Project Management

How To Use A Ram To Rid Your Organization Of Poor Performers

From the Game Theory in Management Blog
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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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How To Use A Ram To Rid Your Organization Of Poor Performers

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Hey, Haven’t We Seen This Before?



As tribal societies that used planned and organized agriculture to help ensure a steady supply of foodstuffs moved farther and farther into Northern Europe, the ability to precisely time specific farming tasks became more relevant as the available growing season shortened. Plant too soon, and the young seedlings might be killed off by a late frost; plant too late, and the almost-ready-to-harvest crops would suffer the same fate. To help maximize the odds of timing these activities optimally, early farmers observed calendars, the phases of the moon, and…

…animal behavior. It was widely believed in ancient times that animals, being “closer” to nature and all, had an instinctive way of knowing when the last frost had happened, or when the first one of the season was about to begin. The modern practice of dressing up in formal attire and yanking a Pennsylvania groundhog out of his burrow on February 2nd each year to see if we will have six more weeks of winter is a derivative of this belief.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

GTIM Nation veterans are aware of my respect for the Michael Maccoby book The Gamesman: The New Corporate Leaders (Simon and Schuster, 1976), and its description of four types of workers:

  • The Craftsman doesn’t really care about the organization, but cares deeply about his output.
  • The Company Man tends to take on the persona of the organization around him.
  • The Jungle Fighter gets ahead through deceit and calumny, deflecting blame for failure and attempting to glom on to successful endeavors.
  • The Gamesman doesn’t see success as analogous to food on the table and a roof over the head. Rather, he sees these artifacts of success as tokens in some grand game he’s playing. For this reason The Gamesman tends to both master the techniques and particulars of his business interests and take more risks.

I would like to propose that we combine Maccoby’s insights with those of animal instincts (nevermind that Punxsutawney Phil’s accuracy rate is only between 35 and 40%), and arrange to have a male bighorn sheep, otherwise known as a ram, help rid our organizations of the Jungle Fighters that infest our Project Teams. Of course, these Jungle Fighters aren’t going to self-identify, so there must be a more direct way of finding them out. My recommendation is that we pick a Project Team at random, one that has a minimum of 20 people in it so that it probably includes at least one Jungle Fighter. We should then take a male bighorn sheep, and introduce him into a corral where various feeding troughs filled with grasses and clover are located. Each of these troughs has the name of a Project Team member attached. Based on his intuitive sense of potential in-herd adversaries, whichever trough the ram instinctively eats from (or even strikes with his horns!) may bear the name of the Jungle Fighter, and this person should receive higher scrutiny, if not reassigned altogether. Does this sound ridiculous? More so than – I swear I am not making this up – having a marmota monax speak in “goundhogese” to the President of the “Inner Circle,” who can understand this language due to his possession of an ancient wood cane? In comparison, the ram-picking-a-trough exercise is positively reasonable.

Just kidding. That’s not how rams can help you get a better percentage of high performers in your team.

Meanwhile, Back In The Real Project Management World…

The real way it can work is through the other type of ram, the Responsibility Accountability Matrix. Projects with even a rudimentary Earned Value Management System can easily differentiate projects that are doing well from those that aren’t, and, by drilling down through the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) a more precise level of granularity can be attained. The standard model for this is Projects made of up Control Accounts (CAs), and Control Accounts made up of Work Packages (WPs). Theoretically, Work Packages should be assigned to specific groups or teams documented in the Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS), which has a similar hierarchy, only with the Org Chart as its map. All that’s needed is to identify those Work Packages that consistently perform worse than others, and then find out which Organizational Breakdown Elements (read: lower-level organizations, such as team or groups, usually based on a common function or purpose) these low-performing WPs have in common. Those are the teams that will tend to be home to a higher percentage of Jungle Fighters than the others. Remember, Jungle Fighters usually do not directly contribute to the attainment of the Project Teams’ scope, on-time and on-budget. They are participating in your project in order to advance their own agendas, and will usually do so by deflecting blame and intercepting credit, in-between engaging in extensive gossip and treachery. They may (and often do) use such tactics to their advantage, but this tactic can’t keep their Work Packages from poor execution forever. Sooner or later such strategies will have an effect on performance, and, when it does, even the most basic EVMS can be cross-connected via the RAM to the OBS, and thence to the drivers of the poor functioning.

At which point a male big horn sheep may very well come up and eat from their trough.

Posted on: June 15, 2020 10:05 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Very entertaining. And also a reminder not to take everything at face value. Also that measuring (as opposed to just monitoring?) progress can be useful for more than just determining where a bit of push (resources or $$) would be useful. Sometimes a push (out the door) is also needed?

Interesting analogy! I suppose if you consistently examine WPs, there would likely be a correlation between low-performing WPs and individuals who don't have the interests of the team/organization at heart.

Not always straightforward though - some Jungle Fighters make it seem like they're the team player. As you've pointed out, they don't really self-advertise as low performers but usually, quite the opposite.

Very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Very interesting., thanks for sharing

Informative, thank you for sharing.

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