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All of us have a slightly different perception of what makes an acceptable answer. While there are general guidelines on How to Answer, tailoring the MSO table to our site may help eliminate ambiguity, eliminate confusion, and help us treat every post more equitably when determining if it should be edited, downvoted, flagged, and/or outright deleted.

As promised here, I took the MSO table on what an acceptable answer is and created a community wiki Meta PMSE post.

This is a great start to putting together some useful guidelines to help us determine exactly what is and isn't an acceptable answer and what type of action should be taken under different circumstances.

For the purposes of making this a community effort, I made the post community wiki so that anyone with just 100 reputation can edit the post; I mean really edit, not just make suggested edits.

Let's use this post to discuss the changes, while the actual reference post that we edit based on discussions is here: What is an acceptable answer on PMSE?

So... let's get started :)


Here are the results of a Data Explorer query. The query pulled the 20 shortest answers on our site. To make it easier to evaluate, I've included each question, as well as the answer:

(1) How to avoid being interrupted?

Q: As a project manager, I think it's important to be heard. I find that many times, even when just meeting people, I am getting interrupted mid sentence. Can anyone out there provide tips on how to grow past this? I'm not sure if it's a natural reaction to a personality trait or fixable. Love to hear any tips to cure this problem.

A: Try to write instead of talking.


(2) Agile and Scrum:- approaches, problems, common mistakes and lessons learned

Q: From doing Agile and Scrum are there any lessons you can pass on from your experiences?

Are there any approaches that work better than others? Which of the many parts of the theories have you found the most important in real-world situations?

Are there any good books, tutorials, videos, guides, etc. available on common Scrum/Agile mistakes, lessons learned and best practices?

A: The common mistakes are people ^^


(3) How do I change hours-per-day without affecting existing tasks?

Q: I have a list of tasks, each measured in days. The hours-per-day setting on the project is incorrect. When I update it, the tasks change accordingly.

My problem is that it's only the hours-per-day that is wrong; the length of each task is correct in terms of days, so I do not want it to change.

8 hours per day:

Example task - 2 days Change to 7 hours per day:

Example task - 2.29 days //undesired There's many tasks so updating them individually is obviously impractical.

A: Change your task to fix duration.


(4) Client has hard time focusing

Q: I had a hard time trying to get the client to focus. X likes to talk a lot. Sometimes give too much information.

Sometimes X talks x-self into circles and i forget what the question is.

I try my best to formulate succinct direct questions and i don't want to interrupt him too much; as i feel it may be impolite.

What is the best way to politely direct him to pick a conclusive answer?

To put this in context, I was trying to elicit important information about his interests in pursuing a feature and X wanted to talk about x's business and how they're growing.

A: Politely ask him to write, not talk


(5) Is a Feasibility study considered a method?

Q: I know feasibility studies are recommended by a number of project management methodologies i.e. The Waterfall Model, but would a feasibility study be method for project management?

A: No, it is a decision making tool.


(6) What should we call sprints in agile development when not selling consulting to a client?

Q: Obviously, calling sprints "sprints" would be one option, but even though that is well known and might convey an image of working really hard and getting a lot done, it also might imply "moving as fast as you can without regard to fatigue". And even though people directly involved in the sprints can be expected to understand this, managers not directly involved in the sprints might think that sprints involve, well, sprinting.

I believe that when the original term was coined it was in the context of performing consulting for clients at an hourly rate, which might be part of the motivation for naming it a sprint. Sort of an "at $200/hour you had better be sprinting" kind of thing. But in this case, clients buy the software, not the time, so they don't really care if we are sprinting or not.

So what's a good name for a sprint that won't tempt people to think it means working as hard as we can without pause until we drop?

And, before anyone points it out in an answer, there are lots of great ways to educate people on a good agile process, but this question isn't about that. This is about naming sprints in a way that helps as much as possible to educate people about a good agile process by means of the name alone.

A: How about "Time-boxed work packages"?


(7) How to Encourage Team Members to use Web Based Collaboration Tools?

Q: I just took a new job at a company with 4 offices and many cross-office teams. The company is very email-heavy and I am a huge advocate of using web based project management/collaboration tools.

I really like the projects I'm on and the people I'm working with, but I find myself spending a good deal of time copying discussions up onto the collaboration tool.

Any suggestions for getting your team to get into more of a habit of putting the discussions online? (note: this tool has email integration, so conversations can continue without leaving the email inbox)

A: Just make them...if they work for you.


(8) Famous projects using Scrum

Q: As some of you know now, I'm trying to introduce Scrum in our company. Our CEO asked me if famous projects and/or big companies used the method. I found some companies, that's easy (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Adobe, Nokia, Siemens, BBC, CNN, General Electric, Bank of America, Novell, Unisys...). Google maintains a list of companies using Scrum here. But which famous projects use Scrum? That's not so easy. Do you know some?

A: The AdWords project at Google uses Scrum


(9) How to identify risks?

Q: What risk identification methods you recommend to use? If a project manager needs to build a raw list of risks containing, say, 100 items, how would he/she do it? As I understand, brain storming is not the best mechanism here.

A: Asking the team would be my first action.


(10) How to manage and motivate external workers in project?

Q: In one of projects I work we have some people working only partially. They come to work only when there is a need for their work in project and sometimes they work at home.

The problem is with commitment - when they are not part of the team they aren't motivated. When they work at home it's hard to get output from them.

What you recommend? How to make them participate more in the project?

How to deal with remote workers not doing their work on time?

A: Find new people who are hungry for the work.


(11) How difficult is the Professional Scrum Master I (Fundamental) Assessment?

Q: I have been considering taking the Professional Scrum Master I (Fundamental) Assessment? I am considering paying the $100 and taking the assessment without attending a course. scrum.org Suggests that: "This course is recommended but not required for those who feel they are prepared to take the Assessment."

I live in Cape Town, South Africa and Africa does not even have its tab on the list showing the course schedule :-). There are one or two companies here that offer training, but they are also quite expensive.

I guess what I am really asking is: How realistic is the self-study option? And how will I know if I am ready to write the exam as each registration only allows for 1 attempt?

A: Just made 84/85 :( Its harder than it looks.


(12) Archiving Useful Documentation Without a PMIS

Q: One of the most important project-management assets you build up during your project is documentation of all kinds of things -- how you broke down estimates, how much work you completed each work-period, what kind of risks actualized, etc. etc. and this is all useful because it will help you in future projects that are similar, whether greatly or slightly similar.

As mentioned in previous questions, I work primarily on one-man software projects using agile methodologies. I don't have the benefit of a PMIS, a "Project Management Information System" that consolidates, archives, and indexes my documentation so I can search through past documents quickly; nor do I have the cash reserves to purchase or implement one.

How, then, do I usefully archive all past project documents that may be valuable? I'm trying to keep all my documentation online as Google Docs, breaking down projects by folder, and having an "archive" folder of completed projects.

A:

Evernote

Best document manager ever.


(13) Tool to track recurrent tasks

Q: There are many great tools helping you to manage your projects or just to track team tasks. But I am looking for a tool to track recurrent tasks of my team. For example, there are lot's of tasks like do weekly code reviews, write a blog post 2 times a week, and so on.

What tools are you using for that?

A:

  • Outlook
  • rememberthemilk.com

(14) Can decision making software be used to supplement or replace decision making?

Q: Purpose : Need to make a few business decisions. There are 2 ways to go about it. Each of these have multiple ways to go about. So, it is a randomly nested decision flow path.

Need a system with following features

Create a workflow with all the paths. Assign the probability of success at each event. (Min., Best guess, and Max) The software tells me the best possible path. Is something like that possible, and what are the advantages and disadvantages.

A: Brain? Not really software, but soft matter. :)


(15) What are the signs that a project is going wrong?

Q: The obvious answer is 'missing key milestones', but that depends on a structured project plan with clear milestones (e.g. waterfall model).

What are some of the not-so-obvious or subtle signs that the project is going awry? What's the best-case or worst-case impact on the project?

Please give one item in your answer so we can gather them together here and people can vote accordingly. You can post more than one answer if you have several to share. Real-world examples would be helpful.

A: Scope Creep with no-one stopping it.


(16) Multiple resources for one task in MS Project

Q: I have a single task (of type Fixed Work) with a total Work estimated to 160 hours. When I assign two full-time resources (let's call them Alice and Bob) to it, Duration of the task is 80 hours, as expected. Neither Alice nor Bob have any other tasks assigned. However, when I change Units of Alice to 25%, Duration of the task changes to 320 hours.

This totally baffled me at first, but then I realized the reasoning (correct, I hope) behind it. Apparently, MS Project wants for each resource to spend exactly 80 hours on the task. Since Alice can only spend 2 hours (25%) each day on the task, it takes her 40 days to ramp up 80 hours and that is the reason Duration of the task is 320 hours (= 40 days).

Is there a way for Bob to be able to spend more than 80 hours on the task, so that he can compensate for Alice? In other words, I would like the resulting Duration to be 144 hours (= 16 days, during which Bob works for 8 hours each day and Alice 2 hours).

A: Try setting the units before allocating to the task.


(17) How to manage a research project online?

Q: We will soon start a research project (longitudinal study for 2-3 years) with a team of 7 (+ interns). I think these are pretty prototypical conditions for psychological research.

requirements clash with business-oriented project management tools

flat hierarchy, so tasks aren't usually assigned by a superior unusual working hours – most workers are student helps that work part time and a lot of our assessments (the main time-eating work) will take place after the usual 9to5 so we would try to find someone who is free that afternoon to conduct an assessment session quite often – this entails keeping people in the loop without email ie. text messages we would like to track hours we'll share a lot of scientific literature and might collaborate in tagging, excerpting etc. some custom stuff is needed

We're almost sure that we'll need to program our custom solution for organizing the assessments. We need all participants to choose possible dates and as soon as 4 participants choose the same date and someone is available to lead the assessment session, the date should be blocked, they should be notified and also reminded by text messages. It's kind of like doodle.com+tetris - probably to specific?

my main question

Do you know of a project-management tool that makes sense for such an environment? Are we better off mixing different purpose-built web apps (we now use Gmail, GoogleGroups, > Dropbox, Zotero, Google Calendar, Google Docs + would need some sort of time tracker), risk redundancy (Dropbox ∩ Docs ∩ Zotero ∩ Gmail) and lose integration (it would be great to have something that is both calendar and time tracker, but maybe we should at least stay with the Google products that are somewhat integrated) ? Is there a third way? I found Charm and cloudHQ which promise to integrate Dropbox and project management. Charm doesn't add much value and cloudHQ is still in alpha. But I generally like the idea to assemble my much-used tools into something less redundant and better integrated.

A: I would use Redmine. And work using Scrum methodology.


(18) Where do you volunteer as a project manager?

Q: What are the most effective/interesting places to volunteer, in the industry of project management?

A: Local PMI chapter or PMI special interest group online.


(19) What magazine / journal / paper would you subscribe?

Q: I'm looking for a magazine for IT PMs. I wonder if you subscribe to any of such magazine? If so, what are your recommendations?

I'd prefer a paper version rather that a digital version.

The idea behind this question is: where do you learn from? There are books, experience, trainings / meetings with other PMs. I wonder if you learn from magazines, and if so, what magazines.

A: I would recommend Inc.com (it has a paper version too).


(20) What's the maximum number of similar tools a department should use?

Q: What is the maximum number of project management tools a department could use? If more than one is used for the same purpose or several are used for linked purposes double data entry occurs or synchronisation between them is needed.

Tools I consider in this category

  • time tracking tools
  • project / task planning tools
  • bug / issue trackers
  • invoicing

A:

One.

Is this a trick question?

  • Out of all of these answers, which ones are great? Which ones should be highlighted or would make excellent examples to share in order to generate interest in our site?

  • Could any of them be improved through editing?

  • Are there any that don't reflect the quality of the site or that you would be embarrassed for others to see, should you promote this site to colleagues?

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    An excellent idea, jmort! If there aren't a few responses by Tuesday, I suggest adding [featured] to get this more attention. Alternatively, consider a chat event to real-time discuss this, and link to this post in there :) – Aarthi Oct 5 '12 at 18:58
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    A lot of the answers look like they should have been converted to comments. #5 is the only one that looks like a complete (but short) answer to a simple question. – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 8 '12 at 6:51
  • @CodeGnome, many of the questions are asking for lists, are asked poorly, or are just not constructive. Instead of one-line answers, a clarifying comment (i.e can you explain what you mean by X?) or close votes may have been more appropriate. I personally don't feel like I would learn anything from most of these answers, and the point, as Mark and David both emphasize, is to facilitate learning. – jmort253 Oct 8 '12 at 14:52
  • I'll do a more in-depth analysis this evening, but I don't think the problem is length, or that flagging answers as "too short, didn't meet X char length requirement" is the solution. But the length is definitely a symptom of a problem. – jmort253 Oct 8 '12 at 15:17
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I'll step up to arrogance and offer some opinions. First, I really like the question; I wish that other SE sites took this kind of care.

I think that there are couple of clusters here. Like @CodeGnome, I think only a few are standalone answers. I agree on #5, and I'd add #8 and possibly #12

There are a cluster that are so terse as to be abrupt, or include deprecatory humor - I'd prefer to participate in a site that discourages such behavior. I'd include #1, #2, #7, #14

The cluster with (in my opinion) the most leverage are the answers where the answer is terse, but if it included a reference or a pointer to more information, then I think it would be useful to the OP. I'd include #3, & #9. I'd say these are an opportunity for comments.

  • +1 Thanks for joining the discussion. – Mark Phillips Oct 10 '12 at 16:49
  • Hi Mark W, thanks for weighing in. I wrote an answer below in response to Mark P. that I think is worth further discussion. – jmort253 Oct 11 '12 at 2:19
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No set answer yet, but after reading your post there are a couple of ideas that may help us hone in on an approach / decide if this is the right time to broach this topic.

  1. You write about 2 sentence answers. Often, two sentence answers are enough to answer the question. The length of an answer does not necessarily correspond to the quality of the answer. Additionally, having a length requirement may discourage people from answering (particularly when the OP hasn't put much thought into the question but a community member can contribute to the topic in a meaningful way).

  2. It is a cultural change. I don't think the community has yet considered that answers, as well as questions, may be up for community editing. There seems to be a sense that answers and the intellectual contribution which they represent, are sacrosanct - particularly if the answer is directly attributed to a specific user. Downvoting hasn't really caught on so I'm not sure how editing answers will fly...

  • Hi Mark, thanks for getting this discussion started. In my experience, if questions can be answered with just a sentence, it may be an indication the original post is "not a real question". However, on many of those types of questions, we see long answers that do explain things in detail too. This isn't to say there should be a hard limit on length, but I think that looking at the answer and then going back to the question to see if everything is covered is probably not a bad way to evaluate. In probably 90% of the short short answers I see, they could probably be expanded just a little. – jmort253 Oct 7 '12 at 21:11
  • For point #2, this is where comments come into play. The main goal of comments is to provide guidance for improving posts. Sometimes I find myself suggesting someone add X or cover Y points "to make their answer be more widely applicable to future visitors" and many times this results in their post getting quite a few more upvotes. Everyone wins! In general though, editing someone's post to change it is considered bad form on other SE sites, so that's definitely a valid point. – jmort253 Oct 7 '12 at 21:17
  • Hi James, if the OP doesn't ask for expansion of the answer, on what basis would the community decide that the answer needs greater expansion? An approach of having predefined conditions for answers limits the scope of knowledge that can be generated on the site. PM is an art, with the beauty in the execution. As David Espina once so wisely put it (if memory serves me correct) we are on the edge of practice/theory here. – Mark Phillips Oct 7 '12 at 21:20
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    Maybe it might help to find some examples of very short answers and then look at them and determine, if they were the only answers to the question, would the question be sufficiently answered. This one I thought was borderline, so I took no action: pm.stackexchange.com/a/6339/34. Also, there's this one on the same question: pm.stackexchange.com/a/707/34. In the second example, it seems like he's just agreeing with other answerers without adding anything useful. I'll try to locate good examples, but if you or others know of any that would be awesome. :) – jmort253 Oct 7 '12 at 21:38
  • Here's another thought: there seems to be two cultures at play. The site specific culture and the overarching SO culture. The site's goal has been related to building a community based on members. SO's goal is about building a knowledge base around PM that is widely applicable to future visitors/search engines. How do these two cultures meet and meld together? What is the best way to introduce the overarching SO culture to the PMSE community? – Mark Phillips Oct 7 '12 at 22:07
  • I don't believe the two goals are contrary to one another; both can exist. With that, I've added the 20 shortest answers above, as well as the questions for context. – jmort253 Oct 8 '12 at 0:46
  • The goals aren't contrary. The point is that recognizing it as a cultural change can help us better approach how we introduce it/whether we introduce it to PMSE. As an observation, the topic of answers, as introduced so far, doesn't seem to be generating much discussions (aside from us : ) ) – Mark Phillips Oct 10 '12 at 13:44
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    What helps is that we have users spending more time in the "Review" tools, so as a community we are thinking more about these things. Here's an example of an answer where I think it could be improved, but it isn't something I'd downvote or remove: pm.stackexchange.com/a/6812/34. In summary, still useful, but will lose a lot of that usefulness when the guy gets tired of blogging, his domain expires, or some other event occurs that causes the link to 404. Adding some info from the link, IMHO, would make this one an awesome example of a great answer. :) – jmort253 Oct 12 '12 at 0:22
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I believe Mark brings up some valid points. Thanks for weighing in and bringing another perspective to this.

I started this discussion on a whim based on feedback from Aarthi on one of our questions that a few people felt may have been borderline.

I've thought about it for a few days, and I could see the argument that evaluating an answer based on length alone may not be the best approach for our community. That actually wasn't my intention, but I inadvertently went that direction because "short" is sometimes, not always, a symptom of a problem, and those were easy targets. We have really intelligent, professional people in our community, and such a constraint might be a little too extreme.

I do propose we consider the following two guidelines, however:

  • Post should fully answer the question, since it's hard to judge partial answers and vote the best content to the top.
  • Answers should explain why a certain action is correct, if necessary. Otherwise, from the perspective of the majority of our readers -- people who don't have accounts who come here from Google searches -- we're just random people on the Internet making random statements.

As an exercise for the 2nd point, to get a feel for what it's like to read answers as an outsider, install this user script in your browser, which will hide gravatars, reputation, names, etc from all of the answers on the site. Things look much different when you don't know who is answering. :)

I really don't want to start a witch hunt for short answers; that would be a disservice to our community. "Short" is pretty subjective and hard to define, and I agree with Mark's points.

I'd appreciate if anyone participating in the "review" tools use some discretion in this area until we figure this out as a community. It seems like most people already have a good idea of this already. :)

Can we get consensus on the above two guidelines? When it comes down to it, I really feel like most of us are already following these guidelines 95% of the time anyway, so I'm really not sure this is a fire, just something that is part of our growth towards graduation and growing into a larger community, something that will serve as a beacon to future new users who participate in reviews or who write their own answers.


Good example of "Not an Answer" from How to better manage definition of project scope for business change projects? (Note: Only 2K users can see deleted posts):

Project starting phase is a very critical stage and the person who are responsible to handle it, should have capability to understand each business factor and have an idea that how to go in next phase and how to lead a team who are working on a project.

Business leadership skill

  • 2
    I strongly agree that the goal is not to witch-hunt, but to improve the utility of the site. Let me offer two suggestions. First, let's rephrase the guidelines: "Posts that completely answer the question are better than those that respond only to part of the question", and "posts that explain why are more useful than posts that merely answer." I'd add a third, which may be a corollary to the second, "Posts that provide a reference/link/source are better than answers that merely assert." – Mark C. Wallace Oct 11 '12 at 12:01
  • @MarkC.Wallace - Here's an example of an answer where I left a comment encouraging the poster to summarize: pm.stackexchange.com/a/6812/34. What's left out of this answer is why the FBI was successful, and how did they pull it off. Additionally, while links are great add-ons, they do oftentimes break, so a summary would also make it useful to future visitors... I'm not sure I'd remove this answer or downvote it; I think this is merely an example of an answer that could use more love, but one that isn't completely useless or couldn't lead someone to find an answer. – jmort253 Oct 12 '12 at 0:16
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    The same comment has been made on other SE sites. I don't think we're in conflict. There are may ways to judge the quality of an answer. Answers with links are, in general, better than those without. Answers with summaries are, in general, better than answers with bare links. Having said that, links tell me that the answer is researched and is likely to be generally useful - which is what I want from SE. Answers without links are somewhat more likely to be mere assertions - which while true, are less useful. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 12 '12 at 11:44
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    Aside: Answers are going to be judged by multiple criteria, and a given criteria may or may not be relevant to a given answer. Rephrasing the rules as consequences/principles rather than "Should" statements may help to get past the tendency to treat the "What is an acceptable answer" as a boolean. In my opinion, the question shouldn't be to distinguish between black/white acceptable, but "What would make this answer better?" – Mark C. Wallace Oct 12 '12 at 11:47
  • +1 Mark C. I like your approach. – Mark Phillips Oct 12 '12 at 12:44

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