Project Management

Philanthropy, The PMO, And The Virtue Of Closing The Shuttle Bay Doors

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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Fully participating members of GTIM Nation know that I like to make references to Star Trek (the original series [TOS], the one that aired before the insufferable introduction of deus ex machina plots ruined the rest of the franchise). There are several plastic models of the starship from that series, the Enterprise, and some of them are quite good. One in particular is large enough to feature detailed versions of the only two interior areas of the ship that are visible from the outside, the bridge (due to its being covered by a clear dome), and the shuttle bay, but only if the shuttle bay doors are open. The particular kit I’m thinking of here has a bridge so detailed that it’s possible to depict a Klingon battlecruiser on the main screen, which I think is really cool. For the whippersnapper contingent of GTIM Nation, TOS Klingons were always the bad guys, and the Enterprise ended up destroying two and severely damaging one of these types of battlecruisers (destroyed: “Errand of Mercy,” “Day of the Dove;” severely damaged: “Elaan of Troyius”).

Now let’s do a little configuration management. I do not claim to be an expert in Starfleet operations, but in none of the Enterprise’s encounters with Klingon battlecruisers are the shuttle bay doors open, which kind of makes sense. The shuttle bay has to be de-pressurized when launching or recovering shuttlecraft, and there does not appear to be an anchoring mechanism for the craft when they are stored in the bay. Given the frequency with which bridge officers are thrown out of their chairs during battle scenes, it’s easy to imagine shuttlecraft falling out the back of the ship should the bay doors remain open during combat. In short, any configuration manager worthy of the title would know that, when building this particular kit of the Enterprise, if the Klingon battlecruiser is depicted on the bridge’s main screen, then the shuttle bay doors need to be closed, and vice versa. This is, arguably, the only configuration management conflict for building this kit. And yet, at least one of the YouTube videos on completed versions of this model depict this exact configuration, which I consider to be unfortunate.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

ProjectManagement.com’s theme for December, philanthropy, has far more relevance to PMO functionality than might be readily apparent. I am going to argue that the organization supporting the PMO, as well as the PMO itself, must be intrinsically philanthropic in order to succeed. I’ll start with a precise definition of the term. Google’s definition is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”[i]  Wikipedia says “Philanthropy means the love of humanity.”[ii] I have asserted previously in this blog that managerial leadership requires three key aspects – the Leader Manager must:

  • have an advanced technical capability. Few things are more frustrating to a project team than having the technical agenda set by an incompetent.
  • be enthusiastic about pursuing the optimal technical approach, alone if necessary. This communicates a confidence that weather-vane managers do not have, and cannot fake.
  • (Here’s where the philanthropic angle comes in) care about the people on the team. If the team perceives the Leader Manager does not particularly care about them personally, they will not be enthusiastic about advancing that manager’s technical agenda.

Since “our people are our number one asset!” has been a staple of organizations with any kind of mission statement for generations now, how can a PMO Director ascertain when such a statement is simple boilerplate façade, and not indicative of an at least minimal level of the organizational philanthropy needed for PMO success? In other words, how can the PM know if the organization is sufficiently “willing to promote the welfare of others” to enable the PMO’s mission to succeed?

While there may not be a single litmus test to differentiate such organizations, there does exist a “tell,” a clue that the macro organization is so beset with anti-philanthropic pathologies as to all but eliminate PMO success. This tell comes in the form of an often unstated but nevertheless unmistakable aspect of corporate culture: do these people believe that their employees are lucky to be part of the organization?

It’s not an idle or trivial aspect of corporate culture. If the macro organization believes that most if not all of the rank and file are truly fortunate to be working for them, then that aspect of the narrative will have devastating effects on performance. After all, if the employees are genuinely blessed to be working for so wonderful an organization, why on Earth would they ever offer up novel ways of doing business? Don’t they owe their highly serendipitous circumstances to the very people who developed those processes in the first place? Better to keep their heads down and signal conformity than risk losing their opportune environs.

While macro-organizational arrogance can be highly off-putting on a personal level, in the business realm it’s out-and-out crippling to the very innovations needed to advance virtually any capability, but particularly Project Management. Sure, people will work for them, and spend considerable time and energy in performing their jobs in such a way as to keep their superiors happy. But in those industries where innovation is crucial to not only getting ahead, but to even surviving (hint: that’s all of them) an arrogant corporate culture, the very opposite of a philanthropic one, is a clear sign that attempts at advancing a PM capability are most probably doomed. Just as one should never engage in warp-speed combat with the shuttlecraft bay doors open, you can’t have both an advanced PM capability and a corporate culture lacking in philanthropy.

We know from the TOS episode “The Doomsday Machine” that the helm of the Enterprise has an indicator of when the shuttlecraft bay doors are open or closed. While detecting the “you are all lucky to be working here!” narrative may not be as Boolean as a colorful indicator light, I would recommend that all PMO team members become adept at gauging that condition, and adjust implementation strategies accordingly.

 


[i] Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=philanthropy on December 8, 2019, 10:49 MST.

[ii] Wikipedia contributors. (2019, December 1). Philanthropy. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:50, December 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Philanthropy&oldid=928702612

Posted on: December 09, 2019 10:10 PM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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Dear Michael
Interesting your reflection
Thanks for sharing

All organizations are different.

I am new to GTIM. Off to read your other posts!

Thanks

Interesting read Michael. There's difference between suggesting and acknowledging that an organisation *IS* actually a great place to work with support for people, innovation and recognition of contributions (and so people are truly fortunate if they work there), and being told it is and so you need to toe the line, don't rock the boat and keep your ideas to yourself.

I disagree with the Leader needing to have "Advanced" technical capability . I would substitute "Advanced Technical Capability' with an "Innovative Mindset" instead.

This would mean the leader must encourage and welcome Innovation and exploration. The leader must have followers who are well versed in "Technical competency" but the leader must be inspiring enough to "lead the way" and "remove the impediments" for Innovation to flourish and fructify.

Senior Management must promote an "Ambidextrous" organisation where leaders are encouraged to "Explore" new ways of expanding the organizational capability , much like a "lean Startup" and at the same time harness the strength of other leaders who are able to "exploit " their existing strengths.

The combined "Explore" and "Exploit" strategy leads the organization to survive in the highly competitive and disruptive environment of today.

Interesting, thank you for sharing your views.

Very interesting., thanks for sharing

Overall, I'd have to say I'm confused with this article. It goes off on so many tangents, it's hard to know which angle you're coming from. I will say that the PMO in our company shows it's philanthropic traits through guidance and fit-for-purpose governance, thereby considering the welfare of others. The other point to note is that the PMO leader while technically astute at PM principles, is not one to set any technical agendas.

"its"

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