Sustainability: Implementation Strategy’s Endgame

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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No self-respecting management science blog with the term “game theory” in its title can go long without using that favorite analytic tool, the Payoff Grid. What can a Payoff Grid add to the Sustainability discussion (’s theme for April)? Plenty, as I will demonstrate.

GTIM Nation is familiar with a couple of themes I would like to revisit, one of which is my personal implementation of the Pareto Principle, that the 80th percentile best managers who have access to 20% of the information needed to obviate a given decision will be consistently out-performed by the 20th percentile worst managers who have 80% of the information so needed. If we add in another theme that I’m in the habit of addressing, that of so-called PM experts joining guidance-generating organizations that churn out a whole bunch of, well, nonsense, we have the two main ingredients needed to set up our Payoff Grid.

On one axis, let’s put managerial expertise, with the extremes represented on the one end by managers who are either inept or possess personality traits that makes them extremely poor leaders(or, sadly, both), and on the other end by extremely capable managers, blessed by both an advanced technical understanding of PM and the scope being pursued by their team(s). On the second axis we’ll use as the gradient the nature of the management information systems feeding them what they need to know in order to make the optimal decisions for the attainment of their program/project/portfolio goals. Such a Payoff Grid would look like this:



Inept/Poor Managers

Advanced, Capable Managers

Valuable, Effective PM Information Systems

Scenario A: You just might make it after all.

Scenario B: Best odds for a successful, sustainable system.

Worthless PM Information Systems

Scenario C: Worst odds for a successful, sustainable system.

Scenario D: If it’s successful, it’s not because of the information systems.

Table 1. Sustainability Payoff Grid


Before reviewing the Scenarios themselves, here is my list of the attributes of an advanced Project Management Information System:

  1. Its information has to be accurate. While this may appear to be obvious, it’s clearly not to many “advanced” practitioners, due to the prevalence of systems that are predicated on subjective data.
  2. Its information must be timely. Old information – even when accurate – will get you beaten by the competition, or by fast-moving changes in circumstance.
  3. Most importantly, it must be relevant. Irrelevant information clouds the decision-making environment, rather than adding clarity.

Based on this standard, GTIM Nation can see why I have so much heartburn with modern risk management theory, as-practiced. Having someone – anyone – tell you, say, that there’s a 67% chance that you will experience a weather delay will almost never be accurate nor relevant.

So, on to the individual scenarios.

Scenario C exists far more often than it ought and, as I pointed out in my two previous blogs, some of the blame rests with us practitioners. If the people setting up the baselines are far more interested in the risk management plan than they are the critical path schedule network or the Earned Value Management system, then the PM information systems created will be virtually worthless, feeding a poor PM to boot. It will be next to impossible for this Scenario to result in a sustainable system.

Scenario D will also not result in a sustainable system, but for very different reasons from those underpinning Scenario C. An advanced PM who is successful not because of, but in spite of the deficiencies of her PM Information will lose patience with those who designed and set up the baselines, and will select very different personnel/systems in the future. So, no sustainability here.

Scenario A improves the Sustainability odds considerably, due to Hatfield’s application of the Pareto Principal. Oh, sure, there’s a chance that the poor manager will not recognize that his success rate is far more predicated on his ability to make informed decisions rather than any innate ability; but, for the most part, he will not only recognize the essential nature of the Earned Value and Critical Path information he has consumed, but will insist that these relevant information streams be set up in all future projects he works. Sustainability achieved!

Finally, Scenario B holds the best chance that a given PM maturity is sustainable. Successful PMs tend to attract more work, and are additionally better attuned to the relative merits of the various management information systems available for any given budget. The odds of a consistently successful PM basing cost performance decisions solely on, say, the information coming out of the General Ledger are remote indeed. These PMs’ strategies will contain the ability to discern which information system characteristics are vital, and which have nothing to do with an enhanced ability to advance the implementation of those strategies. The vital ones will remain, or become “sustained,” while the others fall by the wayside.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but, as the Payoff Grid shows, a relevant, accurate, and timely PM information system is far more likely to become Sustainable, even in the event of being paired with a poor manager, whereas a poor PMIS is pretty much doomed, no matter the level of PM expertise it’s supporting.

Is your particular system going to be Sustainable? Check Table 1, and I’ll get back to you.

Posted on: April 22, 2019 10:12 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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haha re this "personal implementation of the Pareto Principle" my head's spinning....Scenario X I guess!

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