The Short Story — What This Is and Who I Am

This is a blog about flexible planning. Flexible planning is exactly what it says on the tin — planning in a way that allows and even encourages flexibility. I’ll write here about ways to plan for change, to create useful plans that don’t need more time to create and update than they do to execute. I’ll also write about the other side of the coin — things in traditional (or just common) planning approaches that are just plain broken.

As for who I am, my name is Meri Williams. I’m a project manager, a geek, a programmer and a problem solver. I’m interested in the marriage of business in technology. I write on my personal/tech blog, work for Procter & Gamble and will hopefully be starting a PhD with the AmonI group at the University of Bath Computer Science department soon.

The usual disclaimer applies: Everything that you read here is my own personal opinion and should in no way be construed as the opinion of any of the companies, institutions, groups or associations with which I might be associated, in my mind or your own.

The Long Story — How I Got Here

During my final year at university, my research focused around the overlap between artificial intelligence and project management. “What the hell have these two areas got to do with each other?” I hear you ask. Well, the key priority in AI is teaching software to act intelligently. A big part of what sets intelligent animals, including humans, apart from simpler organisms is the ability to plan — to take into account circumstances, consider a goal and work out how to achieve it.

Equally, in project management, we spend a lot of time trying to take into account circumstances (constraints, resources, time, etc), consider the goal (the project objectives) and work out how to achieve it (planning, risk management etc). Traditional PM planning theory dictates that whenever circumstances change, the plans must be adapted. Interestingly, when this approach is implemented in software agents (which don’t get bored, or demotivated, or tired…) it fails miserably. The agents spend so much time planning and replanning that they seldom act — in people we would call this “analysis paralysis”.

Interested by the parallels between strictly applied PM methodology and AI planning, my research focused on the reapplication of the advances in AI planning to project management. The outcome was a method of project planning which we dubbed Dynamic Planning. If you’re interested in my full thesis, then it has been published as part of the University of Bath Computer Science Department‘s Technical Report series. The full title, in accordance with the rules is “Dynamic Planning:: The Application of AI Planning Advances to Project Management”. A couple of research papers are also in the works.

In parallel with my academic research, I was also running real live projects at work, constantly learning about what can go right and wrong in a commercial and corporate environment. Obviously some of my experiences there influenced my research and vice versa. This blog is an attempt to bring together the two worlds and hopefully provide something useful to anyone managing projects or even just trying to get things done.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace