Sherlock Holmes was known for being taken by surprise by references his associate, Dr. Watson, would make to what could probably be best described as pop culture in Victorian England. Should Watson express amazement that Holmes would be ignorant of such things, Sherlock would explain his desire to not occupy his mind with trivial things in order to maximize his effectiveness as a consulting detective. If one could isolate the kind of mental filter that would function as a differentiator between data items that contribute to Holmes’ infamous deduction capabilities and ones that do not, I believe that such a filter could have but one name: relevance.
Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…
GTIM Nation may be aware of one of my favorite axioms, “All things fail by irrelevant comparisons.” Combine this with one of Hatfield’s Incontrovertible Rules of Management (#22):
All useful management information has the following three characteristics:
- It is accurate,
- It is timely,
- …and it is relevant.
This is what irks me about much of what passes for insightful management techniques, particularly within the PM domain. They can be rather irrelevant. What should be the test for relevance, at least within PM space? I think simply asking the question “does this (technique, information stream, business practice) help bring the project in on-time, on-budget?” is a great starting point. While asserting that this question is simple, I also readily acknowledge that discerning relevance is multi-layered. Prior to using it as a management technique litmus test, let’s add one key element of structure, the old saw “Quality, Availability, Affordability: pick any two” (original author unknown). With this structure and question in-hand, let’s take a look at some business practices that may or may not have been relevant.
First up: Six Sigma Quality Management. Six sigma shows up on quite a few lists of “worst management fads” when those words are entered into a search engine, and for good reason. Far from being universally applicable, there are actually many scenarios where committing significantly greater resources into the quality a given service or product could be harmful to that organization’s health. Besides potentially contributing to scope creep (and thereby endangering an on-time, on-budget completion), an organization that succeeds because of the affordability and availability of its output may well be making a significant error in moving towards a high-quality product. In all likelihood, such an organization would be already known for providing affordable, available services or products, meaning that, even if they should move towards higher quality, the output would not necessarily be seen as such. Imagine your favorite fast-food chain suddenly offering rib eye steaks. See what I mean?
Next, I want to use our little two-tiered test with our friends, the Communications Managers. Even if one could argue that their engage-all-stakeholders strategy could help attain project objectives indirectly, by intercepting potential barriers erected by people who would not have otherwise opposed the scope had they only been informed of it earlier in its development cycle (a tentative take, at best), it also works against organizations that have the foresight to select whichever of the two of three targeted characteristics for their overall strategy. For example, if you were to launch an organization that could produce, say, a top-quality acoustic guitar for the same price as those companies producing low or mid-priced instruments, how anxious would you be to let people outside your organization (the very definition of “all stakeholders”) know exactly how you pulled it off? Such information is referred to as “trade secrets” for a reason, and releasing it to a broader set of people than is absolutely necessary in order to feel good about your enlightened approach to management is, in my opinion, a really bad idea.
For our last entry in the deducing-relevance sweepstakes, I’ll address one of my favorite targets, the risk managers (no initial caps). For this evaluation, we don’t even need the second-tier filter/test, since it flunks the first: I defy any risk manager to quantify how a risk register assists the PM in bringing in the scope, on-time, on-budget. Show me the PM who has spent real coin on the risk management function, and I’m confident that there’s going to be a customer who wants (or even requires) such an analysis. I have yet to meet the PM who, left to their own devices, would bother with the whole Monte Carlo schedule analysis schtick, or even consult it prior to making key decisions in the case of one being foisted upon them.
Meanwhile, Back At 221B Baker Street…
It’s my contention that, by using the two-tiered test of (1) asking the question “does this help bring the project in on-time, on-budget?” and (2) identifying how the proposed technique/strategy fits in the Affordable, Available, Quality: pick any two framework, many irrelevant business practices can be filtered out of the PMs’ repertoire, thereby enhancing the odds of
identifying the killer optimizing the project’s technical approach. So, you see, it’s really rather elementary.