Project Management

The Problem with Project Management

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Categories: Leadership, Lean


 

Project management is often thought of as overhead.
 
Why is that?
 
Because in many cases, it's true.
 

Waste

 
Have you ever tried doing a value stream map of the processes you are engaged with personally as a project manager?
 
No?
 
You should. It's enlightening.
 
A value stream map is simply the series of steps taken from the start to finish of the tangible or intangible products.
 
As a project manager, some of these products really are the end products of your project.
 
Some are support deliverables like schedules, reports, presentations, etc.
 
If you are like most project managers, you have a minimum of 5 'things' like this you directly take part in.
 
Value stream mapping is simply a way of making those processes explicit. With the maps in front of you, it becomes apparent pretty quickly where the waste is.
 
Sometimes the waste is time. When something sits on your desk waiting for action, that's waste.
 
Sometimes the waste is rework. Defects in a product of any kind that generate more work, or delivering the wrong thing.
 
There are many kinds of waste and sources of that waste. Here are a few examples you may find in relation to the role of project management on a project.
 

Bottlenecks

 
The best project managers can take vacations.
 
If your process for delivering projects requires your intervention and only you can do something, it's likely you haven't empowered your team enough.
 
It's also likely that even when you are present, someone is waiting on you.
 
A good example of this may be the bridge between the end users and your staff. Are you the only bridge there? Or do your end users and other stakeholders communicate effectively directly with your team?
 

Meetings

 
For the next week, look around the room at every meeting you attend. How many people are there and how much labor cost is going into that meeting? How much value is being generated by holding the meeting?
 
Is more value being generated than the cost involved? What's the ROI of the meeting?
 
As a general rule, the more people involved in a meeting, the lower ROI you can expect to find.
 
How many meetings could be cut out entirely? Is the same message being communicated multiple times - are you hearing it in multiple meetings?
 
How many meetings could be shorter while accomplishing same value?
 
In my anecdotal experience, you quickly run into diminishing returns after 30 minutes - and yet in our corporate culture it is common for the default meeting length to be 1 hour.
 
Work expands to fill the time alloted, and it's the same with meetings. Try making your default meeting length 30 minutes instead of an hour. Better yet, are there regular meetings that could be 15 minutes?
 

Process for Process' Sake

 
It's easy to add steps to a process over time.
 
It's very difficult to take steps away from a process.
 
People get used to the process, they sometimes get protective over their portion of a process.
 
The same goes for project managers.
 
Documentation gets created or versioned when no one will ever read it - because that's the process.
 
Project staff spend a half hour every day writing down details of exactly what they worked on that day when there is no effort to use any of that historical data for future project planning - because that's the process.
 
Change requests are generated for work that is really already part of the project plan - because that's the process.
 
Signature pages are routed around the building with 5-10 signatories even though this is just a minor update with little to no real content change and you'll be doing it again next month - because that's the process.
 

Well?

 
These are just a few examples.
 
The weird thing about waste is that it's all around us, but very hard to see unless you are looking for it.
 
Go try this yourself - for the work you do daily and the processes around you that you interact with.
 
The Problem With Project Management Series:
What will you discover?Project management is often thought of as overhead.
 
Why is that?
 
Because in many cases, it's true.
 
Waste
 
Have you ever tried doing a value stream map of the processes you are engaged with personally as a project manager?
 
No?
 
You should. It's enlightening.
 
A value stream map is simply the series of steps taken from the start to finish of the tangible or intangible products.
 
As a project manager, some of these products really are the end products of your project.
 
Some are support deliverables like schedules, reports, presentations, etc.
 
If you are like most project managers, you have a minimum of 5 'things' like this you directly take part in.
 
Value stream mapping is simply a way of making those processes explicit. With the maps in front of you, it becomes apparent pretty quickly where the waste is.
 
Sometimes the waste is time. When something sits on your desk waiting for action, that's waste.
 
Sometimes the waste is rework. Defects in a product of any kind that generate more work, or delivering the wrong thing.
 
There are many kinds of waste and sources of that waste. Here are a few examples you may find in relation to the role of project management on a project.
 
Bottlenecks
 
The best project managers can take vacations.
 
If your process for delivering projects requires your intervention and only you can do something, it's likely you haven't empowered your team enough.
 
It's also likely that even when you are present, someone is waiting on you.
 
A good example of this may be the bridge between the end users and your staff. Are you the only bridge there? Or do your end users and other stakeholders communicate effectively directly with your team?
 
Meetings
 
For the next week, look around the room at every meeting you attend. How many people are there and how much labor cost is going into that meeting? How much value is being generated by holding the meeting?
 
Is more value being generated than the cost involved? What's the ROI of the meeting?
 
As a general rule, the more people involved in a meeting, the lower ROI you can expect to find.
 
How many meetings could be cut out entirely? Is the same message being communicated multiple times - are you hearing it in multiple meetings?
 
How many meetings could be shorter while accomplishing same value?
 
In my anecdotal experience, you quickly run into diminishing returns after 30 minutes - and yet in our corporate culture it is common for the default meeting length to be 1 hour.
 
Work expands to fill the time alloted, and it's the same with meetings. Try making your default meeting length 30 minutes instead of an hour. Better yet, are there regular meetings that could be 15 minutes?
 
Process for Process' Sake
 
It's easy to add steps to a process over time.
 
It's very difficult to take steps away from a process.
 
People get used to the process, they sometimes get protective over their portion of a process.
 
The same goes for project managers.
 
Documentation gets created or versioned when no one will ever read it - because that's the process.
 
Project staff spend a half hour every day writing down details of exactly what they worked on that day when there is no effort to use any of that historical data for future project planning - because that's the process.
 
Change requests are generated for work that is really already part of the project plan - because that's the process.
 
Signature pages are routed around the building with 5-10 signatories even though this is just a minor update with little to no real content change and you'll be doing it again next month - because that's the process.
 
Well?
 
These are just a few examples.
 
The weird thing about waste is that it's all around us, but very hard to see unless you are looking for it.
 
Go try this yourself - for the work you do daily and the processes around you that you interact with.
 
What will you discover?
Posted on: November 21, 2012 05:10 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Project management is overhead from the perspective of the project.

Project management, being essential for a successful project, is only overhead from the perspective of the project if the project itself is overhead.

Thanks for the comment!

Each individual process either adds net value to the overall product delivery effort or it doesn't.

A full blown EVMS implementation with IBR and all that good stuff for a 3-month project is going to add net waste. It's all context specific. That's a dramatic example, but similarly there are processes that add value at a particular level of complexity of project environment, but once you attempt to use those same processes in a different context where they are not necessary, at least not in their current form, they can easily be more trouble than they are worth.

Excellent article. At first glance I thought "this stuff is so basic and obvious that why is he bothering to post it", but actually so many I see fail to do such basic self-assessments of how efficient their actions are, that we do need to go back to basics and encourage them to consider this.

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