Project Management For Idiots: Part 2 – The Project Management Triangle


Prior to my recent crash course introduction to project management at the University of Auckland, I had no idea what the project management triangle was.

It seems kinda basic now.  To be honest, I feel like an idiot for not knowing this despite having worked on a number of projects where this language is used all the time.

However, it’s also possible that my experience is typical for people like me who don’t have a background in project management but end up rising to the level of their incompetence eventually.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • The triangle models the constraints of the project.
  • Sometimes this is called the triple constraints of project management.
  • The constraints are time (or schedule), cost (or budget) and scope (or deliverables).
  • These constraints are areas where changes are introduced.
  • Together they determine the quality of a project.
  • The key is to balance these constraints throughout the project.
  • It’s an iterative process as changes are going to occur throughout the project.

This is part of a series I’m writing on the basics of project management. You can read the others here:

And it’s part of my self-imposed professional development for 2018 which I’m calling the NMBAMBA – The Non-MBA, MBA.

Any comments? Nope. That’s fine.

Project management for Idiots: Part 1 – Some Basics

pm for idiots

Here are five thoughts about project management from my recent course at the Business School at Auckland University.

  1. All knowledge work is project work.
  2. Tidying my room is not a project.
  3. Other people are necessary.
  4. There is a budget.
  5. There is a framework.

This is part of my non-MBA, MBA. It’s the second in my mini-series of project management.

And it’s “for idiots” because I’m an idiot for not looking into this seriously before now.

1. All knowledge work is project work


I kinda despise the term, but these days I’m a knowledge worker. At least until I run away to sea and join a band of pirates.

My job now is more or less digital and I often work with people who are geographically dispersed.

I’m not sitting on the beach in Bali sipping cocktails. At least not yet.

It’s a far cry from the couple of thousand hours of classroom-based training that I did through the late 90s and early 00s.

But here is my recent realisation – a pithy aphorism that I’m certain that I’ve plagiarised from somewhere:

  • All knowledge work is project work.

2. Tidying my room is not a project

Tidying my room or cooking dinner is not a project.

I’m might consider it to be a project, but it’s not. At least not in the language of project management.

It’s a task.

A task is the lowest building block of a project. A task typically involves one person, it’s just little and often the timeframe is short.

In other words, it’s just me.

Tasks require time management and projects require project management.

3. Other people are necessary

Project management implies other people. Other people are a necessary evil in project management.

For proper project management methodology to make sense you really need to be working with 6 to 12 people over 6 to 12 months.

Projects contain multiple tasks and project success is often driven by the actions of others.

4. There is a budget

A project has a budget and a good project manager needs to be across the budget.

This is another blindspot for me personally. I’m OK with basic stuff, but anything that starts to sound like accounting gives me an instant headache.

This is on my list of things to fix. I don’t need to become and accountant, but I’d like to understand how it all works a bit more than I do now.

4. There is a framework

Project management has a recognised framework from a recognised body of knowledge. I didn’t realise this was the case.

It’s a new discipline relatively speaking. But it’s highly formalised. The body of knowledge is about 1000 pages long.

I haven’t read it, but here’s a summary in three lines:

  • Organise. Why and who for?
  • Plan: timeline and costing
  • Control (paperwork) and Direct (getting people to do stuff). These last two are in parallel.

Thoughts…? Let me know in the comments.

The Future of Work is Project Work

The future of work, at least for me, is project work. At least it seems that way at the moment.

So… welcome to the new work order.

But project management is really one of my blindspots.

Working in education, I have a background in training, not project management, or any kind of management really.

I’m Ok with deep domain knowledge in my obscure field, but I’ve always felt out of my depth when it comes to project management.

It’s weird because in education we are constantly surrounded by the language of project management but my impression is that no one really knows what this language means.

As part of my DIY non-MBA, MBA, I’m trying to get some new ideas but also address my blindspots.

I’m slowly working through a list of things that interest me or that I think are going to help me:

Shoe school is a little left-field, I admit but that’s gonna have to wait for another time.

Most recently, I took the two-day Project Management course.

Afterwards, I caught up with the super wonderful, Wen Goble – Programmes Advisor at the Business School’s Education Education division.

She asked me a couple of questions which we recorded for the video above. Notes and other takeaways will follow soon.



How to Build a Do-It-Yourself non-MBA, MBA

Certificate of who's got time_

Who’s got time to do an MBA. Not me… that’s for sure.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great people out there with great skills. Some of these people even have MBAs.

I can see the need to reskill and upskill. Especially in this weird economy. However, I haven’t got time for another qualification. And I don’t want a divorce.

Google it. MBA often correlates with divorce. It’s a real thing.

What I really need though is some new ideas. And some new tools that allow me to move forward in uncertain times.

And not everyone cares as much about degrees and qualifications as they used to. 

I decided all of this at Christmas time this year. Christmas is always a great time for introspection.

And by introspection I mean the general disillusionment and existential distress that follows too much eating, drinking and time with relatives.

But what I realised is that the best way forward for me was to look at building myself my own MBA.

And not really an MBA at all. A kind of DIY non-MBA, MBA. So I put a very fuzzy plan in place earlier this year.

What I needed, I decided, was some new inputs… a combination of things that made sense to me.

I’m sure research would suggest that eclectic approaches lead to incoherence. However, while this might be true for groups, eclecticism works on an individual level.

In other words, my choices for my DIY non-MBA, MBA don’t need to make sense to anyone except me. And I can choose them intuitively if I want to or let one thing lead to another.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Everything around me seems to be changing anyway. And rapidly. If I know one thing is true, it’s that I need to adapt to this pace of change and change too.

I also know that the toolset that I’ve been using for the last 10 years is no longer enough. At least that’s my perception.

I mean… I’m sure that I can get by on my existing toolset. But I’m no longer sure that I want to. I’m looking forward to the change and disruption that lies ahead.

Well, kinda.

What I’ve seen though, when I gaze into my crystal ball, is a mixture of opportunities and problems that I want to understand better. But I feel like I don’t have the tools to analyse them or manage them.

So here’s what I did. I had a look at what I’m interested in personally and professionally. And then I booked myself into a series of short courses over the last six months.

Three were with the Executive Education programme at the University of Auckland’s Business School. I already had a relationship with Auckland because I’ve studied and worked there.

The three courses I’ve undertaken so far have been excellent and I’ve blogged about two of them.

One I wrote about extensively. This was Service Design Thinking.

Then a few months later I picked another one. This time it was about Critical Thinking.

The one I haven’t blogged about yet was Project Management which I’ve just completed. I’ve got a lot to say about this in future posts.

One nice thing about these two-day workshops is that they keep the disruption of my life to a minimum. Each of these has been a two-day intensive in Auckland.

This timeframe is about right for me. I love Auckland, but too long and the traffic gets to me.

I’m going to write more about this soon, but the short version, for now, is that I got a lot out of the Project Management course.

It was just an introduction. And I don’t have any real desire to become a project manager.

However, I think the future of work – for myself, anyway – is projects. I know this is true for me for the last 12 months. And it certainly looks that way for the immediate future.

And managing projects is really hard.

I struggle to manage my own time and projects, let alone projects involving others. But I feel that I’ve got a basic toolset now to make sense of my own and others’ projects.

So… watch this space for more on projects and project management.

And if you’re good at maths, you’ll realise that I’ve only accounted for three of the four short courses so far in my DIY non-MBA, MBA.

The other one feels a bit weird to write about here.  But in the interests of full disclosure, I did a weekend course on sandal making at Shoe School in Wellington.

Before you judge me, there is a connection to all the other stuff I’m interested in. But I’ll have to leave that to another day.

In the mean time, check out the sandal workshop gallery here. If you see some black ostrich leather men’s scuffs. They’re mine. I designed them, cut them out by hand, then stitched and glued them together.

So much fun.

Embedding Literacy & Numeracy Case Study: Cashflow 101 – Part 1


I’m trying an experiment.

I own this game above. It’s kinda cool… like monopoly on steroids. It teaches principles of investing and financial literacy.

Numeracy, in other words.

Anyway, I’m going to use it as a case study. I want to apply the embedded literacy and numeracy process that we teach in our professional development to the game.

Games are a great way to learn and I’ve got ideas on how to turn the course and qualification that I teach into a game as well. Perhaps a couple of games…

I’ve done an analysis of the language that the game uses. From this I designed contextualised pre and post assessments for the specialised vocabulary.

And I’ve unpacked some of the calculations that you have to do to maintain your balance sheet during the game play. I’ve turned these into pre and post assessments for the numeracy content.

Today we administered the pre assessments to a group of (mostly) young people. I still have to analyse the results, but it’s looking interesting.

The plan from here is to look at delivery of a series of short, highly targeted teaching interventions based on what the results of the diagnostic tests tell us. This will include some self directed learning as well as face to face sessions with the group.

I want to look at how effective the combination of embedded LN teaching is combined with more extensive game play over a limited number of hours in a short space of time.

After the teaching + game play sessions we’ll do the diagnostic assessments as a post test. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see some improvements in the scores.

Pizza (or something) will be my shout.

The plan is to post the analysis and development here. No names will be mentioned…

But I want to share the development, resources and the process. The reason for this is so you can see how the embedding process could apply to your own context.

We need some good models for others to refer to… I’m not saying this is going to be exemplary…

But, in the absence of much else in the public domain for people to look at I’m hoping it will inspire you to copy the process and share it with others.

Guidelines for choosing reading texts at step 4 and above for embedded literacy projects at NCEA Level 1

text message

These guidelines relate to my ideas on developing a generic template for embedded literacy project work to develop independent learning skills in more advanced literacy learners.

My rough ideas are here and I revised the structure here. Outlined below are guidelines for tutors or others who might be involved in selecting texts for this kind of embedded project work where the text needs to be at step 4 or above on the literacy progressions.

The reason for the step 4 requirement is that the texts have to be at step 4 if you want to use them as part of portfolio for assessment against the level 1 reading and writing unit standards.

This material is adapted from the Literacy Progressions for Adult Literacy and excludes the decoding progression.

Use the criteria below to determine if your selected text meets the criteria for step 4 or higher. The words in the text are likely to be at or above step 4 if you can answer yes to any following questions in three out of four progressions below.

For these progressions, can you identify…?


  • Academic words or words that are part of the language of teaching and instruction. For example, this could include words from the Academic Word List (AWL), words relating to Bloom’s taxonomy, and other language used in an academic context or for task instructions.
  • Specialised or technical words and terms. For example, this could include trades-related vocabulary, terminology relating to a specific and narrow area of study, or words that would fall outside of the 2600 words covered by the first two thousand high frequency word lists (1K and 2K word lists) plus the AWL.

Language and text

  • A wide variety of sentence structures and paragraph structures. For example, text should be longer, more complex and detailed, and include reports, explanations, web pages, fiction and non-fiction
  • Rhetorical patterns that add a degree of complexity. For example, patterns such as general to specific; making a claim to reasons justifying a claim; cause and effect; instructions.

For these progressions, will the reader need to…?

Comprehend by

  • Locating, organising and comparing information about a topic from several different sources. For example, sources could include newspaper reports, workplace or community documents (such as employment contracts or official letters), or electronic texts such as web pages or blogs, and text related to subjects the reader is studying.
  • Integrating prior knowledge to make connections or deepen their understanding. For example, this might mean the reader needs to apply what they already know to make sense of something or extend their knowledge.
  • Forming and testing hypotheses. For example, the reader may need to make predictions about the text which they check as they read to confirm or revise them against new information. Hypotheses may be based on any aspect of the text such as text structure, subject matter, size and shape of a book, or the context or task within which the reading is required.
  • Identifying the main ideas or most important information in a text. For example, the reader may need to use explicit knowledge in the text, their own prior knowledge, inferencing, or prediction to identify the key idea or most important information.
  • Using knowledge of text structures. For example, the reader may need to use what they know or are learning about a particular text structure to help them find their way through and comprehend a new text.
  • Summarising. For example, the reader may need to make a rapid summary of the text as they work through it.
  • Drawing inferences. For example, readers may need to read between the lines or make educated guesses to fill in gaps as they read, inferring information that the writer has not made explicit.
  • Creating mental images. For example, readers may need to visualise information or ideas to help them connect with their own background knowledge or see patterns that will lead them to a deeper understanding.
  • Asking questions of the text and search for answers. For example, questions may relate to the meanings of words or sentences, the structure of the text, plot or character development (in a story), or to other aspects of the text and content.
  • Evaluating ideas or information. For example, this may mean making judgements about the value of the information presented in the text to develop a deeper understanding of them.

Read critically

  • Analysing ideas and information in texts and reflect critically on surface and underlying meanings. For example, to do this they may need to compare, contrast, evaluate, ask questions, apply information to different scenarios, draw conclusions, and form “big picture” generalisations.
  • Evaluating a writer’s purpose. For example, this may include looking at their point of view, attitude, bias, agenda and the language features used by the writer to express or obscure these. Source texts could include advertising, political pamphlets, or other material that could be used to include, exclude or imply disapproval of certain groups or behaviours in society.

It’s still feeling a bit heavy… but I’ll get it whittled down. I have to do this kind of information dump first and then we can improve it. Any comments?