Talking (Project Systems) Blues: A Foundation for a General Theory

As with those of you who observe the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I find myself suddenly in a state of non-motion and, as a result, with feet firmly on the ground, able to write a post.  This is preface to pointing out that the last couple of weeks have been both busy and productive in a positive way.

Among the events of the last two weeks was the meeting of project management professionals focused on the discipline of aerospace and defense at the Integrated Program Management Workshop.  This vertical, unlike other areas of project management, is characterized by applying a highly structured approach that involves a great deal of standardization.  Most often, people involved in this area tend to engage in an area where the public sector plays a strong role in defining the environment in which the market operates.  Furthermore, the major suppliers tend to be limited, and so both oligopolistic and monopolistic market competition defines the market space.

Within this larger framework, however, is a set of mid-level and small firms engaged in intense competition to provide both supplies and services to the limited set of large suppliers.  As such, they operate within the general framework of the larger environment defined by public sector procedures, laws, and systems, but within those constraints act with a great deal of freedom, especially in acting as a conduit to commercial and innovative developments from the private sector.

Furthermore, since many technologies originate within the public sector (as in the internet, microchips, etc. among other examples since the middle of the 20th century), the layer of major suppliers, and mid-level to small businesses also act as a conduit to introducing such technologies to the larger private sector.  Thus, the relationship is a mutually reinforcing one.

Given the nature of this vertical and its various actors, I’ve come upon the common refrain that it is unique in its characteristics and, as such, acts as a poor analogue of other project management systems.  Dave Gordon, for example, who is a well-respected expert in IT projects in commenting on previous posts, has expressed some skepticism in my suggestion that there may be commonalities across the project management discipline regardless of vertical or end-item development.  I have promised a response and a dialogue and, given recent discussions, I think I have a path forward.

I would argue, instead, that the nature of the aerospace and defense (A&D) vertical provides a perfect control for determining the strength of commonalities.  My contention is that because larger and less structured economic verticals do not have the same ability to control the market environment and mechanisms that they provide barriers to identifying possible commonalities due to their largely chaotic condition.  Thus, unlike in other social sciences, we are not left with real time experimentation absent a control group.  Both non-A&D and A&D verticals provide the basis to provide controls for the other, given enough precision in identifying the characteristics being identified and measured.

But we need a basis, a framework for identifying commonalities.  As such our answers will be found in systems theory.  This is not a unique or new observation, but for the basis of outlining our structure it is useful to state the basis of the approach.  For those of you playing along at home, the seminal works in this area are Norbert Weiner’s Cybernetics or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948), and Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory (1968).

But we must go beyond basic systems theory in its formative stage.  Project are a particular type of system, a complex system.  Even beyond that they must go one more step, because they are human systems that both individually in its parts and in aggregate displays learning.  As such these are complex adaptive systems or CAS.  They exist in a deterministic universe, as all CAS do, but are non-deterministic within the general boundaries of that larger physical world.

The main thought leaders of CAS are John H. Holland, as in this 1992 paper in Daedalus, and Murray Gell-Mann with his work at the Santa Fe Institute.  The literature is extensive and this is just the start, including taking into account the work of Kristo Ivanov from the concepts coming out of his work, Hypersystems: A Base for Specification of Computer-Supported Self-Learning Social Systems.

It is upon this basis, especially in the manner in which the behavior that CAS can be traced and predicted, where will be able to establish the foundation of a general theory of project management systems.  I’ll be vetting ideas over the coming weeks regarding this approach, with some suggestions on real world applicability and methodologies across project domains.

Song for My Father, Those Who Mentored Me, and for the Son who is Father to the Man: Veteran’s Day 2015

Joseph Pisano

My father was Joseph Pisano. He wasn’t a hero to anyone but me and those who loved him, nor did he fight in combat, though it wasn’t for trying. He joined the Navy at the age of 17 against the wishes of his parents in 1944, lying about his age to get into the Second World War. He went through boot camp at the old Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, and later was trained to become an aviation mechanic for a squadron of Avengers. After a brief assignment on the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), he was discharged in the post-war drawdown. A few years as a civilian were interrupted when the Korean War broke out. Though still in the Navy Reserve he found himself drafted into the U.S. Army where, he did his basic training at Ft. Dix in New Jersey, and then combat training at Ft. Benning in Georgia. Though he volunteered for combat in Korea, the Army stationed him in Germany and assigned him to the artillery. He rose to Sergeant First Class before being discharged in 1952. He was admired for his diligence, hard work, and leadership—qualities that he carried with him throughout his life, along with a fiery temperament.

An otherwise unassuming man, he never made more than $20,000 in any one year, but he owned what he had, and lived life on his own terms, even when it meant that he swam against the tide of the times. He was a co-founder of the Toms River, New Jersey Little League, and mentored many a young man and woman over the years. To this day I meet men and women who tell me that my father had a profound and positive influence in their lives. He was loyal to his family, his wife until the day of her passing, the New York Yankees—and to me his only child.

The times my father served in the Service were among the most significant of his life. He impressed upon me the values of hard work and dedicating oneself to something greater than one’s self-interest. His was among the first generation American immigrant experience. As with many people previously disenfranchised and looked down upon by previous arrivals, Italian-Americans felt a need to demonstrate their commitment to a country that promised, though did not always live up to, a measure of human dignity and equality. Here, in the United States, was at least the chance of not bowing to the rich man on the hill, to be told what to think and do, and to owe one’s existence to the whims of the rich’s largesse. Here a man or woman could stand upright and look his or her fellows in the eye, to get one’s rights—or at least to have a fighting chance to get them.


Nick Rubino

The photo above is of Nick Rubino, my mother’s brother and my namesake. Though I was named for my paternal grandfather Nick, my mother had a special place in her heart for her younger brother. She confided to me one time that she was proud that I shared the same name of the sensitive little boy whom she remembered would cry if someone stepped on an ant. She saw the same characteristics in me.

My Uncle Nick, as I knew him, was a very gentle and quiet man. He was the father of twin girls, my cousins, who were named Tony and Mary. The sisters, children themselves just a few years older than me, watched over me when I was a very small boy. I have many early memories of them dressing up the four year old me and including me in their make-believe worlds. They were very kind to me, as was their father.

Nick Rubino was late when he came of age to serve in the Second World War. He went to basic at Ft. Dix and was sent to jump school where he became part of the 101st Airborne Division. He arrived in France after D-Day and was among the fresh troops in Belgium being positioned in December 1944 prior to the push into Nazi Germany.

My uncle never talked of his service. He didn’t tell sea stories or brag about what he had done. But something took hold of him one day. An old friend had passed away and my uncle began to drink in a way that he had not done in quite a long time, and his memories of the war began to spill out. He opened an old footlocker that he had kept under his bed and took out his medals and insignia, a German helmet with a bullet hole stained with old blood, a Luger sidearm, a bayonet, and other items, laying them on the floor.

He began to tell us in a very quiet voice about what has become known as the Battle of the Bulge and the encirclement of the 101st Airborne in Bastogne, Belgium. He recalled each of his friends and how they had been killed or captured. The Americans had dug themselves in to repulse the German offensives, which for the foot soldier mostly involved combat at close quarters if one survived the artillery and mortar shelling.

His outpost was at the top of a hill outside of the town. The command at Bastogne tried very hard to break out of its encirclement and so they sent my uncle and his comrades down that hill to find a weak spot in the German lines. Three times they attempted to break out and each time were repulsed, and then themselves repulsed German counterattacks. After each battle the number of Americans was diminished.

My uncle described nights of pure fear, and days filled with the most horrible scenes of industrialized murder. When I look back at the things he described, sobbing and pounding the floor with his fists, I can only say that my uncle was momentarily transported back in time in his mind, and that in that moment he had lost his mind, as he must have done living in the horror of that forest in Belgium.

A U.S. tank under the command of Patton’s 4th Armored Division arrived on that hill around the 9th of January 1945. Bastogne had been encircled for three weeks, under constant bombardment and deadly attacks. The tank commander called for the members of the 101st who had been positioned on the hill to come out of their foxholes. The only man left in his Company not killed, severely wounded, or captured was Nick Rubino.

The tank commander who liberated that hill was my father’s brother, William Pisano. They did not meet again until February 1953 when they met at my parents’ wedding rehearsal. In 1945 my parents had not yet met. The Pisanos and Rubinos were not closely associated with one another, though the former lived in what used to be known as lower Weehawken and the latter from Hoboken in New Jersey separated merely by a mile. It was just one of those things.

When night overtook us and the alcohol took its toll on him, my uncle quietly returned the items to the footlocker. He never spoke of the war again, nor did he speak to us about what he described that day that went late into the night.


William Pisano, the man who I do not have a photo in uniform, was, like my Uncle Nick, a hero by any measure. He joined the war early and joined the tank corps. He participated in Operation Torch in North Africa under the 1st Armored Division where he was involved in many of the earliest direct battles with German forces. At the Battle at the Kasserine Pass his tank was destroyed by Panzer fire. His life was saved by the sole African-American tank crew member who, not fearing for his own life, threw my uncle from the tank just before the man was killed by machine gun fire.  When he returned to the United States he remembered the man who had saved his life and supported the drive for equal rights for all Americans.

The American defensive positions were overrun that day in North Africa, and my uncle was forced to fight his way back to the Allied lines.  Suffering from burns, shrapnel, and multiple bullet wounds, he was sent to England to recuperate. By June 1944 he was found fit for duty and participated in the landing of armored units following the D-Day invasion. Assigned to the 4th Armored Division he continued to be deployed against German forces in battle until the end of the war.

My father and my Uncle Pete, William’s other two brothers, complained that when he returned that my grandparents babied him. But I think that it was because they saw what no one else at the time saw. My Uncle “Chick,” as he was called, never fully recovered from the war. Today we recognize the signs of his behavior as PTSD, but at the time it was simply not fully understood. Eventually the night terrors passed, the screaming in the night, the sleepwalking that caused him to believe that he was surrounded again and had to fight those around him. From time to time he drank too much, lost his temper, and suffered from long bouts of depression.

But, on the whole, he was a good and loving son to his parents, my grandparents, and a good brother, father, and husband. He worked hard throughout his life and provided for his family. He paid his dues. He always treated me with kindness and encouragement. The only descriptive for him that comes to mind is that he was a good man. That’s as good an epitaph as any.


Ruben Soliman

Ruben Soliman pictured above, who retired from the United States Navy is my best friend.  He was best man at my wedding in Key West and, during challenging times, was a surrogate father to me.  Ruben followed his distinguished Navy career, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer, as the Deputy Material Officer at Naval Air Station, Norfolk.  There I had the pleasure of working with him.  Ruben taught me many life lessons, and has provided much wisdom.  When he was a small boy he survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  Many people forget that the Philippines was a possession of the United States for almost 50 years.  As such, it was U.S. territory when it was invaded in 1941.  The Filipino people were Americans–and many who inhabit those islands are still Americans in their hearts.  Many of them emigrated to the United States by serving in the U.S. military.  Ruben followed in that tradition, and is the epitome of what it means to be an American.  He is soft-spoken, he does not brag, he is loyal and loving.  He is a natural leader, and in some very challenging situations, he was always level-headed and steel-nerved.  I am proud to call Ruben my friend.  I admire him a great deal.  I aspire to be as good a man as Ruben.


Tommy Jones

Tommy Jones served in the United States Marine Corps.  He is a big man with a very big heart.  If I ever had a brother, I could only wish that it would be Tommy Jones.  He served his country during a time when serving one’s country in the military was falling out of favor.  As with most veterans, Tommy does not brag about his service, except to state emphatically that he is a Marine, still. I admire Tommy.  He demonstrates kindness, courage, and modesty.  Tommy is Ruben’s brother-in-law and, watching him, I can truly say that to me Tommy epitomizes loyalty and reliability.  When the chips are down, Tommy is the guy who you want to be there.  You can rely on him–put your life in his hands.  I would trust him with mine.

Visiting Ruben and Tommy in Williamsburg 2015

Tommy Jones (purple), Ruben Soliman (red), their families, and me (in blue), 2015.


Finally, there is John Paul Pisano, my son.  I have a number of photos of him in uniform that have not yet been scanned for this blog.  I will need to rectify that deficiency in the near future.  When my son told me that he was joining the Marine Corps, I must admit that it was with both pride and trepidation.  Pride because I knew that he had to just one-up his U.S. Navy career dad by joining the toughest of all of the Services, bar none.  I have always been able to rely on the Marines with whom I served, that they were true to their country, the Constitution, and to their Creeds.

When Bill Clinton became President of the United States I attended a Dining In shortly after his first inauguration where the senior officers at the head table, confusing their personal ideology with their service and Oath, refused to rise when the toast to the President of the United States was announced.  I raised my glass and looked around.  Only myself, one other Navy Officer, and every other member of the United States Marine Corps who were present rose, and held their glasses high during the playing of “Hail to the Chief.”  The Marine Lt. Colonel in the audience looked around and called “Attention on Deck!”  A number of other Navy officers then rose and toasted, defying the senior officers who dishonored themselves and their commissions that day.

When I was a Supply Officer on a tank landing ship and Boat Group Commander, I had the pleasure of serving with the Marines in both fair and foul operations.  I formed a bond with my fellow officers when engaging in counterterrorism operations in Southeast Asia in the early 1980s.  The Marines with whom I operated made it plain that they would fight anyone who threatened our position, and the safety of the ship–and they had a brief opportunity to prove it.

Thus, when my son decided to join the Marine Corps, I knew that he was joining a Service with a long and proud tradition.  Though there is a great deal of inter-service rivalry, the fact of the matter is that the Navy cannot perform its mission without the Marines.  Nor can the Marines perform theirs without the Navy.  Both have fought and bled together from the beginning of the United States.

But that knowledge also was part of my trepidation.  We live in a time when very few serve their country–are willing to put their lives on the line–where the military experience is understood, and the idea of a shared stake in this democratic experiment is suffering from neglect.  The ideology of self-interest is anathema to our ideals.  Democracy dies without the care and feeding of the people.  Self-interest turns the American people from citizens and persons into interest groups and employees.  The idea of the modern non-partisan foreign policy and non-politicized military has been largely undermined.  Commitment today is often limited to a hashtag, the waving of flags or their flying on cars, and the platitude “thank you for your Service.”

This makes the soldier, sailor, or marine unimportant as human beings.  They have become like the burger flipper in the minds of the political establishment and economic elites, though the difference, of course, couldn’t be greater.  They are seen as there to do a dirty job and then be forgotten, reminded to stay in their place.  After all, they are reminded, you volunteered.  Personnel medical and pension expenses are viewed as if it is corporate America–even within the confines of the E-ring at the Pentagon, and among the senior staff.  Like the protagonist in the book Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by author Ben Fountain, there is nothing for us to do than to support each other, and hold on to one’s ideals.

My son was in Okinawa when the Twin Towers fell.  It wasn’t long before he was sent to combat in Afghanistan during the initial invasion there.  The occasional details he provides of his service while there are that it was a miserable place and the days were mostly boring, punctuated by the proverbial moments of terror.  When he returned home for duty in North Carolina, it was with a great deal of relief and thankfulness.  I was living in western Virginia at the time, and thought I would finally be able to see him from time-to-time.

But there was another invasion to come, this time in Iraq.  During the run to Baghdad he was at the pointy end of the spear.  He wrote occasionally of his experiences, which involved combat and riding in convoy.  He then served in country for the initial occupation, and was returned home with severe physical issues.  For the longest time he wouldn’t talk to anyone, seemed to hold a burning resentment.  The gentle and sensitive boy I had raised had been changed.

I felt a great deal of guilt at this condition.  After all, I had served a charmed life in the service.  I joined at the end of the Vietnam War and retired four years prior to 9-11.  The Cold War was anything but safe, especially in the many years I served in operations at sea and overseas, but there is no comparison in my experience to those of the men and women who have served since 2001.  My anchors in placing all of this in perspective were the men and women who had served in Vietnam, just as they and the Second World War and Korean War vets had been my mentors and anchors when I was first a young enlisted man, and then later when I achieved my commission.

But time and patience have brought my son back to me.  As I sit here and write this post on Veteran’s Day 2015 I am thankful for having him once again, that he went through a trial by fire, and came out stronger and wiser for it.  John Pisano is the bravest man I know.  I couldn’t be prouder to be his father.

But it is not just because of his service.  It is because of what he took from that service–for the caring and thoughtful man he has become.  Just as the unassuming and dedicated men named above were and are caring and thoughtful.  Just like William Pisano, who through his awful experience, learned to see the humanity of everyone despite the separation of skin color that was common in his time.  Just like Nick Rubino who lived a quiet life taking care of his wife, his children and his mother, and who never revealed the many decorations for bravery he earned on that hill outside of Bastogne to his family, who only learned of them at his funeral by a contingent sent by the local VFW.  Just like Ruben Soliman and Tommy Jones who are good family men–and good friends–and have continued to serve their communities is so many ways.  And just like Joseph Pisano, who took so many young people under his wing regardless of their color, creed, and ethnicity, to help them realize their intrinsic worth.

As William James said at the dedication to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry–one of the first African-American military units during the Civil War–in 1897:

“It is hard to end a discourse like this without one word of moralizing; and two things must be distinguished in all events like those we are commemorating–the moral service of them on the one hand, and on the other the physical fortitude which they display.  War has been much praised and celebrated among us of late as a school of manly virtue; but it is easy to exaggerate upon this point.  Ages ago, war was the gory cradle of mankind, the grim-featured nurse that alone could train our savage progenitors into some semblance of social virtue, teach them to be faithful to one another, and force them to sink their selfishness in wider tribal ends….It is that more lonely courage which he (Robert Gould Shaw) showed when he dropped his warm commission in the glorious Second to head…the 54th.  That lonely kind of valor (civic courage as we call it in peace times) is the kind of valor to which the monuments of nations should most of all be reared, for the survival of the fittest has not bred it into the bone of human beings as it has bred military valor; and of the five hundred of us who could storm a battery side-by-side with others, perhaps not one would be found ready to risk his worldly fortunes all alone in resisting an enthroned abuse….The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.  Such nations have no need of wars to save them.”

Stay Calm and Carry On — The Business End of Software: How to handle malicious rumors

Veteran’s Day is approaching and, with it, the finale of conference and workshop season for people in my business.  Lately I have been engaged with the less than scrupulous members of my discipline who engage in character assassination and rumor.  Every market has bad players, and one must make the choice of whether you want to run with the black hats or the white hats.  I’m not referring to hackers here but to individuals who are less than savory in their business practices.  So here are a few bits of advice in how to handle such issues:

a.  Bring the rumor to light.  The rumor only has power if it hides in the dark and is allowed to inhabit that realm.  Acknowledge that you are aware of it.

b.  Ask the recipients of the rumor to identify the anonymous source.  Small privately-held companies are not public personalities.  Individuals within companies enjoy the protections of private persons.  The individual or individuals starting a rumor must be placed on an equal footing with those who must respond to it.  Of course, someone who anonymously spreads a rumor and doesn’t acknowledge they are the source is a coward and scumbag anyway, and anyone who would continue to associate with them must ask themselves why they would associate with someone who is a coward and scumbag.  Just saying.

c.  Determine the facts being used in the rumor.  In some cases this could be a leaked document from a civil case that would otherwise go unnoticed, a messy divorce, or some other type of “documentary” evidence provided out of context.  Most individuals who initiate such rumors naively believe they are insulated because the item is “true.”  But it’s not that easy.  Perhaps documentary evidence is transient and unsettled with its release not only interfering with contracts and business interests, but also with a civil case.  Oftentimes a “story” goes along with the document.  The story may be a complete fabrication and, by itself, constitute malicious intent.

d.  If you are confident that you are in the right then state so.  Nothing hurts someone who takes the advice of counsel and says “no comment.”  There are constructive ways to dealing with malicious intent in addressing an issue in public.  Use them.  Hesitation gives the wrong impression–that there is shame or hiding.  If you think you are wronged then state so strongly and without hesitation.

e.  Don’t litigate in public.  If the public doesn’t have an interest in the basis of the rumor, then they only need to know that you are handling the situation.  If it’s based on an internal dispute within the company, then state so.  For example, if there is a possible reversal in a civil suit or unsettled counterclaims, litigating issues in public not only may undermine your case, but inadvertently also give credence to unfounded claims.  The United States is a very litigious country.  Not being involved in a civil case would be extremely unusual for any company.

f.  Once you have determined the extent of the whisper campaign, issue a press release or public statement that combines items a through e above.  Keep in mind that as a CEO or senior executive that your duties are to your customers, your employees, your suppliers, and to defend the interests of the asset itself–your company.  Do not be intimidated or feel constrained from executing those duties.  State clearly that your company will continue to vigorously defend itself and press its own interests.

g.  Don’t take it personally.  Deal with the issue as you would any one in which a competitor is attempting to undermine you.  Understand that desperate people do desperate things.

As a retired senior U.S. Navy Commander with a spotless record and with multiple personal awards and decorations–having risen from the enlisted ranks to senior rank when I was on active duty–and then having a pretty remarkable career thus far in the software industry, I have found that sometimes you run into challenging situations that will test your mettle.  There are individuals out there who are so desperate that they will do their worst in trying to taint or tear someone down, even without good cause.  They must bring things down to their own level because that’s the only thing they understand–a type of psychological projection.

Years ago on one of my tours on ship as a young Navy Lieutenant a senior Navy Captain imparted some words of wisdom to me.  He said that if you achieve anything of importance that there are going to be times when you are brought before the “long green table” to account for your actions.  Thus, one must always be ready to defend themselves.  This is a particularly important inevitability to accept because a good U.S. Navy commissioned officer is trained to understand that between an act of commission–that is, that you took action in facing a challenge–and an act of omission–that you did nothing in the face of the challenge–that the first was defensible and the second was unforgiveable.  The other good piece of advice was that eventually the system screws with you.  It’s how you deal with it that will determine your character.

Thus, in entitling this post I have quoted an old British World War II poster that was recently discovered in an old building.  As a leader you must demonstrate resolve and confidence, even in the most challenging circumstances.  Stay calm and carry on.  I couldn’t say it better myself.

Repeat after me — Excel is not a project management solution

Aside from dealing with organizations that oftentimes must use Excel as workarounds due to limitations of legacy software systems, I was reminded of the ubiquity of Excel in a recent article by my colleague Dave Gordon at AITS on the use and misuse of RAID (Risk Assumptions, Issues, and Decisions).  His overall assessment of the weakness of how RAID can be applied is quite valid.  But the literature on risk is quite extensive.  The article “Risk Management Is How Adults Manage Projects” at Glen Alleman’s Herding Cats blog is just one quick overview of a very mature process that has a large amount of academic, statistical, mathematical, and methodological grounding.

The dangers that Dave is identifying are not implicit in RAID so much as they are implicit in anyone who uses Excel.  It is not that Excel is a bad tool.  It is very useful for one-off spreadsheet problems.  It is not a software solution and is not meant to be one.  Going to Microsoft’s site on the progression of Excel to Access to SQL Server clarifies the differences.

Note that in my title I didn’t use the word tool.  This word has been the source of great confusion.  To the layman it seems to be a common-sense descriptive.  When you physically work on something–a home repair, an automobile, a small bit of machinery–you have a toolbox and you have a set of tools to address the problem.  So the analogy is that projects (and other processes) should be approached the same way.  Oftentimes this is done in the shorthand of marketing.  It’s easier to explain something complex through a simple analogy.

But no descriptive has been more harmful or destructive in preventing people from fully conceiving of an understanding of the needed solutions in the project management community than the word tool when applied to software applications.  A project is a complex system–a complex adaptive system.  What is called for are software applications that fit into the manner that project systems operate.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s there was a great deal of justification to take the spreadsheet software that came with the operating environment or the Office Suite and adapt it administrative needs.  There were a great number of individual tasks and processes that needed to be automated, and the market had not yet responded to that demand.  In some cases the demand was only vaguely understood, and the solutions were not fully conceptualized.

Then, as software applications became more sophisticated to begin to replace manual processes, they oftentimes could not address all of the corollary operations that need to be performed in those systems.  Oftentimes, the solutions addressed the 80% need of these requirements, and so one-off workarounds until the software was developed to be more comprehensive, were applied.  The very process of automating previously manual tasks had an effect on organizational processes, driving them toward greater sophistication.  The phenomena of Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD) is but one of these effects.

But note that when relying on Excel for important processes, such as risk handling, that KDD is impossible.  An accountant or head of finance in a corporation would not use Excel to keep the company’s books, even though that was the original target audience back in the 1980s for spreadsheet software.  No doubt that financial personnel use Excel to supplement their work, but using it as the primary solution to constitute the system of record would be foolhardy.  Even very small businesses today use more sophisticated financial management solutions.

The reason why one must be extra careful with any process when using Excel as the solution is that the person is still to a large extent, a part of the computer.  The person must perform operations that a spreadsheet application cannot perform.  This is why in risk management that assumptions, issues, decisions, and handling are tied to the work.  The origin of all work decomposed from the requirements are the plan and then the detailed schedule.  The detailed schedule, consisting of activities, is then further decomposed into the work organization: tasks, resources, etc.  There may or may not be a WBS or OBS that ties performance reflected in terms of earned value.

Using Excel as an external tool in addressing this important and essential process separates it from the other elements of project management systems.  It thus creates a single point of failure in the process–the mind of the individual keeping the Excel spreadsheet.  It also containerizes the information, preventing it from being mainstreamed into the larger organization, and thus being a source of KDD.

Saturday Late Night Music — Fantastic Negrito performing “Lost in the Crowd”

Every once in a while a natural talent arises that distills the American experience.  According to the interesting bio on his website, Fantastic Negrito is out of Oakland California.  But that’s like saying Bob Dylan is from Minnesota and taking significance from that fact alone.  I know, I know–I’ve used origins of artists as a way of placing them in time and space.

No doubt, anyone with a passing knowledge of American social history understands the significance of Oakland to African-American culture: its centrality in the Great Migration on the west coast of the United States, its musical influence on West Coast Jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, jump, and funk.  It’s economic importance in the development of the black working and middle class.  The political movements that contributed to the advancement of equal rights and equal opportunity and then, in the wake of redlining, assassinations, white flight, and white backlash, the organization of the Black Panthers which came to a violent end.  Out of this strong conflict of cultures and ambitions, however, arose a city that learned the meaning of reconciliation and synthesis.

Fantastic Negrito’s real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz.  He is the son of the first Somalian ambassador to the United States.  He was raised as a strict Sunni Muslim from childhood.  When his family emigrated to the United States they first settled in Massachusetts, where he was born, but then crossed the country and landed in Oakland in the 1980s.  It was during this time that Xavier was exposed to one of the most diverse cities in the United States.  The African-American community in Oakland during those years reached its peak in both proportion of population and cultural influence.  Thus, Xavier made the transformation from the strictures of religious chants to the music of Funkadelic and other similar bands, absorbing the culture, music, and ideas of the liberal and accepting world around him.

This transformation caused him to be rejected by his family, but also led to his reinvention in the 1990s from emigrant to the personality known simply as Xavier.  Under Xavier he created a unique R&B/funk/electronic dance sound, where he played all of the instruments, under the title the X Factor, which landed him a contract with the Interscope label.  Unfortunately, realizing success too soon, which stilted his creativity, and at the wrong time–since Rap had overtaken the type of music that he was doing–led to disappointment.  Coinciding with the end of X Factor came a devastating auto accident in 2000 that left him in a coma.  After awaking from his coma, he undertook many months of painful physical therapy due to muscle atrophy while he was bedridden.  A reinvigorated life after cheating death, and the birth of his son, caused his eventual transformation into his latest incarnation as the Fantastic Negrito.  If Elizabeth Woolridge Grant can be Lana Del Rey, then Xavier Dphrepaulezz can be the Fantastic Negrito.

His appropriation of the word Negrito is interesting.  The term is derived from the Spanish to describe small dark-skinned persons.  Geographically, it has been largely confined to refer to the diminutive dark-skinned people of Southeast Asia.  Rather than having a direct association with groups in Africa, DNA testing has shown that Negritos are most closely related to Asian populations that surround them with some splitting from the African migration that occurred about 60,000 years ago.  Thus, despite their distinctive physical characteristics, they are a very diverse admixture of distinctive Southeast Asian ethnic groups.  Perhaps, for one who has self-confessed to having gone through several transformations within the span of a single lifetime–which is a typical part of the American experience–the moniker is an appropriate one.

The band members, aside from Xavier, consists of Thomas Alcedo, Nate Pedley, and Ruthie Price.  The band won the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Award for 2015 back in February.  Then in March they took SXSW by storm.  This is the blues updated to our joint experience–essential, urgent, and exciting.

Stay Open — Open and Proprietary Databases (and Why It Matters)

The last couple of weeks have been fairly intense workwise and so blogging has lagged a bit.  Along the way the matter of databases came up at a customer site and what constitutes open data and what comprises proprietary data.  The reason why this issue matters to customers rests of several foundations.

First, in any particular industry or niche there is a wide variety of specialized apps that have blossomed.  This is largely due to Moore’s Law.  Looking at the number of hosted and web apps alone can be quite overwhelming, particularly given the opaqueness of what one is buying at any particular time when it comes to software technology.

Second, given this explosion, it goes without saying that the market will apply its scythe ruthlessly in thinning it.  Despite the ranting of ideologues, this thinning applies to both good and bad ideas, both sound and unsound businesses equally.  The few that remain are lucky, good, or good and lucky.  Oftentimes it is being first to market on an important market discriminator, regardless of the quality in its initial state, that determines winners.

Third, most of these technology solutions will run their software on proprietary database structures.  This undermines the concept that the customer owns the data.

The reasons why software solutions providers do this is multifaceted.  For example, the database structure is established to enhance the functionality and responsiveness of the application where the structure is leveraged to work optimally with the application’s logic.

But there are also more prosaic reasons for proprietary database structures.  First, the targeted vertical or segment may not be very structured regarding the type of data, so there is wide variation on database configuration and structure.  But there is also a more base underlying motivation to keep things this way:  the database structure is designed to protect the application’s data from easy access from third party tools and, as a result, make their solution “sticky” within the market segment that is captured.  That is, database structure is a way to build barriers to competition.

For incumbents that are stable, the main disadvantages to the customer lie in the use of the database as a means of tying them to the solution as a barrier to exit.  At the same time incumbents erect artificial barriers to data entry.  For software markets with a great deal of new entries and innovation that will lead to some thinning, picking the wrong solution using proprietary data structures can lead to real problems when attempting to transition to more stable alternatives.  For example, in the case of hosted applications not only is data not on the customer’s own database servers, but that data could be located far from the worksite or even geographically dispersed outside of the physical control of the customer.

Open APIs in using data mining and variations of it as the Shaman of Big Data prescribe unstructured and non-relational databases has served to, at least in everyone’s mind, minimize such proprietary concerns.  After all, it thought, we can just crack open the data–right?  Well…not so fast.  Given a number of data scientists, data analysts, and open API object tools mainframe types can regain the status they lost with the introduction of the PC and spend months building systems that will eventually rationalize data that has been locked in proprietary prisons.  Or perhaps not.  The bigger the data the bigger the problem.  The bigger the question the more one must bring in those who understand the difference between correlation and causation.  In the end it comes down to the mathematics and valid methods of determining in real terms the behavior of systems.

Or if you are a small or medium-sized business or organization you can just decide that the data is irretrievable, or effectively so, since the ROI is not there to make it retrievable.

Or you can avoid the inevitable and, if you do business in a highly structured market, such as project management, utilize some open standard such as the UN/CEFACT XML.  Then, when choosing a COTS solution in communicating with the market, determine that databases must, at a minimum, conform to the open standard in database design.  This provides maximum flexibility to the customer, who can then perform value analysis on competing products, based on a analysis of functionality, flexibility, and sustainability.

This places the customer back into the role of owning the data.

Sunday Night Music — Jessica Pratt performing “Wrong Hand” and “Strange Melody”

I came across Jessica Pratt on satellite radio recently.  Her album On Your Own Love Again was among Pitchfork’s Most Anticipated Releases of 2015.  She is currently out of L.A., but originated in San Francisco.  Her distinctive voice and precise guitar fit perfectly with her introverted form of folk and singer/songwriter music, not unlike early Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.

Here she is on KEXP performing “Wrong Hand” and the haunting “Strange Melody.”