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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The project is new! It’s shiny!
This feels hopeful and optimistic. The project’s going to change the world!
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?
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.
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.
I organize projects into four high-level phases. Doing this provides a simple and consistent frame of reference for everyone involved in the project. The first phase, Planning/Initiation, is the most important project phase.
The Planning/Initiation phase sets the foundation for the other phases. It’s often overlooked in the excitement and urgency inherent to launching a new project.
Here are the major activities in the Planning/Initiation phase -
-Develop client requirements
A project's dead in the water without these.
-Present/align/iterate/confirm client requirements and expectations
This is a critical step. The excitement and urgency of getting a project moving causes this step to get skipped a lot.
-Determine/assign required resources
You need to know who’s doing what.
This will be the roadmap for the project. Adjustments will be necessary to keep the project synchronized over its lifecycle. The best plans need to be flexible, since it’s impossible know what’s going to happen in “real life”, when a project starts.
-Confirm plan with client
Again, this is another critical step that’s often overlooked. Do what it takes to get your client’s attention long enough to confirm the plan with them.
-Agree to a process to introduce and implement changes to the original plan, as required
The best plans need to be flexible, since it’s impossible know what’s going to happen in “real life”, when a project starts. This step introduces the possibility of change early and reduces resistance to change later in the project.
Don’t skip the Planning/Initiation stage of your project. Don’t let your client convince you to, either.
The project will have a much greater chance at success when this phase happens. You and your stakeholders will be happier as a result.
P.S. Planning/Initiation is the first of my four dead simple project phases. Read this post to learn about all four phases.
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!
I'd like to thank @cjremus for all the help he gave us by volunteering to assist us launching ENS on schedule and with clear communication— alex van de sande (@avsa) May 9, 2017
You can find the latest ENS news here.
I give the team a lot of credit for —
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.)
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.
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 -
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.)
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 -
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 —
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 -
Which would -
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 —
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 —
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 -
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.)
Aligning client expectations at the beginning of a project is the key to their happiness and yours. Availability and communication expectations are two of the most important to align.
It's important for clients to know when and how they can reach you. It's also important for them to know when they can't.
And it's OK that they can't sometimes. I agree with Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, that sometimes work can wait -
If you’ve used a modern chat, collaboration, or messaging app, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a growing expectation of being available all the time. Someone at work hits you up on a Saturday, you get the notification, and what are you supposed to do? You could ignore them, but what’s the expectation? The expectation is “if you’re reachable, you should reply.” And if you don’t reply, you’ll likely notice another message from the same tool or a tool switch to try to reach you another way. And then the pressure really mounts to reply. On a Saturday. Or at 9pm on a Wednesday. Or some other time when it’s life time, not work time.
…We believe Work Can Wait is an important notion. 9pm on Friday night is not work time. 6am on Wednesday morning is not work time. It may be for you, but it’s not for me. And I don’t want it to be work time for my employees either.
(My gratitude to Ian Patrick Hines for pulling out this version of Jason's quote in his post about fostering a healthy work culture in a client services business.)
Here's the template I use to set align my clients' expectations. I send a version of it to each new client I work with, at the start of our first project -
I find it helpful to set availability and communication expectations with new clients and partners. Here are a few notes about my availability and communication style.
I've learned these guidelines enable -
-You to do your work with minimal disruption and distraction, while not having to worry about what you hired me to do
-Me to perform at my best for clients
-A successful collaboration and project delivery
A big reason I freelance is to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I have a strong appreciation for balancing hard work and well-being. This balance enables me to bring sustainable high performance to the work I do.
You can read more about this approach on my blog.
I'm generally available between 9A-5P US ET. I can be available outside of those hours if needed. The more advance notice given, the more likely I can be available outside that window.
I believe in the power of asynchronous communication.
I've also learned it's important to have uninterrupted blocks of work time.
This is why I'm not tied to email or chat/IM at all times. I check email often enough to not miss key messages. I'm on chat/IM when we've scheduled a time to talk, etc.
It's also why I use Asana to manage projects. Using Asana helps us streamline our communications and keep our Inboxes clean! Hopefully most project communication happens in and through Asana.
If you need to get in touch with me right away, please text or call on [my mobile #]. I'll respond as soon as I'm able to.
(Photo credit Galen Crout via Unsplash.)
The best project managers keep a project running smoothly. We also stay out of the way. That means doing some things and not doing others. Here are the do's and don'ts of the best project managers.
Do set the path to a successful outcome. Do keep the path clear and stay out of the way. Don't block the path.
Do set the path to a successful outcome by developing, updating and communicating the path. Do keep the path clear by removing roadblocks. Do give your team what they need to make progress down the path, toward the successful outcome.
Do ask questions when they benefit the project. Do ask the hard questions when necessary.
Don't block the path. Don't get in the way. Don't impede progress. Don't establish process related roadblocks on the path. Don't stop people smarter than you from doing what they need to do. Don't be afraid to admit when you don't know something.
Don't ask unnecessary questions for your own personal benefit. Don't shy away from asking the hard questions when necessary.
Do set your team up for success. Do give credit to team members where and when credit is due. Don't take undue credit when the team succeeds.
Do take responsibility when things don't go well. Don't blame the team when a project goes off-track.
Do celebrate small wins along the way. Do use the small wins to build momentum toward the bigger goal. Do try and have some fun as you proceed down the path toward a successful outcome 🙂
A project manager who follows these do's and don'ts will keep a project running smoothly. A project manager who doesn't follow them will only cause problems and get in the way.
Contact me to work with a project manager who follows these do's and don'ts. I'll keep your project running smoothly.
Comparing Project to Product Manager Roles is Like Comparing Apples to Apples
I've managed projects and products. I don't see a big difference between the two roles, if you view a product as a project. Then again, I believe project management should keep things simple.
I believe these two roles and their definitions get too complicated. Viewing a product as a project keeps things simple. Project management should aim to keep things simple. That's why I favor a simple definitions and simple approaches.
Let's start with some simple definitions.
A project is a set of defined tasks executed to achieve a desired outcome.
Project management is defining those tasks, leading their execution and delivering the desired outcome.
Yes, sh*t hits the fan!
Yes, in practice, sh*t hits the fan along the way.
I find setting a simple starting point sets a clear intention for a project. A a clear intention grounds the project. Keeping the project grounded helps focus it.
Keeping a project focused helps -
-Limit the amount of sh*t that hits the fan
-Bring the project back on track once the sh*t hits the fan
Viewing everything from a project perspective keeps things simple. If you view everything from a project perspective then -
-A product is a type of project
-A program is a collection projects or
-A program is a collection of products, since a product is a project
So along these lines -
A project manager is a project manager. A project manager may manage a project, program or product.
A product manager is project manager. A product manager manages a product as their project.
That's my simple view of things.
Photo credit Raquel Martinez via Unsplash
Only four dead simple project phases? What are we going to do with all these people then?
Project management should be simple. There's no reason for project management to become a complex monster that feeds on precious project resources. Project management should maximize the effectiveness of resources. It shouldn't consume them.
Here are four dead simple project phases I use to manage projects. I break projects into these four high-level phases. Doing this provides a simple and consistent frame of reference for everyone involved in the project. I've also listed the major activities that happen during each phase.
You can also learn about my dead simple project management principles in this post.