As my regular readers are well aware, there are three types of management: Asset, Project, and Strategic, each with their own goals, tools, and techniques. Similarly, there are three heavy-hitters in the realm of science fiction/fantasy cinema: Star Trek, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter series. In previous blogs I’ve described the business model pathologies that afflict the organization when the tools that are germane to one management area are used in others, blah blah blah, with some success; but now I’m thinking that there’s a more direct way of beaming this information (get it?) into my readers’ heads. I’ll equate them with these three fictional memes! It’ll be fun!
Let’s let Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Galaxy-class starship U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation serve as the representative of the Asset Managers. Picard is outstanding in this role because:
· He’s stodgy
· and supremely confident in his powers, even though he’s relatively slight-of-build.
· The people around him assume he has all the answers
· but he doesn’t
· and doesn’t let it show that he doesn’t.
In short, he’s perfect for the Asset Manager role.
I’ll select Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, as the PMO representative. After all, Luke is young, talented, honest, and has a clarity of vision about who the good guys are, and who aren’t, that Jean-Luc never seems to attain. His area of expertise is not widely-held in the galaxy, and he readily acknowledges that he has a lot to learn before he sits on any ship’s bridge and starts ordering people around in-between pursuing prissy hobbies like archaeology.
If you are looking for someone to add to your Strategic Management Team, you could do a whole lot worse than a person with a résumé like Harry Potter’s. Like all good Strategic Managers, Potter has no doubts about who the bad guys are: if your organization’s competitors win the battle of market share, all that organization is will cease to exist, just as, if Voldemort isn’t stopped from seizing control of the Ministry of Magic, all of the non-dreadful aspects of the dimension occupied by the magic folk will die off. And – let’s face it – everything the Strategic Managers do strikes us mugbloods as magical. They use opaque methods of influencing customers to part with their money in order to give work to our companies! How wizard is that?
So, now you’re a portfolio manager, and you see in the reports that Luke and Harry have provided that your project backlog will cover your organization’s expenses for another six months. You convene a meeting with Jean-Luc, Luke, and Harry, present them with this little factoid that’s causing you to lose sleep at night, and ask them to advise you on how to approach the problem.
“The first thing we need to do is to replace that contract backlog” begins Harry. “The way to do that is to analyze the existing proposal backlog, and capture upcoming Requests for Proposal, evaluate which ones we should pursue, and get to writing. The exact incantation is ‘Capturo ProposalWinRate-ica’!”
“I can add to that” Luke interjects. “By deriving cost and schedule performance information from our project controls staff, I can determine which customers, as well as which types of work, we perform best. I can also tell you, based on our current rates of performance, which projects will come in on-time, on-budget, and which ones we need to worry about. For those PMs who have been telling you that everything with their project is perfectly fine, when it isn’t, well, I can hold up my hand with my thumb and forefinger about an inch apart, and suddenly they have trouble speaking, or lying on their Variance Analysis Reports.”
Jean-Luc is looking at his shoes.
“Captain Picard – do you have anything to add?”
“My analysis shows that your current rate of return on your assets is comfortably above industry standard. I don’t know why we’re even having this meeting, so --- dismiss this meeting! Make it so!”
As you return to your House’s Commons/Degobah Bigelow/Admiral’s Quarters, turning the issue over in your mind, tell me: whose advice will you use?
An unhappy Project Management Office is an underperforming Project Management Office, so it’s up to you, the PMO Director, to take positive steps to maintain a high level of morale among the staff, even in light of low salaries, lack of respect from the rest of the organization, and the sharp elbows of the management information system advocates who are racing you to the role of most-important-executive-advisor team. A way of letting your PMO staff blow off some steam simply must be found. Sooo…how is this to be accomplished, exactly?
Well, there are several options, but if you are bereft of company money in any kind of a morale fund, you may well have to host a soiree at your home. If you do this, though, there’s a possibility that it will come off as somewhat lame, unless you partake of some of the following party activities – for amusement only, you understand.
· Supply your PMO team with Nerf® guns. Invite over the members of the Chief Financial Officer’s team (read: CPAs) who believe that estimates at completion can be derived by performing regression analysis on the project’s cumulative actual costs, but tell them the start time of the party is 15 minutes after it actually starts. To be on the safe side, have the accountant sign an agreement that insulates you from liability for any light-hearted attacks they may or may not be subject to at your home. Every Nerf hit is good for 15 points towards one of the door prizes.
· Host a little “casino night,” with the winnings being points or coupons towards door prizes. Invite the risk management team. If they play, ask them how they justify participating at all, given that, in light of the fact that, of all casino games, blackjack gives the player the best odds, and even then they favor the house by 0.5%. If they state that they “feel lucky,” they are either not genuine risk management types, or else they have found a way to cheat.
· Equip your team members with slightly more effective (but still, of course, [relatively] safe) equipment, such as AirSoft® BB-guns, and invite the members of the CFO team (again: accountants) who believe that a cost variance is the difference between budget and actual costs, but have them show up 15 minutes after the previous batch of accountants. Any hits count for 100 points towards the door prizes.
· Set up a game of “PMO Jeapordy!” The topics are:
o IT Projects and Automatic Scope Creep
o Reasons why performing statistical analysis on Critical Path schedule-data is a waste of time
o Canned Variance Analysis Reports that work
o Agile, Scrum, and Cheating the BCP Process
o The Most Boring Seminar Topics
o Certification Initials – What They Stand For
· Equip your team members with paint ball guns, and invite still more members of the CFO team (do I really need to remind you whom I’m referring to here?) who insist that all management information that deals with budgets or costs must be derived from the General Ledger. Arrange for them to arrive 15 minutes after the previous bunch. Any hits are good for – ahhh, just hand over the door prizes.
· Print out some versions of this blog, get a life-sized stand-up cutout of your organization’s Chief Information Officer, and initiate a game of “Pin the Clue on the CIO.”
· Invite over still other members of the CFO team (y’all still know who I’m talking about, right?), and have them arrive 15 minutes after the previous batch. Find ones who flat out refuse to align the projects’ chart of accounts with your Work Breakdown Structure at the reporting level, instead insisting on tracking actuals by the Organizational Breakdown Structure. Procure a delay timer and a electronically-opened cage full of tarantulas…
Ha, ha! Just kidding all along. It would, after all, be a pain to clean up after any aberrant paint-ball shots…
A few years ago I gave a keynote at an Earned Value Management-themed conference, where I used the example of the Battle of Agincourt to point out how the landscape for launching or maintaining a successful PMO had changed, and the PM community had better recognize the nature of those changes before our brand loses virtually all of its value.
For those of you who may not be that into English history, the Battle of Agincourt occurred on Friday, October 25th 1415, and was fought between French forces led by Constable Charles D’Albret, and vastly outnumbered English forces led by Henry V. Henry was attempting to escape with around 6,000 men to the stronghold at Calais when he was intercepted by as many as 36,000 French near the town of Agincourt. With the martial technology available to each side roughly equal, being outnumbered six-to-one would normally be an automatic death sentence. The numerically superior French could simply out-flank and surround the English and cut them to pieces, similar to the tactics employed by Hannibal at Cannae. But two things had changed in the run-up to battle, and D’Albret failed to recognize their implications.
First, the battlefield was a freshly-ploughed meadow in between two thickly-wooded areas. There was simply no way to encircle the English forces, especially with the French cavalry. If the English were to be brought to battle, they would have to be confronted head-on, down the corridor flanked by the woods.
Secondly, it rained heavily the night before, leaving the field a muddy morass. The typical French knight carried upwards of 80 lbs. of armor into battle, and their horses would be even more heavily armored. By the time the French forces had traversed the approximately 100-yard distance to the English lines, they were exhausted, and still struggling through the muck. They would prove to be easy pickings for the lightly-armed English infantry, who could simply hatchet them to death as they struggled in the mud. By the time the battle was a few hours old, there was a wall of struggling, bleeding, and dying Frenchmen in front of the English lines. Before the day was out, Henry had won an astonishing victory.
What does all of this have to do with Project Management Offices, you ask? Well, two things have changed since the halcyon days of mandated project management capabilities, and I’m convinced that most executives have failed to recognize the implications.
First of all, the ability to demonstrate an advanced project management capability, for the most part, is no longer required of organizations performing project work for the Federal (U.S.) government, nor of virtually anyone else. I believe the main reason that PM requirements arose in the first place has to do with the dual nature of Earned Value and Critical Path method-based information systems. Their first function is to provide valuable cost and schedule performance information to decision-makers. Their second (and far more stringent) function is to generate a narrative of what happened on the project, how it happened, and who made the key decisions. PM information systems create a sort of audit trail, so that errors can be traced back to their origins. It is this second aspect of PM information systems that makes them fairly unpopular with project teams.
Secondly, since the PM capability is no longer required, the implementation approach can’t be top-down, or retain elements of attempting to leverage organizational power to compel the PM capability’s advancement. In short, the directors of Project Management Offices are no longer in the position of enforcers of requirements, but must instead become marketers of information streams to decision-making customers.
So, what’s the acid test to determine if your PMO presents as an enforcer of policy, or a source of valuable information? It’s essentially this: does your PMO behave as a master of the organization’s project teams, or their servant? It’s an important distinction, because the latter can access many more opportunities for success, whereas the former is in danger of becoming a figurative mass of struggling belligerents, just asking to be eliminated from the management arena.
Right up front I want to say that one of the reasons I dislike consultants is because I envy them. I’d really like to be able to make a living doing what they do, while being readily recognized as an expert in the field. I think I have the problem-solving piece of it down. It’s the ability to smoothly communicate the nature of the problems and a recommended solution that evades me. Consider the following table:
…but that’s just me. Generally speaking, though, many (if not most) of the organization’s sub-executive personnel who interact with consultants harbor at least a little bit of resentment, in my experience. It’s usually not the consultant’s fault, either – it’s the fault of those who hired her.
In several of my previous articles, columns, and blog postings I have asserted that, in organizations comprised of degreed, certified, experienced professionals, whatever the results of the consultant’s analysis may be, there are many members of the existing staff who not only already know the true nature of the problem that prompted the consultant’s hiring, they probably have a better handle on how to fix it, both in the short- and long—term. If I’m right here (and, naturally, I am) then a useful mental exercise would be to put yourself, Ms. Executive, into the shoes of your management team. What are they to think when they see an outsider to the organization given access to the most profound information streams the company has at its disposal, while enjoying higher per-hour pay AND a perceived superior position with respect to their standing in the company’s executive structure (even if it’s temporary)? How could this not engender at least some level of resentment?
Now consider what prompted the need for the consultant in the first place. We’ve already established that, within professional organizations, there are almost certainly some people who already know the nature of the problem that summoned the consultant, and have a pretty good handle on how to fix it – all before the consultant gets badged in. Why haven’t they been “consulted?” It’s because the host organization has wandered so far away from being structured on a meritocracy that its native talent has no avenue for contributing as they are capable.
I’m not (that) naïve. Very few organizations can even come close to basing their hiring and promotions purely on merit – the brilliant analyst who never has the opportunity to socially interact with the company’s executives doesn’t have the same advancement opportunities as the poorer performer who does have such access. But, when the macro organization has departed so far from the meritocracy model that the internal communication avenues that would normally identify and eradicate problems prior to their becoming major issues has ceased to function, the only real alternative is to bring in outsiders who can circumvent these failed communication avenues, and relay what many of the personnel already know.
Which may lead some already within the macro organization to wonder if all of the executives tumbled out of the same clown car together…
Prior to revealing the adventures of Stanly Raspberry in last week’s blog, I was discussing the inherent difficulties of consulting from the point of view of comparing and contrasting those consultants who were very familiar with a certain repeating problem, but may have little or no idea of how the client organization works, or its weaknesses, with those consultants who were very familiar with the organization, but in a bad position to advise against deeply-held, ingrained management pathologies for fear of losing the business. This week I would like to explore the former category a bit further, since that is where we will discover the optimal consultant.
Consider your family doctor. You see her whenever you are moderately or severely ill. Is she a consultant? Well, she certainly provides a service, one that can’t be performed by just anybody. On the other hand, does she ever, herself, consult a consultant? Well, yes, when her patients have, say, a heart condition, or cancer. In that case she would employ a specialist on your behalf. Now think about the characteristics of the doctor your family doctor is consulting: your family doctor sees you, over and over, for a variety of ills. The consultant will probably only see you once, for this particular type of problem. Assuming the consultant is successful in the prescribed treatment, he will, in all probability, never lay eyes on you again. I’m thinking that this is a trait of true consultants everywhere: they know the problem, and only incidentally interact with those with the problem.
Of course, the project management world is a bit different from the health care industry, but the nature of consultants is something of a constant – which raises the question: What problems would bring a project-performing organizations to bring in a consultant? I’m thinking one (or both) of two reasons: there aren’t enough projects (or customers willing to award project work to the organization), or the projects that the organization already has aren’t performing well. Let’s take them in that order.
When the proposal backlog is thin, or the win rate is on a downward trajectory, who’s responsible, and what do they need to know? The responsible parties are the strategic managers (or those who perform that role), and they need to know about the competition, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, what their market share is, and why. Only with this information in hand – and, by implication, the existence of the management information systems that generate this information – can they make the informed decisions that can reverse the decline of the proposal backlog and/or contract win rate. And now, ask yourself:
Does any of this information come from the general ledger, or from a risk analysis?
Rather than have my wonderful readers go to the proverbial back of the book, I’ll give the answer up right here and now: no, nein, nix, no no Nanette, nyet, and, well, no.
Okay, what about the other consultant-inducing problem, of poor-performing projects? In these cases the decision-makers need to know how those projects are performing, both with respect to time (schedule) and cost (budget). “Aha!” say the accountants. “That cost and budget stuff – we’re all over that!” Well, not actually, not in project space. The general ledger – the chief (only?) source of management information at the disposal of the accountants – doesn’t really do cost performance. Oh, it can tell you how much you’ve spent, and even compare that to what you were planning on spending. But that’s not the same as actual performance. To get that, you must be able to ascertain how much progress was actually attained against what was actually spent, and how much progress was actually attained against what you had planned to attain. Then – and only then – can an informed decision be made based on project performance.
Soooo… the accountants can’t provide this information, for the reasons just stated. The risk managers can’t provide this information, either. They can only tell you the estimated odds of bad stuff happening.
The obvious conclusion to be derived from our little mental exercise is that the ultimate consultant seeks out data, processes it into information, and provides that information to strategic and project managers on market share and project performance that enables the overcoming of whichever problem the organization is facing. They do this because they’ve done it before, and know which information streams are relevant, and which are superfluous.
And in neither case do accountants nor risk managers qualify.