June 15th, 2012

The Three-Idiot Problem

Ignorance more frequently begets
confidence than does knowledge.

Charles Darwin
The Descent of Man (1871)

Ask most people why so many larger companies seem rife with incompetence and lassitude while smaller companies seem to remain focused and productive, and you’ll likely hear the incremental argument: more people and more process results in less efficiency. Perhaps someone will cite the Peter Principle or Dunning-Kruger. You may even hear a market-friendly variation on social Darwinism: while larger companies usually have the capital to survive their mistakes, smaller companies have little choice but to sink or swim, resulting in a marketplace that seems to be primarily populated by well-run small companies.

June 14th, 2012

Recommended: Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Imperial Life in the Emerald CityIt’s hard to imagine a more damning project post-mortem than Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, which will be only vaguely familiar to those who’ve seen the Matt Damon movie loosely based on it. (And by “loosely,” I mean The Serpent and the Rainbow loosely.)

The book is no thriller: it details, misstep by misstep, the failures of both people and process in the aftermath of the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, with particular focus on the cronyism and ivory tower economics which would ultimately define  L. Paul Bremer’s viceroyship.

February 3rd, 2012


One of my earliest heroes (somewhere between Han Solo and Charlie Kaufman) was Socrates, who — although perhaps unfit to make the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs — elevated dialectic into the realm of epistemology, where it remained an inviolate pillar of Western logic until the emergence of Larry King, apparently sometime in the late 14th century.

January 1st, 2012

How Successful are Your Projects?

It’s been about nine months since my last post on Process Refactored — hell, it’s been so long I’m not even getting comment spam here anymore. I haven’t, however, been entirely unproductive; the past nine months have seen the gestation of a handful of new projects, including an open source image management utility and, most recently, a project management tool called Project Slicer.

March 14th, 2011

Recommended: Google’s Rules

For those who might’ve missed it in the business section of the New York Times this weekend, Google has formalized what it believes to be the perceived attributes of a successful manager, and there’s much to admire here:

December 22nd, 2010

Of Studios and Sweatshops

For some reason, many companies treat their production team as a fixed quantity, something to be accommodated or disbanded but rarely improved. It’s the rare C-level executive who understands that a production team exists on a spectrum between good and bad, and that thoughtful management can influence the quality of their team. Perhaps this says something about the quality spectrum of C-level executives: the fewer people at the top of the pyramid, the narrower and more polarized the output.

November 16th, 2010

Re-engineering a Better Performance Review

There’s a dirty little secret about performance reviews, which is this: most of them are useless. Managers dread them because they’re tedious and time-consuming and potentially volatile. Employees hate them because all too often a performance review is the only objective data point informing compensation and bonus. Rarely in my experience does a performance review actually accomplish its primary goal of encouraging superior performance or correcting unproductive behavior.

November 9th, 2010

The Retention Equation

Imagine you’re a hungry young company trying to squeeze into a crowded marketplace. How do you unseat the entrenched competition? You’ll probably start by leveraging the skeleton staff of entrepreneurial generalists that you’re paying with stock options and pizza. You’ll ask them to work late hours and take on the sorts of projects which your competitors wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: clients they’ve fired, projects they’ve shelved as too ambitious, campaigns that have bounced around between agencies because no one’s willing to tell the client that the idea’s idiotic.

(I’m looking at you, New York-based wireless startup named after a sitcom catchphrase.)

October 17th, 2010

Five Strategies for Negotiating Bad News

Several years ago, as a relatively inexperienced project manager in Toronto, I was sent to a seminar on the art of strategic negotiation held in a hotel conference room out by the airport. The session was led by a real estate guru turned motivational speaker, and while I don’t remember his name, I do remember that he paced the room in a lavalier mic and black swim cap, and that because he’d shaved his eyebrows he resembled a particularly intense mannequin or sunfish.

October 17th, 2010

Bird’s Eye Resource Management

Managing a team of any size on multiple concurrent projects requires some level of process and dashboarding at both the macroscopic and microscopic levels. For microscopic resource management, there’s no beating industry-standard task-based tools like Microsoft Project, Basecamp and Jira (three tools we currently use at Vortex Mobile). Macroscopic resource management remains a challenge. For some reason, there just aren’t a lot of accessible out-of-the-box visualization tools for project managers who need to quickly juggle projects, people and time without committing to a costly ERP infrastructure.