On the use and abuse of Technology and its Management from the perspective of an academic at UCL specialising in Project Management, Systems Engineering and Space Science/Technology.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Birth of a System - London Cycle Hire

People in London can't have failed to notice the introduction of a new transport system lately - the Cycle Hire scheme. At the time of writing it's roughly a month into operations. For the uninitiated, there are roughly 400 docking stations around town, each housing up to 20-30 bikes. Registered users present their dongles, unhook a bike and pedal off. At the other end, the bike is re-docked, and, in a database somewhere, a small charge is incurred. (More intro, Guardian, July 2010)

Some things I've noticed, and some questions.:

It's obviously a multi-element system: Bikes, Docks, Terminals, Back End Data, Billing, Logistics. It's additionally part of TfL's great big system-of-systems. It's got the Mayor's Office paw prints on it, but clearly has been in the works for years. It couldn't have happened, without Paris and a few other prototypes. Expect to see more in big and small cities round the world soon.

There are sprawling requirements everywhere, not completely understood. Here, for example, is a story about an odd feature of the database that caused the owners to back-pedal on a particular function, the multi-key account. Is the development cycle capable of adapting to new, or recently clarified, requirements? My guess is that, oops, the database contract has been and gone, and this feature will sink, rather than be implemented properly.

The initial users are enthusiastic, communicative, and alive to the possibilities it offers. Has this resource been tapped into? The forumites all want to talk to TfL and Serco (for it is they) but I suspect the drawbridge is up.

Data! There are plenty of feeds that allow the growth of applications (and, of course, Apps) to entertain and inform the users. Here, for example, is Oliver O'Brien's visualisation of real-time Dock status. (Oliver is a GIS nerd at UCL, but I don't otherwise know him). Here's another of his, showing daily stats, for example. Note how system availalbility is about capacity of both Bikes and Docks at each end of the prospective journey. Unlike a little French town (Lyon? Paris?), London's scheme is being used a lot, in two daily peaks, by edge-to-centre commuters. Machines and Holes are both at a premium at critical times. Has all this been modelled?

The contractors and operators aren't saying much for now, other than "we are working on the best way to do things". Do they mean us?

Originally Posted at Systems Engineering on KTN _connect.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Issues and Risks : philosophy of Present and Future

In Project Management, the concept of a Risk is fairly well established.

"An event, which, if it occurs, will have an effect on the Project's Objectives".

So if it's a harmful future event, we would note its likelihood, impact, and causes, and seek to manage it. By doing so, we reach into the future and handle it so that it does not impact the present in a way we would not wish.

Whereas an Issue is defined, at least in the APMP syllabus (PRINCE2 and PMI may differ on this definition) as
"a threat to the project objectives that cannot be resolved by the project manager. ... issues have already occurred and are therefore not uncertain".

APM Body of Knowledge, 5th Edition.

In teaching this, we fall into a sideline. Students ask: what about future events that are nearly certain. Aren't they also Issues? or Risks with very high probability? or just issues? Since escalation at the proper time is a key result of the Issue Management process, we should have a clear answer. We can reply by saying that the cause of the event was in the past, whereas the manifestation of the problem could be in the future. That satisfies some people, but not entirely. Then I saw this:


"Modern Western culture has absorbed the threefold Greco-Roman concept of time as "past" (that which has gone before), "present" (that which is), and "future" (that which will be). It is easy to associate these concepts with the three Norns Urdhr, Verdhandi, and Skuld. It is also incorrect. The Germanic time-sense is not threefold, but twofold: time is divided into "that-which-is," a concept encompassing everything that has ever happened - not as a linear progression, but as a unity of interwoven layers; and, "that-which-is-becoming," the active changing of the present as it grows from the patterns set in that-which-is. That-which-is is the Germanic "world," a word literally cognate to the Norse ver-├Âld, "age of a man." One will notice that even in modern English, there is no true future tense; the future can only be formed through the use of modal auxiliaries. For the Teutonic mind, all that has been is still immediate and alive; the present only exists as it has been shaped by the great mass of what is, and the future only as the patterns of that which is becoming now should shape in turn."
- By Kveldulf Gundarsson, Tuetonic Magic, p. 24.

Seen in Cloud Hands, Mike Garofolo's blog about TaiJi.


I can see the same dichotomy of viewing the future/potential in the way Risks ("that which is becoming") and Issues ("that which is") are treated. To put them in the Graeco-Roman mould of Future and Present seems to create difficulties which are avoided, to my mind, if we instead follow the Teutonic pattern. Ja?