Taking on Project Management Myths, Part 3

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Categories: Communication

In my last post challenging project management myths, one responder noted that I was unclear about what part described the myth and what part described the challenge statement. Here are numbers 5 and 6 on the hit parade, with the parts a bit better defined.

Myth 6: Complete and detailed procedures are an essential part of a successful project control system implementation.

Truth: Writing procedures are generally a waste of time and they don't help advance project management maturity.

Think about it, is there anything in the universe easier to ignore than a document? But the myth persists that procedures by themselves can advance an organization's project management capability.

Usually these procedures are signed by  a high-ranking member of the organization, who is attempting to compel obedience or participation in the project control system.

But unless the organization has authorized someone to actually  fire or demote others for failure to comply with the document--which happens rarely if ever--then the procedures themselves won't help.

Myth 5: If a schedule based on the critical path method isn't available, a good interim step to manage a project's schedule is to create a list of milestones or action items and meet to review them on a regular basis.

Truth: Action item lists and milestone databases are essentially polls and have no place in legitimate management information systems.

I once worked on a major program in which participants entered project data into a milestone database and provided monthly updates to those milestones.

At the beginning of the year, all of the milestones were scored "green," meaning the milestone would be met on time.

Byabout the ninth month, a few "yellows" would show up in the status column, indicating a possible delay.

More yellows would show up in month 10, followed by even more in month 11 along with a few "reds," indicating the milestone would be missed for that fiscal year.

By the last month, easily half of the milestones were either red or yellow. Lots of scolding and badgering would then ensue, followed by a new "baseline" for the next fiscal year, and-- shazaam!--all the milestones would be green again.

Asking participants what they think of their performance is not a performance management system -- it's a poll. And polls are not substitute for real management information systems.

I look forward to your responses because I know a whole bunch of people are going to disagree with these two.
Posted by MICHAEL HATFIELD on: October 06, 2009 12:15 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Eugenio Magnone
Hi Michael,

About myth 5. It looks like your concept of procedure is limited to the issue of a documenting (for exerting power - aka frustration) with no feedback.

This scenario reminds me of some of Gogol's novels, they were nice, however the environment was the 1800s Russia.

Myth 6. It is a contradiction of the previous one. If the management can obliterate the past (reality composed by failures), it has an enormous power (and an infinite budget to pay for those mistakes).

Good management is made by competent people who can use proven procedures. Perhaps, Orwell's 1984 novel remains a good reading for today's managers.

Dr.Ahmad Al-Ani ,MD,PMP,CPHIMS
I think procedures and operational guidelines for certain tasks are very important, for a number of reasons, so many actually that I wouldn't mention in here. If we say that they are not, then a project plan isn’t essential, neither is a project charter, and all similar documents dictated by high-ranking people.

For me, it's not a take-it-all or leave-it-all deal. If these procedures were written based on good experience, with the participation of as many stakeholders a possible, with practicality in mind, then these documents will help get more ownership, define boundaries of work and responsibilities, and guide the team to successful implementation.

On the other hand, overdoing them for the sake of documentation, and not involving stakeholders, and not being based on good experiences and lessons learned, would not give positive results, if not negative ones.

Robert L. Folkner
"Think about it, is there anything in the universe easier to ignore than a document?"

Mr. Hatfield, you've nailed it in that little phrase alone. Allow me to say that the military pyramidal, top-down management system is very prone to this. Example: I had a division officer at my last naval command whom our executive officer referred-to as his very best officer, and about whom he boasted, saying he handled all assignments expeditiously. Eventually, this D.O. was relieved and we were told to clean out his desk.

It was nearly impossible to get the drawers open. He had packed every assignment he'd been given away in the desk and never bothered with them again.

This clearly showed that the "X.O." was not utilizing any sort of feedback process to determine rates of completion. Ignoring the need thereof can, in the more extreme set of circumstances, lead to catastrophic failure. I find it hard to believe that so many people, even today, ignore this cold fact.

Robert L. Folkner

FTA: But unless the organization has authorized someone to actually fire or demote others for failure to comply with the document--which happens rarely if ever--then the procedures themselves won't help. Isn't this the truth. It's like pushing jello up hill to enforce processes and procedures with a group of resistant people. Especially without the authority to compel them to comply or without the will of senior management to back you up. It's almost a no win situation.

Les Chambers
On Myth 6 I have spent 35 years in safety critical control systems. I’m sitting here writing development procedures for railway signalling projects. Failure to follow these procedures can cost lives. There are few absolutes in our business but one thing I know: consistent safety assurance and repeatable quality are not possible without written procedures. Writing the procedure is only the first step in the process. Rollout and verification of compliance are equally important. You clearly come from some parallel universe where system failure isn’t a problem. Please stay away from us.

Yaravi Cardoze
I so agree with Dr. Ahmad about myth 6. Is not a nothing/everything deal. Procedures, documents, guidelines are the foundation to establish how things should work. But they aren't the magic position to advance the organization to a higher level of PM maturity.

Process, procedures and documents are good tools, if they are reviewed periodically, enriched with lessons learned feedback, and dropped when they are no longer used.

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