the sofa.


"Coins on top of the fridge. Put some in the slot."

"What slot?"

He sighed and got up. "In the meter."

He walked over to the fridge and picked up three coins. He popped them into a box on the wall, one by one. The lights suddenly came back on. "That should do for an hour. We pay for power when we use the bach - it's one reason it is so cheap to stay here."

I studied the pile of coins on top of the fridge. It was perhaps my first experience of "user pays" - in this case, quite literally with a pocket full of change.

I was experiencing a sudden and strange shift in expectation - electricity is just supposed to be "on", right?

Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#039 - May I have your Attention, Please?

You know the drill - anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airline has heard this announcement from the flight attendant, usually followed by a safety briefing video and a demonstration by the crew. 

Most of us briefly look up, see the flight attendant standing there, snug our seat-belt, glance up above our heads, and resume reading - or listening to music, whatever. Most of us ignore the actual briefing if we have flown more than a few times. Even the comment "you may have flown before, but this aircraft may be different than what you are used to, so please follow along with this safety briefing" is unlikely to gain more than a few curious glances. If the safety message is only a video, there may be even fewer people paying attention.

We have become so used to distractions and the constant babble of noise around us in our daily lives, we learn to tune it out - and that can sometimes be a good thing. But how do you get - and hold - someone's attention, particularly if the message you have to share is really important?

On aircraft, different techniques have been used over the years to try to gain - and hold - your attention when announcements are made, with varying degrees of success. Humorous flight attendants are popular, but what about the safety videos?

Some of the most effective have been produced by Air New Zealand, who developed a series of safety videos that actually get you watching - and engaged. They also change the videos regularly, so you are also less likely to be "ho-hum" when you get settled in for your flight. Passengers now look forward to the safety videos - imagine that! Nude flight attendants with paint-on uniforms, anyone? You can be sure everybody paid attention to that safety video!

"That's nice for the airlines", you say. "But
how can we get - and keep - someone's attention?"

One tactic is to hook them with the unexpected - and then engage them in the message, and keep them interested until you are finished.

The Unexpected


Well, perhaps it is not a great idea to literally start with a bang (especially on an airplane), but you need to do something to begin to hook their attention away from their smartphones at the beginning of your message or presentation. Something out of the ordinary can work quite well, if you don't overdo it.

Many years ago,well before the clever Air NZ videos, I was on an aircraft that most definitely held my undivided - and disconcerted - attention. 

 Listen to the podcast or read the full article on Gazza's Corner Blog.