Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Help from Unexpected Places - Addendum

Oops, I guess I forgot the details of the book mentioned in my last post (and the one I'm adding to my Gimme List).  Here 'tis:

Photobooth Dogs by Cameron Woo (Chronicle Books, August 2010)

ISBN-10 0811872513

(Available at Chapters and Amazon)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Help from Unexpected Places

At the beginning of every project, the project manager identifies stakeholders and how they’re involved in the project (and how much time they need to be involved, and hence how much each resource will cost). In addition to the stakeholders, applicable standards, statutes, and reference material is also identified.  It’s all part of the planning process.  And applies to genealogy projects, too.

But no matter how complete the resource list, every now and then a nugget from an unexpected source drops out of the sky.  In my case, my latest little nugget came from a query about a potential Christmas gift.

Early photos came with a frame

There are, evidently, a number of books on the photobooth – those little booths in malls that give you 4 pictures for (the 2010 equivalent of) $1.  The most recently published book (August 2010) examines photobooth pictures of dogs.  

Mom's picture -
no frame on this one though
(The frame's on Grandpa's pic)

So how is this a nugget, you ask?  In having a look at the first few pages online, I found information about the photobooth – it was first introduced in 1927 and called the “Photomaton”.  The connection – in going through family documents I found a couple of these pictures from the early 1930’s.  While these types of pictures aren’t rare, I didn’t realize how new the technology was at the time.  A little more insight into life in the 1930s.

Hmm, maybe I should take Landy out for a photobooth portrait…

OK, so the PM connection might be a little tenuous, but this is still pretty cool!
(And yes, the book is a good choice for Christmas - I'll add it to my Gimme List.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Testing, Testing, 1 - 2 - 3 ... Ah, Maybe Not ...

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) divides project management into nine categories, or Knowledge Areas.  One of these is Quality Management, and includes all the processes required to ensure a quality result.  Part of these, of course, would be the testing processes.

Going back to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago (see my previous posts), Chicago was trying to find something that would outdo the Tour d’Eiffel at the Paris fair.  George Ferris came up with the idea of a giant wheel, known simply today as the Ferris Wheel.  

The first wheel for the Columbian Exposition was over 80 metres high.  There were 36 cars, each accepting 60 passengers for a total capacity of 2,160 riders.  And that’s the capacity for just one ride. 

With that many passengers, you’d think there would have been some pretty impressive testing of the wheel before it was officially opened to the fair-goers.  As it turns out (no pun intended), the first test was done after the wheel was built but before the cars were attached.  The test: 1 complete revolution of the wheel.  That test was deemed successful – the wheel turned successfully, and remained standing.  There was a brief raining down of spare nuts, bolts and possibly some forgotten tools.  But the test was completed and successful, with no further thought given to the metal rain.

The next test was performed with a few of the cars attached.  This time passengers rode in the cars – Ferris’s wife, and assorted dignitaries. Some of fair-goers also managed to get in on the test as well: some 100 unplanned passengers climbed aboard one of the other cars.  Nobody was thrown off the ride.  Fortunately, the second test was successful, even with the overloaded car filled with stowaways.

The risk of allowing passengers aboard the wheel with such minimal testing was incredibly high.  If there were any problems with the wheel, the results could have been catastrophic.  In fact, when the test with passengers was run, there was no plan for rescuing passengers in the event the wheel stopped with people stranded at the top.  Oddly enough, the risk of the wheel being used for suicide attempts was considered and addressed: all windows were glassed in and covered with grilles.

The Ferris Wheel was an engineering feat.  Of course, if this were to be built today, there would be much more thorough testing done, and well before any passengers were included.  More detailed risk analysis would be done, with mitigation and contingency plans in place.

This is why risk management, quality assurance and quality control are all knowledge areas of project management.

Happily for the genealogist, the potential consequences of risks and lack of adequate attention to quality through testing are not as dire.  That said, it’s very easy to spend significant time researching the wrong families.  In my research, many of my ancestors have the same names, so it’s important to be careful to confirm and cross-check things like dates and locations. 

No matter the size of the project, risk analysis and testing is key.

(Repeat recommendation: The book, "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson, is a great example of lack of project management.  Plus it's a good read!)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And then there's creepy scope...

The White City - Chicago, 1893
75-90% of a project manager’s time is spent on communications.  We project managers spend a lot of time preparing status and progress reports, walking around talking with team members to see how things are going, making and displaying charts showing the progress of some or all of the project – all the things that go into making sure the whole team is aware of what’s going on.  Keep this in mind as I relate the next bit of genealogy research.

I travelled to Chicago, my hometown, during the summer to continue my genealogical research.  Stopping at the Chicago History Museum, I came across the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  It tells the story of the lead up to the Chicago 1893 Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair), and I thought it would give me additional insight into late 19th century Chicago.

Half the story deals with the preparations for the Exposition and the building of The White City (the fairgrounds), and the other half deals with America’s first serial killer, Dr. H. H. Holmes. 

Dr. Holmes built a large office and apartment complex about a mile from the site of the Exposition.  Acting as both architect and general contractor, Holmes designed the building with shops on the first floor, rooms to let and offices on the 2nd and 3rd floors.  The basement had a furnace that could withstand extremely high heat, as well as operating rooms.  The upper floors had secret passages, stairwells that went nowhere, doors that didn’t open into anything, and windowless, soundproof rooms that could be rendered air-tight were also fitted with gas jets that could be manipulated from hidden viewing areas.  His plan was to take advantage of the thousands of visitors to the city, lure them to what was to be called his Castle, where he would torture and dispatch select guests.  Detailed itineraries were not common at that time – usually the most information left with loved ones is that they were going to Chicago, with no additional information on accommodation or specific return date.  This made it much easier for people to simply disappear, to the benefit of the Doctor.  Talk about creepy scope…

The trick was to get the building completed without letting anybody in on the design.  Holmes decided to take an interesting approach to communication – he just simply didn’t communicate.

The building’s plans were kept a secret.  Workers were hired to build bits and pieces of the whole.  Work crews were regularly fired and replaced – easy to do as there was a limitless supply of workers.  Nobody really had a feel for the building as a whole. 

The building was completed, and operated according to the original ghoulish plans.  No one was the wiser, until – well, I won’t say.  It is getting close to Halloween, and this book is a good read.

I should also point out that the other half of the book, the part that deals with the lead up to the Columbian Exposition, contains all sorts of examples of really bad project management.  In keeping with the upcoming haunting season, pick up a copy and give it a read!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Dreaded Scope Creep

Part of the fun of genealogy is that you’re never really done – there’s always one more person to find, or just a little better understanding to be had of people or history.  Fun for a genealogist, but a problem for project managers.

The object of my genealogy project is to record and communicate the research I’ve done.  That means I have to stop the research at some point and prepare the information to be shared.  For this project, the end of the research was scheduled for the end of August, and I believed I’d passed Gate 3 (see my previous post).  But things are never that cut & dried.  Since I’ve started in to the next set of tasks to produce the genealogy books, a few things came up.  Consider the following:

My great-grandfather, Albert RICHARD.  I can’t find any information on his family.  In reviewing his marriage certificate, census reports, birth and death records of his wife and children, and his own death certificate I once again noticed all sorts of different spellings of his last name – RICHARD, RICHARDS, RICHERT, REICHART, and so on.  I do know he was born in Chicago in 1860, and his parents were born in Germany.  The temptation is, of course, to do just a little more research to find his parents.  How long can a little more research on different spellings of his surname take?

And then there’s Albert’s wife, Helen FICHTER.  I’ve just found some research done by another genealogist whose research includes my FICHTERs.  And he has information about the family going back to the 1600’s!  But I need to confirm names, dates and sources, and add this information into my database.

So what do I do?  The little bit of extra research for RICHARD, and the incorporation of the new FICHTER information probably won’t take a lot of time.  (Famous last words…) But it will take time away from my remaining work. 

This is scope creep – those little (and sometimes not so little) extra tasks that come up.  As a genealogist, of course the answer is to do the additional research – it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’ll add value to the genealogy project.  As a project manager, though, the little bits of extra unplanned work can add up and lay waste to the schedule. 

The first thing to do is to acknowledge the extra work; write it down.  Next, take a look at what’s involved, and what the affect will be on the rest of the project.  And what the impact will be if the work is not done.  This is impact analysis. 

More often than not in a project, there is a compromise: some additional work is done, some is deferred to another time, and some may be dropped altogether.  In my case, my impact analysis (the details of which I’ll spare you), I opted for compromise.  For Albert, I decided to spend an additional 2 days looking for his family.  If nothing was found (and sadly nothing was), additional research is left to another time.  I’ll include a note dealing with alternate spellings in the genealogy book, and this research will continue after the books are out.  For Helen and her newly-discovered ancestors, I’ve decided to include the new ancestors in my database, and the source of the new information included with the other genealogist credited.  Any additional verification I’ll leave until the genealogy books are completed and sent out. 

So, I’m now back on track.  At least until a little more scope creeps in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What I'm Doing - When I'll Be Finished

The objective of my family history and genealogy project is really twofold: (1) to formally document my family genealogy, and (b) to share that information. Without the second objective, it’s pretty much pointless to do the required research.

In order to document my family history, I need to research and document names and relationships; collect supporting documents like vital records (birth, marriage, death), newspaper articles, photos, census reports, military records – you get the general idea. Pretty much any kind of document supporting the existence of a person and his or her relationship to everyone else. And then there’s the review of history and culture to understand more about the documents and migration.

Here’s the high-level time line – of course there are a myriad of lower level tasks not shown here… (My Information Technology (IT) roots are showing! GATES are decision points to decide whether or not to continue.)

The “Initial Research” is actually based on, and a continuation of, all my research going back to the 1980’s. And the genealogy books – there will be 5 in all (Introduction; father’s father’s family; father’s mother’s family; mother’s father’s family; mother’s mother’s family).

I’m pleased to report that I’ve completed 1 – 10, and I'm on track.  And I have passed GATE 3. Well, kind of. Alas, I have run into a common problem. I want to do just a little more research, find just one more person. That’s scope creep, and that’s another post.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Genealogy PMP

My family has always been on the small side: my parents and my 2 sisters (1 older, 1 younger). My father’s parents were long gone before I arrived, and my mother’s parents died when I was just a baby. Each of my parents had 1 sibling; for some reason we just never hung around with the uncles and aunts and cousins we had. We’d get together with some of my mother’s relatives for First Communions, and there was always New Year’s Day at Aunt Olive’s house. But for the most part, we really didn’t have much of an extended family.

Well, that’s not entirely true – we did tend to get together at funerals. The car rides to the wakes and funerals were mainly my mother explaining who all the people were, and how we were related. The car rides back home were mainly my mother patiently explaining again who all those people were, and how we were related. My first introduction to the malady known as FHOS, or Family History Overload Syndrome.

My friends all had grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who were around a lot. I felt left out. One of my friend’s baby brothers told me his grandmother was coming to visit, and then asked if my grandmother ever came to visit. I explained I didn’t have a grandmother. He frowned, and after some serious thought, he said, “You could borrow mine.”

Fast forward to the mid-1980’s, when I taught computer courses at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario in my “spare time”. It was a project course – students selected a project for completion over the 10 week course, with 3 hours a week lab time and all resources I could provide. One student asked after genealogy software as spreadsheets just weren’t doing it anymore. She brought in her family tree, traced back to 15th century France. I was impressed, if not just a little bit jealous. I explained how to research and select software – and then I started my own genealogy research in earnest.

I now have enough information to start writing it all down. The first edition is scheduled for completion by Christmas 2010.

I am, by profession, a project manager. Project Management Professional (PMP) ® certification from PMI and everything. Everything is a project – occupational hazard. Now documenting my genealogy research is a project, too. Welcome to my blog.