Group Dynamics In Dynamic Environments


According to the Encyclopedia of management, “group dynamics refers to the attitudinal and behavioral characteristics of a group” (Helms, 2009,  p. 354).  This definition allows us to dissect the subject in two broad categories namely, attitudes and behaviors.  These two categories aren’t exclusive as attitudes certainly impact behavior.  Similarly, other group members’ behavior can impact the attitude of group members.  The four factors I would like to discuss in this answer are trust, physical means of communicating, similarities between group members and differences between group members.

Pinto described trust for teams as “the team’s comfort level with each individual member” (Pinto, 2015, p. 193).  As this comfort level increases so does the productivity of the group.  According to Hoover and Donovan, trust and perceived trust impacts an individual’s decision to join a group (Hoover & Donovan, 2008, p. 189).  In my experience trust is the foundation of a good team.  It begins with attitude and reinforced with group member behaviors.

For years the technology that was used to communicate was seen as a vehicle and not an actor.  In The Computerization of Work the authors argue that technology functions as an agent and as an agent it acts (Taylor, 2001).  Technology’s action or inaction can have a direct impact on the behaviors and attitudes of group members.  If the conferencing application isn’t working trust of the system can be impacted and the trust of group member who suggested the technology significantly reduced.

Similarities between group members impact the behavior and attitudes of the group as well.  Group members with a shared history can pull from a greater library of experiences in group communication that can impact other group members.  A team with this dynamic stands as the single biggest piece of evidence the against popular understanding of Tuckman’s Developmental Sequence in Small Groups (Tuckman, 1965).  The popularized versions of that model (forming, storming, norming, and performing) doesn’t accommodate the introduction of new group members even though Tuckman used the idea of family dynamics (where members appear over time) seven times in his research.  This is due to his research being focused on teams in the military that have a definite start date.  Without this static starting line the theory has less value and for teams with fluid start dates among team members it can impact their progression and effectiveness.

Differences between team members also impact the team’s dynamics.  This not only impacts the skills they can bring to the team that transfer to their behavior, but also the attitudes towards teams.  The persuasion techniques required to gather team members around a clear sense of mission may have to be more varied and engaging than if the team were more homogeneous.

Using the definition of team dynamics from the Encyclopedia of Management two broad categories of team dynamics were identified namely, attitudes and behaviors.  I chose to review four factors that impacted group dynamics and referenced several diverse sources to illustrate my argument.



Helms, M. M., & Gale (Firm). (2009). Encyclopedia of management. Detroit, MI: Gale Cengage.

Hoover, K. R., & Donovan, T. (2008). The elements of social scientific thinking.

Pinto, J. K. (2016).  Project Management: Achieving Competitive Advantage, (4th ed.). Boston, MA:  Pearson Education, Inc.

Taylor, J. R. (2001). The computerization of work: A communication perspective. Thousand Oaks [u.a., CA: Sage Publ.

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-399. doi:10.1037/h0022100

The Lie of Earned Value Performance in Project Management


The four measures that serve as the basis for all earned value performance assessments and forecasts are Budget at Completion (BAC), Planned Value (PV), Earned Value (EV), and Actual Cost (AC).  Definitions for each of these terms can be found in the PMBOK.  My summary of each is as follows:

Budget at Completion:  This is everything that is projected to be spent in order to get the project done.  It is the upper limit for every project chart (unless you’re over budget and that sucks).

Planned Value:  This is the projected value of the project (based upon expenses) according to the baseline set forth by the project.  In short, it's looking at the calendar for how much you should have spent by this point.

Earned Value:  This is the number of what the project’s spent based upon the work that’s done.  The way I remember this is that the name Earned Value derives from PMI’s idea that value is determined by the checklist, and this method calculates the amount of the checklist that’s completed in terms of dollars.

Actual Cost:  This is the number of what’s actually been spent in order to have the project proceed this far.  It’s the product of looking at the project’s actual expenses at the time of the analysis.

These metrics are used by project managers in waterfall systems to lie to their management and encourage a culture of micromanagement (especially if the project is behind schedule).  The real world examples of this facilitating a destructive cycle abound in the literature.  I’ll use the example that PMI published on Boeing’s 787 (references below).

These traditional tools can be helpful in answering questions about the status of a project.  That’s why they’re in the PMBOK, but the leadership this information is presented to must be taught what it means.  Eric Ries calls these calculations Vanity Metrics and they have no real value other than making an organization feel good or feel bad about its current circumstances.  Other than that they really don’t serve a purpose.  

Does an incomplete iPhone have any actual value?  Does an incomplete airliner have any actual value?  No.  They don’t.  So why do we calculate earned value?  There is no value from the project until the product is complete.  I really wish that PMI would re-name the EV term to IV.  It’s an invested value nothing has been earned yet.  I’d strongly recommend that a PM calculate this information for their own internal use (it’s nice to see the chart as it looks pretty), but beware of ever sharing it.  This chart has been known to facilitate the ugly beast of micromanagement in many organizations.  PMI should really put a warning in this chapter.


Shenhar, A.J., V. Holzmann, B. Melamed, and Y. Zhao. (2016). The challenge of innovation in highly complex projects: What can we learn from Boeing’s Dreamliner experience? Project Management Journal 47(2), p. 62-78.

Vega, G. (n.d.). Leadership implications in complex projects: The Boeing Dreamliner and Jim McNerney. Retrieved from PMI website: ou=225860&type=coursefile&fileId=Leadership+implications+in+complex+projects+-+a+case+study+in+leadership+and+communications+management.pdf

Truly Objective Criteria


The seminal book on negotiation is Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes.  While flawed it has been adopted as part of the business canon since its inception and a great deal of the material in our readings this week were based on the principles popularized by the book.  One of the failures of the Getting to Yes model deals with the training of the participants.  The model relies heavily on identifying objective criteria to use as a standard for successful inclusion or exclusion of various negotiated topics.  While the intent of referring to objective criteria is sound it often has the effect of teaching participants to refer to criteria that are expedient rather than objective.

One example of this problem is with government regulations.  Many of them are terribly detailed and readily available.  When two people within the government need to negotiate (imagine trying to get buy-in for a project to improve efficiency) often both parties will simply apply rule-based ethics and use the regulations as their objective criteria.  The regulations though aren’t terribly objective.  They’re extremely biased towards the organization and what is politically expedient.  Just because there’s a rule doesn’t make it right.

To truly apply this principle one should engage in a healthy discussion about what the objective criteria should look like and seek out criteria that meet those agreed upon requirements.  Sometimes that will include regulations, and sometimes it will not.

Cultural Differences & Virtual Teams

Accommodating cultural differences in virtual teams can feel a bit like walking a tightrope.  Having faced this problem more than once I’d like to offer the following for your consideration.

The definition of cultural intelligence is “the ability to display intercultural competence within a given group through adaptability and knowledge.  Studying the components of culture, the theories pertaining to cultural dimensions and competencies, and the current initiatives in promoting these concepts are all powerful resources for managers involved in foreign assignments” (Saylor Academy, n.d.)  Faced with the situation of multiple team members of different cultural backgrounds and scattered across the earth the first thing I would do is start gathering information on the team members.  Culture is a generalization and can be useful in developing expectations, but it is not a single reference for some of the decisions that will affect the team.  I’d likely begin by creating a questionnaire to send to the group members that could be studied and shared among the group so we can get to know one another.  These mini-biographies would help me understand the actual diversity within the group.  I would compare the information received from their responses and re-read chapters 4-9 of Adler’s International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior.  Among the questions I would ask would be the following:

  • Describe a project you worked on as part of a team and how you contributed?

    • This question provides a history to their perspectives on teamwork as well as their historical roles in contributing to a team.  This will provide the context needed to set boundaries on expectations among group members.

  • Describe a mentor in your life and one of the lessons they taught you?

    • This question can provide insight as to the character of the individual through the selection of the lesson they share as well as how they prefer to be taught.

Any communication at the outset chart the course to any of the five options identified by Adler (right) (Adler, 2007). Based upon the urgency of the project moving forward synergy will be required in order to ensure the project moves forward efficiently and can achieve its goals on schedule.

When it’s time to move the conversation towards the project then I would do so leveraging the storytelling aspects of each culture to create our own project story (Saylor Academy, n.d.).  While the questions above may be useful for identifying individual traits the real meat will come from leverage a common storytelling technique.  Burke’s redemption theory (Samra, n.d.) is great among western cultures, but doesn’t necessarily work as a model across other cultures.  There are a few different ways to analyze the stories of other cultures.  The most thorough would be to consume content from those cultures, the other would be to identify the themes that resonate from a single story as perceived by members of other cultures.  Due to time choosing the later would be the most efficient, and the artifact of choice would need to be respected and consumed by all the cultures to serve as a denominator.  I’d probably use Star Wars as this artifact and then build upon themes across all cultures to help create our project’s story.


Adler, N. J., & Gundersen, A. (2007). International dimensions of organizational behavior. Princeton, NJ: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.

Samra, R. J. (n.d.). SAMRA. Retrieved from

Saylor Academy. (n.d.). Working with People on Projects. Retrieved from

CYCOPEDE: Universal Quality Assurance Definition

It may not be universally accepted, but ISO 9000 does a pretty good job defining and explaining quality. The definition it uses is, “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills a need or expectation that is stated, general implied or obligatory” (ISO, 2009). The author explains this definition using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; meaning its in response to the idea that man is constantly a needing/wanting being. This falls right in line with my (currently unpublished) research on three dimensional organizations. My research states that each organization must balance quality assurance, stakeholder experience, and efficiency. External to each of these three dimensions are the needs and expectations of various environmental forces (economics, psychology, morality, etc). While we may not all agree upon the wording applied in a definition this lack of specific agreement is because each entity with a need/want for a specific thing of quality will express that need/want differently thus requiring a modifications to the definition. The ISO standard is an excellent reference for this subject because it begins by discussing the origins of the definition based upon the philosophical understand of an individual or an organization’s need.

To capture quality assurance requirements within an organization one must understand not just the stakeholder’s stated positions of needs/wants, but also the principles behind those decisions. The difference between the two is articulately discussed in Fisher and Ury’s classic negotiation text, Getting to Yes.

CYCOPEDE: Zero Defect

Is zero defect a realistic quality objective?

I’ll take the unpopular route here and say that zero defect is absolutely a realistic quality objective. I hope that anyone who disagrees with me doesn’t work for an airline. I do agree that the cost of a zero defect environment is generally beyond the budget and time of most projects, but outside of essential infrastructure, the airlines, and a few other industries I don’t think the demand for zero defects exists. Each project is in response to a demand, and while zero defect may be the communicated goal near zero defect is likely to also be acceptable. Just noticeable difference (JND) is ΔI/I=K. As long as the margin of error is below the JND it doesn’t really matter because it’s likely to not be noticed.


Moving Beyond APA Style

My graduate program recently switched us from having in-hand books to having online sources. I miss printed books and taking notes in the margins, but I’m glad that the information we’re using is readily accessible from all of my devices.

So I'm trying to work ahead on week one and see the usual note that

Read More

The Faith To Repent

This talk was given at the Oak Creek Ward in Meridian Idaho on 23 April 2017.

Often when a member of the Bishopric will ask you to give a talk they will ask you to stay within a theme or reference a talk from General Conference.  I asked for permission to choose my own and my plan was approved.  In previous talks I’ve given I’ve talked about dad jokes, fonts, and oddly specific words.  If those things aren’t interesting then you might as well plan on sleeping through my talk.  As many times as I’ve slept in church, I wouldn’t blame you for sleeping through my talk.  I think one of the reasons why I’ve been asked to talk today is so that way there’d be at least one week where I wasn’t sleeping in the pew.

For a habitual church sleeper like me, it was quite refreshing to hear President Uchtdorf's talk about how Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear.  While it was about that topic, it included a tangential semi-endorsement of those of us who like to sleep in church.  In President Uchtdorf's words, “I am pretty sure that church sleep is among the healthiest of all sleeps.”  

Sometimes when we learn something new it's easy to do it wrong or poorly or inefficiently. When baptisms for the dead were announced they were initially done in the Mississippi River. Then it was revealed that they should be done in the temple.  Now many believe they've been given permission to sleep.  If this is your inclination during my talk today I would like to present you with a more perfect way to follow what you might believe is a call to nap from on high.  

If you’re one of the one’s blessed with the inclination to sleep today I would like to teach you a trick that will keep those unsightly lines from forming on your forehead.  First, you must commit to being a forward sleeper.  A backward sleeper is a bit rude, but not unacceptable.  Backward sleep tends to lead to more snoring and an unsightly gaping of the mouth.  Forward sleeping is good but the pew leaves a line that makes it awkward to socialize in the hallway on the way to Sunday school.  To fix this you just need to roll/fold your tie and place it on the pew in front of you as a pillow.  Experts will realize that the need to leave enough slack so that their mouth isn’t covered by their tie in case it turns into a drool nap.  This way the drool doesn’t get on the tie.  

If you think this is bad advice you should see what I’ve taught in youth Sunday School over the years.  I’ve taught about multiple sizes of infinity, the math problem in the book of Job, the verb of the atonement, and being fanatically selfish.  You should be cautious about calling me to substitute.

Our brains are hardwired to make correlations, but many of the correlations we make are wrong.  We often associate a route with multiple turns as being longer than one that is straight even though they may be the same distance.  At some point in my life, I associated the repentance process with being something unyielding and difficult.  With Satan’s influence, the awkwardness of admitting I had done something wrong grew into a fear of the repentance process.  For me, this happened when I was younger and it’s taken me years to overcome this false correlation.  Repentance may not be easy, but it is worth it.

Fear and faith cannot coexist.  I grew up afraid of repenting because I had only focussed on the part of the experience that was hard.  I had convinced myself that this part was so hard that it wasn’t worth going through the whole process.  It was a lie, and I believed it.  Today I’d like to tell you how wrong that is.

Admitting your mistakes is hard, but it gets easier with practice.  In team dynamics, environments where the team fails fast are better environments for building the team.  When I was younger I used to work on the Army’s telephone equipment.  It was a cumbersome piece of early 1980’s engineering.  If the equipment went bad it would sometimes take us a long time to get a part and get back up and running again.  I used to adopt the mantra that it was better for me to be what’s wrong with the system not working because I was trainable.  This threw a lot of people off.  Generally, the military thinks so highly of itself that it creates a social stigma for anyone to admit failure.  I was the exception and because of that, I wasn’t afraid to ask more questions and learn faster than my peers.  The result was that I learned the equipment so well that I was able to engineer something that no one else had ever done or will ever do again.  I wouldn’t have been able to count that among my successes if I wasn’t willing to admit my mistakes.

Practice makes perfect.  Repentance takes practice.  It’s not something you do once and you’re good at.  That sort of thinking leads people to apply death-bed repentance, which may be a thing, but it reduces your ability to be a contributor to this world.

Being a contributor is extremely important.  Just take a look at the book of Job and ask yourself, what turned Job’s life around?  The only book in the Old Testament to mathematically demonstrate that families are designed to be together forever wouldn’t have happened if Job hadn’t decided to contribute.

We often talk about the fruits of the gospel, but I like to dissect that phrase a little further.  What is the gospel?  It is the good news of Jesus Christ.  What was Jesus Christ’s role?  To take our sins upon Him so that way we can be clean.  So we can be clean.  That sounds like repentance to me.  That sounds like Christ’s role was to provide the means by which we can repent of our sins.

One of the greatest stories that talks about this is often misread.  It comes from 1 Nephi 11.  Nephi asks to see and understand his father’s vision of the tree.  The vision his father saw was bout the tree of life.  Think of that title for a second.  The tree of life.

For Nephi’s vision, he starts off with seeing Mary and is introduced to her as the Mother of the Son of God.  But Nephi doesn’t record that he understands this phrase.  There’s no typical Book of Mormon explanatory detour.  The vision simply continues.  The key to the conversation occurs in verse 21 which reads, “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”

Here Nephi is introduced to Christ as the Lamb of God.  Previous to this, Nephi’s relationship with the repentance process has been assisting his father conducting animal sacrifices.  He would literally help with the sacrificing of a lamb.  I wonder how often he must have pondered how the lamb being burned as an offering would translate to a forgiveness of sin.  He likely didn’t have a good answer but proceeded with faith that this is the process he was to follow.  Faith is putting your foot down on the ground in front of you even when you can’t see it.  You have to trust that it will be there.

Later in the chapter we get the explanatory detour as Nephi shares his excitement about how the tree represents the love of God.  What I always find interesting is how the angel one-ups Nephi’s excitement about Christ being the Lamb of God.  The angel describes it as the most joyous to the soul.  It’s not often in the scriptures that we get a dialogue as this!

So Nephi is asking what the tree means, and he’s shown Christ but introduced to him as the Lamb of God.  What did the Lamb of God provide?  The means for repentance!  The fruit of the tree of life is the fruit that comes from repentance!  It’s at the end of the path with the iron rod.  You get there by trusting the word of God and taking steps of faith though your vision is clouded and foggy until you get there.  When Lehi took the fruit he looked around for his family.  He wanted to share.

I had often pondered the scripture in Matthew 11 where Christ says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  I used to think this scripture was somehow wrong.  How could Christ’s yoke be easy and his burden light?  He took on the weight of the sins of the world.  That doesn’t sound like a light burden to me.  That sounds like a bleeding out of every pour situation.  But when he was bleeding out of every pore he wasn’t bearing his yoke, he was bearing ours.  He was bearing mine.  His is light because he is without sin.

Article of Faith 4 lists baptism as happening immediately following the repentance process.  In John 3, Christ describes baptism as being born again, and we often discuss taking the sacrament as renewing our baptismal covenants.  When we are born the world is new, and we are excited to explore its beautiful treasures.  Repentance should lead us to the same feelings of joy as those of the angel who one-upped Nephi in a conversation!  It should lead us to a joy so powerful that the awkwardness and fear of admitting failure isn’t an overpowering thought, but a moment of truth that leads to great joy.

Just this morning I woke up to a vivid memory of one of my failures being told me in a dream.  Unlike other times when this has happened this time I conquered it with the confidence that only comes from repentance.  Repentance gives us the confidence to stand before God and the ability in this life to find all the joy possible.

Beyond A Single Bullet

With a small exception, Staci and I haven’t managed to have our path’s cross since we both graduated college in 2008. When we met I was a two-time Iraq veteran and father of two on a military scholarship and she was a former Disney Cast member. On campus, our paths would cross all the time and

Read More

Stoplight Estimates

Traditional projects thrive on estimates and humans are terrible at estimating. No really, we’re bad at this. Bad enough that college papers have been written correlating our failures with evolution. Bad enough that we’ve developed several competing terms to describe different perspectives on this same phenomena. Hofstader’s Law, Parkinson’s Law, and the Planning Fallacy all deal with the idea that you basically have no idea how long it will take you to finish what you’re doing. This is somewhat better than people who generally have no idea what they’re doing. At least your only problem is with time.

Poor estimations are more costly at the

Read More

Management Reserves & Estimated Monetary Value

In project management, a Management Reserve is “an amount of the project budget withheld for management control purposes. These are budgets reserved for unforeseen work that is within the scope of the project. The management reserve is not included in the performance measurement baseline” (PMBOK).

There are three different types of management reserves identified in

Read More

Showing You Care: On Paper

Effective leadership is dependent upon being an effective communicator.  Being effective doesn't mean just making sure you're understood in person, it also means being understood by a neutral person unfamiliar with you and your team.  Over the years

Read More

Training for the Last Deployment

Over the years I’ve gained a wealth of experience in the military that can benefit whatever organization decides to hire me when I take off this uniform. The big question is how do I let them see my talent and desire to contribute to their organization?

Compared to life in a uniform these are new challenges, but I’m quickly learning how the military experience has helped prepare me to overcome them. I didn’t see how much it had prepared me on my own. I needed help. I love writing using first hand sources. In fact, I nearly got in serious trouble as an undergrad for doing first had research. It certainly surprised several of my teachers, but the result was I learned how to get certified to do the research and I got published in an academic journal.

For this project I contacted the local HR department at Scentsy, a privately traded company in the area and asked for a chat. They agreed, and so last week I sat down with Angie and Michelle over a ginger ale (my favorite) and had a wonderful chat.

When the conversation ended there weren’t any specific life changing oh-wow moments. That’s mostly because the oh-wows were happening in my head. Their polite conversation helped me to connect crucial topics I have read about in a way translated to a coherent plan for my transition moving forward. It was really had to keep myself from chicken scratching logic diagrams that were quickly swimming through my mind and focus instead on the conversation at hand.

When the conversation concluded I started working. While I wont share everything that clicked in one post, I can share a few things I’ve learned now.

1. It’s on you. If you’re not going to use a recruiter than it’s on you. The HR folks at most businesses are too busy to translate your military career to what they’re looking for. They have plenty of other qualified applicants that speak their language. They’re not there to hold your hand. That shouldn’t come as a surprise or a big deal. You’ve owned your PT score and everything else about your career up until this point. Owning yourself now shouldn’t be new, even though the processes are different.

2. Consider the transition a deployment. Prior to deploying the military training gets more and more intense. It includes rehearsals and rehearsals with scenarios. Rehearse for your separation and rehearse different scenarios. We often got new uniforms issued prior to a deployment. This time your new kit is going to come off the rack at a store and you’re going to get to try it on before being expected to wear it.

One scenario I’ve wondered about is where the company I want to work for has an opening, but doesn’t have the job posting I want once I become available. What I needed to own is being financially prepared for less pay for the duration in between. But I also needed to know if it was a good plan to get the job that gets me in the door. Personally campaigning to shift from one area in the Army to another is often viewed as disloyal and generally frowned upon.*

When talking with Angie and Michelle they explained how someone willing to take a job that’s available (and do it well) usually land the job they want. Sometimes rather quickly. They emphasized that doing well where they are is key. Personally campaigning (applying) for a job in another department is approved and encouraged where they work. Good to know!

3. Learn the rules of civilian life. Oh, yes. It has rules. They’re sometimes more subtle and they vary between organizations, but there are certainly rules. My recommendation, learn the communication rules first.

  • Learn something about design & typography. You’ve learned how to read and use regulations that specify fonts and formats. Study some of the design and formats that major companies use. You’ll find style guides for organizations and universities make this easy. You’ll learn a lot about the company by learning how they want to be perceived.

4. Build an amazing resume. You’ve managed to learn all the nuances of formal evaluations so taking those skills and putting them into a resume isn’t hard, but it does take work. Under your experience a good resume will have a blend of responsibilities and accomplishments. How you word it is up to you, though I will warn you of some red flags I’ve seen:

  • Using only military jargon. OCONUS, MEDCOM, NETCOM, etc., these terms don’t mean much. When you’re asking someone to read this you’re asking them to read another language. Put it in English. No one is going to Google Translate your resume but you.

  • Not getting to the point. If you’re not writing the “so what” when you’re working on your resume then you’re not writing much of importance.

  • Copying and pasting your evaluations. I literally had to read a resume where someone just copied the last 15 years of NCOERs into his resume. He didn’t get hired. Communication is so important as a scoring factor for me that the length worked against him even though he’d accomplished things worth noting.

  • Only using the web form. Lots of businesses will use a web form for hiring, but also give the applicant an opportunity to post their resume. The form version of you comes out in a terrible font and doesn’t show any elegance. Always post the resume.

  • Times New Roman. This font may be standard, but among designers and HR folks it’s known as the sweatpants of fonts. If you plan on showing up to the interview in sweatpants…

  • Only posting your responsibilities. Yup. You were in charge of something. What did you do with it? Responsibilities show the level of trust. Accomplishments tell the reader what you did with that trust.

5. Take a good professional head shot and make sure it’s on all your social media. These photos usually cost about $100, but they’re worth it.

Not everyone gets to sit down for 45 minutes with an Angie and Michelle. I imagine that there are plenty of people you know who’d be willing to help you develop your transition plan if you take the time to seek them out and ask. Friends who’ve already made the transition can be among your best resource. Once again, the military has prepared you for success. When you’ve needed help before you learned how to find a battle buddy. Finding one now is no different.

You’ve had a training plan for every deployment you’ve gone on. Now is your time to work on the training plan for your last deployment. Good Luck!

* I was entering the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill Oklahoma and while entering one of our classmates raised his hand to ask a question. He wanted the commander to approve him taking a language proficiency test. He explained that he spoke three languages used in the Middle East fluently and that crunching numbers to put artillery rounds on target might not be the best use of his talents.

His comments were met with ridicule and derision. This was 2008. I’m sure that there were folks who could have used his expertise as a linguist during the surge.

An Open Letter to Tony & The Time Team

 When people make a difference in my life I try to take the time to tell them thank you.  Now it’s your turn.  Thank you for nerding out for twenty years in producing Time Team.  Had the program not been posted on youtube, I never would have known it existed.  As an American and as a Soldier

Read More

Book of Mormon Lexicon

I’ve become a bit eccentric about certain things I’ve studied over the years.  A friend of mine at work and I are putting together a list of things people shouldn’t ask me if they want short answers to questions.  We’ve titled the list “Don’t ask the following if you want a short answer.”  The list includes

Read More

A Synaptic Touch

The Synaptic Case Study written by V.Makarov reviews a “biotechnology company that develops drugs based on proteins and peptides.” The organization has approximately 1200 employees, refers their their IT department as Information Management (IM), and has a department for computational biology. The IM staff consist of about 100 employees, but we do not know the size of the computational scientists employed by the organization.

Over the years a conflict has escalated between the two departments. The computational scientists have a different world view and production model than the information management department. And how could you blame them? The IM department has to ensure that communications in a very high tech business remain up and running amongst its 1200 employees. Due to this heavy requirement they’ve developed a very defined and rigid methodology to ensure that what they deploy will meet expectations. Working yourself into a dead end is not an option.

Science is similarly methodical, but also much more tolerant of failure. Working yourself to a dead end in order to explore possibilities is a part of the heritage of scientists carry forward. From Marakov’s write up it appears that these professionals are no different.

While cultural challenges are a large part of the problem the role of the reader is to step in and function as a consultant/project manager and develop solutions for the organization. Project management deals not just with the discipline of managing results structured to reach a desired end state (deliverable), but also managing the people whose talents must be employed to move the project forward. For this paper, in the role of the consultant/PM, I will present my perspective as I would to the client. I feel the best way to do this is to discuss risks associated with the three project dimensions, Resources, Schedule, and Scope. It is certainly not the most detailed framework in the discipline. I do believe that for the audience at hand, it is highly transferable and therefore an effective tool.

Week 6 the project's destructive Spiral.png

In much of the PM literature these three dimensions are charted out creating a nice triangle shape. In the case of synaptic their diagram doesn’t doesn’t have a true closed off shape, but rather a destructive spiral that increases in size as the project over time. This destructive spiral is true of most out of control projects. There are no set definitions because there is no agreement on what the project is and how it helps move the organization towards its goal.



In order to manage the organization’s resources, the organization’s goal needs to be clearly defined and defined in a way that doesn’t have a terminus. Once the organization’s goal is defined then the organization can be retooled to a balanced matrix organization which will keep the formal divisions within the organization, while empowering the PM to work across the organization’s boundaries to effect change.

Resources are the first area to tackle. They are both a physical constraint and a logical one. Different people and cultures have different views of resources and their purpose to any particular function. In Synaptic’s case the IM team views resources as fragile commodities where failure is severely destructive. Their world is ruled by uptime. The scientists’ world is not. Science is in part the quest for understand of different observable pieces of information. It’s not the quest for an uptime quota, it’s the quest for understanding. Certainly the field does have its absolutes, but it doesn’t have an expectation for zero risk, or zero failure scenarios. The very process of proving/disproving a hypothesis involves not merely observing failures, but actively seeking them out.

With these differing world views come different expectations of the purpose of resources. In both cases resources are a means to an end, but the scientist is trained for acceptable losses/failures/creative destruction with the resources under his care. That is why the first solution to implement isn’t just to define the resources arbitrarily, but define them by literally handing the science department its own separate set of assets to use in building out their projects. In order to move the company towards its goal (making money) it has to continue to innovate and this innovation cannot occur without the department responsible for innovating having resources.

In the case study a particularly destructive example was highlighted that cost a year’s worth of research time and essentially infected the information relied upon by other systems. With proper resourcing inside the CS department this problem could be isolated and mitigate the risk to the rest of the organization.



Project schedule is generally understood as “an output of a schedule model that presents linked activities with planned dates, durations, milestones, and resources.” Synaptic’s lack of a project schedule is a clear indication that they are dealing with the destructive project spiral illustrated above. In order to properly mitigate risk, the project schedule must be clearly defined. No risk mitigation measures can occur in Synaptic without some agreement to a schedule for production. The case study’s narrative gives the PM a great opportunity to commit all stakeholders to a schedule. Losing a year’s worth of data isn’t just an unfortunate event that could be mitigated by isolating the risk to other systems. It’s also a large waste of time and money. This loss to the company, this movement away from the company’s goal, is clearly a justification for change.

Committing development to a schedule can be difficult where projects are developing new technologies. One example of this is ZFS’s history which includes four years of development without a clear announcement date to develop against. While the PM does have to deal with the reality of an unclear deliverable schedule, they can minimize lost time through inefficiencies such as improper calculations by committing to audits and other quality control measures during the life of the project. In this way the schedule’s delivery date may be undefined, but the project will have routine reviews to document progress as it evolves. Moving the quality control mechanisms along the production chain will reduce the level of the overall risk for the project. Allowing the team to address it in smaller segments throughout the life of the project instead of at the end isn’t one of the strategies listed by Watt, but my experience indicates that this is an effective strategy.



The final area to address is the project’s scope. This isn’t because it’s the least important. On the contrary its significantly important to managing the people in the organization and managing progress towards the goal. This is the last area to address because problems with resources and schedule give opportunity to fix the organizational changes that will allow the project’s scope to be defined. Agreement on the project’s scope requires open communication between all stakeholders and that open communication is not achievable without addressing the organizational issues that more readily affect resources and schedule.

Again the destructive spiral illustrated earlier is at play in this dimension as well. As resource requirements and schedule increase so does the project’s scope. Symptoms of its ambiguous nature are evident in the description that the projects at Synaptic are ad-hoc (Makarov, n.d.). While the process of discovering new drugs will involve experimentation the process of project management cannot be conducted in an ad-hoc fashion. The scope of each project needs to be defined. Then it can be resourced and scheduled properly. If the project’s scope is determined to be untenable, then it will need to be turned off. If the organization streamlines their process for initiating and executing projects it will develop techniques to make this process as efficient as possible. None of this is possible without refocusing the individuals within the organization to recognize their role in moving the organization towards its goal.



The intent of this paper was to analyze the risks to projects conducted with the Synaptic organization. The largest risk to projects is with the organization’s leadership dealing with the competing world views of the different organizational departments. Once these parts have been recognized and the organization restructured as a balanced matrix, risk solutions can begin in earnest. I chose to address the areas that are issues along the dimensional terms used in much of the PM literature. Under the project’s resources I advocated for establishing a resource pool within the computer science department to minimize the impact of failures inherent in the creative process as well as to empower those innovating towards the organization’s goals. In the project schedule dimension I discussed the opportunity to leverage the lost time caused by poor PM practices as a way to implement routine reviews of progress. While innovation can’t always be attached to a deliverable date, reviews of its progress can. For the last area, project scope, I discussed how this area, while listed last, was important but could not be addressed without establishing a the baseline for organizational operation through the first two dimensions. The discussion on scope highlighted the need for specific scope and an efficient PM progress that would allow untenable programs to be turned off quickly.

While it appears I’ve spent a large time discussing divergent world views instead of focusing on the details oriented to the project, I believe that a PM who ignores the audience he’s managing can damage his long term success over time. The long term risks to the organization are larger than any one specific project. A specific project review would result in a more specific checklist of risks following the Identify, Assess, Plan model. This case study requires more of what Goldratt describes as his five focusing areas and his three crucial leadership questions, “What to change? What to change to? And “how to cause the change?”

Project management isn’t just about working the deliverable to its scheduled date, but its also about managing the people who’ll be working projects for the long term and that is where the greatest risk lies with Synaptic and where the solutions need to be focused.