Project management methodologies: again

Following another of those conversations about projects where people told me they “don’t like Agile” or think that we should use “proper” project management techniques I decided to write down my thoughts on project management methodologies. I rather hope this will be cathartic. It will also mean I have something to send people when I find myself embroiled in another of those conversations again.

Where I come from on this.

I have been trained in and have applied in my career three different project management techniques:

  • Scrum: an agile methodology
  • PRINCE2: a waterfall methodology
  • Integrated Emergency Management: a methodology for… well… managing emergencies

This doesn’t, of itself, make me a better project manager but it does give me a distinct perspective on project management.

Essentially I don’t believe there is a “proper” way to manage projects. I do believe that one technique may be safer (ie less risky) than the others in any given context.

Different techniques for different scenarios.

Like the railways

I don’t know anything about managing railways. So let’s use that as a way for me to illustrate what I’m talking about.


Lets say my project is to install a brand new signalling system at a railway junction. Network Rail is going to give me 8 hours (or 4? I don’t know) overnight to do the job. This project has some distinctive features:

– it is incredibly important that I get this exactly right. No-one is going to let trains run past my new signalling system unless they are completely satisfied that it does what it is supposed to do. In every regard.

– it is clear what exactly right means in this context. Clever engineers (I choose to believe) have spent a lot of time thinking about how trains interact with signals and once I have finished installing it; my new system will be checked by a clever engineer, against every single criteria.

– I can reduce the risk of this project going horribly wrong by preparing really well in advance. This is a process known to project managers as planning. In fact I will probably spend orders of magnitude more time planning the project than I will delivering it.

– if I get it horribly wrong and at the end of my 8 (or 4) hour window, the signalling system isn’t exactly right, the time will be extended. Of course people will be very cross, my company will be fined lots of money and I may lose my job but so important is the specification that, if necessary we will extend the time and pay more to make sure we get it exactly right.

This is a job for waterfall project management. In fact it is for this sort of situation that product descriptions and GANNTT charts were invented.

Build me a brand new thing

Let’s suppose that, flush with my successful delivery of a signalling system, my company decides that they want to market a brand new signalling system. This will be a signalling system to rule them all. The marketing folk want to demonstrate it at the global signalling expo in 6 months time and they have a long list of things they would, in an ideal world, like it to do. This project also has some distinctive features:

– it is incredibly important to deliver something on time. If we can’t demonstrate something at the global signalling expo then we can’t sell it.

– I don’t need to get it exactly right. OK the marketing folk have a wish list but if I only deliver half the things on their list that’s still better than what we have now. And if I asked them if they would like half the list delivered in time for the expo of the whole list 6 months later, we know what they would say.

– there is a limit to how much I can reduce the risk of this going horribly wrong through planning. Because by definition we have never built a signalling system like this before. In fact, hopefully, no-one else has. It would be more sensible to start and to keep checking how we’re doing against the wish list (iteration).

This is a job for Agile project management. Time is a constraint, specification is flexible and we’ve never done this before.

Save me

Now let’s suppose I’ve moved jobs. A train has come off the tracks (not as a result of my excellent signalling system). Hundreds of people need evacuating, many are injured, some seriously. Perhaps 150 people are involved in the response from over 10 different organisations. People need help right now. You’ve guessed it, this project also has distinctive features.

– the situation is very complex and likely to change rapidly. And at the start of the project we have a fairly hazy picture of what is going on.

– we must start delivering immediately.

– planning can help to reduce the risk of things going (more) wrong. We can’t plan for this exact scenario but we can imagine that sometime, somewhere a train might come off the rails and so we can think about how we might approach that situation. That said we will need to allow flexibility because we know that every situation will be different.

– short term and rapid planning can also help to reduce the risk of things going (more) wrong. We can get some people to think about how bad things might get and start planning for those situations: what if all the passengers needed to go to hospital for example.

– resource is not a primary constraint. That said, we can’t magic money or trained staff, or ambulances out of thin air. We’ll need to find them, get them to the scene and work out what is going to happen to the jobs they were, presumably, supposed to be doing.

This is a job for integrated emergency management. Work must start immediately. The situation is complex and poorly understood. Resource is not a primary constraint.

If you think Agile looks crazy you should investigate IEM.

Common features

Ultimately project management is about getting the job done, as well as possible.

There are surprising numbers of common features between all three techniques (though they handle them in very different ways):

– communication is key

– senior people need to take big decisions but if they micromanage they increase risk

– people working on the project need to know what the task is

– people working on the project need to be familiar with how the project is managed

There. I’m not sure anyone else is interested but, in the future, if I have directed you to this page it is only to save you 30 minutes of increasingly frustrated ranting.

And I’d be really interested in your views…








Coming home is strange: it feels like leaving

Pile of business cards. The logo Likeaword is very prominentSo my business cards arrived today.

That makes it official.

I am now properly the MD of the likeaword consultancy.

Last time I did this sort of thing I learned a lot (and wrote a series of blog posts about what I had learned)

In 2008 I concluded that what organisations needed was help to understand how social media would change emergency response and people’s behaviour in disasters. That was, as it turned out, correct. I think it is fair to say that the market took some time to develop.

In 2015 I concluded that organisations need help to understand and adapt to the profound changes digital technology is making to society. Emergencies and disaster response are areas where we see this impact most dramatically but it can be felt across all organisations all of the time.

So I haven’t left the public sector for corporate shilling. Nor have I left local government so I can do more for local government.

In fact it’s not about leaving at all.

I’ve taken a step into a role where I think I can make a real contribution to helping citizens and organisations make serious use of the amazing abilities that each one of us now has available at our fingertips.

Likeaword isn’t intended to become a global colossus nor is it intended to be a one person band. It should be just as big as it needs to be and just as small as it can be.

And, hopefully, useful.

Please get in touch if you think we can help.

(the title is a quote by the way from a song on this album)

5 things we learned at #RocketCamp 5

Lovely to be back on Church St for #rocketcamp

A photo posted by Toki Noz (@tiktoknoz) on


Thanks to everyone who came along to RocketCamp last week, and especially our three speakers.

There was loads of great discussion. Here are 5 things that I took away from the evening

1. Consider visually impaired people when you post photos online

Bik Lee from the Royal National College for the Blind took us through an exercise which took everyone from “What?” to “Whoa, I totally get this”.

We all know that photos are awesome on social networks, but what about people who can’t see your image? The RNC provides a full description of each image they post on Facebook. Even if you think that’s over the top, a short note might help ensure you aren’t shutting out a section of your audience.

2. Things are changing at Herefordshire Nature Trust

For a start it’s becoming Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.

But they’re also going to be dusting off their social media presences and refreshing their website.

John Clarke from the Trust gave a passionate talk about the work of the Trust and how their focus will be on connecting the people of the county with the wildlife of the county.

3. Choose your weapon

There is a LOT of social media out there. You don’t want to be, and probably can’t be on every platform. So pick the right platforms and work with them.
Richard Gallagher (who works with me at Herefordshire Council) covered this in his great talk on getting started with social media marketing. He also talked about the importance of working with people who are already influential in your networks. In his case he’s still chuffed to bits about a bit of help he received from PewDiePie (what do you mean, who?)

4. Social media can be a tool for inclusion

Apparently one of the things students at the RNC like about social media platforms is that online they are the same as everyone else. Offline people can see their white stick or their guide dog. On social networks people just see them.

5. If you don’t like tweeting for yourself, maybe a customer will help you

Apparently one of Ben’s customers at the Rocket Camp is so keen to share the joys of the food and atmosphere that she is tweeting for him.

How awesome is that?

Rocket Camp returns April-ish.

Crouton in a tab makes Chromebooks unbeatably awesome

Screenshot shows Taylor Swift and and xfce in a tab

Geeks tend to pay attention when they see my laptop. It’s cool and sleek and quite industrial. It’s clearly not a Mac, it’s certainly not a Dell or Lenovo, what is it?

And usually a look of disappointment or confusion crosses their face when they discover it’s a Chromebook Pixel. Why, they ask, would anyone, anyone with serious intent, waste their money on a machine that just throws you in to the Chrome web browser?

And the answer lies in the Crouton project. A side project of a Google engineer, Crouton harnesses the fact that deep down the operating system of a Chromebook is a very stripped down and locked down version of Linux. And Linux is used by those with serious intent.

In fact it was Crouton that persuaded my to invest in the Pixel in the first place. It uses a fairly deep Unix feature called the chroot to run Linux alongside the Chrome OS. For the past couple of years this has been pretty good. I can boot into Chrome in around 3 seconds (no really) and do a lot of the things I might want to do in that environment. If I need some proper computing (or to use Skype which doesn’t have a Chrome client) I fire up my Linux installation. You have to switch between one and the other environment and that has a tendency to be slightly annoying, though it’s not exactly the end of the world.

Now the Crouton community have released a rather marvellous enhancement. It’s a Chrome extension and a modification to the Crouton code which means you can run your chroot in a browser tab.

And this really is special. It means I can effectively run Firefox in a Chrome Tab, or do some serious GIS work on QGIS and snap backwards and forwards between that and, my window onto the world, Hootsuite.

And it brings Skype onto my Chrome desktop.

Some thoughts on SOCITM’s third party suppliers workshop

There is no such thing as a website

Websites are not as most people imagine them to be. In fact you could argue that there is no such thing as a website.

There are digital transactions.

We create a website by bundling them together so that they have a coherence, a consistent look and feel, common language, integrations.

When that happens, it does not, generally delight people. It’s how we expect things to work.

When it doesn’t happen, it’s weird, confusing and feels broken.

In local government we really struggle to deliver this consistency across our digital services.

Mind the gap

Often the break in consistency comes when you move from a digital service provided by the council directly to a service provided by a third party piece of software.

SOCITM, which tries to make local government websites better, organised an event to try to get underneath these issues. And it was largely successful in identifying the problems. It didn’t come up with the killer solution but there were examples of approaches that may help. (They were kind enough to ask me to give a short presentation opining on the importance of APIs and modular design.)

Though in a sense the solution is simple and self-evident: we should buy stuff that works properly with our other digital services. Of course if it were that simple we would already have done it.

Some approaches

Northamptonshire held an in-house summit with suppliers of third-party apps on their site. They involved some business owners (the people in services who hold relationships with the suppliers of specialist software), but on reflection they wished they’d involved all of the owners.

This is one of those ideas that once you’ve heard it, seems so obvious you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But of course you didn’t. However now I’ve been told about it, I’m totally organising this as soon as possible back at base.

Rochdale have driven an extraordinary level of take-up of online benefits applications (nearly 100% of applications) by working with their third party supplier and making sure that the system worked for users.

At Herefordshire we encourage the use of APIs/web services so that we can handle the front end ourselves and guarantee consistency. This has additional spin-offs and if, as a sector, we could standardise around APIs on some of our services it could really transform the market for customer facing tech.

East Riding have strong governance, essentially they have found a way of describing what good looks like and then ensured that services can only buy systems that meet these standards.

We heard from a couple of suppliers of third party systems. They pointed out that some of the problems users experience may be down to poor implementation of their products. They also pointed to the truism that they sell what we buy.

And that’s the killer point. We can not blame suppliers. We buy what we choose to buy.

What does good look like?

Across the sector there is no real consensus on what good looks like. I think that within web teams there is an ever increasing consensus but our colleagues in other areas may not agree or, perhaps more significantly, may not understand why we think that good looks that way.

We need to find ways to bring other professionals, senior managers and elected members into our world. Because we can deliver excellent digital services.

If we agree that it matters.

Some links for emergency planners on drones

Why drones?

When I first went freelance in 2008 I decided to specialise in the emerging field of social media for emergency management. This was, on reflection, a terrible idea because I was attempting to sell people a solution to a problem they didn’t agree they had (for more on terrible business decisions see my blog on how to fail at freelancing)

If I were launching a freelance career now and wanted to be similarly unsuccessful I would specialise in how drone (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Unmanned Aerial Systems) technology will impact on emergency management.

Droning on

Unmanned or remote control aircraft have been with us for many years and governments have been making increasing use of them. Until recently civilians were limited to model aircraft which are difficult to fly without training and have limited capability.

Advances in technology mean that UAVs can fly autonomously, take still photos (and monitor other factors) and stream and sound over large distances. Costs are falling and availability is increasing.

Why emergency planners should care

There are many, many positive uses for drone technologies.

The UAViators network is attempting to create an effective framework for the use of drones for humanitarian purposes.

The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service has used a drone to identify people in need of rescue, direction and speed of fire spread, rendezvous points, access and egress to the incident ground evacuation zones and other issues around incidents. (for more on this read West Midlands Fire Service employs Unmanned Aerial Systems to protect responders).

There are several obvious anti-social or malicious use cases for drones, to harass or attack others. The use of drones by terrorists is seen by some as an increasing risk.

Regulation (in the UK)

In the UK UAV flights are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority and they provide guidance on the rules for different sizes and uses of aircraft.

The Information Commissioner has provided guidance on drones and data protection.

Find out more

There is an All Party Parliamentary Group on drones.

There is a thriving community of people designing, building and printing drones.

The tech blog Mashable has a regular “Drone Beat” news section.


There was a demonstration of drone tech and a Q&A at this years’ BlueLightCamp.

Here’s a vido of the demonstration.

Health and social care, IT and informatics

Yesterday SOCITM (people who know about IT in local government) and ADASS (people who know about social care) held a workshop in Birmingham.

I rocked up. There was an interesting mix. I think I was probably the only digital rather than big IT person.

Essentially the programme was talk/chat all the way through.

It was, perhaps inevitably, focused on preparations for the Care Act.

This post is really a set of personal notes and reflections. I would have written it on the train back yesterday if I had been able to move…

It assumes you know quite a lot about the Care Act. If anyone has a link to a good primer on the Act (especially the tech aspects) do send it to me.

Random notes

Getting IT and social care people together is crucial. Involving health and digital people is also crucial.

Apparently in the NHS what we call ICT they call informatics. @ehealth_guru sent me a link to this [PDF] about how informatics can help improve social care

The challenge, in this context, is being presented as an IT issue. There are big IT and IG issues. In the room there was popular support for maintaining the focus on user needs but I think we’ve all seen how a focus on systems makes that really hard.

The approach in Cornwall looked very interesting in this regard @penwithpioneer

No-one seems to be much further ahead of us in the region.

The approach in Leeds is really interesting as per this PDF Whole Place Informatics Model

I worry also that the focus on systems will mean that we miss opportunities to deliver real transformation. Self assessment was being couched in terms of being a significant technical challenge and probably not very easy to do. There are so many criteria to check etc.

But we have an opportunity to build amazing services that are much better than what we can achieve with our current modes. We have to stop thinking about the systems and start thinking like consumer tech companies.

And is there consensus about the most appropriate interventions are. It seems to me that providing open data and open (API) services is where local authorities could add the most value.

Next steps

As always when you get a bunch of folk in a room focused on a shared problem there is a sense that “we should do this more often”. We should but it’s not clear what the framework for that should be. There was talk of a roadmap for health and social care ICT developments. That might be useful.

Talking is always good. Collaboration is always good. But organisations need to be moving in the same direction to really get the value from this.

Which is why I favour delivering some of these services on a national basis. And also why I think projects like Pipeline should be supported too.

Sell people problems

At a painful business networking breakfast a while ago the chosen speaker gave us his definitive guide to killer marketing emails (( it was probably a five point plan, they tend to be ))

This five point plan (( told you )) took us through empathy

Are you a terribly important and interesting person? (( it may have been more subtle than this ))

He proposed we ask.

Why yes, yes I am

Our reader would find themselves subconsciously thinking.

Are you in the business of making and selling widgets? (( a friend recently mocked my for my constant use of the term widget in this context. I invited him to find an alternative. I continue to use the term widgets. ))


Why yes I am

They would think.

At this point we have hooked them and we can move on to the next, crucial stage.

Your business is about to go bankrupt. Because of the:

– scary IT thing you do not understand

– terrifying tax thing you do not understand

– stupefying legal thing you do not understand (( delete as appropriate. obv ))

By this point our reader is panicking.

What will I do?

they fret

I’m about to go bankrupt because I don’t understand the scary IT / tax / legal thing

And then you strike

I represent the foremost expert in the field of IT / tax / law and we are prepared, for an appropriate fee, to stop you going bankrupt.

The sense of relief in our reader is palpable.

Call us now (( there’s got to be a call to action otherwise people drift off elsewhere, they’re like sheep you see, successful business people ))


There is a problem with the five point plan to writing a marketing newsletter and it is this: most people will scan it and think

Oh that’s just a thing about IT / tax / some legal mumbo jumbo

And chuck it away.

Because they don’t know that they have a problem.

People don’t buy problems.

If your business relies on convincing people they have a problem so that you can sell them the solution (even if they do have a solution) then you don’t have a business.

Welcome to the club (( try selling social media risk management when everyone else was just trying to sell social media. No don’t )).