Project Management

Which Technological Advancement Riddle Is To Be Solved?

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GTIM Nation knows of my fondness for Shakespeare. In The Merchant of Venice, the lady protagonist, Portia, is to be wed the suitor who correctly chooses one of three caskets that contains her portrait. The caskets are made of gold, silver, and lead, and bear the following inscriptions:

  • Gold: Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.
  • Silver: Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.
  • Lead: Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.

The male protagonist, Bassanio, chooses the SPOILER ALERT! STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS PART OF THE PLAY WORKS OUT! lead casket and, with the dowry that comes with marrying Portia, is positioned to help rescue his friend and financier, Antonio.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

In previous blogs I’ve discussed an axiom that’s undeniably true, but seems to receive very little notice in management science discussions. PM’s own version of the three caskets: that, for any given good or service,

  • Available, high quality is going to be expensive,
  • Available, affordable is going to be of lower quality, and
  • Affordable, high-quality is going to require a wait.

Proceeding from this premise, and circling back to’s theme for March, of leading PM trends, I have to wonder which of the three characteristics is going to be satisfied or improved by the next major technological breakthrough in PM. Whichever technological advancement riddle is being addressed will have significant implications, including those ideological opponents who can be expected to be arrayed against the innovator. Recall also previous blog discussions on Thomas Kuhn’s profound work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that the maintainers of the current thinking have a vested interest in diminishing (if not out-and-out thwarting) the overturning of those theories that undergird their own “expertise” (or Portia’s hand in marriage, whatever).

For example, consider some future PM researcher who discovers a way to reliably pull actual (or a reasonably accurate) percent complete figures for all active Work Packages. That’s right: no Project Controls Specialist pestering the Control Account Managers in the last days of the reporting period for their percent complete estimates, only to be told “this is a level of effort task” when it clearly isn’t, and entering the 8.333% more-done-than-last-month silliness into the cost processor. Without the missing or clearly biased percent complete estimates, this new solution would reliably feed the organization’s Earned Value Management System (EVMS) with accurate Estimates at Completion (EACs, both cost and duration), Performance Indices (both cost and duration), current and cumulative variances (both … well, you know) – all quickly and easily. A quantum leap in quality in Management Information for the same (or even less) expense would have been attained, easily summoning the following opponents:

  • Our friends, the accountants. They’ve been taught (ad nauseum) that all relevant cost information originates in the general ledger, and generally predict at-completion costs by assessing spending trends. And yet, here’s those pesky PM-types running laps around their very own Management Information System track. The value between bookkeeper and accountant just got much narrower, and none of the latter category will be happy about it.
  • Some of the people supposedly within our own camp, specifically the risk analysts (no initial caps) and the estimators. The risk analysts want to use Gaussian curves to predict the future of performance on a project, but EVMSs can do so automatically, with a ten-point accuracy bracket, which the risk analysts could only dream of. Similarly, the estimators are given to developing an EAC by re-forecasting the remaining scope, and adding that figure to the project’s cumulative actuals. Not only would our automated and quality-controlled EVMS perform that function automatically (Budgeted Cost of Work Remaining + ACWPcum), but it can do one better: simply calculate the EAC. So, no, neither the risk analysts nor the estimators would be happy with this innovation.
  • Don’t get me started on the guidance-generating organizations that waste spend so much pixel-ink on the need to “properly” match the percent-complete method to specific types of scope.

Similar opposition can be safely assumed to come about if the next innovation solves one of the other two riddles, Affordability or Availability. A system that’s both affordable and readily available will draw fire for being of low quality, even if the value of the MIS stream being made available performs at least as well as others deemed to be worthy – I’ve encountered it time and again. The only question then becomes How long will the innovation to make PM more affordable, available, or of higher quality be opposed before its benefits overcome its automatic objections?

Once such objections are made, and found to be wanting, those articulating the criticisms would do well to recall the words of the Prince of Morocco, after learning that Portia’s portrait is not in the gold casket he selected: “Portia, adieu. I have too grieved a heart To take a tedious leave: thus losers part.” (Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VII)

Shorter version: I picked wrong, I’m outta here.

Posted on: March 23, 2020 10:38 PM | Permalink

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