Project Management

Before Discussing Advancing, I Have To Ask: Where Are We Going?

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On Restarting Your PMO’s theme for March, Leading PM Trends, is conversely both broad and focused, germane to what we do while also maintaining that elusive characteristic of existing in the future (which, again, cannot be quantified). Along these lines I would like to explore with the rest of GTIM Nation another duality that I’ve witnessed over and over again in organized efforts at advancing PM capability within an organization, and it has to do with an axiom from our near cousins, the Information Technology PMs. This axiom may be among the most tightly-packed six words in all of the management science codex, and it is this: begin with the end in mind. So, here’s my question: what end do we have in mind?

I think that, generally speaking, there are two main trains of thought here. One camp seeks to change the behavior of the targeted organization, to lead, compel, or force them to “do” Project Management, and do it to the level of robustness these self-appointed experts are expecting. The other camp seeks to place into the hands of decision-makers the information they need to make, well, informed decisions. Experienced members of GTIM Nation already know where I stand; but, for newcomers and for those who need a little more than a priori assertions to justify the acceptance or rejection of management science theories, I’m going to do a little exploring.

The “change behavior” crowd, it seems to me, dominate the common thinking here. Their exhortations in conference paper presentations, scholarly articles, and boardroom laments are as predictable as they are tiresome. These people simply know that their organizations would be much, much better managed if the principles would adopt their principals, set up a Project Management Office, and encode their insights into must-obey company policies and procedures. If possible, these ones become even more insufferable when they attain their PMP® Certifications, as if the entire weight of PMI’s academic progress was behind their unworkable implementation strategies. Their end, or targeted end-state? Of course they want to see all project work (and maybe a little bit of the work that clearly is not project-related) captured in Work Packages, which roll up to Control Accounts via Work Breakdown Structures, and feed data to Earned Value and Critical Path Management (EVM and CPM) systems, variances captured and explained in Variance Analysis Reports, consistent with the thresholds described in the Project Management Plan, Change Control Boards meeting regularly to review well-written Baseline Change Proposals, etc., etc. But it goes beyond that: they also want to witness Control Account managers eagerly awaiting their Cost Performance Reports (in Format I, of course) and Gantt Charts, clutching them to their hearts as they grab their hard hats and rush out to the job site, suddenly illuminated as to the best course of action to bring their projects in on-time, on-budget. But, given the choice between managers who don’t care at all about these artifacts of doing “proper” PM who, nonetheless, bring their projects in on-time and on-budget on a consistent basis, versus those who do the CPR (Format I) and Gantt-Chart-clutching, but somehow manage to finish late and over-budget, the change-the-behavior crowd would actually prefer the latter.

On the other had we have those who simply want to place into the hands of the decision-makers the information they need to maximize the odds of bringing their projects in on-time, on-budget. This is actually far simpler than the change-their-behavior crowd would ever admit, but it is demonstrably true. Want to know how much your Work Package or Control Account will cost at its completion? Divide the cumulative percent complete into the cumulative actual costs. Yes, it’s that simple. The same is true for duration. Divide the percent complete into the total number of days since it started, and you have its most likely duration, accurate to within ten points. For those whose purpose is to put into the hands of the decision-makers the information they need, such techniques are simply golden. Bereft of such superfluous requirements as tapping a master resource dictionary, or (GTIM Nation totally saw this coming) risk analysis, the project controllers become highly effective, but also extremely efficient. And they become so with hardly any changes to the way the actual project teams actually perform their work – sometimes, with no changes at all. This makes them infinitely more popular with the personnel performing the scope than their change-behavior counterparts, who are far more likely to disrupt the in-place business models, and on a massive scale.

Here’s the ironic part of the whole duality: whereas the change-behavior crowd virtually always fails in attaining their desired end-state (due to silent veto or slow-roll counter-strategies employed by the project team), the provide-the-information team almost always succeeds in changing the organization’s behavior. Even with the most rudimentary cost/schedule performance information being bandied about at the most casual of project review meeting venues, those previously given to ignoring (or even rejecting outright) PM precepts will quickly find themselves discussing negative cost variances being offset by positive schedule variances, and processing change orders to mitigate scope creep.

So, let’s circle back to the question underlying how best to advance PM capabilities within the organization: advance to where? Are we changing behavior, or generating key information streams as innocuously as possible? These are two very different destinations. It would be prudent to know where the PMO is headed.

Posted on: March 16, 2020 10:51 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Good stuff as usual Michael. I think you go to bed dreaming of project management :-)

It's now 2020 and we're supposed to have flying cars and real hover boards. Well if we can't have that, maybe just have better applications so we copy and paste less often thereby streamlining the process of collecting and disseminating information.

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