In the New York Times style section from September 29, Brian Lombardi has an article entitled “27 Ways to be a Modern Man.”(i) Some of this piece I find interesting, while other parts are just loopy. For example, Lombardi asserts that his envisioned Modern Man will own a melon baller (ii) . I don’t even know what that is, which, I suppose, means I’m either not modern, or not a man, by Lombardi’s standards. (I’m assuming that it’s not a device that enables watermelons, honey-dew melons, and cantaloupes to be shaped like softballs, just in case a Modern Man wanted some messy bat-practicing fun. I could be wrong.)
Along those lines, though, I was wondering what I would consider to be a “Modern Project Manager.” After all, isn’t that the point of any certification program, to help potential employers ascertain who has the talent to contribute to a present-day project team, and who might not? So, without the formality of a proper certification criterion document, I’ll offer up a quick talent-discerning checklist for what makes up the “Modern Project Manager.”
(i) Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/fashion/mens-style/27-ways-to-be-a-modern-man.html?_r=1 on October 3, 2015, 13:49 MDT.
A week ago Saturday, September 19 was “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” I generally try to observe ITLP Day, owing to its historic linguistic roots, its sense of whimsy, and the implied license to engage in truly memorable exchanges with my wife (“Avast, me darlin’, you’d best be stealin’ some more ale for me and me maties.” “Stop talking like that, or I will kill you.” “Don’t you mean ‘keel-haul’?”).
I’m not saying that that never happens, but it is pretty darn rare. As I discuss in my upcoming book The Unavoidable Hierarchy, the human factors that are naturally arrayed against any organization establishing and maintaining a pure meritocracy are many and varied. An abbreviated list includes:
So, what’s the truly talented but truly frustrated project team member to do? Well, there is actually a certain dynamic in-play that helps the underappreciated but talented employee: if their owning organizations are to stay competitive with others in their business environment, they simply must outperform such competition, and that involves putting your best talent in a position to use their special abilities to bring their projects in on-time, on-budget. This trade-off implies that, while true meritocracies are rare and tend to be short-lived, their business pathology-ridden counterparts, while common, tend to be the first to be overtaken by units of the Royal Navy and sent to Davy Jones’ locker.
In-between we have most organizations, which maintain some survivable balance between meritocracy and upper management’s mascots receiving the lion’s share of promotions, recognition, and loot. If you find yourself on-board one such organization, how do you get ahead, if the avenues for demonstrating your superior abilities are limited, and rarely recognized? There are generally two options:
1 Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/talent on September 26, 2015, at 13:27 MDT.
It’s easy to laugh at nineteenth century pharmaceutical promoters, also known as snake oil salesmen, who would go to elaborate lengths to convince potential customers of the efficacy of whatever compound or solution they were selling in healing various and sundry ailments. How silly of them to misrepresent their wares so! And how naïve the people who actually spent hard-earned cash to acquire such dubious products! Certainly, people today would never be prone to fall for such tomfoolery, no siree!
Let’s flash forward to the 21st Century, and the realm of project management which encompasses a plethora of management science hypotheses and theories, many of which are recognized as generally-accepted ways of doing business, with little (or no) empirical evidence to support their validity. Yes, yes, I know that in the business world, it’s virtually impossible to isolate the variables needed to support or overturn any given management science theory. And you know who else knows this? The project management science equivalent of the snake oil salesmen.
I (metaphorically) beat up on the accountants a lot, but that might not be fair – not because their ideas are valid beyond the asset management realm, but because they are not technically part of the PM universe. I also pick on the risk managers a lot, but they’re such easy targets that that might also be considered unfair (is there an equivalent of the “mercy rule” from High School Football for the universe of bloggers? Once an opponent is clearly subdued, are we business writers supposed to ease up on them?).
All of which brings me to the quality guys. I mean, seriously, who could possibly be against quality, as a concept? Surely these naysayers must be confined to those short-sighted, careless and cheap people who are just out to make the proverbial “quick buck” (a “buck” is one United States Dollar, and not a male deer, for my overseas readers) and hasten out of town before their consumers realize they’ve been had, right?
Well, let’s all take a deep breath, and look at this. What are the quality guys actually selling us? Much of modern-day quality management centers on the performance of specific analysis techniques to help determine the causal factors of the perceived quality issue. This analysis often entails changing the attitudes of the people who actually create the products or services made available to the consumer, and performing an assessment of which processes or personnel are most responsible for any delta between desired scope delivery, and what is actually being delivered.
Okay, so now we’ve left the production room floor, and entered into business analysis territory. How is business analysis performed? With information, of course. What information? Well, one popular technique used by the quality guys is the Ishikawa Diagram, also known as the fishbone diagram. It’s a line intersected by slanted lines above and below it, and on these lines are listed the causal factors that lead to a given perceived problem. In the example listed on Wikipedia 1 , the categories of these causal factors are:
And, to ask just one more uncomfortable rhetorical question, could it be that a few of those organizations that claimed to be suddenly cured after having engaged quality techniques were either not really cured, or were misattributing the cause (ironically) of their improvement?
1 Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishikawa_diagram#/media/File:Ishikawa_Fishbone_Diagram.svg on September 19, 2015, 20:25 MDT.
I think one of the cleverest ruses used by law enforcement to round up people who have outstanding arrest warrants without having to spend the resources to track them down involves sending those people notices that they have won some sort of contest or prize (my personal favorite claimed they had won Super Bowl tickets), and to show up at a certain place and time to claim their reward. Once these people arrived and presented proof of who they were, they would simply be taken into custody to face the charges against them. Yeah, I know it ruined their days, but I simply had to laugh, for two reasons:
A regularly recurring premise in this blog has to do with my adaptation of the Pareto Principal, that the top talented 80% of managers who have access to only 20% of the information needed to obviate a given decision will be out-performed by the least talented 20% of managers who have access to 80% of the information they need. Add to this the fact that you can put fifty project managers in a room and they will not agree on the color of an orange, and the task of “managing” PM talent quickly approaches an insurmountable attempt to bring order out of chaos.
So, how to recognize the top management talent, since actual performance involves far more parameters than can possibly be captured, let alone quantified and compared? It’s been my experience that the truly talented among the PM ranks will throw off clues that their lesser acolytes won’t, and I’ve developed this little guide to help my readers more readily differentiate between the two.
Notice that I am not engaging in the sort of eat-your-peas hectoring that so many other PM writers use. If you’re a schmoe, you’re a schmoe, and there’s really very little point in trying to egg such a one on towards acting better.
However, there’s still my application of the Pareto Principle! If you’re a schmoe, you can perform like a pro if you can only get your hands on the cost and schedule performance information you need to obviate the decisions before you! Ah, but there’s the rub – unless your organization’s internal project management procedures say stuff like “cut all of the procedural corners you need to get a basic Earned Value or Critical Path information stream into the hands of the decision-makers,” you schmoes have been hoisted on your own petard. No Processor in the universe would write such a sentence in an internal procedure.
The best bet for the lowest 20% of talent? Get contentious about the “proper” utilization of published PM principals – it seems that’s where all the low-talent PMs I’ve encountered go.