The Necessity of Planning – and not following the Plan

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential. – Winston Churchill

There it is. A quote. Obey the quote.

Well, don’t do that. In this age of memes the fact that is lost is that detail is important. Saying a single independent statement doesn’t mean anything without a structure, evidence, and an explanation of why that meme is something other than just a sequence of words.

I have done a lot of interviews for project management jobs. I have had discussions with many people in the project management field. People talking about planning and then staying on that plan. The importance of dates and hitting dates and finishing projects under budget and on time or early.

They all miss the point of planning. Planning in essence has two components. Estimating time and costs is one of those two. Estimating tied up with planning is where these problems are introduced about following the plan. The second core function of planning is understanding the major risks in a project and anticipating them.

I know, you are going to say “That’s risk management”. Yes, it is; however, long before you get to risk management there are major forks in a project that have to be addressed long before discussions of risk management. In addition, as with many parts of project management – Risk Management has to occur at the same time as planning.

Still, though, all of the above are just words strung in sequences. Let’s take a trip on the beginning of the first generation ship.  During the selection process Juno is the asteroid selected for this generation ship. It is chosen symbolically as well as for the physical characteristics – it was the generation ship in the series Eon by Greg Bear.

Sequence of Events – Version A

During the planning process it is outlined that remote drone diggers will be sent to Juno. These will work to hollow out the interior of the asteroid. Creating tubes from several points on the surface digging down to the center of Juno. Then, digging a sphere in the center outward for the volume for humans to live.

Sequence of Events Version B

During the early planning phase of the generation ship – many scientists are invited to consult on the steps in the project. During a brainstorming sessions one of the scientists raises the question – that Juno and many other larger asteroids that are relatively spherical in shape may have an iron or metal core.

An intense and lively debate is subsequent to this potential. A team is set up and an alternative plan is formed should the digger drone units run in to iron or any other metal in the core of Juno. Other possibilities are introduced that there might be streaks of metal in sections of Juno as well.

Additional drones are developed to melt metal that may not be required. However; since it is unknown if there is a metal core in Juno everything needs to be prepared if the drones run in to metal as they drill to the core of Juno or at the core.

Convergence.

In sequence A – if there is no metal core then all is well. In sequence B, if there is a metal core or not the plan will work either way. Melting units are sent – while causing additional costs – in preparation for the worse case scenario that the digger drones run in to metal. They do run in to metal – and instead of halting the project and incurring massive costs and time loss – the project is able to continue to hollow out Juno for use as a generation ship.

Problems in Programming Job Infrastructure

Full disclosure: I have been a programmer and project manager in the past and I’ve been unemployed for a while now so if this comes out as a rant – well maybe it is.

I’ve been searching for a job for a while and I’ve noticed some things about the so called programming job market.

The first thing that is noticeable is that everyone wants to hire ‘full stack’ programmers. By full stack they mean programmers that are experts at programming in the back end (to servers, databases, ERP systems, etc), architecture and design of systems and applications, the middle tier and ETL, and the front end (presentation layer) to the end user.

Now, I’m going to make a statement that I’ve taken from my experience in the SAP world. If someone tells you they are an expert in all of SAP they are lying to you.

I will make a statement right now – if someone tells you they are an expert ‘full stack’ programmer – they are lying to you.

I am very honest about my strengths and weaknesses as a programmer in the pursuit of a job. I think though, that the key to getting a job must by lying. Everyone must be lying (virtually everyone) and employers just don’t catch on.

That doesn’t mean that programmers in general don’t know the different aspects of coding. On average they do. What I am saying is that we all have weaknesses and strengths. To claim you are an expert full stack programmer is to deny that maybe you are really strong on the back end and weak on the front end or that you have no experience interfacing with other systems or something like that.

To continue in this subject; however, is that a lot of job requirements extend the programmers required skills in to project management. For me, this isn’t an issue. I have certifications in T-SQL, PMP, and my CSSGB.

If I have these things isn’t really the point. The point is that just because you are a programmer, doesn’t mean you do everything.

To use an analogy – look at a construction site. There are specific people there to perform specific tasks. There is even a specific job where a flagman guides people on the ground and guides crane operators so that no one gets hurt. Different people are experts at pouring concrete, metal work, there are architects that design the buildings, project managers that guide all the workers, truck drivers with CDL to bring the concrete and there are different truck drivers than the ones that bring the supplies for construction.

So, with these job requirements it would be a fair assertion to make that in programming, they expect the architect to design the solution (ok), build the building, pour the concrete, do the metal work, drive the trucks, and manage the project.

It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Yes, a single programmer *can* do everything. They just aren’t going to do everything well. Yes, an architect can design the building and do all the parts of construction, but they aren’t going to do a great job with everything.

How I achieved my PMP certification

If you are interested in achieving your on PMP certification I can tell you how I prepared for and passed my PMP exam on the first attempt.

First, while I passed the PMP on my first exam attempt, this was not the first time I desired and performed some work to attain the PMP certification.  The first attempt was aborted due to being overwhelmed at work and with a heavy duty commute.

I purchased the PM Prepcast two times.  The first time more than two years before my eventual taking the exam and then the updated version for my actual attempt.  At $179 it accomplishes the contract hours required in order to take the exam as well as is a great way to learn and study for the PMP.

You are required to have three years experience as a project manager before you can take the PMP exam.  I have about 10 years experience as a PM so that required was easily satisfied.  If you don’t have the required experience you can use the PM Prepcast to study and take the CAPM certification.

My approach was to watch the prepcast videos and pausing frequently to take detailed notes.  I also followed the instructor’s recommendation to watch the first video lecture for each section first and then watch them again with the rest of the video lectures for each segment.  This really helps with multiple exposures to the content.

There is some memorization required for formulas and when you use the formulas; however, this is pretty minimal if you have gone through a college level mathematics course.

Before taking the exam I studied my detailed notes by just reading them and finally, I attempted (but did not finish) just watching the prepcast video lectures as a review before taking the exam.

I also purchased the Exam Simulator and went through as many questions as I could.  This was good preparation for the exam.

I had purchased (twice) different versions of Ritas PMP Prep book, but I found the attitude in the writing really put me off.

In any case, with a few months of dedicated time to study for the exam I was with the above preparations able to take and pass the exam – on the first attempt.

Some NOTES: There are additional costs of becoming a member of PMI and the cost of taking the actual exam that need to be considered.  The application process (filling in your experience as a PM) can be quite lengthy and overlapping experience does not count extra toward your 3 years experience.  Schedule your exam in advance as I bungled this a bit and didn’t schedule until I felt ready to take the exam.  This resulted in some more time before actually attaining my PMP certification that was actually required.