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.