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 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…


2014 CascadiaIT Lightning Talk: “So you should speak at conferences!”

First, a few thoughts…

I’ve been wanting to pull together a longer blogpost about this topic, but since I wanted to get some practice at presenting it as a Lightning Talk first, this is my Lightning Talk notes followed by some additional thoughts.

For those that don’t know, in this context a Lightning Talk means a fairly informal talk that is five minutes or less, nearly impromptu, where you can use notes but no projected slides.  The speaker has volunteered for their topic ahead of time, and these talks are usually not recorded or streamed online.

My first Lightning Talk was last year at this same conference: Getting Your Arms Around Unscopable Projects – and that Lightning Talk last year developed into an Invited Talk I gave this year, Nerdherding On The Frontier.

And my invited talk from last year’s CascadiaIT about Designing IT Emergency Drills grew into invited talks, a workshop and a tutorial which have found audiences in multiple venues this year.

In general, I have found the audiences at Lightning Talks to be very positive and supportive… most of the speakers show some form(s) of nervousness or disorganization, and that’s perfectly OK.

Specifically at CascadiaIT, the audience is incredibly positive, and in good spirits.  They seem to want the speaker to have a good time.  It’s a great place for people new to IT public speaking to get some practice, and a great place for seasoned speakers to try out new topics or presentation methods.

Plenty of people stumble over our words when we feel rushed or nervous, and mis-speaking and then an awkward correction mid-sentence over a particularly bizarre slip of the tongue tends to bring gentle laughter and sympathy from the CascadiaIT Lighting Talk audiences (rather than the derision which a new or nervous speaker might have been anticipating).

Here are my notes from my CascadiaIT 2014 Lightning Talk:

“So you should speak at conferences!”

  1. Topic Choice
  2. Format Choice
  3. Local Speaking Opportunities
  4. Local and Regional LOPSA Conferences and Chapters
  5. National Conferences
  6. Travel Assistance and Grants
  7. In Conclusion: SPEAK!!

Yes, I spoke for five minutes in front of a room full of people, based on seven lines of notes.  You can do this, too!

Go! Speak!!  🙂

More thoughts on those same themes…

Topic Choice

Your experiences are valuable, your knowledge should be shared!  Don’t assume that someone else who knows what you know has submitted to speak to the conference that you’re considering submitting to… they may not have.

Do not assume that the people you’ve seen at that conference presenting about topics that you know about will be there this year.  Attendees and speakers change over time, people have availability collisions, and time marches on.

Submit more than one topic! If the conference organizers get a whole lot of submissions on one topic, they’ll sort through and pick what they want… don’t worry about being one of eighty people actually giving talks about your same topic at one conference; the organizers are clever people and are unlikely to do that to their conference schedule.

And if multiple topics you’ve submitted yourself to speak about are accepted to a single conference, note that you can choose to decline one or more of them… nothing requires you to go ahead with multiple talks at the same conference unless you want to.

Give the conference organizers as much time as you can so they do their jobs, though… be sure to communicate clearly with conference organizers, in a timely fashion, and honor your commitments!

Format Choice

Different formats work for different topics. Your topic may be well-suited to a talk, or a collaborative workshop, or a tutorial.  Imagine yourself giving each of them… which feels most appropriate?  Try developing draft materials for a format or two… which flows most easily for you as a presenter?

Try giving your topic as a couple different formats with small audiences to practice them, and ask for feedback.

Note that different formats of presentations often include different honorariums or expense reimbursement possibilities. I did not have any clue about this a year or two ago!  And different conferences can be very different about this!

Local Speaking Opportunities

Be aware of local opportunities to see others speak and to get speaking practice yourself. Grab a meeting room and offer a lunchtime or coffee-break talk at your own workplace! Join local meetup.com groups relevant to your technical interests! If they don’t exist, consider forming one! Consider joining Toastmasters, the audiences there may not understand the tech you’re talking about, but you will learn to be more comfortable with public speaking.

Local and Regional Conferences and LOPSA Chapters


CascadiaIT and LOPSA-East are great regional conferences. They are great places for people new to IT public speaking to get some practice, and a great place for seasoned speakers to try out new topics or presentation formats.

Local LOPSA Chapters are another great opportunity to get to know likeminded local folks, see a variety of speakers, and to gain speaking practice yourself. Join your local LOPSA chapter if you haven’t already.

Shoutout to Crabby Admins in Baltimore/DC and Back Bay LISA in Boston who’ve given me the opportunity to speak this spring!

If you’re traveling for other reasons (yay vacation!), see if there’s a LOPSA chapter or meetup.com group near your destination that may need speakers for their meetups!

National Conferences

Submit to speak to national conferences, like USENIX LISA 2014! It’s really not as scary as it might sound! And if you’re not submitting or were not accepted as a formal speaker, sign up to give a Lightning Talk at every available opportunity!

Travel Assistance, Discounts and Grants

This is a biggie that I did not have a clue about!

If you are a member of any underrepresented group or if you are a first-time speaker, there may be financial assistance available to assist you in traveling to conferences.

Read the fine print of conference websites and Calls For Proposals (CFPs), politely ask the conference organizers, do a web-search for additional resources which may be available to you that are not specific to a particular conference.  There’s no harm in asking!

In Conclusion

So… you should speak at conferences! Go! Speak!

Recent things I’ve been reading

which I didn’t get to mention during the Lightning Talk…






LISA 2013 The Guru Is In Session: Project Management: Establishing and Fostering the Basics

I presented a Guru Is In session at USENIX LISA 2013 in Washington, DC: Project Management: Establishing and Fostering the Basics.

Some IT organizations have established project management cultures. Some do not. If you’re in the latter camp and are interested in the potential for project management practices to increase productivity within your organization, please stop by and visit with Adele Shakal.

Adele believes in the genuine value of project management, yet understands that the application of appropriate project management principles can be challenging. She is happy to share her best practices for applying non-invasive techniques that allow IT teams to be more efficient and effective. She’ll also share tips for establishing and fostering project management culture within rapidly changing and growing organizations.

Adele currently heads up project and knowledge management at Metacloud, Inc., a cloud solutions company providing Private Cloud as a Service based on OpenStack.

She has nearly two decades of experience with IT project management, business process analysis and design, knowledge management, emergency operations and drill planning, business continuity, service management, system administration, and web technologies.

She has been a presenter, roundtable facilitator and panelist on IT emergency preparedness, Google Apps For Education, project management and technical documentation, and advancing women in computing; at CENIC, EDUCAUSE, APRU, USENIX LISA and CascadiaIT conferences.

LISA 2013 Invited Talk: Becoming a Gamemaster: Designing IT Emergency Operations and Drills

I presented an invited talk at USENIX LISA 2013 in Washington, DC: Becoming a Gamemaster: Designing IT Emergency Operations and Drills

Bring emergency response and operations, business continuity, disaster recovery, and IT architecture together into practical drill design… and prepare your organization for whatever zombie apocalypse it may face.

Learn key concepts in emergency operations center and incident headquarters design, methods of introducing such concepts to your organization, and a sequence of basic-to-advanced drill designs.

Keeping IT folks engaged in a drill simulation can be very challenging. Become a gamemaster worthy of designing and executing drills on likely emergency scenarios and realistic function failures for your organization.

Hard-hats and D10s not included.

(I did actually bring d10s.)

The slides, audio and video of this invited talk are available via the USENIX LISA 2013 website.

Slides: Adele Shakal USENIX LISA 2013 Gamemaster Talk

LISA 2013 Workshop: The Practical Gamemaster: Hands-On Design and Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills

I led a workshop at USENIX LISA 2013 in Washington, DC: The Practical Gamemaster: Hands-On Design and Execution of IT Emergency Operations Drills

Within a broad context of emergency response, emergency operations, business continuity planning/resiliency, disaster recovery, and information technology architecture, this workshop will provide participants with hands-on experience to design and execute IT emergency drills.

Participants will collaboratively identify critical business functions and continuity/resiliency objectives for a fictional organization, and catalog IT services involved in supporting those business functions. We will then design an emergency operations center or incident headquarters for that fictional organization. Along the way, we will discuss and brainstorm methods of introducing such concepts to participants’ actual organizations.

During the latter part of this workshop, participants will split into groups to accomplish first a basic life-safety and IT emergency operations drill, and then an advanced IT emergency operations drill. As workshop participants execute each of these drill plans, we will evaluate quantifiable success factors of each drill, collect lessons learned, and discuss guru-level additions to advanced drill design.

Keeping IT folks engaged in a drill simulation can be very challenging. The skills necessary to design, execute, and facilitate IT emergency drills are practical, perfectly suited to the hands-on, participatory environment of a technical workshop.

Become a gamemaster worthy of designing and executing drills on likely emergency scenarios and realistic function failures for your organization. You are hereby summoned to actively (with good humor) learn to engage your team in emergency operations planning and drill facilitation! Hard hats and D10’s included.

(I did not actually bring hard hats to this workshop; they would not fit into my suitcase.)

Slides: Adele Shakal USENIX LISA 2013 Gamemaster Workshop

LISA 2012 Panel: Advancing Women In Computing

I participated alongside amazing and formidable women at USENIX LISA 2012 in San Diego in the discussion panel Advancing Women in Computing.

Moderator: Rikki Endsley, USENIX Association

Panelists: Jennifer Davis, Yahoo, Inc.; Elizabeth Krumbach, Ubuntu; Adele Shakal, Metacloud, Inc.; Nicole Forsgren Velasquez,Utah State University; Josephine Zhao, Prosperb Media and AsianAmericanVoters.org

Audio and video of this discussion panel are available via the USENIX LISA 2012 website.