Names and numbers

“This is the final boarding call for flight 398, leaving from gate 5. Please board at this time.

The flight itself is named 398. The gate is named five. The names are numbers. The flight could be named George and the gate named Fred and the announcement would sound the same- and, interestingly, taken alone, carry exactly the same information.
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Planes in reverse

A while back I came across the electric taxi system currently being tested. The idea is that electric motors on the wheels move the airplane while on the ground, using electric power from the APU.  I think it would be cooler if it harvested power from landing and stored it – but that would probably be the world’s biggest KERS system ever and probably be a huge fire risk.  So running it off the APU is fine.

Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about the stupidity of hybrid cars.  I’m generally opposed to carrying around two drivelines, it’s usually a waste of weight and adds needless complexity. I’m fine with a full electric car, and I feel we can be a lot more efficient with our gas cars- but, at least historically, it hasn’t made much sense to have two systems powering the same wheels.

Slowly, racing and high-end sports cars have been able to make good use of hybrid technology, and that’s fine – done right, it can be a good thing – but there are many, many examples of hybrid done wrong out there which keep me from being a believer just yet. The day I see diesel-electric semi-trucks is the day I’ll know hybrid has really arrived.

So how do I feel about a hybrid airliner? At the end of the day, that’s what we’re talking about here. Continue reading

Newtonian Project Management

Communications Satellite EVXX needs to get into a higher orbit in order to reach more people. You’ve been tasked with imparting 100 Joules of energy to the satellite, which is what is required to get to the higher orbit.

Joules are an interesting thing. They are Physics’ way of describing energy, and Work. They are one and the same. I’ll do my best to spare us of specific units going forward, but Joules are very important to understand.

You can think of Joules (and the other units of energy) as nature’s LOE; it’s both what’s required to do the work and the description of the Work itself. Just like project LOEs, we’ve come to this number irrespective of amount of resources or runway available, and just like projects themselves, we can satisfy the LOE via multiple routes.

Physics defines Work (and energy) as Force times Distance, or simply w=f•d

This allows for multiple ways to get our 100 joules satisfied. We could apply 50 “Force” over 2 “Distance”:

50f•2d=100 Joules

Or we could lower the amount of force, but that will require a longer distance:

10f•10d=100 Joules

Since we’re not actually talking about physics, we can go ahead and come up with a new, completely random unit of measure instead of Joules.

Let’s call them “Points.” So we could say that the orbit change of EVXX is a 100 point story.

Let’s dive a little further into what makes up a single point.

Just like above, we can arrive at a single point of delivered work multiple ways: 0.5f•2d = 1 point. 2f•0.5d=1 point.

The math above shows that distance is really dependent on force. How long it takes for one point of work to be delivered depends on force- we could describe the same equations above like this:

1 point / 0.5 force = 2 distance

1 point / 2 force = 0.5 distance

And this follows traditional project management and planning concepts also, work harder and you can get done sooner. If we’re talking physics, it would be more correct to say if you apply more force, the energy required will be transferred to satellite EVXX  within a shorter distance.

Einstein said that time and distance are the same thing. They could be in this case, but it’s long and boring to explain (and if you’ve read this far I don’t want to bore you with it). So let’s just take it on faith that distance is time. After all, a gantt chart which takes longer to execute has longer lines on it.

So if distance is reliant on force, in order to be effective managers of this project we need to deeply understand the ways of the force.

In many ways, force is the only variable we can manipulate- the story will always be 100 points, and since LOE is both energy and the work required to meet the LOE, there’s no way to get around that fact.

100 points of work will have to be performed else the satellite will not reach it’s new orbit.

Force is defined as mass times acceleration, or f=m•a. We can use that to expand the definition of Work; w=m•a•d.

So figuring out our project is as simple as working out (and manipulating) this equation: m•a•d = 100 points

Distance:

We’ve defined distance as time. If we’re lucky, the client has left the timeline up to us- but it’s more likely this is a variable that will be filled out for us.

Mass:

We can make a correlation between mass and resources available to the project- zero mass zeros out the points delivered. With a small mass, the other variables must be large to deliver significant amounts of points. With a large mass, the other variables can be smaller – and just like the ideal project, all of these adjustments are linear.

Acceleration:

Exactly what is acceleration?

Many people would place Velocity in this category. That’s wrong. Acceleration is not Velocity, acceleration is change in velocity. 

This implies something very, very interesting- a project producing a stable velocity (a goal of many projects) is actually producing Zero Work. There are resources available (mass). There’s time and runway to get something done (distance). Yet somehow, those 100 story points never get completed.

Resources maintaining velocity – those not finding ways to improve – will never deliver a single point. The only way to deliver work is to change velocity.

The most valuable resources are always finding ways to do their work better. Since they are accelerating, they deliver useful work. The least valuable resources are constantly trying to minimize what is required of them. They are decelerating, and therefore actually delivering negative work- placing the goals further away.

Many projects undergo an effort to increase velocity, and these efforts result in increased point delivery. However, the maths show that it is the acceleration itself, not the new higher velocity, that produces the increase in point delivery.

This is why the effects of an improvement effort taper off after the improvement effort has concluded- when acceleration stops, the delivery stops.

This is also why small, young efforts are able to deliver more than established projects. With the field open, there are many opportunities for improvement and therefore acceleration, in fact many of them occur organically. When the project is large and established, the opportunities for improvement fade and acceleration – and therefore work delivery – taper off. The response to this is typically to add resources, and adding mass can counteract the drop in acceleration- but as acceleration approaches zero, adding mass no longer helps, and a restructure is required.

Current velocity has nothing to do with a project’s ability to deliver. Change in velocity does.

Other things we learn:

We can apply other equations and arrive at other truths through Newtonian project management- for instance, momentum.

Unless acted upon by an outside force, momentum is conserved. Momentum is defined as mass•velocity.

Momentum being conserved, an addition of mass must result in a loss of velocity, which is a deceleration. As shown above, pure velocity does not affect work delivery, but deceleration certainly does.

Therefore, as all project managers know, adding resources does not automatically produce more work output- in fact it can, and often does- decrease the project’s overall output.

The only way to avoid this is to couple a resource surge with an acceleration effort. This is why there are advanced on-boarding training programs, because the effort to bring someone up to speed just may enable them to contribute via a positive acceleration, and therefore positive work output of the project.

Spoiling Christmas

One of the benefits I realized just today of the format of this blog is that I can write about Christmas now. I can tell the world that I got my kids a Roboraptor. Even if the kids read this, this won’t be published until well after they have their new robotic friend. What a relief. Sitting on surprises is so difficult. I’ll let wordpress keep the secret.

So I guess I’m not actually spoiling Christmas. But there was a time that I did . Continue reading

How do you have time to write a book?

I met (met? is that the right word?) conversed with someone on imgur over the last 48hrs or so. We’ve done the standard getting to know each other, finding out how married and how many kids and what kind of work and what kind of music.

Since most of this conversation happened while I was at Fun Fun Fun Fest (That’s right, I went to a Festival with thousands of other people and ended up talking to someone in a chat window on my phone) I ended up mentioning that I ran into Teresa and Juliet. And therefore the book came up.

Unlike most of the discussions of the book, this one was short. My imgurian friend simply asked:

“How do you have time to write a book?” Continue reading

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