Project Management

The Gig Economy Comes For The PM Roller Coaster, Part II

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

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In last week’s blog I discussed some of the organizational drivers behind the tendency for demand for PM expertise becoming somewhat, ahem, uneven, and went on to review its cyclical nature. I wrapped up by promising to address what the canny PMO Director can do to flatten out the rejection-to-demand-to-rejection sequence, but one thing I absolutely did not promise was that implementing these recommendations would be easy.

First off, it’s necessary to understand that most of the elements that drive the ups and downs of PM expertise demand are internal to the macro-organization. While the demand for quality on-time, on-budget project delivery from external sources (i.e., your customers) will always be high, the best way to deliver on this demand will tend to vary, depending on the type of projects your company works, the competition, and the level of PM knowledge possessed by the organization’s decision-makers. But one particular aspect of the internal dynamics of setting the appropriate level of PM expertise within the organization will almost never change: the strategy of getting “experts” to harangue executives about doing PM “right,” and pushing for more funding, visibility, or authority never works. Oh, it may give the illusion of effectiveness in the short term, as these executives feign their fealty to the concept of attaining an advanced PM proficiency, and parrot the terms in the lexicon. But when it comes to actually using their organizational influence to compel the desired behaviors, it simply doesn’t happen. When the PMO loses influence, talent, and budget, those who advocated for this approach never seem to learn from their failures, opting instead to blame the organization itself for refusing to accept change, or some such. And yet, this seems to be the de facto strategy for reversing a decline in demand for PM expertise (Step E in last week’s blog’s graphic).

The aspects locking your organization into the PM demand cycle fall into two bins:

  • Availability of PM resources outside the PMO’s control (“shadow organizations”), and
  • The level of contagion of the narrative that the decline (or even elimination) of project disasters is evidence that too much budget is being dedicated to the PMO.

I’ll address these in order. Recall Hatfield’s Incontrovertible Rule of Management number (whatever): Quality, Affordability, Availability, pick any two. If your PMO provides expensive, high-value PM services in an organization comprised of many, smaller projects, that’s bad enough. But if this same PMO demands that these multiple, small projects adhere to (and pay for) a robust Critical Path, Earned Value, and Change Control system, then those PMs performing the actual work will tend to opt out. In the worst-case scenario, they will want to exempt themselves from any PM requirements, but in the instances I’m addressing here they will seek to hire their own Project Controls specialists, at a more affordable rate, who will just provide the basic PM artifacts they believe represent the minimum needed to deliver the project on-time, on-budget. Make no mistake: if these PMs are allowed to get away with this tactic, the demand curve for the personnel associated with the PMO gets flattened like a sledge hammered pancake.

I hate to say it, but the best solution to this problem is somewhat Machiavellian: actively survey the company for shadow organizations, and shut them down. Perhaps the easiest way of doing so is to name specific software platforms that perform the Earned Value and Critical Path Methodologies, and then allow only personnel associated with the PMO to have access to them. Sound outrageous? Then consider the chaos that would ensue if a certain Program Office were to decide that it didn’t like the way the organization’s travel expenses were being reimbursed, and set up their own general ledger. If having multiple, uncoordinated accounting offices would obviously be harmful to the company, why should multiple, uncoordinated PM offices be any different?

As for the narrative that the absence of project disasters is evidence that too much budget and authority is being sent to the PMO, one would think that all that is needed is to point out that the reason the individual components of the portfolio are coming in on-time, on-budget is the level of expertise represented by the PMO. Sadly, that counterpoint rarely seems to carry the day. Realistically, the only reliable way of resisting the advancing of the narrative that maintains that the PMO is consuming resources at an unacceptably high rate is to ensure that it functions as a meritocracy, with absolutely no cronyism or favoritism present. This does not so much provide insulation against the bloated-PMO charge as much as it eliminates a vulnerability. The PMO afflicted by nepotism or cronyism virtually invites the bloated accusation. Conversely, any Team that is demonstrably managed as a meritocracy (the only clear and obvious one I know of is the United States Chess Federation, but I’m sure there are others) will be very resistant to these claims.

But until the business model pathologies that drive the PM talent demand-then-reject cycle are not just mitigated, but eliminated, Project Management will continue to have a tumultuous relationship with job security. I’m just hoping that the more heart-stopping climbs and plunges in this roller coaster happened back when I was younger!

Posted on: August 24, 2022 10:46 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Thank you for sharing the new perspective .

Your incontrovertible rule of management number (whatever) sounds a lot like the late Red Adair's "You can have it good; you can have it fast; you can have it cheap--pick any two."

An interesting perspective and one that I have lived on both sides of. I agree the Machiavellian approach is probably best, in the long run. I would also caution that having a PMO that can tailor reporting requirements based on the project scope is probably one of the best ways to avoid shadow organizational PM activities.

Interesting angles always comes from you, Thanks

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