Projects out of control: Glutton Syndrome

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"El Malabarista" or "the juggler" is a place to talk about leadership, projects, strategy and management - and their combinations. If you are project manager and you have experience managing teams, if you know what a tight deadline means and still do not understand the analogy of "the juggler", this blog is not for you. Otherwise, I invite you to enjoy reading and leave your comments in order to enrich the discussion.

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Projects out of control: Glutton Syndrome

Agilidad para Todos

El Estado de Scrum 2017 de Scrum Alliance®


Categories: agile, devops, operations, pmo


Let's make it clear: world of projects is wrong. A serious and painful mistake has been made for so long. Most of PMOs assume that every project must be executed if it has strategic value and there are financial resources available. Oh dear!

To prove my point I going to use a simple example. I like to use simple examples during my classes.

Let's assume you are are always hungry and ready for food. That you also enjoy good food and you are kind a glutton. One day, with the wallet full of money, you visit your favorite restaurant and realize that you cannot choose one from your five (5) favorite dishes. At that moment you decide: "I have the money and that is all what I want. I am going to buy them and eat them all."

At this point you are probably say: what the hell? The only thing I will achieve at the end of the day is an indigestion and probably a lot of wasted food.

This situation reminds me all the time the portfolios of some companies I work with. Many of those portfolios include 15, 20, 30 and even 50 mega projects. Some even have more than 1500 components in their portfolios. It could sound interesting, it could sound like a real challenge for a leader. But the sad truth is that most companies suffer from what I call the "glutton syndrome".

The origin of the problem

Usually, the problem starts with "you can buy everything with the right amount of money" mentality. This vision relies on the current economic paradigm (neoliberal and capitalist model) that strives for return on investment maximization. If a company has capital and many good challenges ahead, the company should without hesitation execute many exciting projects.

In theory, it sounds good. But, I'm a consultant so… it depends. It depends on the context where company and the project reside. Again, we need an example: let's talk about IT projects.

We are all the same people

Although it is not an exclusive problem of IT companies or divisions, I need to close the context to make the point. Many project managers, program directors and even more strategic roles within the EPMO insist on this: projects are ruled by the iron triangle - also known as Triple Constraint - so the following logic is incontrovertible:

  • Strategists define what they want to achieve.
  • Experts say how it can be achieved.
  • Someone - internal or external - structures a plan.
  • All this is priced.
  • If all parties agree, the execution begins.

You can see it clear: First scope, then a plan or schedule and finally a budget.

Again theoretically, it looks simple and correct. Even under a capacity problem, you can always outsource - right?. However, this logic has several assumptions that could be wrong. I can write a complete article on each of them, but this time, let's talk about the problem related to money and people.

Most of project managers assume that if there is money then you can get or hire the right people. IT and many other industries are a different story. There is a lack of IT talent WORLDWIDE. There is no available talent out there. There is no enough good people to work in IT areas.

You can't just go out to hire the people you need. There will be always a deep and strong dependency between the people you need in your project and those who manage and work in IT operations. For example, here in Colombia - where I'm from - there are already companies that monopolize the market and work hard to retain the best people.

It does not mean high a salary only. These companies offer beautiful offices with avant-garde designs, really nice locations surrounded by shops, restaurants or even bars. Some other companies perform simple activities such as onsite trainings, others just anti-stress activities like yoga and meditation. However, there are others that go further and make special after-work activities like BBQs or even have their own vacation plans for their employees.

But these examples are from those capturing the market. On the other side we have the other 99% of the market. Companies that cannot compete in this perks' madness. So, if that is the true about the people, why we still have PMOs saying yes to every IT project? Even with the money, companies struggle with strategy execution. Outsourcing companies suffer the same but worst, since the "competitive advantage" (if any) is based on lower rates. Can you compete with India or Venezuela? Are you willing to pay less but to expect higher quality?

Projects compete for people's time. We (people from projects and PMOs) do not like to accept it, but having the money to execute the projects does not mean that we have the ability to execute it.

What PMOs can do?

First and most important: be honest. Many times having performance metrics for projects, not including operation metrics is an EpicFail. 

It is mandatory that you, as PMO, show the impact and relation between projects performance and the operation. You cannot just ask for "written commitments" while operation is struggling or when operational demand is in rise. You have to be able to find the relation and give the C-Level the information to prioritize properly.

Any impact on the operational load will affect the performance of the projects. Isolated indicators will only show that projects suffer or are delayed. It will be a perspective issue. If operation requires an additional effort from the one was expected, the more we need to understand and replan the portfolio execution. Find and understand this link is key to PMO success.

Recommendations

  1. Define and use metrics for demand and to plan the capacity.
  2. Accept the fact that outsourcing companies do not solve the whole problem. They also participate on the talent war.
  3. Salary is a good, but you need to work on retention and emotional salary. You need to reduce the unmanaged attrition.
  4. There will be strategic projects and others will be just "enablers". Some projects are not the best Business Case but enable the company to attract and retain better talent. In IT for example, refactoring projects or hackathons support this idea.
  5. Be part of the talent community. Young people appreciate companies that actively participate of profession-growth activities. This culture of growth creates a "flow" that ultimately favors employees and employers.
  6. If you are part of the PMO, stop thinking that the operation is "different thing". Far from intervening the operation, help everyone - operations and projects - to see the full picture. We are all the same people.

Management models

Problem is not new. There are many ways to try to solve this problem. There are new IT management models for example like ITIL v4 and Scaled Agile Framework SAFe. There are concepts on how to organice the companies and divisions to support the "people oriented" not "money oriented" projects/operation - for example concept of Value Streams try to match money flow and teams - please forget me if it was just a super-over-simplification of the VS concept.

The idea is that you are not alone. Do not try to reinvent the wheel.

Posted on: September 04, 2019 09:13 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Good. Thanks..

Interesting perspective thanks for sharing!

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