Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Impact of National Culture on Collaboration

Thoughts & Insights
"The Impact of the National Culture on the Interactive and Collaborative Approaches to Knowledge Management: An Exploratory Study," by Pavel Bogolyubov, Prof. Mark Easterby-Smith, and Dr. Valerie Stead.  

  • We take national culture for granted.  Within NASA, when we talk about culture, it may refer to two things: 1) the NASA organizational culture, which can either refer to 1a) the aspects of organizational culture that were identified as contributing to the organization's most visible failures (Challenger and Columbia accidents); or 1b) the strong innovation and "can do" attitude; 2) the various organizational cultures (center-specific culture, scientist vs. engineering cultures) that exist within the organization. In the context of international partnerships, paying attention to cultural differences across nations would make a lot of sense.  I have a feeling that cultural differences tend to be seen as obstacles to be overcome.  One problem with this approach is that communication is perceived as the solution, yet -- beyond the potential for translation challenges -- communication is highly culturally sensitive.  So, when NASA engineers think they're making extra efforts to communicate because they're working with a foreign partner, the foreign partner may perceive that extra effort as an attempt to impose NASA views and practices rather than true collaboration.  In short, the NASA engineers can't help it.  What they consider best practices in terms of communications will be culturally determined and not necessarily the best approach in the context of an international partnership.  

Thursday, August 02, 2012

PMP Exam Prep (follow up)

Yes, I did pass the exam.
In retrospect, what was most helpful in preparing for the test?

  • Practice Tests
    Answering lots of sample questions from different sources  It's important to work with different sources because you need to develop a certain flexibility in quickly reading questions and interpreting them, regardless of the style or phrasing.  Books that come with sample questions are good but they tend to include questions that have an obvious answer if you read that book. They're also useful if they have detailed explanations of the answer.  You want to understand why you answered a question wrong and correct your understanding of that specific topic, not just go back to study that process or knowledge area. Most of the time, I practiced 20-30 questions in a row, taking my time, but I also practiced a couple of longer tests with up to 200 questions, just to get a sense of how fried my brain would be on test day and to make sure I was going to have enough time.  I was clearly spending more time with questions that required calculations and the application of formulas, so I spent more time practicing those.
  • Books
    For my first pass at all the knowledge areas, I used PMBOK.  When I realized that wasn't going to be enough, I turned to the one book everyone seemed to recommend: Rita Mulcahy's book. I purchased it late in my review process (2/3s into it) and used it for my second pass at all the knowledge areas.  I was not disappointed.  I did not do all the exercises, but it was excellent in helping me get a high degree of clarity on key concepts and processes.  I checked out a couple of other books from my library just to scan through and check that I wasn't missing something.
  • Courses
    I took the cheapest possible online course to satisfy the training requirement.  It  was "good enough" but certainly not sufficient.  I complemented that with online courses I found available free through my workplace.  Those were really good at providing yet another angle, other styles of questions and each focused on specific knowledge areas.
  • Online resources
    I subscribed to a daily email with a PMP exam question and regular PMP prep podcasts but didn't really keep up with them. I didn't have time but I think they can be very helpful.  For specific concepts that were difficult for me to grasp, I looked up YouTube videos. When I looked up multiple definitions and explanations of some concepts that were giving me trouble.
  • Memorization
    I memorized all the formulas and the matrix of processes.  I started my day with a two blank sheets of paper and tested my memory until I could replicate the formulas and matrix without errors.  I also stared at the process diagrams, not so much to memorize them but as a way of going through everything I knew about each process and how they interacted.  I created index cards for definitions and concepts.  One way I knew I was as ready as I'd ever be was when I stopped adding cards.  No matter what new resource I was using to study, I wasn't encountering anything new.  By then, my understanding might not be perfect, but I was pretty confident that I had at least covered everything and no question on the test should surprise me. 
  • Study Schedule
    I started studying in early May and immediately registered for the online course so that I could apply to take the test.  I'm a morning person, so my study hours were 4:00-5:30am every day, probably more on weekends.  My initial plan was to spend the whole summer studying, but once I was deemed qualified to take the test, some time in June, I felt confident enough that I could take the test in late July and not spend my entire summer studying.  With a clear deadline in the back of my mind, I was able to pace my review using Rita's book by covering two knowledge areas per week and a minimum of 200 practice questions per week.  
Part of personal knowledge management has to do with understanding how you, as an individual, learn best, and the kind of learning that different situations require.  Learning something for the sake of passing a test such as PMP is different from everyday on-the-job-learning.  It involves a certain amount of intensive studying towards a particular deadline and then half of that new knowledge dissipates in thin air as soon as the exam is over.