Tackling large project

Really, I guess the approach I want to describe encompasses any project that is going to take more than a few hours. 

Break it down into easy to consume chunks, it creates a nice list that you can cross things off of. There are plenty of articles and blog posts out there that talk about how it gives you a sense of satisfaction and the feeling your making real progress. But it really does work, try it out.

When I am looking at estimating a project, the first thing I do is to break down the project into logical sections, then those sections into individual tasks. This will allow for the creation of fairly accurate estimates and provide a natural roadmap for the project.

Depending upon the size of the project and the number of players involved, the need to use software to track the tasks that provides dependency links and Gantt charts and all the really nifty and fancy project management tools is probably going to be required.

In regards to project planning, over the years I have taken to using a four hour estimate as the lowest number of hours, this generally is for producing new code, as that code will require me to test it as I write it, many times it will require documenting (I write a lot of API methods). Now sometimes, I am spot on and finish either exactly at the estimated number of hours, other times it goes a little bit over and in some cases the work is similar to something else I recently finished, so I can re-use some code and I finish in what seems like a crazy little amount of time.

There are times when I know that a task will only take me an hour, so I budget about 90 minutes, as to allow for room that something might go wrong.  But the four hour task tends to be a good default when dealing with a coding task you are not intimately familiar with, the big issue is setting expectations for yourself, your boss and or your client.

I recently broke down most a project’s tasks, there are some more I need to do, but interlacing with the other tasks of doing of the day, ran out of time. But I followed the four hour concept, with the exception of one where the changes are a few lines of code here and there, simply altering a query return to include a new field.

But I wanted to make some more progress on my redux of my old Product Management paper, I need to break it down into tasks, since it is a writing project, generally I just call this an outline. I also have a project I am working on that I need to start defining the tasks for as well, I have designed most of the database, but I really need to break out the tasks and get a scope of the project, I have a feeling I might finish it by the end of fall.

Outline

  1. Overview 
  2. The way it should be
  3. The way it probably is
  4. Don’t try to fix it, focus on common goals of all parties
  5. Right tool for the job

Chicken and Egg Debate

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg.”

Within any organization, be it a software company, a non-profit animal shelter or a telecommunications service provider, at some point a debate will occur between the various departments that is something to the effect of…

“Without my department’s efforts in getting the money, you would not have a job.”

And the rebuttal is then…

“Without my department, you wouldn’t be able to get the money.”

Within a standard corporation, this debate generally happens between the sales department and the department that is responsible for creating the product.

I actually had the privilege of witnessing a ‘debate’ happen at the very first company I worked for between one of our sales guys and one of the software leads. I believe there was beer involved, I forget, but I do remember it wasn’t a ‘Fsck it I am out of here.” type of debate, but there did seem to be some actual hurt feelings on the part of the sales guys.

I have by proxy witnessed the debate happen at other organizations. I mean it is inevitable, the debate will happen, as folks want to feel that their work is important and special. But the issue is, all the departments are important, so they are all necessary parts of the picture to make money, regardless of profit or non-profit.

I generally feel that the best way to end the debate is for someone to point this out to the parties involved and to try and congeal the departments at a unified team, but to accomplish that, you need a true leader. And to be quite honest, true leaders within the business world are few and far between. There are those with the title that can rule through fear (eg, do what I say or I will fire you), but for those that can inspire others to go above and beyond because they just feel compelled to do so, that is true leadership.

I’ll write more on leadership later, but for now, the debate happens, how it ends is more important.

Inspiration

I formed Red F Tech Consulting, in April of 2011, three years ago and I have never really done anything public facing with it. I am a tech consultant, I have a steady client that keeps me very busy, sometimes a little too busy and I have managed to find time to have other clients, sometimes those projects went well, sometimes they didn’t, it happens.

But recently, and it could be due to recovering from sleep deprivation, I feel inspired to work on some of my own ideas, rather than consulting work.

I am in the midst of cleaning out the garage, which involves putting things in order within my home office (because much of the mess in the garage is from when I closed down an office I had a couple of years ago and also when I renovated my home office), so as part of my process of cleaning, I reminisce about the things I am cleaning up, one such items in a paper I wrote back in August of 2004, that is almost ten years ago.

Seriously, a decade has passed since I wrote “Product Management – Concepts and Opinions”.

At the company I was working at, there were I guess about four of us, I was the only one that I guess felt they were a writer, to which I generally say “I can write, but it isn’t a passion of mine,” as I studied Journalism in high school, technically in college as well (though I didn’t attend class as much as I should) and I have a tendency for run-on sentences,  to which I say “Everyone can use an editor.”

Point being, the four us were given an assignment and in the end it fell to me to write it up. You might be wondering what the assignment was, I don’t remember the exact specifics, but the short of it is, the company was going to attempt to have a Product Management department and the CEO/President decided that we four would be the first group to hold the title of “Product Manager”, though I don’t quite remember anyone else really having the title, I had the title for a while (later it had Senior added to it), probably selective memory.

The paper was nine pages, including title and table of contents, for nine pages, the title and table of contents seems a little over kill (in retrospect), but I guess maybe if it was 12 pages in total, I feel that it would have been fine.

The paper covered the ideas of how Product Management should work. Given that I had not really done product management at that point, or any of us had, it felt weird to be writing a paper about how it all should work. Now to tie this all back to the title.

I re-watched John Adams on HBO-Go recently, it covers the life of the 2nd President of the United States of America, from the time just before our forefathers declared independence until both he and Jefferson died on the same day. Yet, I digress, John Adams (or at least Paul Giamatti’s portrayal) showed such fervor in the designing and writing of the foundational articles, bills and various other documents that form our government.

Looking back through my life there are few things that I feel I have real opinions on, I mean we all have opinions on which way the toilet paper roll should go or whether or not Hans or Greedo shot first, but I mean real opinions, opinions that you would passionately defend.

Product Management and the way in which a high-tech corporation should function in terms of Pre-sales, Post-Sales and Operational duties is a subject I have real opinions about, that and the fact that quick breads are actually a form of cake, seriously bread must have yeast, no yeast, no bread.

Given that I wrote the paper as an assignment while I was an employee, I cannot in good conscience just re-type the paper and publish it online. But I do feel that I can write a new version that covers all the same points and surpass those nine pages, maybe even get to 15 pages.