Becoming a Project Manager

Idel, you have switch to the dark side .

Did I really? If you read my old intro page, I was a programmer or software developer by profession for around 15 years till , as my colleague said, switch to the dark side which is Project Management.

The BIG Question now .. WHY DID I SWITCH??

To say it bluntly, because it was something new for me and a BIG challenge. As a Software Engineer, I don’t have to deal with human interaction. I only need my PC , my code and as long as I have all the requirement needed I’m happy in nice corner of the virtual world writing my codes.

Why Project Management?

One thing I like about my company, is the opportunity to try other career paths. I mentioned to my manager that I was interested in Product Management moving forward with my career. I want to give it a try before deciding on becoming a tech lead.

BUT mid 2016, a project which some of my teammates are working on was in trouble. They needed someone to be able to communicate with the team in India, Tokyo and Osaka. Someone who understands the system and can speak both Japanese and English. It was a temporary thing. One week later, Project Sponsor asked me to be full time Project Manager for the project. It was a scary request since I don’t have any idea about the role itself. My choice was a “YES” or a “yes”. I choose the latter of course.

As Boss Panda mentioned ,” Try Fast, Fail Fast” I plunge head on and I have never looked back ever since.

What skills do you need to be a good Project Manager?

This is the very common question I get and to be honest I don’t have a direct answer. This always gives me a pause.

If you need to understand Project Management : PMP, Prince 2 and so on are all available online. There are also lots on training in Udemy , Pluralsight and so on. You can even get certificates to prove that you have the basic knowledge. I don’t have those certificates except for the one offered in the company itself.

BUT is it enough to say you are a good project manager? Definitely not.

Success of the Project is of course the priority as a PjM BUT how you get there is also important. PjMs are not people manager BUT we need to work closely with all the stakeholders so having a good communication , trust among each member is one of the things we need to established.

We work closely with different managers to keep the team motivated, resolve any conflict. We also need to gather information timely to make decision making faster and accurate as possible. We need to be aware of each member cultural background to avoid stepping or offending someone’s culture.. etc. These are just some the interpersonal skills that I have to cultivate to improve.

You need to find a balance between your hard and soft skills to make sure you are leading the project team in the right direction. In this regards, it’s a constant improvement. I’m constantly learning from all the people I have worked with.

Will I ever go back as an Engineer?

As of this writing, maybe not BUT even though I don’t write codes anymore, I still prefer working with Software Engineers and learning about new technologies they are working.

It’s fun working with different team and different individuals. Being a PjM, I get to be able to do this. It’s not easy, it’s even frustrating and annoying sometimes that you want to pull out your hairs. But at the end of the day, you work together as a team and deliver something good.

What’s next for you?

Since last year, I have joined in-house training group to train employees in Project Management. This was also another challenge which I enjoyed a lot. It was scary, giving training, mentoring members and even giving final reviews. BUT meeting all these people, working with different senior project managers is really a great way to learn. Everyday you learn something new, for now that is enough, who knows in the next few years.

Till then.

The Art of Retrospecting

It’s been ages since my last entry , lots of things have happened. New career, covid-19 and a little bit of traveling.

This post will not be focus on any of my normal topics ; travel, books or sewerage covers, instead it will be a little about work.

A few years ago, I change my career path from Software Engineer to Project Manager and have since tried different framework, methodology or ways to improve the way I handle projects and interact with the team. That story is out of scope for this article and will be shared in the next one. For now I want to focus more on “Retrospective“.

Retrospective is defined as: Retrospective is a meeting held after a product ships to discuss what happened during the development with a goal of improving things in the future based on those learnings and conversations.

How did you get introduce to it?

For more or less than 15 years, I was developing mainly middleware and it was very waterfall. My team was never agile or use the scrum framework. The only time I conversed with my colleague at work was during specification discussion or any Q&A sessions. When I joined my team at my new company, it was the first time I heard about agile, scrum, huddle or retrospective. I have no experience with all of these, so I have to learn fast to understand it better.

How was your first Retrospective Experience?

I had no idea what was going on. I was told to write something I observed on a sticky note. Then there was a discussion about it and it was group together , someone took a picture and made a page in confluence and that was it. I did not hear anything afterwards.

The event itself was okayish. Majority of the members were quiet and barely spoke anything. There are some who monopolizes the conversation. It was not a productive 30 minutes and at that moment I feel that retrospective was just a waste of time.

You said “A Waste of Time”, When or How did your view change?

My team went to different organization changes as well as process improvement which gave a chance to learn different ways of team management, and no I’m not a manager :D. I also had the chance to join different team who are doing retrospective.

The latter was probably the biggest factor. Seeing how other teams communicate, sharing their views and idea of team improvement and actually checking the actions if it was executed properly and what was the impact to the team.

Of course it was not all peachy, I joined some team whose retrospective turned into a ranting and blaming sessions without any productive output.

It all depends on how the team views this event and of course proper facilitation.

Is there a style that you recommend?

It should be based on what the team is comfortable with. There are different style that I have tried over the years which I listed below (Not in specific order)

Spotify’s Squad Health Check – a colleague introduced me to this model which I really like since it helps the team visualize, discuss and assess the current situation and have a focused action plan. Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, I dowloaded the cards, printed it and laminated it for the team. It took several tries but we got used to it and was able to focus on what we really want to improve and set realistic action plans. The team agreed to use this style once or twice a month to get a clearer idea on the results.

Unfortunately because of Covid-19, we could no longer do the face to face version. One colleague got very creative and created a game version in Kahoot (?). As for me, I wanted a simpler version with Japanese translation so I created a survey style using Microsoft . Please check the end of this post for the Japanese version.

Moving Motivators – Others might say this is best for 1-on-1 with Managers and I agree But doing this as a team was actually fun. We did it every month and found out our motivation changes depending on the team situation and maybe personal mood. The team kept a monthly record in one location to see the changes easily. We also shared to our managers to give them an idea what motivates each member in the team.

KPT method (Keep Problem Try) – Historically speaking, this method was made by Toyota for continuous improvement. It’s still very useful and simple enough. It’s a good style for a new team who is new to doing retrospective. BUT as you continue with doing retrospective it can get a little monotonous, so it is good to combine this with Squad health check or any other style.

There are different style of doing retrospective, the team can give it a try and the best fit for everyone and with the Covid-19, it gets a little more difficult to do retrospective but fear not there are ways and I’m sure many teams out there have already used different online tools to continue the team improvement. Miro , Ideaboardz are just some of the online tools that can be helpful.

You share the result to Management?

Definitely. There are actions plans that the team cannot do on its own or requires management support and its up to the leader of the group to make sure it get to right person. But make sure that the members will not be criticized or targeted by the management. Each opinion from each member should not impact their evaluation or performance review.

Do you think Retrospective is important?

Very. A team needs to find ways to always improve, without it the team will become stagnant. Discover the best practices your team have and make sure to continue it. It can also be a chance to say appreciation to each member. Focus on the positive side and find ways to improved. Never resort to name-calling or blaming or you will loose the real meaning of retrospective.

Each team is also different. If you work with a diverse team, make sure to set a baseline so that you don’t step or accidentally insult other member’s cultural background.

Disclamer:

All information here are based on my experience and my personal opinion only. There are lots of books on Agile , Scrum or working with a diverse team. Some of you out there might not agree with me and that’s fine.

I’m not a professional translator (Japanese). The translation below was made with the help of my Japanese colleague who fixed my Japanese grammar :D. You are free to use the translation at your own risk.

Squad Health Check Japanese Version. English Version is here

Delivering Value ・価値を提供する

  • 青 : 誇りを持って良いものを届けています。ステークホルダーも満足しています。 ・ We deliver great stuff! We’re proud of it and our stakeholders are really happy
  • 黄 : ままです
  • 赤 : 残念なものを届けています。恥ずかしいです。ステークホルダーにも嫌われています。・ We deliver crap. We feel ashamed to deliver it. Our stakeholders hate us

Easy to Release ・ リリースが簡単

  • 青 : リリースはシンプルで安全で簡単で、ほぼ自動化されています。・Releasing is simple, safe, painless and mostly automated.
  • 黄 : 悪くない
  • 赤 : リリースはリスクが高くて、大変で、手動でやることがたくさんあって、すごく時間がかかります。・ Releasing is risky, painful, lots of manual work and takes forever.

Fun・楽しい

  • 青 : チームと一緒に仕事をするのはとても楽しいです。・We love going to work and have great fun working together!
  • 黄:悪くない
  • 赤: つまらない。。。。 ・Boooooooring…

Health of Codebase・コードベースの状態

  • 青: コードの品質に自信があります。きれいで、読みやすくて、テストのカバレッジも高いです。・We’re proud of the quality of our code! It is clean, easy to read and has great test coverage.
  • 黄: リファクタリングした方が良い
  • 赤: コードはすごく汚くて、技術的負債はもう全然手に負えません。・ Our code is a pile of dung and technical debt is raging out of control.

Learning・学習

  • 青:いつでもたくさん面白いことを学んでいます。・We’re learning lots of interesting stuff all the time!
  • 黄:学ぶ時間が少しあります
  • 赤:学ぶ時間が全くありません。・We never have time to learn anything.

Mission・ミッション

  • 青:なぜ自分たちがここにいるのかを正しく理解していて、ワクワクしています。・ We know exactly why we are here and we’re really excited about it!
  • 黄;聞いた事あたが、あまり認識していない
  • 赤:ハイレベルのビジョンや目標もなく、なぜ自分たちがここにいるのか全く分かりません。ミッションは不明確だし、モチベーションもあがりません。・ We have no idea why we are here, there’s no high lever picture or focus. Our so called mission is completely unclear and uninspiring.

Pawn or Players・駒なのかプレーヤーなのか

  • 青:自分たちの運命は自分たちでコントロールしています。何を作るのか、どのように作るのかを自分たちで決めています。・ We are in control of our own destiny! We decide what to build and how to build it.
  • 黄:気にしない
  • 赤: 私たちはチェスの駒のようなただの傀儡です。何を作るか、どのように作るかに意見を出すことはありません。・ We are just pawns in a game of chess with no influence over what we build or how we build it.

Speed・スピード

  • 青:本当に素早くやり遂げます。待つことも遅れることもありません。・We get stuff done really quickly! No waiting and no delays.
  • 黄:普通
  • 赤:何も達成できていないように感じます。行き詰まったり、中断したりし続けています。依存がたくさんあるため、作業も進みません。・  We never seem to get anything done. We keep getting stuck or interrupted. Stories keep getting stuck on dependencies.

Suitable Process・適切なプロセス

  • 青:働き方はぴったり!・Our way of working fits us perfectly!
  • 黄:まあああ。。普通
  • 赤:働き方は最悪!!・Our way of working sucks!

Support・サポート

  • 青:必要なときにはいつでも素晴らしいサポートやヘルプが得られます。・We always get great support and help when we ask for it!
  • 黄:たまに
  • 赤:助けを求めてもサポートしてもらえないので、行き詰まったままになります。・ We keep getting stuck because we can’t get the support and help that we ask for.

Teamwork・チームワーク

  • 青:素晴らしいコラボレーションを備えた楽天のスーパチームです。・We are a totally gelled super-team with awesome collaboration!
  • 黄:特に気にしていない
  • 赤:他のチームメンバーのやっている事には興味がなくて、気にもしないメンバーの集まりです。・ We are a bunch of individuals that neither know nor care about what the other people in the squad are doing.

Manhole Cover : Toyoma City

Toyama

Toyama City is famously known for the Shiragawa Village.  This sewerage cover depicts Gassho Zukuri houses with some snow falling on it.

 

Elephant Nature Park

It has been my long dream to see a real elephant , touch at (if possible) and admire this magnificent creature. The first time I saw one was in a zoo, I think in Ueno or maybe Tennoji (not sure) but it did not look happy at all.

The second time was in Angkor Wat , where tourist were riding on it’s back, again it looks sad , tired and tortured.

I found a sanctuary , Elephant Nature Park, in Chiang Mai who rescues abused Elephants. They also support/ help families who stopped using their own Elephants in riding camps and this is where I went for a day, a great and amazing day with the Elephants.

They have several on going project and I was lucky enough to join the Saddle Off Project in Kon Kub Chang. We prepare the elephant food, feed it to them , took them for a walk for their mud bath and gave them a bath afterwards.

Kon Kub Chang Patiently waiting till we finish preparing the food. Kon Kub Chang
Food !!!

Untitled More Food !! Untitled
Can I get more please !!!

Untitled Mud Bath Time !!! Untitled
Happy Dance ! (Click the picture to see the video)

As I said or wrote specifically there are several on going projects that better than watching elephants paints or riding them.

When in Chiang Mai, try to bring your family , friends to the Elephant Nature Park.

 

Thailand 2018 : The Sanctuary of Truth

Although The Sanctuary of Truth has probably left some forest bald , deforestation , you can’t helped but be impressed by it.

This temple is located Pattaya which is about 3 hours by bus from Bangkok.  It is located along the shore, so the sea breeze constantly deteriorate the structure so it needs constant maintenance.

Let’s take a short tour of the temple:

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
A view from a far.

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden

Closer..

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
Side View.

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
A little closer.

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
One side of the temple is under renovation, replacing the areas which are already starting to disintegrate.

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
Busy like a bee.

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
Very intricate detail of the temple.

Wat Phraya Tai, Sancturay of Truth, Noong Nooch Garden
At the workshop, busy carving new status.

Inside the temple is as intricate outside or even more.

Visiting this place made the trip to Pattaya worth it.