My oldest son was telling me a story about a time when he was watching a movie with his fiancée at her parents’ house, late at night. Without warning, a series of events unfolded, taking no more than five seconds from start to finish:
- A large insect flew into the room (“at least the size of a silver dollar”).
- It headed upwards, towards the ceiling fan, and was promptly whacked by one of its blades.
- The insect (possibly a large beetle, but no one knows for sure) crashed to the ground.
- The family’s dog, Charlie, rushed into the room, seemingly from out of nowhere.
- Charlie retrieves the insect, and rushes outside with it via his doggy door.
The four inhabitants of the room were left looking at each other, puzzled – did what we witnessed just then really happen? And, assuming so, should we be doing anything about it right now?
Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…
We are quickly approaching the time when the governments of the various nation-states afflicted by the pandemic will begin to ease up on the policies working as brakes on the global macroeconomic environment. As GTIM Nation is fully aware, an additional set of characteristics that I like to point to concerning the distinction between the three types of management are:
- Asset Managers’ focus is entirely within the organization itself;
- Strategic Managers are paying attention to people outside the organization, but not its customers; specifically, the competition’s actions and strategies,
- while Project Managers are looking at all the people outside the organization, but not its competitors – PMs are about customers, both existing and potential.
This is an important distinction, in that it highlights (yet another) reason why PM ought to be considered more important than the agendas of either the Asset Managers or the Strategic Managers (but don’t tell the business school faculties!). Consider the introduction of Agile/Scrum Project Management, in 1986. Information Technology (IT) projects, while clearly needing some form of PM to help curb the relatively high number of project overruns and late deliveries, were still struggling with issues stemming from traditional Configuration Management. It was simply not feasible for most (if not all) IT projects to funnel changes to their software in-development through a formal Baseline Change Control Board, considered the best guarantor of preventing scope creep. Such boards typically met only once per month, and required attendance not only from both the project teams’ organizational management, but also from the higher levels of the customers’ representatives. If a given Baseline Change Request or Proposal (BCR or BCP) was approved, then all was well. However, if it were to be rejected, or sent back for additional information or modifications, critical time and effort would be lost, with no expedient remedy available. Oh, sure, some IT-project based orgs would allow some sort of fast track, or urgent BCP/BCR, but that didn’t really fix the main problems associated with an ossified change control process. Agile/Scrum changed all of that by assuming that changes would be not only accommodated, but pretty much expected, and on a regular basis. By assigning specific titles and roles to customer and project team representatives (e.g., “Scrum Master,” etc.) in weekly (at least) meetings, such changes could be evaluated for appropriateness and priority in a highly expedited fashion. This strategy brilliantly addresses a need for retaining certain elements of “traditional” Project Management while making realistic accommodations to the demand for spontaneously addressing customer expectations, which are almost always in a state of flux.
Now, compare and contrast the introduction of the Agile/Scrum approach to any analogous initiative from, say, our friends the Asset Managers. What would Agile/Scrum Finance and Accounting look like? What tenets of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) would be modified or abandoned, in order to, say, deliver the Profit and Loss Statement earlier? By definition this can’t happen, as the accounting cycle is almost always set up in such a way as to make it impossible to compress. The Asset Managers can, say, process travel reimbursements more expeditiously, but they literally cannot “close the books” sooner than the last day of the accounting period, usually monthly.
What About Ceiling-Fan-Struck Insects Being Retrieved By A Family Dog?
I was just getting back to that. Once the various government-held starter pistols that signal a reprieve from quarantine begin sounding, some things will remain relatively stable – an organization’s asset portfolio, for example. Other things can be expected to change dramatically, e.g., the customer base, which is, by definition, entirely within the purview of the PMs to retain, lose, or expand. There’s really no telling what set of circumstances will lead to an unexpected opportunity suddenly becoming available in bang-bang-bang fashion, but these things do happen. As highly structured as the Asset and Strategic Managers can be, they can’t be counted on to be as agile (get it?) as PMs to respond fast enough to secure or expand the customer base, once things get back to some semblance of normalcy. In short, when the restrictions are lifted, and the business world gets back to opportunities happening in bang-bang-bang fashion, it’s the Project Managers who will swoop in from seemingly nowhere to seize them, and then go off and work them.
Just ignore that crunching sound coming out of the back yard.