Is The Sustainability Game Rigged Against Us?

From the Game Theory in Management Blog
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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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Official GTIM Nation Members are aware of an axiom that I take as valid, which is Affordability, Availability, Quality: pick any two. Specifically,

  • An item or service that’s available immediately for a low price is probably not going to be of the highest quality,
  • An item or service that’s available immediately and is high quality is likely to be expensive, and
  • A high-quality item or service that’s not expensive will probably involve some amount of waiting.

I’m reminded of this axiom due to a recognition of a systemic barrier to sustaining an advanced (or even adequate) level of PM capability maturity, a barrier which stems from the very nature of organizations that let contracts and those that write proposals for them: the winner tends to be the lowest bidder. Circling back to the axiom that opened this blog, this tendency will pretty much automatically settle the Affordability aspect of the triple constraint. Organizations that maintain a highly mature, or quality Project/Program Management Office, with personnel who can be made available within a couple of weeks of the contract winner announcement, are not likely to be cheap, putting them at a distinct disadvantage in such competitions.

This leaves two alternatives: the Quality PM teams are likely to be late for the start of the project, while the Available PM teams might not be aware that a Cost Variance is definitely NOT a comparison of budgets to actual costs (keep this example in mind – it’ll come up a little later). Now, I’m sure there are lots of times when a winning Project Team has some latitude in hitting the ground running, and can have a robust Performance Measurement Baseline up and reviewable very soon after the project has officially started. But I’m also pretty sure this isn’t the norm. Customers tend to expect the level of quality they paid for to be displayed fairly early in the project, otherwise they wouldn’t put all those infernal requirements for the resumes of “key personnel” in the Request for Proposal.

So, what does all of this leave us? If we assume as true the aforementioned axiom, and fold in the fact that most major projects are let to the lowest bidder, we have a systemic force that’s set up against the very thing that PM-aware organizations are trying to establish and sustain: an advanced capability in Project Management. The deck, as they say, is stacked against us. That being the case, we PM-types can certainly expect that those who claim to be within our ranks are not actually making things worse, right? Right?

Well, no, actually. Consider that we’re talking here about a capacity to sustain some level of PM maturity, and the Affordability card has already been played. The winning contractor is attempting to assign the talented PM peeps to the new project as soon as possible, where they can set up the necessary project management information systems (PMISs) that will provide the data needed for the actual PM to make informed decisions. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the talent is actually available, and on-site (available) for the beginning of the project. They set up the baselines in record time, and are ready to pull status. What’s standing in their way? The list includes:

  • Certain guidance-generating organizations pump out what they consider to be minimum quality standards for PMISs, and these include extremely dubious characteristics, such as the ability to compare budgets to actual costs at the line item level. Anyone familiar with even the most basic aspects of Earned Value Management will instantly recognize that such a comparison is clearly outside the purview of EVMS. Nevertheless, these organizations insist that it’s intrinsic, and mandate its usage.
  • Our old friends the risk managers. I believe that risk management, as currently practiced, is openly fraudulent management science. However, certain guidance-generating organizations insist that some sort of risk analysis is vital to “quality” PM Information Systems, when it’s clearly irrelevant.
  • The demand to include all stakeholders. This unwanted assertion, oft put out by communications specialists, completely ignores the fact that the set of “stakeholders” usually includes those who actively seek the failure of the project at hand, ranging from competitors to activist who reject the project in its entirety. Arranging the PM approach to accommodate this “quality” characteristic is a barrier that’s not only unneeded, but represents a serious impediment to successful project completion.

What we have here is, even in those instances where the winning bidder (remember – lowest cost!) has a quality team available, there are forces internal to the PM community who seek to add irrelevant standards of what they assert to be “quality” project management, making the third aspect of service/product delivery that much more unattainable, and, therefore, unsustainable.

So, to answer the question in the title, yes, the sustainability game is rigged against us. The kicker is that, through those nefarious guidance-generating orgs, we’re kinda doing it to ourselves.

 

Posted on: April 08, 2019 10:16 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

thank you sharing!

"So, to answer the question in the title, yes, the sustainability game is rigged against us. The kicker is that, through those nefarious guidance-generating orgs, we’re kinda doing it to ourselves."

Very interesting thoughts. Thanks Michael!

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