/ / Networking (part 2)

Networking (part 2)

The other event I attended recently was hosted by the British Computer Society’s North London branch. ‘ITIL deliver – can you manage IT?’ was held at the Learning Tree International offices near Euston Station. My experiences of Learning Tree are pretty limited: they sent me an annoying amount of catalogues for their training courses until I moved to France. My ex-colleagues probably still receive catalogues addressed to me. I used to return them marked ‘moved away’ or ‘unwanted mail’ but still they kept coming. So there was no way I was going to give a Learning Tree employee my details, not even in exchange for the chance to win a bottle of champagne.

I got to the venue too early, and there were only a handful of people already there. Small talk was difficult; the choices were tea, coffee, orange juice and some family selection biscuits. I think they also had wine available, but I didn’t think it was a good idea – too many calories. No wine meant I could have a bourbon, the biscuit of childhood.

Good thing I had a novel with me, that’s all I can say. People didn’t mingle, and there weren’t that many people to mingle with. It’s a lot harder to break into spontaneous conversation with a fifty-year old man who looks like he’s been in the back of the server room all day than a woman (of any age) who smiles in a self-deprecating way that says ‘Networking? Yes, I hate it too.’

Thirty-two pages of Man and Wife later and the speakers started. I’ll skip over the introductions. Suffice to say that reading out the exact same information that was left on our chairs didn’t really do Learning Tree or the speakers any favours.

Kevin Sullivan, who is a Learning Tree instructor and also wrote one of their courses, presented on ITIL. Kevin doesn’t work for Learning Tree full-time. He has another job too, but I forgot to write it down. ITIL or management consultancy, probably. Either way, he was an engaging and interesting speaker, who answered my questions about ITIL.
I specifically wanted to attend this event because I hear about ITIL a lot and I had no clue what it actually was. So, in case you are also struggling, I’ll do a post on what I now know about ITIL. Meet me at another networking event and I might even sound as if I know what I’m talking about. For now though, know that ITIL stands for IT Infrastructure Library and it’s a best practice framework for running your IT infrastructure.

So nothing to do with project management, then. Bizarrely, ITIL gets mentioned in the same sentence as project management on a regular basis. Perhaps the people I speak to also have no idea what it’s really about. It’s certainly not a project management methodology or anything I would expect a PM to get qualified in.

Before I’m strung up by ITIL practitioners (and there are 750,000 of them with ITIL qualifications), let me just say that I can see a value in IT project managers having at least a basic knowledge of ITIL. After all, there’s no point delivering a project that is unsupportable. Whatever we implement has to be managed by someone after we leave, so pity the poor helpdesk staff who can’t support a new piece of technology ‘the ITIL’ way if we haven’t built in their requirements.

But instead of learning it yourself, I’d suggest you just get a IT service person on your team. Why have a dog and bark yourself? Bring in the expertise, don’t struggle to do it all.

The second speaker, Dave Bartholomew, also has a day job that I forgot to write down. I did take a note that he has a Master’s in Artificial Intelligence and his dog is part of an agility team. See, I remember the interesting details.

Dave spoke about project management for non-project managers, so most of the stuff he mentioned didn’t come as any surprise to the six or seven project managers in the audience. His five top tips were:

  1. Ensure you understand the balance between time, cost and quality, and what can give when your project is under pressure
  2. Develop a work breakdown structure to establish the tasks
  3. Do the tasks in the right order
  4. Get the right people involved at the right time
  5. Reduce task switching as managing work effectively makes a team more effective.

I got a bit excited during the Q&A. Someone in my row said that the Standish (CHAOS report again! Come on people, be more inventive with your research) figures show that 0% of all large projects succeed, and surely we aren’t that bad at managing projects. The speakers shot back their answers, but they missed one big thing. I couldn’t help myself shouting out. The CHAOS report defines project success as projects that suffer no scope changes, no budget increase and no delays. The project category to which the gent had alluded was for projects over US$10m.

The average project goes through four formal versions of scope and ends up only achieving 93% of what it set out to deliver* so it is hardly surprising that huge projects don’t meet the strict criteria for success. I can’t imagine that a £5m project goes through no budget, time or scope changes, but that doesn’t make it a failure.

The guy next to me looked a bit perturbed at my outburst. My earlier efforts at small talk hadn’t got us very far, although to be honest I was expecting him to carry the bulk of the conversation. Not quite the openness and camaraderie of the womenintechnology event just two days before.
The speakers and the content were interesting. The organisation and atmosphere weren’t up to much. It wasn’t a memorable night, although maybe I would have thought more of it if I hadn’t been to such a good event in the same week. I picked up my coat and a miniature cheese and onion quiche, and left promptly after the closing remarks.

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