(Originally posted on the UCSC Extension in Silicon Valley Project Management Online Learning site.)

If I ever hear “Well – could you make a baby in one month with nine mothers?” again – I will scream. Personally, I average four months per baby with my preemie twins. Because designing is so costly, looking for twin opportunities – more often called “design re-use” – is a very sensible plan. In partnership with product planning, program management can greatly help a company effectively use resources to make more products faster and to reach a wider market.

The super annoying question about nine mothers usually is used to answer – Why are you planning so long for one or two people to do the task; could you get it done faster with more? The frustrated designer or design manager is tired of explaining that the assigned staff are the only ones with the expertise, and they are already divided among a few projects, and yes, they are already training others and documenting so there is less dependency on them, but even that effort is slowing things down, and no matter what, bringing in someone extra right now, or worse yet three extra people, or a whole new contractor is only going to slow things down further. I prefer to look at the question differently: How can we plan to do more with the same resources?

If we are investing in key new developments with expensive talent and materials, how can we get more out of them? Can we make products that use the key new deliverable in multiple ways? This is sometimes called design re-use, but I am focusing on the intentional plan to design with multiple uses originally planned. A non-high tech example is designing a hotel ballroom with movable walls so that it can be rented in pieces or whole depending on demand. A common computer chip marketing plan is to design one comprehensive design, but allow access to limited parts for a lower price. For software, a more expensive license will allow access to more features. It not only saves development time, but also support time, and provides consistency to re-use algorithms where possible. New product planning should include program management as soon as possible to see where a company’s efforts can be used and re-used multiple times. If the product requires ten deliverables to incorporate, but eight can be finished quickly, perhaps those eight can be used for a lower tier market and a test vehicle at the same time.

Sensible product definition studies include feasibility analysis and estimates of return on investment (ROI) – By including program managers early, and IT, and vendor liaisons, opportunities for shared resourcing can help a proposal pass an ROI test. In addition to internal brain power, shared planning can better use equipment and purchased design kits or IP, and other items purchased from external vendors.

Yes, of course, there are times when you can crash (PMI speak for shorten schedule by increasing resources) the schedule, but usually those situations don’t result in the parallel pregnancy question. When it doesn’t help to put more people on a key deliverable, it can certainly help to put a great idea into more products.

Now, please don’t start asking about one really good mom making nine babies

(Originally posted on the UCSC Extension in Silicon Valley Project Management Online Learning site.)


How do you schedule innovation?

A common conflict, even in a well planned and organized environment is marketing’s request for a new feature yesterday versus engineering’s expectation for it to take weeks to months, or even years to deliver. In addition to the starting point gap in availability, it is extremely difficult to accurately estimate how long it will take to do something that has never been done before. Even if the team can accurately estimate the time for a working prototype, the time for integration and verification seems to always take longer. New ideas are highly valuable, but funding risky projects is scary. What can a program manager do to help a company deliver an innovative product? Much of the conventional program management wisdom focuses on keeping to schedule and budget in part by drawing from the experiences of very similar completed projects. Creative projects rely on estimates that may be wrong, and may be slowed down instead of sped up by the addition of extra people midway through the project, or other common methods of crashing a schedule.

Where conventional methods might not fit unconventional projects, there are steps that a program manager can take to help executive management feel confident about funding these projects, and help development engineers feel supported and empowered to deliver on them. Here are 3 areas of action to help deliver innovative new creations.

(1) Take time to research and review the specifications. Think through the pieces needed to deliver a robust usable solution. Project development is expensive and up front planning time can save money by setting the project in a well thought through direction. That being said, by the time the bits are stored on your flash drive of your final and signed off Product Requirements Document, the landscape will have changed. It is necessary to be flexible and adaptable. The competition or supply chain will have changed so that you may need to change your design, its interfaces, or its use model. Your own results from early attempts may feed into spec changes. It is critical to figure out how to minimize change, while incorporating data that demand change.

(2) Define shades of done. While complex large scale projects rely on distinct specialties, each with their own terminology, the deliverables can be broken down into common terms. Engage each team to help with the definition of Requirements Understood, Plan to Implement Identified, Plan implemented, Plan Tested, Plan Under Change, Plan Integrated into Larger Plan, Plan tested again, and Plan Fully Verified and Validated. Other Key Indicators are: Plan in trouble internally and Plan in trouble due to some outside dependency. Communicate frequently. Share snapshots of “doneness” in an open, consistent manner so that the stakeholders are regularly kept up to date. Openly post the reports, so any interested party can figure out the state of progress. Document changes – beware that changing the spec to match external changes will impact the schedule and budget. Visibility into what is (or isn’t) being done, and how far along it is will help with the predictions and scheduling of the teams downstream of the design team. Conscientious communication and transparency into the process will help executive management feel that they know how their money is being spent, and help engineering teams work more effectively with each other.

(3) Maintain a collaborative positive environment where the engineers meet the trust that they are doing their best and everyone else looks for ways to help, not to scold or annoy. It is very important, especially in a project with new territory, that the greater team understand that progress may not happen exactly as predicted. Greeting the team with “what can I do to help?” will get better results than “What? You haven’t finished that yet? What’s taking so long?” The program manager serves as an interface to the support infrastructure and upper management. Sometimes you can help with extra resources; sometimes you can help with buffering tension and allowing dedicated engineers more freedom to finish. While there may be doubt about dedicated engineers, I have always found that when they know they are heard, when they participate in the feasibility, and they participate in the schedule setting, they are always dedicated to delivering, no matter how ambitious the project.

Our economy depends on new advances, but new advances involve the unknown and are hard to schedule. These steps alone are not enough to produce the innovation, but they create a fertile environment to enable exploration and funding of new, risky innovation. It is very likely that the project time and budget will differ from the original estimate for a project run this way, but it is also likely that the project will complete with satisfied stakeholders and a researched target. Program management can make a significant difference in successful delivery of innovation.

As I study SEO and read the experts’ advice (check out Search Engine Land) I am circling back to where I would have started.  Just write thoughtful, authentic, and consistent articles. Pay attention to your community and link to informative content that adds context to your story.

There are articles on what not to do – essentially don’t trick the search engine with content not meant for your readers.  There are articles on what to do – selecting key phrases, and paying for them. Overall the best approach seems to be to create fresh, pertinent, content that draws a reader enough to come back and share.

This Periodic Table of SEO gives a great summary of the advanced elements of SEO – but I keep coming to the conclusion that good quality frequent writing is the way to improve rank.

Just visited the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar museum in Maui. Fantastic description of using the pressed sugar cane as fuel to create the steam that powered the engines to process the sugar – Elegant, economical, and fossil fuel independent. There are other historical examples of use of waste streams – “refuse reuse” – and counter examples like the Thames sewer system where arguments in favor of using sewage as fertilizer were rejected due to the great health risks in human waste. The Thames’s 1860’s effort and further efforts improved health by getting the waste as far away as possible from the population. There may still be untapped potential in sewage, but its removal was the top priority.
A top area for refuse-reuse is nuclear energy. Three decades after the Three Mile Island partial meltdown can we now objectively learn from other countries and support our scientists in figuring out the best thing to do with nuclear fission as a source of energy? Nuclear energy avoids our political and environmental pitfalls of today’s fossil fuel based sources. But – what to do with the waste? Populations oppose putting it near them, or even driving it through their areas on the way to another area. Use of breeder reactors reduce the radioactivity, and create more energy from the same input fuel, but the byproduct, and the equipment to make it, can be harnessed for nuclear weapons. However there are proposals to mix in depleted uranium to reduce the weapon usefulness.
It is tricky, but it is possible to deal with the waste and byproducts of nuclear power. France does it, Japan does it, even submarines do it . We can apply our best and brightest and utilize nuclear energy to power our economy, hospitals, and homes without harming our political or greenhouse atmosphere layers.

When Joseph Bazalgette led the building of a complex robust sewer system for London in the 1860’s, the Victorian Embankment was built to cover the sewer (and a subway) and reclaim 37 acres of “festering mud flat”* (ref 1) with a grand walkway. The walkway served as a community center for people and gardens. The combination of technology and beauty added up to a winning solution for health, city growth, economic growth, and community connection.

Renewable energy solutions and smart grid implementation require new construction of high voltage transmission lines connecting our wind farms and solar cells electricity to urban and rural consumers. Imagine if the new towers looked like a correctly sized and safety compliant version of the Tiffany’s bracelet designed by Frank Gehry?

Wouldn't this form make a lovely High Vt transmission tower?

Wouldn't this form make a lovely High Vt transmission tower?

Instead of more of today’s lines.

Classic compliant transmission lines

Classic compliant transmission lines

As long as they follow the criteria, there is no reason not to have today’s top designers add form to the key function of distributing electricity.
Applying beautiful form to the utility of power transmission lines could be the key to improving our distributed grid and gaining acceptance of our communities.

* Ehrlich, Blake “London on the Thames” 1966, Little Brown & Company. p. 21

How does the Thames Barrier fit into the evolution of engineering and the river?

How hard to find scientific records on the Thames from centuries or even decades ago? Can we compare temperature, algae count, width, or flow?

Most of the Great Stink focused on sewer and dead bodies, how much did industry make a difference? “defiled by greed and speculation?”

Who stood to lose if the Thames was cleaned up, or behaviors changed?

What did Britain stand to lose if money were put into the clean-up project and not something else> Immigration, Crimean War? What else was going on?

Parallels between the rise of inhabitants on the Thames Western side, and the rise of the inhabitants of the Pacific’s eastern side today?

We understand where new water comes from, where does new air come from? Can we help by planting the best plants, and making them trendy?


Include Nate Lewis –

Include the thousands to millions of others.

Distinction from the Thames – it take a League. A sodality. Not just concurrent concordance, but competition, too.