Why Do We Even Do Project Management?

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

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A lot of pixel ink has been spilled on the topic of Project Management, but most of what I’ve read has to do with what it is, or how to do it. There’s been some additional content on where and when to do it (i.e., which situations call for a PM approach), but one topic I do not remember seeing is: why? Why should we do Project Management? (And, no, I don’t accept “because it’s the right way of doing management” as a valid driver.) I think an examination of motives here will help shed some light on the other, more often-addressed questions.

There are a few reasons, to be sure, but before we tackle them let’s define some terms. A first-person transaction occurs when you purchase a good or service for yourself. Depending on which parameters are more important to you (remember: Quality, Availability, Affordability: pick any two), you will select a vendor and a price, and your first-person transaction is complete. In the PM world, this is the kind of transaction that occurs, say, when an airline contracts with an aerospace company to create an airplane that they will use for their routes.

Second-person transactions are a bit different. This is when you are buying a good or service for someone else, like a gift. Even in those instances where you are well acquainted with the gift recipient’s wishes, the purchaser’s parameters (particularly cost) are far more likely to become the deciding factor(s). The PM example here is when a city counsel arranges to repair roads. Sure, the counselors use those roads, but the most usage comes from the population of the city in general. Since the budget issue is usually already fixed, the question comes down to: Should the road repair be of just-good-enough quality, or will the populace be okay with orange barrels and lane closures for an extended period (one would hope that both won’t occur)?

Here’s where the examination of PM motives gets gnarly. In third-person transactions, the person performing the transaction neither pays for the good or service, nor do they receive the benefits. It’s one of the reasons why government-provided services fail so often: the bureaucrat deciding how much money to fund the provider facility isn’t spending his own money, nor is he the person seeking help at the moment the transaction is occurring. Due to this lack of alignment in setting the consumers’ desired parameters against the providers’ goal in providing the service(s), the odds of developing (much less implementing) the optimal management approach are extremely low.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

What are the implications for Project Management? Well, in first-person transactions, the customer would be interested in the robustness of their subcontractors’ PM expertise in order to avoid overruns or delays in critical projects, particularly in Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) or Cost Plus Award Fee (CPAF) contracts. The suppliers of such project work would be motivated to support some level of PM expertise in order to prove to their current or prospective clients that they aren’t complete dufuses when it comes to managing large projects, and are deserving of the contract award. Both customer and supplier are strongly motivated to request and provide some level (note: not necessarily highly advanced) of PM expertise, and demonstrably so.

For second-person transactions, there’s still some level of motivation, albeit a bit lessened from first-person. People purchasing goods or services on behalf of a government, for example, are usually keenly aware of the need to spend taxpayer monies efficiently, if for no other reason than cases of foolish government expenditures tend to make for very bad press (the “bridge to nowhere” scenario, for example).

But now we come to the scenario where much PM chicanery is not only possible, but basically invited. In third-party transactions, where the PM practitioners are neither spending their own money for managerial expertise, nor receiving any goods or services from the contractors, I have to ask: what is their motivation? For example, when one of my favorite targets, the nefarious-but-unnamed guidance-generating organizations, pushes out another document stating that risk management is a really swell idea, and everyone in the PM world ought to do it, I have to ask: why? What business is it of theirs in the first place? What do they have to gain? These guidance-generating “experts” are the equivalent of a self-proclaimed know-it-all hanging around the electronics section of a major retailer, scolding customers if they don’t seek the same options or features the know-it-all thinks matter. Such a one would be sent packing by (real) managers in short order for being insufferable meddlers. In my opinion, the exact same thing should happen to these guidance-generating organizations.

“But Michael!” I can hear GTIM Nation say. “Didn’t you just indict legit professional organizations, like the Project Management Institute®?” No, and here’s why. While PMI® certainly does generate guidance, they have skin in the game via the Certification Department. If someone with a PMI® credential asserts some truly dopey stuff (I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s far from common) then the entire brand suffers, from membership all the way up to the top execs. Conversely, risk managers can point to their allies in the guidance-generating world who assert any project bereft of RM is doing PM “wrong,” and pointing out the percentage of successful projects also bereft of RM will not overturn these assertions. It’s immune to real-world evaluation and analysis, because neither the consumer nor the supplier gains or loses a thing based on the validity of the “guidance.”

So, which PM techniques are most appropriate, efficient and effective for a given project? I have a good idea what the answers are. But first, I need to know: why do you want to do PM in the first place?

Posted on: May 06, 2019 10:01 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Interesting read..Good one.

Wow, Awesome post Michael. You should write story books Sir.

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