Type “teammates running into each other” into the search bar in YouTube, and a bunch of videos pop up, the first of which involves (American) football players taking down their own teammates. It’s pretty funny, but sympathy-inducing at the same time. These are professional athletes, after all, and they train at an intensity level that would probably kill me. There are so many moving parts in a game, and even the best-coached players are going to have episodes where their comrades are in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to (often) game-changing collisions. It got me to thinking what an analogous situation would be in …
Meanwhile, Back in the Project Management World…
On more than a few occasions I’ve discussed the axiom, Quality, Availability, Affordability – pick any two, as it pertains to PM. Circling back to ProjectManagement.com’s theme for September, Organizational Agility, I do not think that this means that Availability need always be one of the selected attributes of an organization in order to achieve this “agility.” Rather, I believe that a simple strategic alignment is in order.
When Project Management was entering into its boisterous, early-acceptance phase, the term “Matrix Management” entered into the lexicon. Matrix Management is predicated on another theme I’ve often written about, that Asset Management and Project Management are two different things, with differing objectives, techniques, and supporting information systems. Matrix Management’s early theorists (like the brilliant David Cleland) pointed out that, in order for an organization to position itself for project success, there had to be an agreement among the owners of the assets and the PMs so as to avoid projects crashing due to unavailability of the resources needed to complete the scope in the time promised. Companies often (almost exclusively) organized around their assets and those assets’ capabilities (organization charts, also known as the Organizational Breakdown Structures, were in existence wayyy before anybody came up with the first Work Breakdown Structure), with the owners of the scope – PMs – viewed as almost outsiders, seeking their cooperation. In reality, of course, the owners of the scope were also the owners of the budget. However, if the organization wasn’t managing its portfolio very well, the owners of the assets were in for a tough time. One week their quality engineers would be working overtime, while the designers had nothing to do (and therefore no charge code to pay them), with the next week bringing in the exact opposite scenario. It wasn’t at all unusual for one of the companies I was working for in the 1980s to wait until a proposal had actually won before they would make the preliminary attempts at collecting the resources needed to execute the scope – and this was before the age of on-line recruiting.
So, we’ve had this disconnect/rivalry between the Asset Managers and PMs for some time. Organizations where the PMs made the final determination of the resources working on specific tasks were known as “strong matrix” companies, while those where that decision resided with the Asset Managers were known as “weak matrix.” Strong matrix organizations were better positioned for project success, but their employees were often stressed out, not knowing if their next paycheck would be their last, and seeking more secure positions with other companies. Strong Matrix organizations were natural fits for a strategy of pursuing Quality and Affordability, making them highly attractive to potential customers, but at the expense of Availability. Like I said, sometimes they didn’t even bother to begin to assemble the needed resources until after the contract had been announced in their favor.
To Become Agile, Align Your Strategic Priorities
Back when I was carrying on about how the PMO needed to decide which two of the three characteristics it was going to pursue, I was rather specific in deriding those “managers” who refused to acknowledge the relationship among the three, and insisted on attaining Quality, Availability, and Affordability simultaneously. This is the first roadblock to organization-to-project alignment, when the PMO either doesn’t have, or hasn’t clearly articulated, their strategic approach to selecting their priorities.
In those instances where the manager performs in a Strong Matrix organization, a robust, even formal communication relationship with the owners of the assets is the only way to achieve an “agile” position. Asking the line managers to suddenly and dramatically increase or decrease a given capability is always going to be a tall order – talent takes time to attract, cultivate, or re-assign, almost always more time than the interval between a contract announcement and the commencement of the period of performance. Conversely, in Weak Matrix organizations, the more robust communication avenue must be from the Asset Managers to the Portfolio Managers, who decide which types of scope the organization will pursue. Knowing what types of projects are likely to be proposed means foreknowledge of what kind of scope will be walking in the front door, making obtaining/retaining the necessary skills much easier than it would be under a Strong Matrix environment.
I kind of get a kick out of imagining an NFL locker room, where the players are perusing The Project Management Journal, and calling out to their comrades “Hey, check out where this weak matrix organization is complaining about a lack of resources available for activities on their critical path!”