Chapter 1: The Rise of the Project Chimps
There are a lot of people out there trying to get into project management, and getting into it is not as easy as it may sound. It’s not just about picking the right tools, or avoiding the wrong ones. It’s also about understanding what project management means to begin with and being ready for anything thrown at you.
Project management is a broad term that refers to many different things, including: Project management software
Software for managing projects (and more generally software for managing any kind of project)
Project planning and scheduling software (including task scheduling, risk analysis, project planning)
Project management book (including business books aimed at project managers, and non-executive job descriptions aimed at non-project managers)
Project management training courses that teach you how to do all this (you can find these in any number of places on the web)
And of course all this is just one story, with varying degrees of importance depending on the exact context in which we describe them. The main point here is that project management has been around since time immemorial: it’s a part of our culture and it’s an important part of business. What I have tried to do in The Rise of the Project Chimps , though, is put together a collection of myths and misconceptions along with some hard facts that hopefully help clear up several common questions about project management from those who are not already familiar with the subject. I think this book will be useful for people who want to understand what exactly project management is within context (especially if they know little or nothing about project management), but also for those who already know more than they realize because they are experts on some aspect of the subject and maybe even have done some work themselves. And I hope it will be useful too for anyone interested in technology development or how projects are planned and executed in general – no matter if you work in IT or not…
II. What Project Management Really Is (and What Does Managing Projects Actually Mean?) Project managers play a huge role in companies whether they specialize in IT or not, whether they specialize in one industry over another (like software development), or even whether they specialize in multiple industries (like small businesses). There are plenty of reasons why someone might become a project manager – ranging from years studying large corporations like IBM to spending only three months learning how to program their own applications – but there are also plenty of reasons why
1 What is a Project Chimps?
The idea of Project Chimps came up in a conversation with a friend last week. I asked if he had anything to contribute to the discussion, and he said that he did. We both laughed at the irony of this question and then went on with our usual banter:
“What exactly is a chimpie?” I asked.
His reply was “A little chimp that you find on your desk” and so it goes. But what can we say about Project Chimps?
To be more specific, we are an open source project aimed at creating and leveraging tools that have little or no commercial value (such as developing technologies for the open web) but which have the potential to be valuable in business applications (such as data analytics). The goal of Project Chimps is to start working on some of these projects now and give them life through our open source software (OSS) platform.
The ideal scenario for this project is one where you have a project which has been sitting on your desk for ages — some kind of tool but no real business value attached — and you want to use it in your business now and then. What would you need from us?
For starters, we could learn from your journey: what you thought was needed, what’s worked well and not so well, how far off track you were getting, where things went wrong, what lessons have been learned along the way. This helps us build an understanding of the problems we might face later in life…and hopefully makes it so much easier when we’re ready to deploy our own tools!
We could also count on your feedback: how much time did it take for this functionality or feature to get there? How many people were involved? How much code did you write? And if there’s anything else you think needs improvement…what do you think would make it better/more useful/easier/faster/better aligned with other similar projects going on at the same time? It’s always good to know about these sorts of things so that we can work towards improving our product over time by asking these questions of ourselves as well!
But before all that — before any of those things are done — there are some things that need doing first:
1 What is a Project Chimps? A Project Chimps is basically a group chat tool designed specifically for Open Source projects; it makes communication between coders easier than SMS or instant messenger apps. You can read more about it here
1 The Advantages of Using Project Chimps
Project chimps is an open source project that aims to allow teams to collaborate and solve problems using code. It’s a great way to work on projects better structured and more robust than anything previously available.
It was created by Chris Olson, who found that the most difficult problem he faced when working on his own software was finding the documentation for it. He wanted a way to turn his code into high-quality documentation without needing human editors. This is exactly the kind of problem that has been solved several times in the past by different groups, but this time he decided to solve it himself:
“I realised that I had discovered something really powerful: a library for people who could not write a single line of code themselves”.
The project has since grown rapidly with over 150,000 downloads in just over one year and received numerous accolades including being featured on CXO Magazine as one of their top 10 open source projects of 2013. It also won “Best Design Project” at Google Summer of Code 2014.
There is a lot of research about how to run a lean startup. There are some great articles that describe tactics, but there’s also some good research. One of the better sources is by Nick Dyer-Witherspoon, who in The Lean Startup: From Science to Startup describes the idea of “project chimps” and the benefits they bring from working on small projects with no real outside context.
He states that in order to be successful, you need to have three things:
• A project that is easily broken down into small pieces (what he calls “chop above the belt”)
• A project that allows you to observe what you’re doing as it happens (this can be done through observing other people or just watching your own code)
• A project with a clear end goal (so you don’t get distracted by irrelevant details)
The last two are not inherently contradictory; what they mean is that when you go through your day-to-day work, whether it be emailing customers, coding new features or managing employees, you have an end goal in mind which you can then work towards. You don’t have to know exactly what this end goal will be at all times — instead only know what it should be if everything goes well. This helps prevent unnecessary distractions and can help keep your focus on the right thing at all times.
I would add one more point: even though these projects should really be small and simple, they can also provide valuable experience in terms of teamwork and communication with stakeholders. By working on smaller projects you are forced to think more explicitly about how each team member works together than by starting off large and trying to get everyone aligned around one common vision from the start when there are multiple different visions around the table. It can also allow for better communication between different teams since communication tends to be more effective when there isn’t too much pressure on making things happen immediately. A project that has an easy structure like this tends to lead slowly but surely towards an outcome where everyone involved understands how everything fits together instead of having many conflicting ideas about how everything should fit together at any given moment.
I’m not sure why I put this on here, but it is a hat tip to the project chimps series of posts and talks by Charlie Munger that I wrote about a while ago.
In the first post we outline the basics of project management, with a focus on time management. The second post is much more detailed and discusses how to build a project management system. The third post discusses how to deal with change and has some specific implications for Slack. Later in the series we discuss more advanced topics such as managing schedules, managing dependencies, and managing projects (though they do overlap).
I think these three posts are quite valuable. They explain some of the fundamentals of project management in a way that is probably accessible to everyone who is interested in learning about good project management practices (and in particular good time management methodology). But perhaps equally importantly are the implications for Slack itself:
• They demonstrate how important it is to have dedicated managers for every task across your company or organization
• They show how important it is for all team members to get involved — when possible (whether through delegation or through ownership)
• They help demonstrate how important it is to have regular communication between managers and tasks so that everyone understands what’s happening at each step along the way
In this day and age where technology seems to always be changing at an exponential pace, there may not be anything that compares in terms of practical benefits when it comes to project management practice. It is still very much work in progress, but if you read through my notes from my talks at Slockit 2016 or YC15 or any of my other talks this year, you’ll probably see things I’ve written here slightly expanded or expanded even further from there.
The best way to build motivation is to create a compelling, detailed project description and to manifesto the mission.
This one has been around for decades, and I believe it is one of the most powerful ways of getting people buy-in. In his book The Power of Habit , Charles Duhigg suggests that people are more likely to engage with a project if they like what they see in it, rather than being told exactly what it is going to be:
“Much of our success can be attributed to the fact that we’re motivated by our own efforts. What happens in a person’s mind when he does something he doesn’t enjoy? If you’re like most people, you feel good when you do things you enjoy. You don’t want to do things you don’t enjoy. Your happiness depends on it. When you do something great, your mind fills with thoughts of praise and thanksgiving. You feel great about yourself and others because you know that everyone else feels the same way about great work. “Charlie and I have discovered that this is true even among your colleagues — not just at work but in everything else as well … Even if some people find out about your project before approval, they will still generally be willing to give their time if they are excited by what they think will happen next … People are so eager for praise, so happy with themselves in general after having done something meaningful, that when someone comes along who shares those qualities for real — not just their job description — then there is bound to be a lot of enthusiasm (even from people who didn’t know much about your project). It makes no difference whether the person who comes along actually does the job at all; after all, he or she will have given us a lot of good ideas for our future projects; we just need some time to collect them into a product before we start from scratch again!”
The above was written as an example from social psychology research which focused on motivation: yes, it works even when no one knows what your product actually is! Let me explain why this works:
• Motivation appears only when there is an external reward coming from other sources than yourself (e.g., money). Since we don’t care because we already know how much pleasure such an external reward can provide us (and since we already like what we are doing), giving ourselves such external rewards seems natural enough
This is a real-world example of how to align with customers. You may be a big brand and have a loyal customer base, but you might not be acting in the long-term interests of that customer community. If you are not acting in their long-term interests, it’s time to start aligning with them.
I am going to use the word ‘loyal’ here, but it could just as easily apply to ‘reliable’, ‘supportive’ or ‘decentralized’. It could also apply to ‘containing features’ or ‘having good UX’. Longevity is one of the key factors in loyalty; keep that in mind when designing features, and pay attention when adding your own features (as they will inevitably take on some characteristics of those already in place).
It is important that any feature you add provide value for the user and make sense within the context of all the other features they are already using — not only do you need to think about them individually (which will cause problems), but also about context: if you add this feature now, what impact does it have on other things in use? Does it replace every other feature? What happens if this one goes out of scope? Do we need to upgrade this one anyway?
If your app is built around a human relationship then some level of support needs to be available before and after release — otherwise, users will feel like they paid too much for something they never got used to working with.
A group of researchers at the University of Washington decided to throw a bunch of monkeys into a room with a computer and see what happened. The results were, um… interesting.
The research findings were originally published in the journal Nature on April 4, 2009. It’s interesting how some things are so obvious, so obvious that everyone is already aware of them – but not in the way that you might expect from the title. You see, it’s long been known that certain animals such as chimps and humans are good at problem solving:
Are chimps good problem solvers? A study has revealed that chimps can solve problems much more quickly than human beings. Chimps can solve problems up to three times faster than humans on average. If we use an experimental design with a simulated classroom environment then this finding holds true (the experiment was done in a simulated classroom environment).
Chapter 2: The Challenges of Using Project Chimps
Project chimps is an idea that came from the laughter of a group of early engineers when they were challenged to build a product with very little code. They tried to come up with a simple way for software developers to test their software, quickly and cheaply.
The results were quite promising. The problem was that the software was not very nice in its design. It was hard to find bugs, and it didn’t help you create new features or add functionality. In the end, the team decided to work on something else, and so Project Chimps became a project of ours instead, where we are working on building a tool which helps you quickly test your code without having to write any code at all.
In this chapter we will explain how Project Chimps works and what challenges it faces as it tries to be both easy and powerful.