Saturday, 27 June 2009

Music and Me - thank you Michael

Unless you've been isolated from technology and people the past 48 hours you will know that the world has lost one of it's greatest entertainers.  It seems as though the world has gone crazy... social network sites, twitter, news websites all struggling under the weight of people wanting to share their feelings on this tragic event.  The news channels are barely covering any other story...

For me the death of Michael Jackson is a reminder of my youth.  I was one of those big fans with the albums, the scrapbooks, (and yes I admit it - a mini-shrine on the top shelf of my wardrobe).  I watched the videos over and over to learn the dance routines and I'd espouse how wonderful Michael was to all that would listen.

When the news came through that he'd been rushed to hospital - I sat glued to the news channels monitoring for the latest.  I prayed that he was pulling the greatest publicity stunt of all time, yet somehow knew that wasn't the case.  It seems quite irrational that I can shed tears for a man I never knew... yet I did then and I do now.  That is the power of music - may the world long remember him for it.

We've been together for such a long time now
Music, music and me
Don't care whether all our songs rhyme
Now music, music and me

Only know wherever I go
We're as close as two friends can be
There have been others
But never two lovers
Like music, music and me

Grab a song and come along
You can sing your melody
In your mind you will find
A world of sweet harmony

Birds of a feather will fly together
Now music, music and me
Music and me
 RIP Michael - you live on for us, your fans.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Mindmapping on the move with Mindberry on the Storm!

I don't usually take the time to write reviews of what I am using but today I am making an exception.  I hate using memopad for recording my thoughts and actually prefer to put them in paper then transfer to Mindmanager or Thinking Rock as appropriate when I have access to a PC.  So when I heard on twitter (thanks @MichaelDeutch) about Mindberry for the Blackberry I got really excited and then was immediately disappointed when I saw it wasn't available for my model - the Blackberry Storm.

Full credit to Luong Dat who has now completed and released a touch screen version for the Blackberry Storm that is pretty well thought out.  I downloaded it whilst on the train last night to put it through its paces then and today (Image from

Michael Deutch posted on the Mind Manager blog about 10 basic parts to a mindmap.  Mindberry stacks up well against his list providing for 6/10 core features (Features: Topic: Central / Main / Sub, Markers, Notes, Markers, Hyperlinks and Attachments Does not feature: Topic: Callout / Floating, Relationship arrows, Boundaries).

Mindmap for BlackBerry: ToolBar function

The Good

All the core features are well implemented and easy to use. The touch interface is simple once you know what the commands are.  As the Blackberry has a clickable screen I will use 'tap' for light touch and 'click' when you actually need to press down on the screen.

  • Pan: Tap and hold then move your finger to the desired position.
  • Select a topic: Tap it.
  • Add a sub-topic: Double-tap (not press) the parent topic.  Enter the text desired and press enter or click on the OK button.
  • Expand / Contract topic: Click it.
  • Move a topic:Touch the topic, wait a moment until you see a '+' sign in the top-right corner of the screen then drag and drop. 
Adding Hyperlinks and Attachments is easy as you just click the function on the toolbar and pick from the menu that appears.  Viewing these afterwards requires you to select the topic, click on the hyperlink icon and click on 'Go'.  It is the same procedure to access the 'remove link' button.

I like the implementation of fonts as you can select a topic, click the font button, then tap on one of the fonts to preview how it looks first before confirming by clicking (or double-tap).  Quick butons are available on the toolbar for bold and italic.  There are also two sub-buttons that appear when you click the Font Button that can be used to to increase or decrease font size.

Other tips:
  • Double-tap or Click to select items in one of the popup palettes (color, marker, font and line style).
  • Tap the toobar three times to maximise the size of the buttons or return to the compacy 12 button view.  Even with my fingers I found it easiest to work with the buttons maximised.
  • Tap the screen four times to re-centre the map on the central topic. I found I needed to use this a fair bit on my monster maps!
  • If you find yourself unable to select a topic, close the palette that you have open and try again (this applies to notes windows too).
It's worth noting that additonal context-sensitive functions are also available view the blackberry's menu key.

Styling:  If you want to prettify the map there are text and line colour options.  You can even cascade changes down the entire branch by using the menu key and clicking on 'apply style to branch'.

Options: I didn't have a major play but there are options to turn the background grid on or off, change scrolling and drag speed, set the default font and height, turn auto-arrange when folding on or off.

Export options include freemind and Mindmanager (haven't had a major play with this yet) and you can e-mail directly from the application in any of these formats.

Reliability: I imported a mega-map of almost 10mb into mindberry and it didn't crash at all. Admittedly all the images didn't come across (nor did all the text) but the application continued functioning.  Reliability is fundamental for any key application in my book.

The Bad
The location of the delete icon on the toolbar makes it far to easy to accidentally delete a topic and the whole sub-tree, even if the size of the toolbar is maximised.  There is no prompt to confirm deletion and there is no 'undo' feature I could see other than closing the map and discarding all changes.

It is also possible to close a map that you have made changes to and accidentally lose your changes because there is no prompt to say you have unsaved changes, do you wish to save?

Although the basics are well implemented:

  • To add you select the topic and click on the icon, enter the text and press OK.
  • To view a note, select the topic and click on the icon and a pop-up will show you the note text.
  • To delete a note you have to select the topic with the note you wish to delete and use the Blackberry menu key, scroll and click 'Remove note'.

However,my big bugbear is the lack of a scroll bar on notes in view and edit modes which restricts you from entering much text in them.  This is particualrly annoying as they have implemented a scroll feature in the help section.  In landscape view, only the first couple of lines were displayed (albeit with html tags), images embedded in notes weren't dispalyed at all and trying to edit an existing note resulted in me being able to view 4 lines of text but being unable to scroll through the text in order to get to the OK / Cancel buttons.  I had to hide the keyboard in order to view another 4 lines (8 in total) and the OK / Cancel buttons.  In portrait view you get 3 more lines of text and the same problem.  As someone who uses keywords in my mindmap (avoiding sentences where possible) and making substantial use of notes to provide supporting information this is a major issue.

That said - in terms of creating a map I'm unlikely to type a huge amount into notes and will most likely export it to mindmanager, open the map on myPC and do the real work there.

If you decide that one of the topics is an action to carry out, you can select 'send to tasks' from the menu key and add it to your tasks list.  The task title includes the entire branch, e.g. Mindberry / functions / test task function.  Very helpful.  Unfortunately this isn't followed through.  There is no marker that is automatically added to the map to indicate that you have created a task, and marking the task as complete on your task list doesn't update the mindmap.  As it is the first release - I wouldn't really expect this anyway :)

The Ugly
I don't think there is anything ugly about this little app (I just wanted to use the heading for consistency ;) ). 

In summary
I was always skeptical about how useful a mindmap application could be on a small device.  I previously used the mindmanager app for PocketPC and never really made best use of it.  However, the power of this application combined with the touch-screen makes it (for me anyway) a really viable proposition.  I aalready really like it despite the flaws (some of which I am confident will be worked out in the fullness of time).

At this stage I wouldn't dare update one of my Mindmanager maps on the Mindberry and over-write my master on the PC with it due to the amount of data loss (markers, notes, etc.).  What I WILL do is create a supporting map using Mindberry as I think of things then import it to my main map back at the desk.  As I am so dependent on my mindmanager mindmaps this is the best option for my piece of mind at the moment.

I will also use this for taking notes whilst reading a book.  Previously I've tended to do that at the PC (which isn't the best place to read or sit comfortably) or take notes on paper and transfer them to a mindmap afterwards (waste of effort rekeying).  Now I can sit comfortably to read, take notes with mindberry and then export to the PC for prettification later.  Yay!

So in conclusion - this little application is absolutely great in terms of providing mobile access to the information I store in existing Mindmanager map and also in terms of creating quick maps from scratch.  If you're a serious mindmapper and own a Blackberry Storm then you would be crazy not to download it!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Influence and Muckety Maps

I first became familiar with influence maps when I read about them on the Mind Tools website and it wasn't until last year that I really put it into practice.  It proved to be a very a useful technique to help me manage stakeholder relationships in my new project management role.

Whlist browsing the web today I came across a website called ' - Exploring the paths of power and influence' which actually maps out relationships between people and organisations doing some of the leg work for you.  Admittedly it is more of a novel way of viewing networks than true stakeholder management (although for political people there are indications as to whether someone supports or opposes the person) but it is pretty interesting none the less.  Today their front page poses the question Do ties between Apple, Google pose antitrust issues? with a muckety map showing what appears to me to be a possible conflict of interests with the directors... You can even create your stuff!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Creating accessible and accountable government in the US

I came across a post on CIO called 'Obama's Triad takes on government IT'. In it the author Robert Otto talks about the big challenges facing the Obama administration’s CIO, CTO and CPO and goes on to put forward elements of a potential vision going forward over the coming years. It's pretty idealistic but sensible stuff. What I can't help wondering is if they actually achieve something like this whether the UK would finally bite the bullet and work in a more joined up fashion too.

The holders of the posts are as follows:

Related links:

Friday, 10 April 2009

Musings on Influence and Project Success

For ages I've personally felt that influencing people was one of my weakest ares in need of development, so I was quite surprised when two senior managers independently commented that from their perspective I succeed in influencing people so disagreed with my own assessment.  Reflecting on this I wonder if perhaps what they are seeing as 'influencing' is really my motivating people to achieve things in the short-term (which admittedly is a rather important trait for a project manager) and not 'influencing' at all.

I recently read an interesting article 'How to 10X Your Influence' by Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, and Andrew Shimberg which was published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.  They are from the same stable of Vital Smarts that produced the excellent 'Crucial Conversations' and 'Crucial Confrontations'.  It outlines the results of some amazing research which identified 6 sources of influence and concluded that if strategies are applied using at least 4 of these sources, we can influence vital behaviours and achieve sustainable change.

That's the key thing for me... sustainable change.  As a project manager I can introduce change, get people's buy-in, implement process and technology changes, and even effect some behaviour change during the lifetime of the project.  What concerns me is that by it's very nature, a project has an end and the project manager moves on to other things.  So - what happens then?  I made it very clear in the presentation I gave when interviewed for my current role that in my view a project manager delivering within time, within scope, within budget, to the required quality does not represent project success because the actual benefits of a project come afterwards.  Project success, to me anyway, is actually determined by the people who are expected to make use of the solution (whether it be a new process or technology or something else).  If those people don't make the changes in behaviour - then the change will be fleeting and all the time and effort spent on the project could be a complete waste of time and energy.  Yes, I know we learn things from the experience successful or otherwise- but in terms of making effective use of scarce resources etc. the argument stands.

This brings me back to the article again.  I really like the model that the authors have produced as it is easy to grasp and very powerful.  I picked up a copy of their book whilst at a masterclass session run by Graham Robb Associates on Wednesday morning (*makes mental note to say more about this in another post*).  Entitled 'Influencer: The Power to Change Anything' and a NY Times Bestseller, it was named as business book of the year 2008 by Soundview.  What's more interesting that the accolades is the stories - take a look at the videos on their website.  I'm looking forward to reading it over the Easter holidays.  If you want to have a peek yourself, the first chapter is available online.

Related posts:

Thursday, 9 April 2009

VIDEO: A Guy In a Cube

Ignore the fact that this video is an advert from VItalsmarts for their Crucial Conversations book and training - the truth of the message is delivered in such an amusing and effective way that I thought enough of it to share it with you (I won't say particularly of local government as it is probably equally if not more true of the private sector).

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Prince2 : 2009 Release Date

It's official - the new Prince2:2009 material will be available from 16 June 2009.  At least, so says the lead author's blog and an e-mail from TSO which arrived days after the date was leaked elsewhere.  If you want to attend the launch in London you'll need an invite - I suspect that those that have participated in QA are likely to be on the guest list, but who knows.

After my experience with the ITIL v3 books I'm trying to decide whether I should wait a few months for the errata and next reprint before rushing out and getting the first edition or whether my curiosity about the changes will win out.  I suspect the latter...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Adventures on Twitter?

I've been consciously resisting from having anything to do with the Twitter phenomen for a long time now.  However, last week I found that the author of almost every single blog that I read had something to say about twitter.  This, combined with a recent thread on the British Computer Society's Women's Forum tipped me over the edge.  As if to reaffirm that I was right to step off - Michael Deutch of Mindjet went and posted a mindmap on all things Twitter.  I hadn't made it by then that would have pushed me off the cliff certainly!

So - I'm there.  Making a rare tweet in a sea of tweets, hopefully of some interest to someone somewhere - though how that someone somewhere will find it amongst all that spam...  I'll post about which tools I'm using another day - inevitably with yet another website signed up to, there are a plethora of tools to help wade through the sea that I've jumped into.  If you also succumbed, you can follow my adventures on Twitter. Although their less like adventures and more like a few steps outside the front door.

I have to say though - thus far, I'm not convinced and may soon find myself scrambling back up the cliff face!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Prince2 : 2009 Project Refresh

Although I've been following Andy Murray's blog on the Prince 2 Refresh Project, there hasn't really been much meat to it, in terms of understanding what this refresh really means for what we currently know as the Prince 2 project methodology.  According to his presentation (see link below) this was to protect crown copyright - okay... if you say so.  It seems now the time is right to reveal some of the content changes, and on the surface it sounds like a good thing.

In terms of structure there are now 7 Principles, 7 Themes (formerly components), and 7 Processes.

I like that they've gathered the principles that were scattered all over the book and reduced them down to 7 and that we can apply the test, 'Am I doing this? If not it isn't Prince2' to each.  Of the 7 (Business Justification, Roles & Responsibilities, Product Focus, Managed by Stages, Management of Risk, Scaling and Tailoring, and Learning Lessons) I find the latter a little curious.  Andy emphasised the need to learn from prior experience rather than simply identifying new lessons during a project and producing a report at the end.  It's not that I disagree with it - I just find it strange that it is important enough to be considered a 'principle'.

I'm pleased to see that 'Planning' has been removed as a single process and there is recognition that this goes on continuously throughout a project as well as major bouts of it at stage boundaries.  This is being addressed by including it as one of the 7 key themes (Business Case, Organisation, Plans, Risk, Progress, Quality, Issues & Changes) which all need to be continually present and reviewed throughout the project lifecycle.

We also wave goodbye to the 45 sub-processes (how I shall miss thee CS3...) and the 3 techniques (I never understood why these three were selected out of the many needed to run a successful project!).  Instead of sub-processes we will get un-coded activities and recommended actions.  In the case of techniques they rightly say they will refer to other Bodies of Knowledge, after all, why try to be all things to all people when other things exist?

Interestingly the number of management products has been cut from 36 to 25 based on what the authoring team consider to be a 'typical project'.  Andy didn't explain what this was so I am curious to find out.  What he did say was that we can scale up or down according to need.  Certainly when working with DSDM this will be scaling up!

It sounds like it's going in the right direction, it will be interesting to see how the pilots go and if they result in many alterations.  From my point of view I am particularly looking forward to the guidance for those directing a project as this is a real weak area.  All too often I see Project Board members who see their role as putting a name on a document for sign-off rather than having an active role and responsibilities.  Although as a project manager we can offer them guidance on what that should be - to have the fallback of Prince2:2009 Directing a Project guidance would be helpful.

Are you interested in the refresh? What's your take on it?


Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Lessons learned from President Obama's Inauguration Speech

I don't know about the rest of you but I found last week to be an inspiring week with much cause for reflection.  Witnessing the first african-american inaugurated as President of the United States is certainly one for the history books and therefore deserves a mention in this blog (I went home early to watch it live on TV).  There is a lot one can take from his speech an I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of things that are relevant to this project.
  1. President Obama's message was very clear that each and every citizen has a responsibility to make a difference in order to bring about real change - "the price and the promise of citizenship".

    This is true of projects too.  Project organisations are temporary things setup purely to deliver a project.  Once that is done - it's up to the guys on the ground as well as operational management to make it a success and achieve the potential benefits.  Their continued efforts beyond the project is 'the price'; the potential benefits are 'the promise'.

  2. "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real.  They are serious and they are many.  They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.  But know this America:  They will be met."
    Some news channels reported the inauguration speech as being particularly grim in comparison to the campaign speeches.  Well of course it was!  Getting voted in is one thing and now he IS in he has to deliver.  Elements throughout his speech clearly intended to set people's expectations to realistic levels whilst still retaining a message of hope for the future. 

    Throughout the projects I've worked on I have always been very enthusiastic about what will be delivered.  I have learned the hard way of the real danger of my enthusiasm creating unrealistic expectations.  Therefore I have made a conscious effort on the project I am currently managing to constantly state that we will be unable to deliver all that we would like to by target date.  However what we will deliver will be the required elements and anything else is icing on the cake.  There is nothing wrong with a dose of realism (as I have to remind myself sometimes ;) ).
Are there any other lessons we can learn from his speech?