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New Orleans Initiative – Leadership in Tough Times – NC PMI Session

As I have blogged (I wonder if  this is really a word?) before, I have been attending the NC PMI Committee meetings quite often for the past couple of months. Recently I have attended a session by Mr. Branford Marsalis. Mr. Marsalis is a world renowned Saxophonist. When I first saw this event, I was wondering what does a musician has go to do with Project Management. As you all know, many of us live like ‘Frogs in a well’ (It’s an Indian saying). I was curious and enrolled to this session.

I decided to understand the background a little bit to appreciate the session a little more. What I discovered is that Mr. Marsalis, along with his musician friend Harry Connick Jr., has started a venture to build homes for musicians in the upper 9th ward of New Orleans,  after the hurricane Katrina disaster. This noble cause has been named the ‘Musicians Village‘.  Despite the name, people other than musicians also applied for the homes. Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Connick Jr. worked with Habitat for Humanity International on this cause.

I have been to New Orleans during my Christmas vacation and have heard about this venture during one of my guided tours. The name that I recognized and associated was that of Mr. Connick Jr.. However after much reading I realized that it was a joint effort by both of these gentle hearted musician, with their passion to give back to their home town.This is recognized as one of many successful initiatives in NOLA, post Katrina. The people and culture of New Orleans is very unique. So, is the red tape and bureaucracy, is what I heard many a times during my tour and later.  

The session itself  was quite different from the ones I have attended before. Mr. Marsalis waked in, without any gadgets and power point slides / handouts. He just sat there and narrated the story about the origin of the idea and the journey. Participants were really very interested and touched by the whole story as it was about one of the biggest disasters of recent times. Participants asked questions along the way.  The situation and the prevailing conditions reminded me of my home land. Another lady from Brazil was able to relate to the story and life in NOLA. She felt that place was like home away from home. I think it is a ‘Third World’ thing. I am sure there will be some of my fellow country men who may not like me call India a ‘Third World’ country.

I will highlight some interesting facts and quotes from the session I have noted. 

  • Musicians in NOLA work for cash and record all their transaction in their ‘Gig Books’. They do not have Pay Slips and hence had trouble with getting loans from banks etc. to build their homes
  • Musicians’ village was aimed at building homes for musicians as well as any other citizens who applies
  • Beneficiaries will contribute 300 hours of sweat equity and will pay about $550 per month, one the home is complete
  • HHI will also teach the owners all the maintenance techniques
  • HHI typically has two standard building plans, however, they have made an exception and designed a third model to overcome a future flood situation
  • “Stop blaming and get the job done”
  • “Identify the Right Thing To Do and get it done”
  • “Identify the Right People” – applied the same logic that he used to make music with – Right Team for the job
  • I do not work with lousy people and I can tell someone is lousy after I work for a few hours
  • Ignore the criticism and continue doing what you are doing, if you believe it is the right thing to do
  • Make the best use of the resources available to you to get attention and support – Media and Press in this case to overcome bribery and Red Tape

Overall, it was a unique and touching experience. I think I am getting good food for thought along with good food during these sessions. I hope to continue doing this and learn along the way.


Agile Waterfall Model – Agile for Validated Projects in Pharma ?

Validation of IT Systems in Pharmaceutical Industry:

I have been working with a Global Pharmaceutical customer for the past 5 years. One visible difference I have noticed in the way projects are executed, specifically projects that need regulatory compliance is the amount of documentation that the team has to generate in order to Validate the project. Validation in it’s simplest sense is “to be able to prove that the team has followed all the steps/processes that they are supposed to”. The IT system being developed should come clean during any audits by FDA to ensure the system is built as per CFR Part 11 – Electronic Records; Electronic Signatures. This typically adds, on an average, about 20% to 30% additional effort due to the documentation efforts required.

Agile Projects:

Agile Software Development is much more liberal in terms of documentation. In fact the Agile Manifesto values “Working Software over comprehensive documentation“.  While the manifesto acknowledges the value in documentation, they prefer to ‘Get it Done’ rather than documenting ‘How it will be done’.

David Vs Goliath:

Having looked at what is required by FDA and what is valued by Agile, it is evident that using Agile for projects that are ‘Validated’ will be a challenge. However, the world has come to realize and acknowledge the fact that delivering projects using ‘Agile’  is a very good way to ensure customer satisfaction by adjusting to changing needs and delivering better quality. However, there are few people who claim that Agile  is one way the IT folks want to get away with not documenting and is for programming frenzy organisations.

Enter “Agile Waterfall Model”:

This is a fancy name that I just cooked up, but I will try and explain what we have done and will let the experts give it a name or trash it.

Step 1:  We have captured all the requirements in the form of a Business Requirements (User Stories), the traditional way, through workshops and one-on-one meetings with business users

Step 2: Provide estimates in terms of Cost, Schedule and Effort, with 20% buffer based on these requirements.

Step 3: Divide the  functionality into buckets/groups (Themes)

Step 4:  Through Usability Design, refine the requirements for the first bucket which we called Iteration 1.

Step 4: Complete the SDLC (Design, Develop & Test) in the Waterfall model for Iteration 1 and release the application.

Step 5:  Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the rest of the buckets

While this can be looked at as a Program with multiple smaller projects, we did employ some Agile techniques like Daily Stand-up meetings, Test Driven Development, Weekly builds, User Reviews of Weekly Builds for early feedback etc. We were able to overcome some pitfalls and issues that we have noticed in our Iteration 1 in the subsequent Iterations. Whether this can be called as Agile or not, in a way, trying to emulate Agile in a traditional Waterfall project helped us a great deal. 

With that, I rest my case for naming me as the father of “Agile Waterfall Model”. Jokes apart, I would love to hear from you as to what you think about this model or if there is a better way to deal with “Validation”. I am also researching a bit and will try and blog on the information I come across along the way.



NC PMI Chapter – February Session highlights

Electronic Sourcing session by Sidd Chopra- A major disappointment 

I attended the monthly chapter for NC PMI recently. This was my first . The chapter folks planned a session on ‘Electronic Sourcing’ session. Since, they did not provide any details on the website, against the event, I was expecting the session would be very relevant to Project Management and would probably cover the Procurement Management aspects. The speaker, Mr. Sidd Chopra, is a famous speaker in the triangle area and was also a former board member of the chapter. 

Surprisingly, the event turned out to be a ‘Sales Pitch’ for a procurement tool developed by his company. Many of my colleagues who were at the session were also surprised that the chapter allowed the speaker for a sales pitch for his product. It was really disappointing for me personally, as I was expecting a session on procurement and even global sourcing as the main focus of the topic. I have provided the same feedback to the chapter. I hope they would take cognizance of the feedback and avoid such situations in future.

Increase in No. of People in Transition and efforts to help by the chapter

I have been regularly attending the monthly chapter sessions as well as Special Interest Group (SIG) sessions recently. Once of the main objectives of the PMs attending the session is ‘Networking’. Prime reason for this is either people have lost jobs or on the verge of losing. One thing I have noticed is that the number of people raising hands when asked “How many of you are in transition?” has been increasing steadily, but alarmingly. This reflects the trend of worsening economy. I hope things get better soon.

The chapter is trying to help the PMs in transition to support and help them cope up with the situation. There was a session a couple of  weeks ago titled “Transition in Today’s Economy” by Doug Johnson. I found it to be a very good session. I will blog about some of the techniques that were highlighted in that session pretty soon.

Life as a contractor vs permanent employee

I have come across this post on PPMNG Website, a social network for project managers. It is titled ‘Life as a contractor‘. It is a 3 part series where Mr. Trevor Roberts is sharing his experiences, merits, demerits of being a contractor vs. being a permanent employee (or Permie 🙂 as he calls it). This is a very interesting discussion, given the current situation where people are losing jobs or considering working as an independent consultant. It has generated quite some interesting discussions. For my part, I have posted these comments, which my take on what I have experienced with consultants/contractors/complementary workers in my experience. Please read through the post by Mr. Trevor and also sift through the comments if this topic interests you.

My take on this:

Interesting…I have always been on the other side of the fence. A few things I have found dealing with contractors:
1. Learning Curve : Not knowing the company policies, processes, standards will require more time to get up to speed. In contrast the permanent employees would know these better than a contractor
2. Relationship: Even in a matrix organization, it is possible that the PM would have worked or known his team from other projects or otherwise. This is even more so with the supporting organizations like Finance, HR etc.
3. Motivation: I do not want to stereotype or generalize, but what I have observed in a few cases is that the motivation to further the company/organization’s success is higher in permanent employees
4. Work hours: I am not holding this against contractors or demeaning their professional ethics, but the permanent employees are more than willing to work crazy hours to make a project successful. Delivering a project on time and within budget with good quality will always motivate a contractor but I have found this more of a case in a permanent employee

The two parts are titled:

I have not read these two yet. I will post my comments as well as share them here, once I am done reading. Your comments are welcome.

NC PMI Special Interest Group sessions

I have been attending the Special Interest Group sessions of NC PMI. Some topics discussed there are very interesting while others are not so very interesting and down right FYI kind of sessions. The session I have attended in the PMO SIG was very interesting. The speaker Jose Solera, a former employee at intel presented a very interesting topic of “Project Accelerating”. This technique apperantly was used in Intel to deliver projects successfully. Timm Esque along with Jose Solera are evangelising this technique to deliver successful projects. Timm has written a book on this technique named “No Surprises Project Management“. This technique focuses on Planning and execution. 

This technique depends on detailed planning using “Map Days” and frequent status reviews on whether the commitments by the team is “Done” or not. 

These sessions are very interesting and are open to any one who registers online on the NC PMI website. I would recommend these sessions for all PMs local to the RTP, NC area.
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