Saturday, June 29, 2002

Taking Care of Business. Schaum's Quick Guide to Business Finance: 201 Decision-Making Tools for Business, Finance, and Accounting Students is a reprint of "McGraw-Hill Pocket Guide to Business Finance: 201 Decision-Making Tools for Managers" with a single difference. The now out-or-print book came with a runtime version of MathCAD and formulas for using each of the tools, while this new version does not. Also, don't let the title fool you - this book is as useful to working professionals as it is to students.

The 201 tools contained in this small, highly useful book range from Acid Test (doing a quick ratio of financials) to Z-Scores. Each tool is listed alphabetically, its use explained, and instructions on how to use it is provided. What I particularly liked is the worked examples that accompany each tool.

As an IT consultant who specializes in service delivery this book is not one I would normally include in my professional library. I was introduced to it when a colleague and I were writing a white paper on recovery management. We were searching for a way to link business imperatives to justification for investment in recovery strategies. We found one piece of the puzzle in this book - the Altman Z-Score. This tool predicts whether or not a company is likely to enter into bankruptcy within one or two years. This led to the development of a copyrighted model that addressed survival level objectives, and also became a key part of the Tarrani-Zarate Information Technologies Management Model. All this from a single entry in a small book!

Aside from discovering a relatively obscure, but important, tool I also found other useful tools in this book. Because I am not a business consultant or financial expert the tools were like a cram course in financial management for non-financial people. For example, I was able to apply some of the tools to personal financial matters - the real costs of a loan become quickly apparent when you compute them. I was also able to employ some of the tools to conduct realistic cost/benefit analyses, examine trade-offs supporting approaches to projects, etc. In this respect this small book has significantly improved my professional skills and has inspired me to read other books on financial management.

I strongly recommend this book - collection of tools really - to anyone who deals with finance, anyone who has P&L responsibilities, and business and IT consultants. The latter group will find this book to be invaluable for developing proposals, deliverables and project plans that add value.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Capability Maturity. Most books on the CMM assume that you're headed for Level 5 and then proceed to write a confusing and overwhelming guide for getting there from ground zero. Implementing the Capability Maturity Model is different.

The author of this excellent book give a realistic roadmap to achieving CMM levels 2 and 3, which are major hurdles in capability maturity, especially level 2 from a culture-shock point of view.

What makes this book realistic is the way you're lead through the important steps, with a complete focus on what it takes instead of theory. The book starts off with an obligatory overview of the CMM, but quickly segues into the steps needed to attain level 2 (repeatable), which are creating the structures, processes, training program and policies. While each of these are important, I especially like the inclusion of policies because they are necessary to codify goals and are frequently overlooked. This section also includes subcontractor management, which is important for aligning those with whom you are using on projects with your own organizational capabilities. This makes sense because if your organization is repeatable and your subcontractor(s) aren't, then you either need to go shopping for more compatible subcontractors, or get dragged back into ad hoc approaches.

The same approach to graduating to level 3 is used, with slight changes. In the section that covers level 3 the first topic is about focusing on organizational process improvement, followed by an in-depth chapter on defining organization processes. These reflect the key changes between level 2's repeatable goals and level 3's focus on defined processes. After these are clearly and completely explained the same formula - structures, processes, training program and policies - is addressed for level 3.

Following the steps to get to levels 2 and 3, the next section is centered on implementation and assessment. This section prepares you for the assessment process itself, and offers excellent advice on how to get through it. Additional information of value is provided in appendices B (Annotated Level 2 Preassessment Questionnaire) and C (Samples of Level 2 Policies), both of which are provided in PDF format from the book's associated web site.

One key question that needs to be answered: Which is better, this book or CMM Implementation Guide: Choreographing Software Process Improvement by Kim Caputo? My opinion is that both books are equally important and both should be read because they cover two different aspects of attaining CMM levels 2 and above. This book concerns itself with the nuts and bolts of processes, where Caputo's book is more focused on organizational change. I recommend both books, and think that they nicely complement each other.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Production Matters. The most critical phase in a systems life cycle is the transition to production. Done wrong and all of the work performed in the requirements, design and development phases count for very little, no matter how well the work was managed and how mature the processes. A book that specifically addresses this make-or-break event is The Unified Process Transition and Production Phases. In the Unified Process (or any systems life cycle) the milestones/phases up to transition are well documented, but these represent the tip of the iceberg with respect to determining project success and total cost of ownership. This unique book examines the transition and production support requirements, addressing some of the deficiencies in the Unified Process (production support is all but ignored), and can be applied to other development life cycle models, nearly all of which have the same blind spots.

Many of the ideas and the approach for this book were born in the author's earlier book, More Process Patterns, which examined the very transition and support requirements in a more generic manner. In fact this book, like the earlier one, is a collection of best practice patterns that cover the transition and production milestones. After an introduction that explains the rationale and approach, the book covers the workflows and patterns in the sequence in which they will occur: testing, deployment and environment, operations and support, project management and infrastructure management.

What makes this book important is that it extends the Unified Process to include the key milestones that account for cost and quality, and goes into great detail about what is required and how to avoid failure. If you work in operations and support you will find the material in this book invaluable - you should also buy copies for key members of the project team that is delivering your system so they have an understanding of and appreciation for the task of supporting their creation. While this book will obviously benefit shops that employ the Unified Process, the information and workflows are equally useful in any development approach.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The Important Part of PM. A friend who is an experienced PM once remarked that there are three stages to becoming an enlightened project manager:Regardless of how true his theory is, People in Projects will certainly get you to the second stage of enlightenment, and also provide you with the knowledge and skills to manage stakeholder expectations, use effective intervention methods when things do get off track, and to maintain high project team morale.

The nine chapters in this 305 page book systematically cover all aspects of the people part of the equation. It starts with an accurate description of key management skills and duties required of a PM. It then addresses the basics of organizational planning, which focuses on roles and responsibilities. From personal experience I can attest that establishing roles and responsibilities is essential to project success.

Chapter 3, Human Resource Theory and Charts, sets the tone for the chapters on Staff Acquisition and Kickoff, and Team Development, both of which provide refined techniques for managing people and teams.

I particularly liked the chapters on resolving conflict (something that PMs deal with daily) and managing change, which is a constant. Since I work with multi-cultural teams that are international I also liked the chapter titled Worldwide Teams and Cultural Issues.

The chapter on project closeout and evaluation is a good reminder that there is a shutdown phase to projects, and this chapter provides guidance for how to perform this step in a structured manner.

Although this is a book on the PMI approach to project management, the material is also applicable to any project management methodology, including the UK standard (PRINCE2) and CompTIA's IT Project +.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Data Warehousing. Two books that will interest architects, developers and DBAs are:
  1. Data Warehousing Fundamentals. This is one of the best introductory books on data warehousing I've read. The authors make few assumptions of reader knowledge beyond the fact that they are IT professionals who have a technical background that doesn't necessarily include database and data warehouse knowledge. They do assume a basic knowledge of IT operations, project management skills and systems analysis and design - skills that IT professionals are expected to have.
    The book is divided into five parts: Overview and Concepts, Planning and Requirements, Architecture and Infrastructure, Data Design and Data Preparation, and Implementation and Maintenance. These follow a development life cycle, making the structure of the book easy to follow.
    What I like about this book is it doesn't just cover the theory and concepts (which it does do well), but sets data warehousing in the context of a larger architecture designed to meet specific business requirements. I also like the way the authors address real world issues such as planning and managing a data warehouse project, and the issues and factors surrounding adding a data warehouse into an existing technical architecture. This information is what IT professionals are seeking when they are faced with a technology with which they may not have strong knowledge, and it makes this book useful to the intended audience.
    Among the chapters that I most liked are: Principles of Dimensional Modeling, Data Extraction, Transformation, and Loading, and Data Quality: A Key to Success. These capture the essence of data warehousing in my opinion and are topics that IT professionals without a data background need to understand. I also thought that each of the appendices were useful. They provided a finishing touch by covering project life cycle steps and checklists, critical success factors and guidelines for evaluating vendor solutions - each of which provide practical information.
  2. Data Warehousing and Web Engineering. This is a collection of papers that cover salient issues in data warehousing with an emphasis on business intelligence, data mining and knowledge management applications. While many of the papers in this book are more useful to technical professionals, there is a lot of material that will also be useful to marketing and competitive intelligence specialists in the business domain.
    Some of the papers are more basic and introductory, such as "Justification of Data Warehousing Projects", "An Introduction to Information Technology and Business Intelligence" and "Some Issues in Design of Data Warehousing Systems". Some, however, address advanced topics such as "Data Mining Methods Databases and Statistics Point of Views" and "Incremental Data Allocation and Reallocation in Distributed Database Systems".
    My personal favorite papers were "Specification of Components Based on the WebComposition Component Model" (reflecting professional interests in component-based development), "Complementing the Data Warehouse with Information Filtered from the Web", and "Using Business Rules Within a Design Process of Active Databases" (another area of professional interest).
    In addition, the papers cover topics in data mining, data quality and knowledge management, which means that there is at least a few papers that will intersect with a reader's professional interests. The best audience for this book includes academics (the papers are citable), consultants who specialize in business intelligence and data mining, and organizations that have a solid base of experience with advanced uses of data warehousing.
Note: This book is also available as an eBook in PDF format.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Softer Side of Risk. I find much comfort in quantitative methods because numbers are unambiguous. However, numbers alone only tell part of the story. Experience is a good teacher and it is from experience that we grow as professionals. Coping With IS/IT Risk Management This is probably one of the most unique books on IT project risk management in that it doesn't go into the process and techniques of risk management, but in the common risks and how to deal with them.

Don't expect qualitative or quantitative risk assessment methods, or even a risk management process that is almost an obligatory part of most project management books. Do expect the collective wisdom of real people who were interviewed, and their recommendations for dealing with the real risks.

These risks range from misaligned or unwarranted expectations to slippery requirements. If you've managed an IT project many of the risks will be familiar. How the PMs who were interviewed handled them will be illuminating.

Aside from the fact that this is a highly readable book that is packed with wisdom and advice, the appendices also add a considerable value. Appendix 1 cross references the risks (constructs) by theme making it easy to quickly find the solution to a particular issue. Appendix 2 gives 5 hypothetical project profiles that reinforce the information in the body of the book, and Appendix 3 is a collection of strategies from the body of the book.

Regardless of whether you are preparing to manage your first project or are seasoned and battle-scared, this book provides knowledge and advice that you can use.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

More ABout Project Management. Mike is now going in one direction and I another with respect to our topics, and that adds balance to the material we're posting. One of the critical success factors in project management is taking the time to develop a work breakdown structure (WBS) before proceeding with planning, estimating and scheduling. In fact, it's nearly impossible to realistically estimate if you haven't decomposed the project into a WBS. Most people don't know where to begin. I've found that the Project Management Institute Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures to be a clearly written guide and one that I recommend all project managers read.

The four chapters in this short, focused book introduce work breakdown structures, define them from a conceptual point of view, explain why they are the foundation of project planning, and show how to create one. These chapters comprise a scant 18 pages, but are thorough enough to accomplish the objective of explaining the Project Management Institute's practice standards for WBS.

The real value of the book is contained in appendices E through O, in which a WBS for common industry project types are given as examples. These 44 pages are the real reason to buy the book because they show real examples of the conceptual and brief "how to" approach compressed into the first 18 pages. The project types in these appendices are:

E - Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical (OGP)
F - Environmental Management
G - Process Improvement
H - Pharmaceutical
I - Process Plant Construction
J - Service Industry Outsourcing
K - Web Design
L - Telecom
M - Refinery Turnaround
N - Government Design-Bid-Build
O - Software Implementation
Appendices A-D are filler that descripe the PMI standards process and associated information, and can be safely skipped unless you are interested in those topics.

Overall this is a much needed book because WBS are still skipped during the project planning phase in too many projects. This is unfortunate because the first thing that a professional does when called in to rescue a project is to examine the WBS, and if there isn't one, the first step towards rescuing a project is to develop one. By following this book, especially if any of the example WBS is similar to your project, will go a long way towards ensuring its success.

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