Thoughts on Technical Project Management and Its Intersection with Blockchain's Disruptive Potential

All Posts by Chris Remus
Chris is a freelance technical project manager living in Brooklyn, NY. I manage projects remotely for clients around the world. I'm also excited about blockchain's disruptive potential.

Here’s How a Project Manager Broke Into Blockchain

Published April 13, 2018 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments

I’m feeling excited, hopeful and optimistic to join the Aragon team as its product manager. We released Aragon 0.5 to the Ethereum Rinkeby Testnet on March 29, 2018. That felt like a beneficial day to reflect on how I came to join Aragon.

I started writing this post then. I’m finishing it on my flight back from my first week of offsite Aragon team meetings.

Blockchain and Just Rolling with It

My blockchain story started with a blockchain sticker on a mailbox in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You can read the full story here.

Before that, I started a career and life reboot. It’s evolved into a journey to align who I am with the work I do. I call that journey Just Rolling with It.

Just Rolling with It caused me to identify the skills I had that others would value and find beneficial. It turns out project management is one of those skills.

I realized blockchain was a space I wanted to work in. I began advocating for more blockchain projects to hire project managers.

The Ethereum Name Service

The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) was launching about the same time I figured this out. ENS caught my interest right away. I believed and still believe it could and will increase Ethereum’s adoption within the non-tech population. Increasing adoption through better usability will help Ethereum realize its potential.

The first launch attempt failed. I volunteered to be the project manager for the relaunch. The ENS lead developer, Nick Johnson, accepted my offer. After that, ENS launched successfully on its second attempt.

I attended the first ENS Workshop in London. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet others in the Ethereum ecosystem. It was here I met Jorge Izquierdo. Jorge’s one of Aragon’s founders.

Aragon

Monica Zheng followed me on Twitter. I noticed her profile, since she recruits for crypto projects. Her human-focused approach caught my interest too.

I followed Monica back on Twitter. She sent me a DM shortly after that. It turns out she was working to fill a product manager role.

We connected on a call and she told me the product manager role was for Aragon. She also agreed that technical project management and product management were very similar. I was interested, yet hesitant to dedicate most of my time to a single project.

I spoke to Monica, then Aragon’s founders, Luis Cuende and Jorge Izquierdo. It felt like we aligned on many levels. Most importantly, we aligned on values. You can read more about that alignment in my Aragon team interview.

We continued to explore the fit and alignment over the course of weeks. This reinforced the match and overcame my hesitation to commit.

Now I’m writing this on the return flight home from my first week of Aragon team offsite meetings. I feel more aligned than ever with the project and team.

The State of Blockchain Project Management as 2018 Begins

Published January 4, 2018 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments

I first wrote about the need for more blockchain project managers at the start of 2017. I’ve been advocating for more projects to hire project managers since then. The holidays gave me time to reflect on the state of blockchain project management as 2018 begins.

Blockchain experienced what many would consider a breakout year in 2017. Its momentum is unlikely to slow down in 2018. Blockchain projects, existing and new, continue to develop at an accelerated pace.

Blockchain Project Management Adoption

I don’t get the sense blockchain project management has kept pace. I estimate most blockchain projects still aren’t managed by project managers. From the work I’m doing in the blockchain world, I see three categories of projects -

1 - Projects that don’t have a project manager and don’t think they need one

I estimate about 60% of blockchain projects aren’t managed by a project manager. The owners of these projects either don’t think they need one at all or don’t think they need one yet.

My thesis is the right project manager helps blockchain projects succeed. I explain why in this post.

2 - Projects that don’t have a project manager but want one

I estimate about 20% of blockchain projects fall into this category. I’ve spoken to a number of project owners that recognize the need for a project manager, yet don't have one.

They face two challenges. The first is finding a project manager who knows even a little about blockchain. The second is is trying to slow down long enough to find and onboard one.

The latter perpetuates a difficult cycle. The longer a project delays working with a PM, the harder it is too slow down and the more likely it is that something will break.

3 - Projects that do have a project manager

I estimate about 20% of blockchain projects are managed by a project manager. These projects usually recognize the PM need early in the project and have taken steps to hire a PM then.

Whether the selected project manager proves to be the right fit is a different story. That’s the topic of another post though.

Blockchain Project Management Opportunities and Challenges for 2018

If my estimates are even close to correct, most blockchain projects don’t have project managers. That’s a big opportunity, as the number of existing projects continues to grow. Yet significant challenges stand in the way of realizing it.

A major challenge is convincing blockchain project owner that project management will help their project succeed. I took a shot at making this case in my earlier post.

Another challenge is to engage with a project, once the project owner has recognized the need. I’m trying to figure out how to do this, in the least intrusive way possible to the project owners.

Even with the lightest touch, engaging requires the project owner to slow down a little. This is necessary to give even the most effective project manager what they need to get started.

There's another opportunity that has me feeling optimistic about blockchain project management in 2018. This is managing projects on behalf of project sponsors.

Project sponsors may be project owners building protocols for others to use or the fund managers investing in the projects. I’m starting to see interest from these projects' sponsors. Some are starting to recognize that a project manager can help make the projects built on their platform or that they invest in more successful.

Finally, there’s the product manager vs. project manager question. To me, these are similar roles, although that opinion tends to bother people, especially product managers.

Putting that aside and taking into account the traditional definitions, I see project managers as a fantastic fit for blockchain projects building infrastructure. Infrastructure buildout is the phase many well-informed people believe blockchain is in now.

I also believe project managers are well-suited to manage Dapp development projects. My sense is most project owners view that as a product management role.

There’s no shortage in infrastructure projects and the need continues to grow. I believe infrastructure is the foundation for long-term blockchain value creation and dissemination. For these reasons, I intend to focus most of my attention in 2018 on infrastructure projects.

P.S. - I started Chainflow to help more blockchain projects succeed. Click here to learn how Chainflow can do this for your blockchain project. 

Introducing Chainflow Blockchain Project Management

Published November 10, 2017 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments
blockchain project management

Today I’m feeling excited to announce Chainflow. Chainflow is a blockchain project management consultancy. We apply efficient and effective project management techniques to optimize blockchain project workflow.

Chainflow Started with a Sticker on a Mailbox

A sticker on a mailbox in Brooklyn sparked my blockchain interest. I’ve had a blockchain brain virus, a term I learned from Naval Ravikant, since then.

My interest started as a hobby. Then I started figuring out how my background and experience could benefit blockchain’s exploding ecosystem.

The result is Chainflow. Chainflow is a blockchain project management consultancy. Chainflow applies efficient and effective project management techniques to optimize blockchain project workflow.

Blockchain Workflow Optimization

Even minimal structure has a big impact on whether a blockchain project succeeds. This structure increases the return on a blockchain project team’s efforts. The structure does this by optimizing the project’s workflow.

That’s what we mean by blockchain workflow optimization. Chainflow applies efficient and effective project management techniques to optimize blockchain project workflow.

But Doesn’t Project Management Only Get in the Way?

Not the way Chainflow does it. Unlike most project management consultants, we take a “less is more” approach. We apply enough project management to be effective, while staying out of the way as much as possible.

We will ask you to slow down, at least for a minute or two. This is necessary to baseline your project. It allows us to figure out the most efficient way to optimize your blockchain project’s workflow.

We won’t ask you to stop. We’ll run alongside of you. We’ll optimize your workflow as the work continues. That’s the way we operate.

What’s the result? Why should we do this?

  • Stronger requirements alignment between what you’re building and what your community wants
  • Greater return on your time and money investments, by focusing the work getting done on what needs to get done
  • Increased confidence the work the right work is getting done, you'll know what needs to get done and when it's not
  • Lower risk, since critical issues are less likely to slip through the cracks

These factors combine to increase the likelihood your project succeeds. Your team might be happier too. You might even sleep a little better at night and more if you're not sleeping enough, due to overwork and worry.

Let Blockchain Project Management Help Your Project Succeed

Ready to optimize your blockchain project workflow? Visit Chainflow to get started.

You can also schedule a free call with me there. We’ll use the call to determine the right starting point to optimize your project workflow.

P.S. - Need a little more convincing? Here's why your project needs a blockchain project manager.

The Most Important Project Phase is Also the Most Neglected

Published September 29, 2017 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments

Neglecting the most important project phase, planning, puts your project at risk. Two emotions cause the most important project phase to be the most neglected.

The two emotions are excitement and fear.

Excitement

The project is new! It’s shiny!

This feels hopeful and optimistic. The project’s going to change the world!

Excitement prevails!

This excitement tricks the team into believing its synchronized. Everyone thinks they have a common understanding of the project’s goals and how they’ll be achieved.

The excitement caused by the hope and optimism makes it hard to take a step back and plan.

Planning sounds boring. Nobody wants the boredom to stifle the excitement.

The team is ready to go, Go and GO!

After all, what can go wrong when everything looks so right?

Fear

The project’s already behind schedule. There’s no TIME to stop.

There are managers, investors and customers who needed this YESTERDAY.

Planning will only get in the way. Planning will only slow things down. And the project CAN’T slow down. The metrics will SUFFER. Progress must be demonstrated, at ALL COSTS.

That’s what the fear says.

After All, What Can Go Wrong?

Lots can go wrong. Lots will go wrong. Investing time to plan at the beginning of a project won’t stop things from going wrong.

Planning will help prevent things from going wrong. It will help a project recover when things start to go wrong.

Planning is worth the investment. The planning investment sets the foundation for a project’s success. That’s why it’s the most important project phase.

Think twice the next time you’re about to skip the planning phase. Check-in with yourself and see if a combination of fear and excitement are causing you to make this mistake.

Take three conscious breaths. Remind yourself that planning’s worth it. Then start planning!

P.S. - This goes for your blockchain project too, especially since you're asking people to trust you. You may be handling large sums of their money too.

Here’s What I’ve Been Doing in the Blockchain World

Published July 31, 2017 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments

​I wrote an article earlier this year about the need for project managers in the blockchain space. I've started to do quite a bit of work in the space since then.

Here are some highlights -

1 - I'm the volunteer project manager for the Ethereum Name Service.

2 - I'm helping a high-profile crypto project, with a > $100 million market cap, develop their go-to-market strategy.

3 - I'm advising the founder of a promising crypto-project as he gets the project off the ground w/his co-founders.

4 - I follow the blockchain space very closely. I've contributed to early stage projects that have rewarded my contributions with tokens.

5 - I maintain a running Bitcoin P/E ratio chart.

6 - I'm doing business development, client management and project management work with a well-respected blockchain consultancy.

I also attended Consensus and the Token Summit earlier this year. Here's an article I wrote about my key Token Summit takeaway.

All these activities have taken some time away from the blog. Stay tuned as I continue writing about project management and blockchain. Like the blockchain world, this blog's an evolution.

I'm feeling excited to see where both of them go!

P.S. - Want to talk blockchain? Drop me a line here if you do!

Bitcoin Price to Earnings (P/E) Ratio Chart

Published June 14, 2017 in Experimental - 0 Comments

I first came across the bitcoin P/E ratio at the 2017 Token Summit. Chris Burniske of ARC Capital shared a slide which displayed a static version of it. He said he’d love to see someone built it.

So I built it -

It’s a dynamically updating bitcoin price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio chart. The chart updates a rolling Bitcoin P/E ratio every 2 days. It uses data from blockchain.info.

Many thanks to Chris Burniske for sharing the idea at the 2017 Token Summit. All credit goes to Woobull since he first conceived it.​

Woobull's original Tweet about the Blockchain P/E ratio is here. This is Chris' talk at the 2017 Token Summit.

This post is a work in progress. I'll update it again as soon as I get some WordPress issues sorted out 😉 I also plan to add P/E ratios of other cryptoassets, as Chris suggests here.

Follow me on Twitter so you don't miss any updates.

And here's the embed code -

<iframe width="920" height="420" src="https://bitcoin-pe-ratio.herokuapp.com"></iframe>

P.S. — Need to buy bitcoin with USD? Click this link to use my Coinbase referral code to get a $10 bonus.

Would You Like Your Own buytokenswith.eth Subdomain?

Published June 1, 2017 in Experimental - 0 Comments

The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) replaces complicated Ethereum addresses with easy to use Ethereum names. I’m feeling excited for ENS’ potential to make Ethereum easier for more people to use.

I won the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) auction for buytokenswith.eth. I’m thinking about offering custom subdomains on it.

Example Use Cases​

Here are some use cases I’m considering -

[Names in brackets are placeholders.]

[yourname].buytokenswith.eth

This example could make it easier for an individual to buy and sell tokens.

[companyname].buytokenswith.eth

This example could make it easier for a company to buy and sell tokens.

[tokenauction].buytokenswith.eth

This example could make it easier for a token issuer to sell tokens. (Although they don’t seem to need help with this at the moment!)

[tokenamount.tokenname].buytokenswith.eth

This example could make it easier for an individual or company to buy or sell a specific amount of a specific token.

Sound Interesting?

I’m not sure how this would work yet. I’d like to gauge interest in the idea, before investing more time and resources figuring out the details.

Please submit your email address below if you’re interested in the idea. I'll only email you with updates about buytokenswith.eth subdomains.

You can also contact me here with feedback or questions about the idea.

Tags: blockchain , ens , ethereum

[Updated — The ENS Relaunch was a Success!] How a Project Manager Can Help the Ethereum Name Service Launch Succeed This Time

Published March 23, 2017 in Technical Project Management - 1 Comment
Timeline from Nick Johnson’s Postmortem

How a Project Manager Can Help the ENS Launch Succeed This Time

The first attempt to Launch the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) failed. Here’s how a project manager can make the next try successful.

The Ethernet Name Service (ENS) launched for a short time on March 14, 2017. The ENS community discovered two major security flaws shortly after launch. The team and community behind ENS decided to roll back the launch and try again.

Updated — I joined Nick Johnson and Alex Van de Sande on the ENS team shortly after the first launch attempt, to help with the relaunch. The relaunch was a success!

You can find the latest ENS news here.

I give the team a lot of credit for — 

  • Trying to launch the service in the first place
  • Getting the project to launch
  • Having the awareness to acknowledge problems and address them
  • Making the hard decision to pull back and try again
  • Their transparency in acknowledging what didn’t work and why
  • Their commitment to getting it right, by trying again

You can read about how things unfolded and security flaw details in -

Like Nick’s approach, I hope this post identifies places where a blockchain project manager can help projects like this succeed. It’s not intended to criticize, point fingers or place blame, AT ALL!

It’s also my offer to donate some of my time to provide project management oversight for the project!

(Nick Johnson, if you read this, let me know if you’d like to take me up on the offer.)

How a Blockchain Project Manager Help the ENS Launch Succeed this Time

I’ve written a post about the value project managers can contribute to blockchain projects. This post is a case study to that earlier thesis about the need for blockchain project managers to manage blockchain projects.

This rest of this post -

1 — Lists the causes and issues mentioned by Johnson and Maurelian

Nick Johnson and Maurelian identified many of the same causes and issues in their post-mortems. Each also identified other issues. This post focuses on the issues mentioned by both of them, for the sake of brevity.

2 — Describes how a blockchain project manager could have helped prevent each cause and issue.

Spoiler Alert — The Takeaway

Technical people develop technical solutions to difficult problems. That’s what they do. That’s what they want to do.

What’s missing is someone keeping an eye on the big picture to -

  • Identify issues before they become problems
  • Coordinate resources, making sure there are enough and guiding them to where they can be most effective
  • Gracefully slow down the project, only long enough to help everyone pick up their heads, adjust the end goal as needed and stay synchronized toward the agreed-to end goal
  • Do the work developers don’t want to do, e.g. document the project, coordinate audits, confirm thoroughness of plans, develop contingency plans etc

A blockchain project manager keeps an eye on the big picture. Keep reading for more detail.

(You can also contact me to discuss how I can make your blockchain project a success.)

Causes and Issues

Issue 1 — Incomplete Test Coverage

Johnson — Although the registrar had a suite of unit tests, this testing was not comprehensive. The unit tests were written after the contract by a different author. No concerted effort was made to ensure that all code paths or use cases were thoroughly covered.

Maurelian — Both of the issues uncovered could have been caught with tests to verify proper behaviour of the registrar. The behaviours which the issues enabled were not edge cases, but rather specifically prohibited…only 13…tests were on the Registrar contract, which has at least as many methods and many more requirements than that.

A blockchain project manager could(’ve) help(ed) by making sure the unit tests covered all code paths or use-cases by -

  • Developing a checklist of code paths and use-cases
  • Coordinating resources to execute the unit tests
  • Consolidating the results
  • Coordinate issue resolution

Issue 2 — No Formal and Independent Audit

Johnson — No independent, comprehensive audit was done.

Maurelian — There was no formal audit. There is unfortunately no single document summarizing what review was done, and what was found.

A blockchain project manager could(’ve) help(ed) by — 

  • Running the process to select an independent third party to conduct a formal audit
  • Acting as the liaison between the development and audit teams
  • Developing the review summary document

Issue 3 — Insufficient Code Review

Johnson -The changes to the contract that introduced the bugs were subject to review in a Pull Request, but the review did not catch the bugs. In future, more care is needed when reviewing changes to critical code to ensure reversions aren’t accidentally introduced.

Maurelian — (Referred to this issue as thrashing.) It’s nearly impossible to audit an evolving code base…Many changes were made between the Ropsten launch, and the live net launch…I actually looked at the commit that introduced these issues, but it’s a large contract…the effort required to…understand the full implications of the change felt onerous.

A blockchain project manager could(’ve) help(ed) by maintaining documentation that would make it -

  • Faster and easier to identify changes between commits.

Which would -

  • Make change implications feel less onerous to developers, who are already time-limited, allowing them to be more comfortable conducting code reviews.

A blockchain project manager could(’ve) also help(ed) coordinate more resources to conduct code reviews.

Issue 4 — No Official Bug Bounty

Johnson — A good bug bounty has…real value up for grabs…this is hard to do on a test net, where the tokens have no value, and stuff is expected not to work…WeiFund’s live net bug bounty, which held over 200,000 USD worth of real value in deployed contract, is a good counter-example. Blockchains present an interesting opportunity for a “natural bug bounty”, we as contract developers should be taking advantage of this.

Maurelian — No clear indication was provided to the community as to whether ENS was covered by the Ethereum Foundation’s bug bounty process. Had it been announced that ENS was covered, more attention would likely have been directed towards the code at an earlier stage in the process, resulting in the bugs being found at a stage where they could be easily remedied without affecting the launch.

A blockchain project manager could’ve helped by coordinating — 

  • Development of a Wei-Fund-like bug-bounty.
  • Alternative motivational programs, to encourage others to take part in the bug-bounty process.
  • Communicating a bug-bounty marketing plan.

Issue 5 — Incident response planning

(This one was only mentioned by Maurelian. I thought it was worth a mention, since a blockchain project manager could play a very valuable role here.)

Maurelian — …but bugs were always a possibility, so the need to delay should always be considered in advance. A common approach is to have a play book, basically, “if X happens, we will do Y”. I think that the reaction so far has been suitably transparent and proactive, but would have been better organized if the decisions had been made beforehand.

A blockchain project manager could(’ve) help(ed) by — 

  • Developing the play book.
  • Managing responses during implementation, according to the agreed-to playbook guidelines.

Here’s the Takeaway — Again!

I figured a repeat of the take away’s in order, if you read this entire post. And thanks for reading if you did!

Technical people develop technical solutions to difficult problems. That’s what they do. That’s what they want to do.

What’s missing is someone keeping an eye on the big picture to -

  • Identify issues before they become problems
  • Coordinate resources, making sure there are enough and guiding them to where they can be most effective
  • Gracefully slow down the project, only long enough to help everyone pick up their heads, adjust the end goal as needed and stay synchronized toward the agreed-to end goal
  • Do the work developers don’t want to do, e.g. document the project, coordinate audits, confirm thoroughness of plans, develop contingency plans etc

A blockchain project manager keeps an eye on the big picture.

P.S. — Working on a blockchain project? Contact me to discuss how I can help make your blockchain project a success.

Here’s Why Your Project Needs a Blockchain Project Manager

Published March 13, 2017 in Technical Project Management - 1 Comment
blockchain project manager

You're a brilliant blockchain developer. You're excited about the potential blockchain offers your clients. Your clients are excited about the potential blockchain offers their businesses. They've hired you to help them realize that potential.  Here's why you need a blockchain project manager to make that happen.

You're both excited. You sign the contract. You and your team puts your collective head down. You do what you do well. You start coding. That's what the client's paid you to do, right?

You work through nights to hit deadlines. You tell your client's everything's looking good.You start to feel a disconnect between you and your client. You start to get frustrated. They start to get frustrated.

The initial excitement you both shared turns into frustration. You hesitate to contact them, since the conversations are getting tense. Instead, you put your head down and code more. That's going to fix the problem, you think.

What you're building digresses from what the the client wants. The frustrations builds. The tension does too.Timelines get stretched. Budgets get stressed. You keep working and your profit margin keeps shrinking. The client's budget keeps growing. They start wondering if they hired the right person. They start wondering if this whole blockchain thing is only smoke and mirrors.

Why is this happening?

You Don't Have a Blockchain Project Manager​

You don't have anyone managing the project or client expectations. You're doing what you're good at. You're coding away.

The trouble is, it's hard to see the big picture at the same time. It's not your fault. It's not where you're hired to focus. Your focus is solving difficult problems with creative technology solutions. That's what you do well. That's why clients hire you.

This is a major reason what you build diverges from what the client needs. Another one is that clients, especially with an emerging technology like blockchain, need you to tell them what they need. Some clients need you to tell them a lot, others less. But they all need at least a little guidance.

This means aligning expectations is a critical function. It needs to happen at the beginning of a project, when everything's looking rosy.

Expectations needs to stay aligned during the project. Sometimes this means the conversations become a little uncomfortable. Having the uncomfortable conversations throughout makes the really uncomfortable conversations less likely to be necessary.

The comfortable thing to do is write more code. The uncomfortable thing is to have the uncomfortable conversation. Doing the comfortable thing in this case causes expectations to diverge even more.

This is why your blockchain project needs a project manager. This person will manage the alignment process. They'll keep your work aligned with client expectations. This will let you focus on what you do well, while ensuring the client's expectations get met.

A Blockchain Project Manager​ Makes Everyone Happy

Having a dedicated project manager in this role reduces frustration. This person will manage frustration skillfully when it does arise, since it will still arise here and there. A blockchain project manager will help make your project successful.

Everyone will be happier as a result. The client will realize the value of blockchain. You'll enjoy the satisfaction that delivering a creative solution for a happy client provides.

This is why your blockchain project needs a blockchain project manger.

Convinced?

Are you convinced a blockchain project manager can make your project successful? I'd be happy to manage your blockchain project. I'd also be glad to get your existing blockchain project back on track, if it's already gone awry.

Either way, contact me and let's talk!​

Not Convinced Yet?

Still want to go it alone, without a blockchain project manager?

Please at least read how I manage critical client expectations and try and do the same for your project. If you're able to do this, while still doing what you do best, you'll save yourself trouble down the road.

(Photo credit Bogden Dada via Unsplash.)