International Business Language and Culture

Vernal Equinox – a holiday in Japan

Sakura at Taisekiji in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, JapanThis weekend we’re experiencing the Vernal Equinox; one of two times of the year when the hours of light in the day are equal to the hours of darkness at nighttime (the term “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus, meaning equal, and nox, meaning night). The Vernal Equinox takes place during the springtime (for those populations in the northern hemisphere, at least), when the days are getting longer; during the fall, when the reverse takes place, we experience the Autumnal Equinox. As I type this post, the sun is on the exact same plane as the Earth’s equator!

In Japan, the Vernal Equinox – or in this case, the working day after the Vernal Equinox – is a national holiday, and a very busy time. Up until 1948 the Japanese celebrated a holiday called Shunki kōrei-sai (春季皇霊祭), an imperial festival where the ancestors of the Japanese were worshipped and celebrated. After 1948 this holiday became known as Shunbun no Hi (春分の日), and was designated as a day when the Japanese would celebrate nature and all things living. However, even though the meaning of the holiday has officially been changed, many Japanese people take time on this day to visit their family tombs and to pay respects to their ancestors. These family tombs are weeded and cared for, and flowers, incense and ohagi (sweet rice balls – the spirits of the ancestors are said to prefer round foods) are left at the tombs. Traffic in Tokyo is particularly heavy as many people visit the expansive Tama Bochi (Tama Cemetery) during this time.

Meanwhile, Japanese Buddhists are celebrating this auspicious day as well, as they observe the holiday of Higan (彼岸).

Happy Vernal Equinox!

PMI Project Management

What is PMI?

The Project Management Institute (PMI)PMI is the Project Management Institute, a not-for-profit professional association dedicated to “advancing the practice, science and profession of project management throughout the world”. They do this in a conscious, proactive manner to increase the chances of adoption and utilization of PMI project management processes in organizations throughout the world.

The Project Management Institute was founded in 1969 by working project managers; today, there exist over half a million PMI members. PMI is also a certificate-granting organization, the most famous of which is the PMP (Project Management Professional) credential. The full list of credentials offered by PMI include:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)

In addition to issuing credentials, PMI also publishes a variety of standards. The most widely recognized of these is the PMBOK (Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge), a comprehensive book of project management norms, methods, processes and practices. It is this guide that PMP certification candidates must study in order to pass the PMP examination. The full list of standards include:

  • A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)
  • Construction Extension to the PMBOK Guide
  • Government Extension to the PMBOK Guide
  • Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3)
  • Practice Standard for Earned Value Management
  • Practice Standard for Project Configuration Management
  • Practice Standard for Scheduling
  • Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures
  • Project Manager Competency Development Framework
  • The Standard for Portfolio Management
  • The Standard for Program Management

PMI features a research department that has sponsored projects since 1997. To date over US $15 million has been invested in the project management profession.

PMI is a dynamic organization. Throughout the world, a great number of PMI chapters host PMI chapter meetings where project management practices are discussed and presented by a variety of project management experts. While PMI-based material is of course frequently presented at these meetings, topics may also include non-PMI-based project management materials.

PMI PMP Certification Project Management

What is the PMBOK?

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)The PMBOK (or PMBOK Guide) is the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, one of the key sources of PMI (Project Management Institute) standards and guidelines. This comprehensive project management document describes the norms, methods, processes and practices involved in professional project management. As described in the PMBOK Guide itself, these standards and guidelines are developed through a consensus standards development process through consultation with volunteers and project management experts. PMI is the administrator of the process but does not write the PMBOK nor does it test or evaluate its accuracy; the information contained in the PMBOK is a culmination of the information put together by these experts and volunteers.

The PMBOK was first put together over 25 years ago, in 1983, and there are currently over 2 million copies of the PMBOK in circulation. As of this post, the latest version of the PMBOK is the 4th edition, published in late 2008. The fourth edition of the PMBOK replaced the 3rd edition as the version tested on the PMP (Project Management Professional) exam in July of 2009; that is to say that in June of 2009, PMP certification candidates were tested on the 3rd edition of the PMBOK, and in July of 2009, the 4th. As of January, 2013, PMI has released the fifth edition of the PMBOK.

The contents of the PMBOK include an introduction to project management (including a definition of what constitutes a project), a vision of the project life cycle, and a detailed overview of the project management processes that take place during PMI-based project management. The five Project Management Process Groups are covered:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring & Controlling
  5. Closing

As well as the nine Knowledge Areas, where the skills and techniques of project management are applied:

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Project Scope Management
  3. Project Time Management
  4. Project Cost Management
  5. Project Quality Management
  6. Project Human Resource Management
  7. Project Communications Management
  8. Project Risk Management
  9. Project Procurement Management

Although I’ve listed these Knowledge Areas from 1 to 9, in the PMBOK they are listed from 4 to 12; this is because these numbers correspond to the chapters within the PMBOK where you can learn about these knowledge areas.

The PMBOK is a thorough document; the 4th edition copy I hold in my hand (I don’t have a 5th edition version handy), including the Index, comprises a hefty 467 pages. Nevertheless, in order to pass the PMP exam you will need to understand this document. It can be a little dry (each input, tool or technique and output is described in rigorous detail for each project management process), but only by understanding each process intimately can the PMP exam be passed. I should also note that some things that you need to know in order to pass the PMP exam are not featured in the PMBOK; for example, PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The examination itself includes questions about the proper ethical behavior of project management professionals that you will need resources above and beyond the PMBOK to understand, and though you may think that questions on such a topic would take simple common sense to figure out, for the PMP exam this is not the case.

When studying for the PMP exam I would personally read the PMBOK second in your reading list; it focuses on minute details of project management that might make it difficult to obtain a proper high-level understanding of project management if it is the first document you’re reading about the discipline. I personally read Andy Crowe’s book “The PMP Exam: How to Pass on your First Try” first; then the PMBOK; and finally, Rita Mulcahy’s “PMP Exam Prep”. This progression worked well for me.

If you’re interested in learning more about preparing for the PMP exam and about how I myself studied for it, I have documented the method that I personally used to pass the PMP exam in this post.

International Business Language and Culture

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland vs. the United States

ConnemaraSt. Patrick’s Day has arrived, and once again many of my friends in the United States are getting ready for the day’s celebrations. One friend is currently in Savannah, home of the second largest St. Patrick’s Day event in the country. Friends are getting their green shirts ready for the day – for people growing up in certain parts of the United States, a failure to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day may result in you getting pinched!

While living in Dublin I was pretty surprised to find out that St. Patrick’s Day is nowhere near as big in Ireland as it tends to be in the United States, especially since the holiday originated in Ireland. This got me wondering why, so I did a little research.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of St. Patrick, and therefore a religious holiday. St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, who lived in Ireland in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. He wasn’t Irish; in fact, he was a Romano-Briton who was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. In Ireland, St. Patrick was traditionally celebrated for the missionary work he performed in Ireland and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country; the holiday is therefore a religious holiday, similar to Christmas and Easter – it’s not a celebration of Ireland like it is in the United States. These days you can find St. Patrick’s Day parades, shamrocks, and free-flowing Guinness in Ireland, but it’s mostly there because the tourists wanted it there. If not for them, it would likely have remained a day of solemnity; in fact, up until 1970 Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on St. Patrick’s Day.

Girl celebrating St. Patrick's DaySo why did St. Patrick’s Day come to be such a huge deal in the United States? To Americans, especially those 36.5 million with Irish heritage, it represents something quite different than it does to the Irish living in Ireland. When close to a million poor Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States during the Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, they were despised for their religious beliefs and had a hard time finding even menial jobs. The first St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States were met with contempt. When the Irish began to realize that their great numbers gave them political power, they started to organize themselves into a force. Annual St. Patrick’s Day parades, that started not in Ireland but in New York City in March of 1762, were a demonstration of strength and solidarity among a people who, at that time, were for the most part unwelcome in protestant America.

Stormtroopers celebrating St. Patrick's DaySo to Irish Americans and those claiming Irish American descent, a population that currently stands at about nine times the population of Ireland itself, St. Patrick’s Day means much more than the celebration of a religious figure – it’s a day that came to represent the strength and pride of the Irish people in a foreign land. And as such it has a very important meaning here – tens of millions of Americans are both proud to be American, and proud to be of Irish ancestry. On March 17th comes their chance to celebrate as such.

I’m of Irish descent myself – and I’ll be wearing my obnoxiously green Irish Rugby Team jersey.

Marketing Product Design

Enforcing improvement upon your users

Baby hackerBack when I was working as an intern at Microsoft (over a decade ago!) I wrote a couple of articles for my site Process Magic (now not much more than an example of what web design used to look like). I came across this one the other day and found it still relevant, so I thought I’d post it here. I should also note that after all these years I still prefer to use an ergonomic keyboard!

Enforcing Improvement

When compelled to use a product improvement, users will kick and scream their way into better habits. Take, for example, the keyboard.

One interesting side effect of being a designer of computer software is that, on occasion, I inadvertently appropriate the concept of “good user interface design” and apply it to things other than graphical user interfaces. I’d like to introduce such an example. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that something is correct because it’s always been done that way – in software development, we’re trained that new and adventurous ideas are to be weighed against upholding familiarity with previous products, and often this results in an uneasy balance. Too many times, redundancy is introduced into the system. For example, take this tenet: “Our new way is better, but we used to do it this way – so let’s do it both ways”. The theory behind this, I suppose, is that users will feel comfortable enough with a product to ease into the “new and better” way gradually, leaving their old tricks behind. However, users are averse to change, and probably won’t cast off their familiar methods unless forced into new behavior. And if the newly designed method really does work best, forcing users to use this new method will predictably be more beneficial to everyone in the long run, notwithstanding the griping you’re going to hear as you drag your flock of users kicking and screaming into better habits.

Although my previous example of “enforcing improvement” is specific to the world of software design, I also believe that a good many things besides software might be approached in the same manner. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and much of this stuff has been upgraded time and again over the decades so that today it looks like a more modern, shinier, more aerodynamic version of what it already was. But the design fundamentals haven’t been altered, even though many intangible properties of these aforementioned objects – their purposes, their user bases and their functionality – have gone through irrevocable changes. It should stand to reason that we should see some improvements to the core product, but these actual logical improvements have been few and far between. Take keyboards, for example.

It is a common myth that when C. L. Sholes engineered the now familiar Sholes (QWERTY) keyboard back in the late 1860s, his primary motive was to slow down fast typists just enough so as to avoid jamming the type-bars. This was not the case. When Sholes designed his initial typewriter keyboard, he did realize that letters frequently typed in succession would often jam together. So, by using a study of letter-pair frequency prepared by an educator named Amos Densmore, Sholes took the most common pairs (such as “TH”) and ensured that their type-bars were sufficiently spread apart. In doing so, Sholes in effect sped up, not slowed down, the maximum speed at which a typist could perform.

Today, a computer sits on nearly every desk, and these same Sholes keyboards are used as the primary input devices for a wide variety of professions. The same keyboard that was designed to reduce the jamming of type-bars sits on my desk, and your desk, and everybody else’s desk, regardless of what sorts of tasks we set out to accomplish with it. Writers, software designers, database administrators – professionals from all walks of life use this same keyboard. But I for one know that it’s nigh impossible to design something that will suit the needs of every single person, and keyboards have been tailored to do just that. About the most drastic change the keyboard has seen lately, notwithstanding the much earlier addition of a numeric keypad and some function keys, is the creation of the ergonomic keyboard.

I’ll admit, I was one of the kickers and screamers when I first saw Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboard. I couldn’t use it – my hands were too familiar with the keyboards the industry has been using for decades, and since I was of the pack that hit the B key with my right forefinger, I found myself repeatedly smacking plastic. After my initial failure with the device, I went back to using my familiar wrist-wrenching keyboard with which I was most comfortable.

Only during a stint out west did I switch to an ergonomic keyboard, and only then because I had to – that’s what was attached to my computer. I complained a lot to myself at first, and for the first day or two I made more errors than I can recount. However, after the second day – that was all it took – I was hooked. My wrists felt better, and I could type for longer periods of time without fatiguing. It took perhaps a dozen or so attempts at trying to hit the B key with my right hand before I made the switch to my left. Since then I’ve been typing on an ergonomic keyboard – I couldn’t do without it.

Getting forced into using the keyboard was what helped me. And, having learned to use it, I think I’m ready to take more abuse if it will improve my productivity. I’d really like to see a keyboard tailored to suit my profession. The most significant improvement I would make would be to take the arrow pad, something I use often to move dialogs around on the screen, and put it somewhere my fingers could reach it rather than way off to the right where it currently resides. On the ergonomic keyboard, this might be right in the middle of the two converging letter trays, where Microsoft has placed the caps lock, scroll lock and num lock indicator lights – all three completely useless to me. I would much prefer a number pad there, with all four arrow keys in easy reach of my index fingers. My hands would never have to leave home row! And I’d put four new keys arranged in a square underneath the space bar where my thumbs could reach them, and make them programmable. There are certain words that I type an awful lot on the job, and it would be excellent to be able to program these words into shortcuts that are accessible without moving my hands away from home row. In fact, I’d like the whole keyboard to be easily mappable. And there are other both subtle and not-so-subtle changes I’d make to my keyboard, too; more than I’m going to go into here.

You might hate using my keyboard – hate it, that is, until you became a software designer. At that point you might decide to put up with two or three days of grumbling and stomping all over my initially cryptic keyboard in exchange for learning how to use something that’s going to improve your long-term productivity. That’s all it’s going to take! And I’m going to help make you learn it by sticking it in front of you and locking your old, comfortable universal keyboard in my filing cabinet. If I had such a keyboard, or a selection of keyboards that suited computer users working in a variety of different professions, I’d welcome you to take such a challenge – I propose that you would eventually learn to appreciate a tool that was designed with the very purpose of making your specific job easier. And I welcome anyone who engineers anything to put up with whatever user gripes you’re going to receive in the short run if it means making a better product that your users will celebrate over time.

Agile Development Project Management

The final sprint before release in Scrum

A rugby scrum with the teams from Clermont Auvergne and BathScrum as a product development methodology is certainly growing in popularity. Having managed projects using several different project management frameworks I can attest to the flexibility and scalability of Scrum, especially when compared to the waterfall method.

According to the Scrum methodology you should not change your processes while sprinting; the first sprint in your development cycle should be planned and executed the very same way as the last sprint. After every sprint you should have releasable code; whether or not you want to release such code to your clients is up to you. This sounds good in theory, but I have found that you need to pay special attention to how you address the final sprint before you release your product to your clients. Here is why:

  1. After your final sprint, mistakes can’t be thrown away. One of the great things about Scrum is the fact that you will end up with releasable code after every sprint. An in-process product can be demonstrated to stakeholders right after the very first iteration, and design issues that could render a waterfall-developed product worthless can be found early in the development cycle – if you find a mistake after a three-week sprint, the most development time you’ll have wasted is three weeks. During the final sprint, however, you can’t throw away what you’ve created – if it’s destined for the release, it’s going out the door. So more care to design and develop proper product needs to be given during this final sprint.
  2. What you put into the sprint backlog likely needs to stay in the sprint backlog. It’s not good practice to pull functionality (in the form of user stories) from sprints while they’re in process, but it gets done. Sometimes stories that you think are a size of 8, end up being a size of 20; other times integration or technical issues arise with certain stories that you can’t take care of during your sprint. The problem here is that during the final sprint before release it’s likely that you’ve committed to getting out what you’ve put into your sprint backlog, and removing items may not be a viable option.
  3. The final iteration is riskier than the others. Some stories involve cleaning up functionality created in earlier sprints, or enhancing what was already coded. This means that development during a mid-development sprint is not very risky; if you need to, you can go back and clean up what you’ve done in a later sprint – that’s how Scrum works. During the final sprint, however, this can’t happen – what you’ve created is going out the door. So you need to pay special attention to risk management, and very closely monitor the product that is being created during this time.
  4. It is crucial that the product be properly integrated after the last sprint. It’s true that every piece of functionality developed during each sprint needs to integrate with what’s already in the product, so you should always integrate your product properly before the end of each sprint. However, the final sprint is the one where you will need to ensure that all new product is tied together – everything will need to work with everything else before it’s shipped to clients. Extra care should be taken during the final sprint to make sure that this is so.

There is no need to panic about your final sprint before release… with proper risk management and an understanding of expectations you can deliver quality releasable product when the iteration is done. But without giving the final release the proper respect it deserves, you could run into significant problems – and at this stage of the game, they’ll be problems you won’t have the time or resources to fix.

Social Networking

Auto-posting to social media sites using aggregators

What is a social network?There are plenty of social media sites out there. The Wikipedia list of social networking websites currently lists 180 social networking sites that exist online – and that number is going to grow.

Several sites make an attempt to make sense of all of the chaos surrounding social media by creating aggregators that bring all of your social networking information to a single place. FriendFeed is probably the most familiar of them, though FriendFeed’s popularity seems to have been on the decline since the service was acquired by Facebook. Regardless, there are many more aggregators out there, and many more to come.

Auto-posting social media: You could, but I wouldn’t

I personally feel that using aggregators to view incoming streams is a pretty good idea, and can help you to make sense of everything that’s happening out there. On the other hand, I think that using aggregators to publish to different social media sites is a pretty bad idea. I’ll give three reasons why:

  1. if you’re trying to build your personal or corporate brand online by using social media, you want to give the impression of personalized, real-time content, targeted toward the person or group of people you’re reaching out to. When you use aggregators to do your posts, you’re sending the opposite message – that you’re dispersing information en masse, without regard to who is receiving what information. I personally am not interested in seeing when someone’s checked into a restaurant on FourSquare (or if they’ve recently become the mayor of their local Walmart), so I don’t make a habit of reading peoples’ posts on FourSquare. Sending such information to Facebook or Twitter means that I have to mentally parse out information sent from FourSquare in order to get to the information I am interested in reading.
  2. Your posts may not make sense for all social media sites. If you make a tweet, one that uses #hashtags and @replies, for example, and then automatically send that tweet to LinkedIn, it will look extremely out of place, especially since tweets are for the most part informal, and conversations on LinkedIn are meant to focus on professional networking. Likewise, sending a tweet to Facebook means that you have necessarily limited your content to 140 characters, where Facebook doesn’t have that sort of limitation. If, to save characters, ur post lks sumthin like ths, your Facebook users might think you’re being lazy or unnecessarily slack with your writing. Such writing will look even more out of place on LinkedIn, a site where the average age of users is significantly higher than on Facebook.
  3. When you send out aggregate posts, unless you’re aggregating what comes in as well, you won’t be as responsive as you should be when participating in social networking. If you send your tweet to Facebook, and someone replies to your Facebook post, are you going to be watching Facebook in order to reply to this post in a suitable amount of time? What if you’re sending your tweets to ten different sites? Social media is a two (or more!) way street, and it’s better to concentrate your activity only to those venues that you know you’re able to keep up with. If you can’t, you’d be better off limiting such communications to your blog or like forms of communication.

There are other reasons, but these three alone should be enough to warrant treating each social networking venue as having values that are different from the others. In my aforementioned examples, Twitter is about open communication; Facebook is about communication, too, but in a somewhat more personal manner; LinkedIn is about networking and professional communication. Take the time to address each social network with care and respect and the benefits will follow.

Project Management

IT Project Management one of America’s best jobs

Today Focus published the following graphic that displays, based on salary, flexibility, job security and other factors, the best jobs in America:

Best Jobs in America

IT Project Management scored as the 5th best job in America, out of 7,000 jobs – a great success for the profession. Professional project management is a well-paying job with great opportunities for growth and career satisfaction. Software Product Management also scored well, at 16th on the list.

In general, the Information Technology field did really well in Focus’ survey – in the top 30 jobs, 7 of them were in IT (including the top spot, Systems Engineer). Not only that, but many of the other jobs in the top spots can also be commonly found within the realm of IT and software – Product Management Director, Sales Director, Financial Analyst, Certified Public Accountant and Human Resources Manager, to name five.

PMI Project Management

Attending PMI meetings

PMI meetingAttending PMI meetings is not mandatory for PMI members and PMP certificate holders, but I’ve found it to be a useful way to spend a lunch hour. PMI meetings normally take an hour and a half (ours have run from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM on weekdays) and feature a speaker who presents some topic relevant to project management. And, contrary to what you might believe, the topics are not always particularly relevant to Project Management Institute (PMI) processes and practices, but normally feature real-world stories and scenarios, and I’ve found generally pretty interesting.

I’ve attended PMI meetings in both San Antonio, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina, and notice that in each city the meetings have followed a certain progression, which is this:

  1. PMI members arrive at the meeting room, mingle, grab some lunch (normally catered), and take a seat
  2. The president of the chapter speaks, discusses PMI chapter business, and asks for two groups of people to stand up; first, those who are attending their first PMI chapter meeting, and second, those people who have recently passed their PMP exam
  3. The president introduces the speaker, who gets up and speaks on his or her topic for an hour, normally accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation
  4. The speaker conducts a Q&A session on his or her topic while members gradually start trickling out to head back to work.

Your chapter may have a different way of conducting their PMI chapter meetings, but this method seems to work quite well! One thing I have noticed, is that the Charleston chapter meetings don’t have as much mingling as do the San Antonio chapter meetings – that’s something I’d like to see change, as I really appreciate the time spent meeting other project managers in the area and making contacts.

The presentations I’ve been to have covered a variety of topics – in one, a registered nurse explained how she incorporated project management into her operation of a hospital department, and in another a good friend of mine talked about his projects involving fluid dynamics graphics work at Digital Domain, which eventually led to his winning a Scientific & Technical Academy Award. This month a fellow presented an introduction to Scrum, an Agile Development framework that we use where I work as a program manager.

Attending a PMI chapter meeting grants you one PDU (Professional Development Unit), which is good for those members who are PMP certified and need to amass 60 PDUs every 3 years. If you attend every chapter meeting your chapter puts on every month, that’s 24 PDUs toward that total. So while you’ll have to do some extra work to get those additional 36 PDUs, what you can earn from attending PMI chapter meetings certainly doesn’t hurt.

Social Networking

The Collecta widget: Embedded real-time search

CollectaEDIT: Unfortunately, as of June 1, 2011, Collecta has shut down its real-time search service. But all may not be lost; Collecta has indicated that it plans to work with a variety of organizations (including United Way crisif relief projects) to open source its software.

Released earlier today, the Collecta widget allows you to embed real-time search of what people are posting on Twitter, blog posts, comments, news feeds and the like.  What this means for you is that on your site you can embed real-time discussions of topics relevant to whatever your page is displaying, to view the very latest up-to-date information about those topics.

Results are both useful and irrelevant; for example, when searching for PMP, my Collecta feed displayed both a job opportunity for a project management professional in Boston, and an instance where someone had mispelled “pump” in their tweet. The quality of your results will largely depend on the string of text you search for – searching for #PMP instead of PMP, or searching for Project Management, might have improved my results.

I’m particularly interested in Collecta as three friends of mine, with whom I used to develop open source software, have been working diligently on this project since near its inception.  It’s been a lot of fun seeing Collecta grow from not much more than an idea, to a significant real-time search tool rapidly growing in popularity.

The following is a working example of the widget, featuring real-time search results for International Business.  If you want to make your own widget to embed on your site, you can create your instances on the Collecta website.  If you blog using WordPress, there is also a WordPress plug-in for Collecta available.