Outlook is not so Rosy

Wilted Rose

Wilted Rose

Suddenly my Outlook is not so Rosy, anymore. And that is the understatement of the Year.

When I’m training and we get to the subject of software tools, the discussion often gravitates towards personal organisers. Which one is the best?

Lotus Organizer has served me well since 1996 – yup! My entire life is captured and controlled in a 14 year old piece of software! Isn’t that amazing? And it still works fantastic in 2010.

But, you know what, technology moves on and people convinced me to move to the latest and greatest – Microsoft Outlook! They promised me that I would be in Nirvana!

That (moving to Outlook) was the biggest mistake I made, EVER, in my career working with IT. I have been struggling for 3 days without breaks, and I’m still only half-running in Outlook today. I expect to take another 3 or 4 days of struggles to get everything working smoothly. Even then, I have gone backwards. I seriously regret my decision to move to Outlook.

Some credentials are in order: I have been running a small ISP and doing customer support for 10 years. I know my way around computers. I don’t call support – they call me. So here is a summary of my major problems.

As background I have about 10 years of calendar entries and around 39525 messages (approximately 7+Gb uncompressed), with some 3000 contacts. Because I sometimes have to do forensic work, I need to have absolute confidence that every single message is preserved. Oh, yes, I pull mail from several POP accounts under various conditions and I travel a lot, carrying my evidence files with me – I cannot afford expensive roaming bandwidth in the hotels.

I’m not going to bother you with every single problem – trust me, there were many. But the three most severe ones are:

  1. When using the Outlook import facility, it would happily report that all the messages have been imported … until you count the number of messages in each folder. Several thousand just went missing without a trace and without any error messages of any kind. Oh, and yes I tried to export from Outlook Express with very similar results. The errors are relatively consistent and seems to revolve around messages that are secured or to do with the calendars. I eventually had 200-odd messages that I just couldn’t move at all. How can I ever trust a system if it drops messages without telling me?
  2. Outlook Express and other popular e-mail clients store messages in smaller files so you don’t hit the upper file size limits as easily. However, my Outlook PST file hit 4Gb (spelled death by file size) regularly. I had to resort to some serious gymnastics to move all my folders around to get PST files down to around 1Gb each. It is pathetic. I now spend my time managing the SIZE of my e-mails and not the CONTENT.
  3. And then, the big one. Rules. In today’s day and age with all the spam around, I want some intelligent rules to sort my mail into the correct folders to make my life easier. While 80% of the rules work as expected, the really important ones don’t. Mail lists and/or spammers send stuff with headers that are sometimes broken or used in unusual ways and Outlook doesn’t seem to have the ability to apply a simple rule to a header record unless it is a simple [from]:[to].
  4. OK this is number 4, 5, 6 … just imagine my frustration with the address books and synchronising¬† calendar entries and you will see the list growing rapidly but I promised to stop at 3.

In summary, going to Outlook is a downgrade, not an upgrade. Outlook is a great integrated PIM for simple users, or even corporate users whose hands have to be held, but unfortunately it has been dumbed down to reach the lowest common user profile. In the process they had to throw away (or maybe hide) the features required by an intelligent power user. I don’t know if I will continue to use it but I promised to test it for at least a week under heavy load to observe its behaviour fully.

This is not a suggestion you should use or avoid any product, it is merely a reflection of my own experience. If you want specific details I can provide you with the list of names of qualified people who I called and tried to solve my problems and gave up. May your mileage vary, please.

Never Assume

Shredder

Shredder

Oh my dear, every now and again (here is one on my other blog and here’s another) a silly joke arrives in my mailbox that teaches us a powerful Project Management Life Lesson. Here is today’s cutie:

Never Assume.

A young software engineer was leaving the office at 4:30 pm when he found the Manager standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand.

“Listen,” said the Manager, “this is a very sensitive and important document, and my secretary is not here. Can you make this thing work?”

“Certainly,” said the young engineer. He turned the machine on, inserted the paper, and pressed the Start Button.

“Excellent, excellent!” said the Manager as his paper disappeared inside the machine, “I just need one copy.”

Lesson Learned? Never, ever assume that your boss knows what he’s doing.

The Souks are Calling again

Dubai Souks

Dubai Souks


Lucky me! I’ve been writing about escaping the cold southern hemisphere winters to the warmer northern parts and this year summer is coming twice!

Soon I’ll be fastening my seat belt in my favourite airline (in case you didn’t know, Emirates) and I’ll wing it to Dubai for a few days to lead the Effective Project Coordinator conference. I just find it an incredibly rewarding destination. It is relatively safe (coming from South Africa) and the people are friendly. Shopping and cost-of-living might be a little expensive.

But my view of Dubai might not be the same as yours. Why don’t you comment and tell me what you think of Dubai?

Now it is four

4D

4D

And so the time has come that a project manager has to juggle 4 things.

It just doesn’t seem possible. Two dimensions we can handle easily. Three dimensions are within the grasp of the more experienced guys and gals. But four!

I’m not alone here. More than a hundred years ago (in 1827) M√∂bius already started imagining four dimensions and developing theories on how to deal with them.

Even in my very short (30 years) work experience I’ve learn’t that you can keep your focus on one or two things, but the more things you are watching the more likely you are to forget what you are watching … or put differently, you will ignore critical warning signs from one of those dimensions, possible causing problems in your project.

The modern project managers dilemma is often quoted as balancing the three dimensions of Scope, Time and Cost as I commented here before or my favourite PM handbook by Rory Burke here. For a while we were comfortable that we understood the environment. But that is about to change.

So what are those four dimensions? Today’s politically charged environment is a tough environment to play in. It is not what you do (my late mother’s favourite saying) it is what other people think you are doing. Outcomes are no longer sufficiently defined by concrete deliverables. And the newly added dimension is all about politics.

While reading about Felix Baumgartner’s latest attempt to break the human sound barrier (read all about it here) I saw doctor Jonathan Clark pick up the new trend. He says modern projects face four basic challenges: politics, economics, technical risk, and schedule risk. He so wisely continues that schedule risk is the risk that comes with being pressured to move too fast. Wow that sounds familiar.

As a short digression: A blinding glimpse of the obvious. Competitive pressures often times force us to deliver too fast.

How do we handle this? How do we cope! What can we do to squeeze the impossible four dimensions into a recognisable manageable two or three dimensions and survive? According to the educators it is possible to create views in 2D or 3D that represent 4D. It is not really what you see, but you know what it means.

So I guess the future trends will definitely be to appoint project managers who are not only technically competent, but also have political awareness. This is going to demand a rewrite of CV’s, most likely the addition of list of stakeholders you engaged with.

How does that make you feel? You are welcome to comment by clicking on the link near the top of this post.