You don’t need to be busy to be working

What do I do if I have nothing to do?
I’ve just finished my current task. What should I do now

Chances are you don’t have anything to do right now. Don’t worry. It’s fine.

Industry 1.0 and 2.0 paved the way for people not having to think what to do next. Assembly line workers or people at offices would follow clearly defined procedures and systems. Put a nut into a piece. Put another nut into the next piece. Repeat for 8 hours. Go home. After that, the point was optimizing times and efforts so you could lower costs as much as possible.

But it happened that Lean, Toyota Production System and Theory of Constraints demonstrated that working at 100% (or more!) rate is not beneficial, but decreases productivity.

I was thinking on it last saturday, watching the RTVE Orchestra playing the Star Wars Suite.


An orchestra ensembles dozens of highly trained, highly skilled professionals to accomplish a common goal. They all play together to accomplish it.

They all play together? But then, who are that group of people sitting, silent and still, in the background? There are at least fifty of them. And they haven’t done a thing for the whole first two pieces. They don’t have instruments, by the way.


Are they even part of the orchestra?

In fact, they are. They are the choir. They just remained in the background, for eight minutes and a half, silent, still, not disturbing, maybe relaxing, focusing or doing a mental recap of the notes they are going to be singing for the next piece.

Could they be helping the guy with the drums on his beating. Clearly not.
Would they be of help turning the pages of the score of the man whith the trombone. Of course not.
So they just sit still.

Could they be out of the stage, behind the scenes, chating or having a drink? They always could enter after the end of the second piece.
Yes, they could. But it would not be efficient, nor a nice watch. They would last forever to enter and sit down, ruining the flow of the concert, distracting the crowd in attendance and the performers.

So they just sit still.

Having every people in the orchestra, in the team, busy 100% of the time, is not only bad for morale… it’s highly inefficient.

So whenever you face it, please, think clearly and, if you don’t have anything to do, just wait still, focusing for being ready to start working again the very moment it makes sense.


  • The Toyota Way (Liker): “Toyota management says it is OK to run less than 100% of the time, even when the line is capable of running full-time, yet Toyota is regularly ranked among the most productive plants in the auto industry. Why? Because Toyota learned long ago that solving quality problems at the source saves time and money downstream.”
  • Synchronize your watches (Seth): “The work itself now tells you when to start working on it, as the project is passed from desk to desk, from account to account.”
  • Managing the Unmanageable (Mantle and Litchy): “Prioritize. Sometimes, it is urgent to wait. […] When an unexpected issue comes up, engineers (mostly) tend to want to fix it right away to show their mettle, forgetting their actual priorities. It is actually more difficiult to sit back and wait first to understand the actual priority of the new issue” – Phac Le Tuan

My PMP certification experience

First step: Wanting to get it

  • You are not going to get it unless you really want it. What is your key motivator? Having a clear answer is going to help you all along the way, when tired, bored or frustrated.

Second step: Training

  • You need to take at least 35 hours of training. In my experience 35 hours would be a little too little. Better apply for a 60-hour training course, which is roughly four hours of theory and two hours of practice for each of the ten knowledge areas.
  • Living in Zaragoza, the obvious choice was the one by ESIC. Quite expensive but the good teachers and the great classmates worth it. It also provides you with very convenient resources to prepare the exam after completing the training.

Third step: Applying

  • PMI is expecting you to have a few thousand hours of project management experience. The precise number of hours depends on your degree.
  • Good news is you don’t need lots of precision in justifying your hours. If you’ve been involved in projects for the last years, you should be able to demonstrate the experience. If not, you should check the CAPM certification instead.
  • Bad news is one out of ten applications will be audited. If you are one of the “lucky” ones, then you would need to contact some of your former managers or colleagues who can asses your experience. Normally they wouldn’t need to do anything besides signing the experience you have submitted in your original application so, in the end, is more of a hassle than a real problem.

Third step: Booking a date

  • Once your application is been approved, you could book a date, and a place, for taking the exam. You can take the exam digitally or in paper form. With the digital option you would have a more open set of dates. With the paper form your choosing is more limited.
  • Anyhow, I can’t find the words to tell you how IMPORTANT is to chose a date and book the exam. You are going to have a lot to study. A clear goal date will help you to find the willpower to start studying.
  • Try to take advantage of the momentum given by the training course and plan your exam for sometime between six and twelve weeks after the end of the training.
  • The exam is taken in english. When booking, you could check whether a translation in your native tongue is available as a support. If it is, ask for it. Nothing to loose.

Fourth step: keep your pace and try some tests

  • You should have planned your way through the theory. Whether you’ve planned it as a short sprint or as a long marathon, there is going to be ups and downs, so try to keep your pace.
  • You should check your progress every now and then with questions similar to the ones in the exam.

Fifth step: Passing the examproject-management-professional-pmp

  • You have four straight hours to answer 200 questions.
  • Take the first ten minutes in writing the main formulas and the table connecting the ten knowledge areas, the five process groups and the 49 different processes. It would let you use it as a guide when you start feeling exhausted, and you would calm down while doing it, so you would be able to take the first questions better.
  • If english is not your native tongue and you asked for a translation support, probably you would feel like reading some questions in both languages. Sometimes translation could misguide you.

Sixth step: Enjoy 🙂

  • You should get the results sometime between right after finishing your digital exam, or two weeks after finishing your paper-based exam.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile, take your partner or some friends to have a nice dinner, and enjoy your success. 🙂

Related: Consejos para estudiar y preparar el examen PMP y CAPM del Project Management Institute (Daniel Echeverría)

Would you build a bridge with Agile? Yes. Why not?

You can use several frameworks, methodologies, techniques and tools.

I’ve used Agile on my current and two of my previous employers.

I’m a Project Management Professional, as well.

There are some kind of projects you wouldn’t want to do it with Agile.

A common example is building a bridge.


You need detailed planning for building a bridge, right? Right?


No. Not right. I would build a bridge using Agile techniques. Sometimes.

When? You ask.

If you want a rapid response. You just need to check if you can find something interesting in the other shore.

You can have just a first iteration.


Maybe this first design can only be used by early-adopters. Specialists. Or you just simply want to make a marketing impression.


Then, if it’s interesting, you can improve your first design.


And maybe use this first prototype to guide you in the construction of a better complex one.

Maybe you need a fast answer. A quick and dirty solution.


Then, when your infantry has assured a head on the other shore… you again will improve your solution, or being a new one for scratch, with more functionality. In this case tanks.


So, would I use always agile to plan and monitor the construction of a bridge. No.

Could you use it sometimes. Absolutely yes.


A matter of time. Estimation and uncertainty.

Let me ask you four questions. Ready? … Let’s go.

  • How long did it take you to go back home after work YESTERDAY?

I’m sure you can answer this one quite easily and accurately. Maybe “40 minutes”.

  • How long is it going to take you to go back home after work TODAY?

This question is a bit harder. You can say something like “Roughly 40 minutes, like yesterday”. In your head you’re making some thinking, like “I don’t need to go anywhere else, so I’m taking the same route. Besides I’m leaving at the same time than yesterday so traffic conditions should be similar.”IMG_20180812_093701_677

  • How much is it going to take you to go back home after work this day NEXT WEEK?

You could take a fast bet and say “The same… I guess”. The problem here is that, thinking on next week, you are no longer sure about the little details… Will you need to go shopping after work? Will you need to go to the doctor? Maybe next Monday the main street on your usual route will be under repairments so you will need to take a detour. Or you would leave the office two hours later and must drive at rush hour.

  • How much will it take you go back home after work this day NEXT YEAR?

Here comes the fun.

Talking about next year you’ve lost sight not only of the details, but of the big picture as well. Maybe next year your  company would have moved to another part of the city. Or your schedule could have changed. Maybe you won’t even be working for the same company. Would you still be living in the same house? In the same city? Even if the starting and finishing points are still the same, you could be taking another route since the main street is now (then) a continuos traffic jam because of that repairments they made last (this) year? You don’t really know. It could REALLY take you ANY AMOUNT OF TIME. From literally zero minutes, if you start working remote from home, to several hours if you’ve moved to a big, crowded city or to a nice house at the outskirts.

The farther the future you try to predict, the less you could know, the more you need to assume, the more you need to guess.


The mysterious cone of uncertainty (CodingHorror, Jeff Attwood): “If you don’t actively work to reduce the variability of your project*, the cone of uncertainty quickly becomes a cloud of uncertainty. When will the software be done? Who knows. That’s one reason for the long, dismal history of software project failure.”

Making Things Happen (Scott Berkun): “Schedules are simply a kind of prediction. No matter how precisely they are drafted or how convincing they appear, they are just a summation of lots of little estimations, each one unavoidably prone to different kinds of unforeseeable oversights and problems.”

Revise your assumptions: “Not every car has four wheels. Generalisations and assumptions. Everybody assumes they’re true, and they are, generally.”


Quote: The magical power behind deadlines


[To write a novel] You need a super-powered, diabolical device that will transform you into a bastion of literary accomplishment. And I’m happy to report that this implement is in the house, and it’s just waiting for you to pick it up.

Without hyperbole, I can say that this tool is the most awesome catalyst that has ever been unleashed on the worlds of art and commerce. Nearly every beautiful and useful thing you’ve ever touched or witnessed was born in its mighty forge. It’s portable, affordable, and nonpolluting. 

[…] What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline.

Deadlines are the dynamos of the modern age. They’ve built every city, won every contest, and helped all of us pay our taxes reasonably close to on time for years and years.

Chris Baty. Why deadlines are every writer’s secret weapon

I first published in my school’s newspaper when I was eleven. Since then I started to write a novel at least three times, never achieving more than a dozen pages.

Then NaNoWrimo came to scene, with its gigantic deadline. 50.000 words. 30 days. A novel from start to end, while doing your best to keep up with your life.

NaNoWriMo. A challenging but clear goal in an agreed, achievable time box. I couldn’t do anything but commit.

A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form. It’s a potent force that, when wielded with respect, will level any obstacle in its path.

Chris Baty. Why deadlines are every writer’s secret weapon

Optimistic ass-kicked as I was, I won. Four times. Thanks to the magical power of deadlines.

Related: How to make deadlines actually work, Jason Fried at
Related: Why deadlines are every writer secret weapon, Chris Baty at
Related: About NaNoWriMo at
Related: Quotes on planning, Quotes on time pressure

Chess and life and decision making

When you play chess you have to analyze what the situation is, you have to know what your abilities are, estimate your competition’s power, and make good use of the time you have left.

Just the same as in business…
…except for one difference. You can replay chess. You can study your past moves and see what would have happened if you had played an alternative move. You can check the different expected results and see if you made it right or wrong. You can watch each game from different points of view.

But you can’t replay life.

So don’t hesitate so much, trying to make the optimal decision. Just think and decide, move on and think and decide again on your next move. You will never be sure if you are choosing the best options but, while you’re improving continuosly, being optimal really doesn’t matter so much…

Or doesn’t matter at all.

Revise your assumptions

Sky is blue, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t.

Not every tree has a brown trunk and green leaves. Not every car has four wheels.

Generalisations and assumptions. Everybody assumes they’re true, and they are, generally. But you’d better double check them before starting your project. Maybe you are assuming more than what is needed.