Friday, November 19, 2010

Beyond The Brink?

The independent documentary made by a young filmmaker in the UK, Ross Harrison, is available today to watch online or to download.

Harrison spent a year conducting interviews and studying the information, so:

"At a time when people feel overloaded by hype and put off by scandals, Beyond the Brink seeks to lay out how things really stand now. Beyond the Brink is a not-for-profit production available for free for anyone to watch and use."

I am currently downloading the file from  to watch offline, but from the trailer it seems a very well made effort and should be thought provoking at the very least.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Green Project Management?

 I was reviewing some old files and found this series of articles on "Green Project Management". Now with all the media focus on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I thought it may be timely to take a look at this topic.

Basically, the proponents of "GreenPM" suggest it is the support of an organization's environmental policy through its project management process. It is an interesting idea, but I view it a little differently, making the environment a stakeholder, as is often the case on a construction project, achieves much the same results during the execution phase. Environmental protection is often strongly enforced during these phases in any case...

Where "GreenPM" perhaps offers more change to the process is in the softer skill areas and supply chains, where people may not be so frontline in thinking of the environment, or in execution of IT or office based projects for example. The point is not to make every decision in favour of the most environmentally friendly in a blanket approach, but that the environment is added as one of the key evaluation criteria throughout all the decisions.

I also recently found this article which asks if the scenario of the Gulf oil spill could happen in mining. It is worth a read as it basically contends, yes, the same scenario with such pressured decision making could certainly occur in the mining industry. I would also liken this to the many reports about poor organizational communications (internal and external) and "groupthink" that are oft cited as prime factors in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster, see here and here for more background, plus a short video. If this report is to be believed, there was much organizational chaos onboard the rig and during the aftermath, with legislators playing a significant part with exceptions granted and slow decisions.

And whilst the environmental impacts and economic damage may be tremendous and felt for years to come in the affected regions, let us not forget that eleven workers died in the initial blaze. If the current rhetoric can be believed and this disaster could be the clarion call for mainstream support of renewables and alternative energy sources, the environment will ultimately benefit from this situation, the workers are, however, lost forever.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A typical project experience?

I recently was involved in a construction project that whilst ultimately judged a success, there goes any suspense I may be able to build up, struggled through a few issues along the way. See if these sound familiar...

The project was initiated due to a legal / insurance requirement, it HAD to go ahead and it HAD to be finished by a certain date for compliance, no schedule extensions would be allowed.

It was a struggle to get the project kicked off properly as the resources were difficult to co-ordinate. Then, two days before the project was due to start the execution phase, a conflicting project called priority on a key resource and the project execution start was delayed two days, which used up all the available slack. In fact risk mitigation measures were used to extend the availability of the key resource to ensure the completion date could be met.

A just in time approach was used for the engineering design. Unfortunately this meant that initial budgets were not very accurate, although luckily they were higher than actuals, based mainly upon the lower unit cost than estimated of materials. The materials quantity takeoff proved to be very accurate with little wastage. 
Stakeholder management was an important part of this project and the stakeholder who was identified as being primary was included in design reviews. This worked very well for the approvals process during design. With regular inspections of the work by the primary stakeholder, the only problem encountered was that certain parts of the design had not been fully explained to the stakeholder, who insisted upon a mid-execution design amendment. This was not a major change to the design and was more related to finishing works, but did result in some additional material costs, the effect on the schedule was negligible.

The project also had a secondary benefit in that equipment purchased for the project was able to be written off on the project, so remains a cheap asset for future projects.
Lessons learned? If you are familiar with the type of work, then just in time design can be an effective approach, but make sure you fully brief the stakeholders and address their concerns in balance with other stakeholders.

What was the project? Just some steps I had to re-build at home...


During and design:

Note the clear primary stakeholder (my wife) decision for how the steps are to be configured marked by "X" and ""...

Project completion:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Are mining people creative? Part Deux.

Ok, so it seems that my post about creativity in mining generated quite a few comments when linked to a discussion in one of the mining groups on, here, if you're a member.

The discussion seemed to swing around three types of comments: 1, yes they are creative and here is some background; 2, of course they are creative and taking a bit of umbrage at raising any question that they possibly could not be; 3, mining people are creative, but they are constantly waging a battle to stop their creativity being stifled by more risk averse upper management - aren't managers people too? I will leave that for you to decide, it could be subjective!

If there is any doubt, I too weigh heavily on the side that mining people are creative and speaking from my own background with engineer types, it is almost a default setting for problem solving. I also agree upper management needs convincing, that is one of the reasons they are there, to be gatekeepers for decisions. In fact, sometimes the way you try to get support for your idea can involve some creative strategies too. As I mentioned in the initial blog post, over the years I have also noticed that engineers very often have an interest in photography, but maybe that just appeals to a suppressed geeky stereotype of engineers tinkering with gadgets wearing pocket protectors?

My favorite comments though were those that loosely said: "Geologists are the most creative as they work with intangibles to believe in an orebody they cannot see. They have to believe."  Creative? Belief? Delusion? Not to knock geologists, but there is a fine line between belief with persistence and being wrong.

The discussion then went on to discuss the green challenges mining faces, which is a very good example of where we need creative solutions AND creative ways to propose new schemes and technologies.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Network, to "net" work

Networking, greasy palm pushing? Geeky social media by some loner type?  Self-serving and full of cliques like the old boys club?

Not necessarilly. One of the Project Management Institute's blogs has an interesting article written by Jim De Piante titled Unselfish Networking.  It also aligns pretty well with Mitch Joel of Twist Image, whose book I am currently enjoying reading.

Basically with the ongoing online revolution, networking is more important than ever before and we all have our own personal brand to promote (and protect). One of the core tenets of social media, or any other kind really, of networking has become that it definitely must not be self-serving, at least explicitly.

Consider blogs or websites that you routinely visit (feel free to subscribe to this blog if you like - rats, that sounded too self-serving...) and think about why you visit them. More often than not it comes down to the old rule that "content is king". Graphics and media are nice, but they are not the whole message, the content, the information being shared is what keeps people coming back - if it is constantly kept fresh. 

The quality of the content is also important. Unless it was an entertainment driven site, I'd take it as a given that you expect the content to be either factual or clearly stated if subjective (disclosure - this is just my opinion). Equally important when enaging in social media or other networking agree Mitch Joel and Jim De Piante are to not try and sell. 

By offering expertise or valued opinions and dialogue to your community, you are automatically raising the profile of your brand. A perfect example here is the Hard Rock Miner's Handbook. This was a not for profit publication provided by engineering consultant McIntosh Engineering (now Stantec) and was available as a hardcopy, followed by a CD and online versions. It has been a great success and certainly drives the firm's search rankings high. Indeed the original collator / editor / contributor even has a derived dictionary of mining terms on the mining industry online portal site Infomine here. Now the info within is quite generic, but it is certainly helpful at times and perhaps more importantly, it is a standard download for industry students, establishing the resource, the brand and the altruistic sentiment from their early exposure to the industry.

A similar models applies to volunteering or running local branches or chapters of associations or running an online group or forum. The exposure and boost to your reputation can be significant and you are actually just giving back to your peers, but you are positioning yourself as a pro-active leader.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

It's like herding cats... ...if you're a mouse!

Estimators. The bane of your life or your superstars?

Here is an interesting viewpoint on The Life of an Estimator. Now I have
worked through all phases of projects and done my share of estimating and I have to say, I'd be inclined to agree with the article. Especially the lose-lose situation post submission, where if you win the job, everyone scrutinizes your work and you become the scapegoat for every flaw down the line in the project. This is the "how come we won this? what did you miss?" attitude.

The opposing situation is when you are expected to cover every cost eventuallity, yet still manage to submit a competitive bid. This is when you will be blamed for the bid not being successful.

Personally, I have found that the biggest problem with the role (and many others until you reach a more senior position in the organizational hierarchy - and sometimes even after unfortunately!) is being given lots (all?) of the responsibility, but none of the authority. Estimators are typically not viewed with too high a regard, although they are ultimately responsible for getting a successful bid out on time, yet they must manage and influence senior management figures in the company without having any authority to impose deadlines other than indicating a tardy response will make the bid late.

They are constantly operating in a mode of conflict with their superiors, hence the analogy in the title. "It's like herding cats!", is generally trotted out to represent something difficult, but it is from the viewpoint of an empowered individual trying to co-ordinate playfully wayward resources, consider the difficulty when the prey is trying the shepherd the hunter.

Now, admittedly, prey and hunter may be going slightly over the top, but the dynamic is certainly akin to that. Another big problem for estimators is burnout and lack of motivation.

Burnout. An estimator is constantly cramming for an exam, the bid submission and review. They are expected to know every detail of their project, but then post submission, that memory gets purged and they move on to the next assignment and the process repeats. With the high intensity work stress is a big factor too.

Typically it is easy to get attendance at initial kick-off and final bid review meetings, but it is the meetings and co-ordination in-between that is difficult to pin people down for (because they have many different competing time demands, fine, but they should be confident enough in their subordinates to delegate, not do). It is disheartening for estimators to have sent out files for review that they have laboured over to build up costs or productivity from first principles, only to have people breeze into a review, attempt to study the calculation, fail and then insist instead on their rule of thumb being used.

So estimators are often perceived as being cranky. I'd have to say I agree, but also that the role either attracts a certain "special" individual, or the demands of the job makes them that way!

"I'll be back..."

P.S. By the way, it has just come to my attention that this site is called Herding Cats and is a project management blog. I don't recall seeing it before I wrote this post, but it is possible I did and it subliminally affected me...  Regardless, the analogy is certainly a good one.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

iKnow, you know, now we can all be in the know!

Found an interesting site from the Open University in the UK.

Now I don't like to give away my searching secrets, but since this site has I'd may as well promote them! We all know the person who cannot find anything on the interweb. It really is easy in fact and the site is all about information; finding, reviewing, storing, disseminating - on the web and in person.

They are inspired to try and help by the following statistic:

"An estimated 6.4 hours per employee are spent looking for information in the workplace each week in the UK. 37% of the searches prove unsuccessful.

In financial terms, an estimated £3.7 billion is spent on time wasted looking for information that cannot be found."

I found that to be quite staggering.

So, the site, iKnow, that aims to rectify this is broken down into bitesized chunks of information, aka tips, that seem pretty useful actually.

The six subject headings are:

  1. Finding information
  2. Know you sources
  3. Evaluating information
  4. Information handling
  5. Organising information
  6. Keeping up to date

Again, it isn't all web-based searching though. I'd definitely recommend taking a look at it...