Taking On Project Management Myths, Part 1

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I'm going to spend the next several posts discussing commonly held, but, in my opinion, profoundly erroneous tenets of project management.

Two esteemed colleagues, David Hampton and Alice Skehan, PMP, rated my list of 10 assertions in order of contrariness to common project management precepts, as well as the extent with which even they disagreed.

Here, then, are my numbers 10 and 9:

Myth 10: Trying to leverage organizational power to implement project management in the macro-organization is futile. Oh, I know, people try it all the time, and in many cases the ultimate outcome bears a strong resemblance to a legitimately installed project management office (PMO).

As I discuss in my book, Things Your PMO Is Doing Wrong, the so-called coercive strategies don't work in the long run for the simple reason that people are being, well, coerced into doing project management.

The moment they can opt out of the system, they will, and no reason that can provide reasonable cover will be considered too silly. I once had a project team that tried to use a paperwork-reduction initiative as a reason why they shouldn't have to send along their earned value reports. Really.

Myth 9: There is no cost performance management without earned value. Period. No exceptions. And yet, the comparison of budgets to actual costs persists.

When I'm instructing new cost engineers in earned value, I like using the following scenario: You're a project manager, assigned to get 2,000 widgets created in two months, with a US$2,000 budget. You time-phase your budget US$1,000 in month one and US$1,000 in month two.

At the end of month one, your accountant comes to you and says that your project has spent US$1,100.

Then I spring the question: "How are you doing?"

Invariably, one of them will say "Poorly, because I'm overspent."

"What if I told you that you had made 1,300 widgets?"

Obviously, that little fact changes everything. In this instance, comparing the budgets to the actuals was not only useless, it was actually misleading. Management information systems can be forgiven for offering up the occasional jejune tidbit, but never for misleading. And yet that's all you're left with if you don't have an earned value management system.

Next up, I'll be taking on the capabilities of the general ledger and re-visiting the bottoms-up estimate at completion debate.
Posted by MICHAEL HATFIELD on: August 24, 2009 10:12 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Interesting myths, thank you for sharing them.

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP
Michael, I very much like the example that you gave in support of Myth 9. I don't think that I have ever heard it put so simply and effectively. It's a powerful question that instantly shows how EV improves project reporting. I'll start using it in my upcoming PMP classes. Here's a question for you though: This works well with widgets - but projects can produce a product, service or result. So what do you recommend we use as EV measure when your project is supposed to deliver an "improved customer experience"? I've often wondered. I guess we can use items like "improved interface" or "enhanced call center staff training" as indicators and measure their implementation status, but the true focal point (how happy are the customers?), cannot be measured until the project has long ended. How do we deal with that? Until Next Time, Cornelius Fichtner, PMP The Project Management Podcast

Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist, PMP
Interesting post, though I must admit, I am not certain as to the meaning of "leverage organizational power" in Myth 10.

If you mean, use org-chart authority to "force" people to comply with project management standards or conventions, then I agree. At the same time, try doing ANYTHING meaningful without leader-led sponsorship and the associated vision and obstacle elimination. That "organizational power" is essential to success. But again, if you meant "bosses forcing subordinates to do something" then I agree. I have a saying when it comes to forcing people to follow a process, any process— The Iron Fist of Failure.

In regard your to assertion that cost management is impossible without earned value management—sure, why not. That being said, EVM can't be applied to every program/project type, nor should it. But I do insist every project should be "value managed." Frankly, I am not a fan of cost management. I care little about the cost. Instead, I am OBSESSED as to the value any effort delivers. I argue organizations fixate on cost simply because they don't understand and can't measure value.

Looking forward to your other myths.

Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

John Backes
Managers who elude the fact, that putting too much responsibility on one person, using lean management as the blind reason, hasn't played at a championship level on a sports team. They, he or she does not know how to build a championship organization. Ego is sometimes in the way... 1. Efficiency falters along with quality and mistakes happen more frequently. 2. Creative thinking without looking at the negative aspects will eventually destroy morale and the team begins to break down...thereby creating a huge waste of time and money. Don't make the starting pitcher throw his arm out without giving the rotation a chance. To keep your egde don't tear down what you have built up. Build a team that each player can effectively handle there responsibilties above average. Give your star players time to rest. Bring in a rotation thereby raising the bar and giving others experience so that they can step up to the plate when a player goes down. Humans need to recharge there batteries...cool there jets...time to rest and be with family or to maintain personal continuity. Burnt out workers will ultimately leave your team, the company. Greed is a cancer...spread wealth with strategic alliances and don't think inside the box at all times. Watch your orchard bear fruit over and over.

Michael Hatfield
Thanks to Steve, Cornelius, and Jose for their comments.

Steve—You are correct in assuming that the term "leveraging organizational power" is synonymous with "use(ing) org-chart authority to 'force' people to comply with project management standards or conventions." But I do disagree with you that Earned Value (EV) can't be applied to all types of project work. As long as the question "what percent complete have you accomplished?" is not absurd—meaning we're talking about legit programmatic work, here—then it's perfectly applicable.

Cornelius, your question is quite apt. Of the six ways of measuring EV percent complete, direct units (as in the widget example) is the favorite, but it doesn't happen that often. The remaining methods, in order of objectivity, would be:
5. Proportioned effort (when associated with Direct Units).
4. 0-100, or 50-50, where you're either not done at all, half done, or all done. This is reserved for short-duration work, though.
3. Weighted Milestones, where you have a set template BEFORE work begins. A common example is to claim 15% for completing design/experimental work, 45% for a first draft of the deliverable report, 65% for the 2nd draft, 85% when you submit to the customer, and 100% when the customer approves.
2. Milestone Estimate, where the Task Manager essentially guesses his percent complete, and
1. The least objective manner to claim EV is Level of Effort, where the EV mirrors the time-phased budget exactly.

Myths #8 and #7 will be posted soon!

--Michael Hatfield

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