In my previous blog, I blathered on about how project management techniques often fail to perform as advertised in the information technology world, and for what reasons. Now, I want to examine how information technology fails project management in general, and for what reasons.
I was once in a project management office with a fellow who was intent on setting up an information stream that would deliver a report indicating the number of hours budgeted on all of the projects within that offices’ purview, by person, and then compare that to the number of hours those people were actually charging. He was absolutely convinced that this comparison would yield a highly valuable piece of management information, and was not to be dissuaded. Nevertheless, I gave dissuading him my level best.
“First off, Biff,” I began (Biff wasn’t this guy’s name, but the name “Biff” does sound as if it might belong to someone who’s belligerently clueless, much like the antagonist in the Back to the Future franchise), that piece of information isn’t relevant.”
“How can you say it isn’t relevant?”
“For the same reason that comparing budgets to actuals is irrelevant. Just because you’re doing it on a line item by line item basis doesn’t suddenly make it meaningful.”
“But we have to be able to manage hours on these projects!”
“You’re sought-after information doesn’t accomplish that. What if a project substitutes two junior-level engineers for one senior-level engineer? The cost may actually go down, but your system would raise a red flag. And that doesn’t even address the whole issue of cost performance. Imagine a task budgeted with $25K in labor, and $75K in machinery. Let’s say it comes in at $70K in labor, and $25K in machinery. Your system would go insane, indicating a severe overrun in a task that, in fact, came in under budget.”
Then came Biff’s coup de gras, or so he thought:
“Why wouldn’t you want to know that information?” he taunted.
I think this question is the last refuge of pseudo-intellectual PM scoundrels. Good management is heavily reliant upon information, and by asking the question Biff was, in essence, daring me to contradict this obvious axiom.
“Besides the fact that that information is irrelevant, all information requires time and energy to collect, process, and deliver. In this case, all of the energy needed to set up your system would be utterly wasted. Furthermore, we could use that time and energy in pursuing relevant information – but not if we set up your system.”
Added resistance to Biff’s idea would eventually lead to its abandonment, but I believe this sort of discussion happens thousands of times a day, in hundreds of organizations. As I discuss in my recently-released, must-have book Game Theory in Management (Gower Publishing, 2012) all management information streams must be evaluated with respect to its accuracy, relevancy, and timeliness (or ART). If the information system in question is relevant, but inaccurate or not timely, then the tactics needed to improve in those areas should be employed to see if it’s a good idea to save the MIS in question. However, if the information stream is irrelevant, than no amount of accuracy or timeliness can save it, and it must be abandoned.
Take most risk management systems (please! Bada-bing). They may or may not be timely, but their claims to accuracy are patently absurd (80% confidence interval, anybody?). But, most damning of all, is that, once the project’s baseline is set, the output from the vast majority of risk analysis techniques is utterly irrelevant. Project managers inherently worry about things going wrong on their projects. What use is it of hearing the guesses (strikeout) estimates of the odds of the negative-impact event actually occurring? Unless risk analysis alters the response of the project team to the event – and, in virtually every case, it doesn’t – then the amount of time, energy, and expertise that goes in to performing risk management is a complete waste.
I’ve written other articles and blogs with assertions similar to the ones above, and , with rare exceptions, no risk management aficionado has dared to riposte. Could it be that even they are beginning to realize the intellectually vacuous nature of their techniques?