I Suppose That Depends On Your Definition Of Success

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In the 1972 Olympics Men’s Basketball final, the team from the U.S.S.R. was awarded the victory by the officials, even though they did not legitimately win the ball game. With three seconds left in the game, and with the U.S.A. team leading 50-49, the Soviets needed three different rulings from the referees to score the winning goal, to wit:

  • The clock ran out due to the Soviets mis-handling the communications to indicate if and when they wanted a time out, so the referees put three seconds back.
  • Even if they had appropriately requested and received a time out, they would not have been able to substitute players, or take the time needed to strategize on a play, both of which were allowed to happen.
  • After in-bounding once, and exhausting the remaining three seconds without scoring, they were given another three seconds and another opportunity, since the clock hadn’t been properly reset.

There were other irregularities, any of which would have also prevented the gold medals from going to the Soviets (including blatantly improper interference in an on-going game by Renato Jones, secretary general of the FIBA at the time), but you see the point. The only way that the Soviets could be considered successful is if it’s okay to change the rules in the middle of the game. And, just for the record, a sure sign that either the game is rigged or the authorities aren’t really experts is that the rules keep changing.

A few months back I was blogging about how some PM aficionados, whom I named “processors,” were more concerned that what they saw as correct, proper procedures should be followed during project execution than whether or not the project itself was successful. Their (sane) counterparts, who were more concerned with actual project performance, I dubbed “producers,” and complained about how the processors were doing little more than making the producers’ professional life more difficult.

I stressed in last week’s blog that the oft-overlooked, but obvious central point about Project Management is that the projects’ scope needs to actually be executed, the best way the project team knows how. In short, the “rules” for the producers can be reduced to two: (1) finish the project on-time, and (2) on-budget. These two rules do not change in the world of the producers. Conversely, the processors seem to change the rules all the time. They do so in the cavalcade of presentations, webinars, and guidance documents being generated -- and I stand by my assertion about what's going on when the rules seem to be constantly changing.

I have made pointed criticisms of Tom Peters’ work, but I have to hand it to him: his approach on In Search of Excellence was insightful and inspired. Rather than sit around his University office and speculate how organizations could improve performance based on abstract data or theories, he sought out high-performing organizations, and asked them what they were doing differently from their competitors. He was rewarded with a best-selling book, as he should have been. This is much, much closer to performing real management science than most (if not all) of what the processors do, in that Peters observed which organizations were verifiably performing better than their competitors, and then sought out the dependent variables. Compare and contrast this to, say, the communications managers (yes, the risk guys are an easier target here, but I pick on them so regularly I thought, just this week, I’d give them a break). When was the last time you heard a seminar paper, or webinar, presented by the communications specialists, where they did something similar to what Tom Peters did, i.e., seek out success, and interview those associated with it how they did it? I never have. Rather, it seems they are always prattling on about how, by following their rules for proper PM (recently updated, don’t you know), which requires performing the kinds of analyses and techniques they promote, you are “doing” PM “correctly.” In reality, the best they could hope to do in real PM space is to assert that a preponderance of projects that do perform their techniques come in on-time and on-budget, but even here they would have an almost impossible task of establishing the communications program as the proximate cause, or even a material cause of the project’s success. None of them would ever say that their project came in on-time, on-budget due solely to their enhanced communications plan. It just never seems to work out that way.

Unless, of course, you are attempting to assert that the reason for your blatant lack of success is because the scorer’s table failed to recognize your communicated desire for a time out in the final seconds of an Olympic championship game. In that case, you just might get away with it.

Posted on: December 11, 2017 10:08 PM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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Like I have said before "Very interesting On time, on budget, .... not the expected benefit, why?"

There are lines in the road to guide us while driving. But even still, it may be necessary for the driver to make a sudden adjustment, navigating outside the lines.

I agree that the rules keep changing....very good article and thanks for the sharing.

Thanks for sharing

It is unfortunate that those who focus on the outcome, rather than the process, are usually labelled Machiavellian.

Thanks for sharing

Thanks for posting.

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