2014 USENIX LISA Mini-Tutorial: Establishing IT Project Management Culture: Nerdherding on the Frontier

Here are my mini-tutorial description and slides from the USENIX LISA Conference, November 14.


Some IT organizations have well-established project management cultures; other organizations are on the frontier, either without project management culture or experiencing rapid change. The application of appropriate IT project management principles in such organizations can be challenging, but some basic techniques can allow IT teams to be more efficient and effective.

Daunting projects can be accomplished as you foster project management culture, and this tutorial will give you the tools you need to enjoy life on the frontier.


Anyone either coordinating or participating in IT projects within groups or organizations without a well-established project management culture.

Take back to work: 

Attendees will learn techniques to better understand and define projects, and how to apply appropriate and effective management techniques within organizations where project management culture is rapidly changing or being newly-created.

Topics include: 
  • Understanding basic differences between well-established environments and launching toward the frontier.
  • Management techniques for organizing projects.
  • Frontier questions to select appropriate project management techniques, covering Governance, Scope, Time, Costs, People, Communication & Visualization.
  • Advanced Nerdherding: improving visibility and celebrating progress.

Slides: Nerdherding On The Frontier

Handouts: Nerdherding On The Frontier

2014 USENIX LISA Workshop: Warp-Speed Project Wrangling

Here are my workshop description and slides from the USENIX LISA Conference, November 9. Workshops are small, hands-on collaborative sessions.


Bring your wildest projects to this workshop, facilitated by an experienced technical project manager, and let’s wrangle them together!

Some basic project management techniques can quickly allow IT teams to be more efficient and effective. The big question is “What are we trying to do?” and a short list of the most useful follow-up questions can help all involved to better understand and define a project’s scope, time, cost, stakeholders, governance, and communications needs.

This collaborative session will allow participants to speedily apply appropriate and effective management techniques to their own real-world projects.

Slides: Warp-Speed Project Wrangling

2014 Velocity Tutorial: The Practical Gamemaster: Design & Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills

Here are my tutorial slides from the Velocity Santa Clara Conference, June 24.  There were lots of great questions from the audience, and discussion continued… I have an Office Hour tomorrow as well, in case folks think of questions they didn’t ask today!

The Practical Gamemaster: Design & Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills

Emergency drills must be planned within a broad context of emergency response, emergency operations, business continuity planning/resiliency, disaster recovery, and information technology architecture. This tutorial will give that broader context, first providing some perspective on goals and personnel involved in the following:

  • Emergency response: “Respond”
  • Emergency operations: “Assess, Report, Recover”
  • Business continuity planning and resiliency: Business Impact Analysis, Threat and Risk Analysis, Recovery Point Objectives, and Recovery Time Objectives
  • Disaster recovery and information technology architecture

That will be followed by key concepts in emergency operations center and incident headquarters design, methods of introducing such concepts to attendee’s organizations, and a sequence of basic-to-advanced drill designs.

The emergency drill design portion begins with a typical life-safety drill, progresses through basic and advanced IT emergency operations drills, and concludes with guru-level additions to drill design. The more advanced drill designs will allow attendees to build upon and include the features and components of earlier basic drills without overburdening their teams with too many simulations.

Keeping a large group of intelligent IT folks engaged in a drill simulation can be very challenging. Attendees will leave this tutorial ready to design effective drills to better prepare their organizations for likely emergencies and realistic function failures.

Slides: The Practical Gamemaster: Design & Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills


Upcoming in June 2014: Tutorial and Office Hour, Velocity Santa Clara

If you’re interested in attending The Practical Gamemaster: Design & Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills in California, there are still a few seats available in my tutorial at the Velocity Santa Clara conference on June 24.

The Velocity Santa Clara conference has all kinds of other great presentations and tutorials, too, of course.

And I’ll also be hosting an office hour to follow up on the tutorial, and to welcome random IT emergency drills planning questions, on June 25.  I’m in fairly illustrious company, so if you’re attending Velocity in Santa Clara, check out the rest of the office hours lineup as well.


BBLISA Boston Area LOPSA April 2014 Meeting

On April 9 I spoke at MIT’s campus in Boston, at the Back Bay LISA Boston area local LOPSA Chapter Meeting, on the topic of The Practical Gamemaster: Design & Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills.

And yes, d10s were provided.

Slides: Adele Shakal BBLISA 2014 Gamemaster Talk


ModelViewCulture Article: Getting Funding to Attend and Speak at IT Conferences

In early April, an article of mine was published in the fifth issue of ModelViewCulture, which focused on Funding.

Getting Funding to Attend and Speak at IT Conferences, by Adele Shakal

I’m beyond thrilled to have been able to pass along what I’ve learned on this topic.

Here’s hoping that some aspects of my experiences are now helping our entire professional community increase the diversity of voices at IT conferences worldwide!

2014 CascadiaIT Lightning Talk: Girl Scout Cookies as Motivators

I was randomly conversing about my experiences in motivating project teams with several people in the lobby of the beautiful Hotel Deca at CascadiaIT, and one of them said, “You should give that as a Lightning Talk!”

So even though I’d already submitted one Lightning Talk, I signed up to give a second one.

Here are my notes, and some additional thoughts, from that second talk. These are just my thoughts and experiences, your mileage may vary, etc etc etc.

Girl Scout Cookies as Motivators

  1. food as motivator (shoutout to MikeC and timtams!)
  2. additional motivators: tech toys, gold stars, gift certificates, positive reviews to management
  3. girl scout cookies
  4. find parents with kids
  5. difficult meetings
  6. icebreakers (minus the thin mints)

I asked the room who’d taken a class from the phenomenal MikeC, because he hauls entire suitcases of different varieties of Tim Tams all the way from Australia to give out during his tutorials for folks who ask good questions.

About half the room raised their hands. Go MikeC!!!

Those who’ve never taken a class from MikeC and who do not know the wonderfulness of Tim Tams, I strongly recommended that they come to the USENIX LISA conference! It’s in Seattle this year!

It’s important to note that I (we) use the word “cookies” a lot, and sometimes we mean actual cookies. Actual cookies can be a wonderful and appropriate motivator… get to know your project team to understand if actual cookies are a good idea for them.

Sometimes “cookies” can mean tech toys, (big! cardboard!) gold stars, gift certificates for a local movie theater, gift certificates for ThinkGeek.com…

And sometimes “cookies” can mean positive reviews to management. When someone really made a very positive difference, sincerely thank them, in writing, and cc their supervisor. Such letters of thanks can make a difference during annual performance reviews.

General notes of thanks to everyone who participated in a project are good; getting into the habit of writing those, and then writing additional specific, honest and brief thanks to a small group of people who were absolutely instrumental to project success is an even better habit to foster.

I’ve used Girl Scout cookies a lot as motivators for my project teams… as one tool in my motivator toolkit (among many) to encourage people outside my management chain who are working with me toward the success of some technical effort at work.

Be aware of people’s dietary restrictions and preferences ahead of time!

And think about other things which may be like cookies, regarding motivation…

I buy my Girl Scout cookies from co-workers who are parents, rather than getting them at the sidewalk tables near my grocery store or other markets. You can make a lot of friends by easily filling those co-worker parents’ children’s sales quota for cookies, chocolate brittle, or whatever they’re selling.

Difficult meetings go more easily when folks have good food to eat, and cookies (or other non-edible motivators) can put everyone in a better frame of mind when you’re having stressful conversations as a group.

Thin Mints seem to have been the most popular Girl Scout cookies for difficult meetings, in my experience, followed by the chocolate-covered peanut butter cookies (which seem to actively slow down the pace of meeting conversation!).

However… if you’re bringing together a large project kick-off meeting where many participants do not already know each other, set the most popular treats aside (in my former places of employment, this meant “hide the Thin Mints!”), then place a variety of treats on the various tables in your meeting room.

Scatter a couple boxes of each flavor around so they’re not all together.

In my experience… people will abandon their orgchart groups and forsake their co-worker friends to sit at a table with an unopened box of their favorite Girl Scout cookies.

Those people will then strike up conversations and form positive connections with other people across orgchart boundaries, departmental silos, and levels of seniority or experience. Just as importantly, their introduction to each other will involve talking about a positive thing they immediately have in common: their favorite Girl Scout cookie.

And then they will open the boxes of cookies, and you can start your meeting, and your project team members can associate their favorite tasty, happy-making cookie flavor with your very important project.

Think outside the box, think inside the (cookie) box, think of positive motivators…