Having the reputation as ProjectManagement.com’s resident contrarian has its advantages. For example, as my colleagues address July’s theme of organizational culture by providing insights on how to improve it for greater efficiency and effectiveness, I am free to take the opposite angle: how to develop a strategy to diminish and eventually ruin that very culture.
GTIM nation knows I would do this just ‘cuz I can, but more recent readers might wonder why this is, in any sane PM universe, a valid topic. To these I ask, have you never read (or seen a production of) Shakespeare’s Othello, or Richard III? In these plays the villains Iago and Richard himself wreck devastation on the protagonists, and they do so for a reason: they seek to set up their own version of how things should be run, and the existing management/ruling structure, as virtuous as it is, is simply in the way. Oh, sure, they have multiple other nefarious motives, but those are not important for this analysis. The fact that they (and other, real-life actors like them) use specific tactics as a part of an overall strategy that very nearly worked to perfection is important for this analysis. So, practice twirling your Snidely Whiplash-style mustache and your Dr. Evil-style maniacal laughter, and let’s begin.
In 1965 Bruce Tuckman introduced the forming-storming-norming-performing model[i], asserting that newly-formed teams go through these stages as they grow to address the challenges before them. Additionally, Michael Maccoby’s book The Gamesman asserts that organizations tend to be populated by personnel who exhibit behaviors consistent with four different archetypes, the Company Man, the Craftsman, the Jungle Fighter, and the Gamesman (I discussed this at some length in my blog two weeks ago). Considering these two models concurrently yields some very interesting insights on how to completely discombobulate an otherwise promising project team without having to actually tie anybody down onto railroad tracks.
Let’s start by taking Tuckman’s model at face value. Let’s also stipulate that, on any team with more than a dozen members, at least one Jungle Fighter is likely to be present. Luckily (for the Jungle Fighter, anyway) this person will not wear a sign, or offer any other obvious indicator that they intend to behave in a manner consistent with this archetype. After all, neither Richard III nor Iago had any grand reveal until after it was painfully obvious to the most casual observer that they were bad. What’s a Jungle Fighter to do in this situation? The obvious first step is to not reveal yourself to be a no-talent, conniving manipulator who gets ahead by having others oppose each other, all while taking credit for successes that you had little to do with and deflecting blame for your own mistakes.
Okay, check the “stealth mode” box on your list. What’s next? Based on Tuckman’s model, the next maturation step after the Project Team forms is to “storm.” At this point in the process the team will naturally encounter some level of churn as precise roles, responsibilities and authorities are defined, tried out, and redefined. This is the perfect environment for the Jungle Fighter to operate, but not just for their own advancement. No, the primary goal here is to elongate this phase as long as possible. The more distrust and confusion that can be introduced into the Project Team during this difficult phase the longer the effects of suspicion and a lack of clearly-defined roles and functions will last. The Gamesmen, with their characteristic willingness to take risks, will tend to become frustrated with the Craftsmen’s tendencies to strictly observe procedures in order to turn out a first-class product or service, while the Craftsmen will view the Gamesmen’s behavior as too avaunt-garde to realize the team’s optimal strategy. Take advantage of this natural rivalry by engaging in calumny in-between the two camps, stoking the fires of outrage by passing along the narrative that’s contrary to the archetypes you’re manipulating.
What about the Company Men? Their greatest fear is of being left behind, assigned a role that’s not only underappreciated, but considered to be out-and-out useless. The optimized Jungle Fighter can take advantage of this vulnerability in every instance where the project’s scope is poorly defined. The Company Men can be sent on all sorts of wild goose chases by implying the objective of any particular Work Package is some (believable) derivative of the actual, poorly-articulated scope. Their wasted time and frustration may not spill over into open conflict, but it certainly won’t help the Project Team move past the Storming phase.
Once the Project Team (finally!) moves past the Storming phase and into Norming, another opportunity will present itself. Even if open warfare has been subdued, you can count on a sense of lingering mistrust to remain in the background of the organizational culture. Each and every time a Craftsman addresses and accomplishes a part of the project’s scope, start a rumor (or even communicate directly) to that Craftsman that some part of the Gamesman coterie believes that it was delivered too slowly. It’ll drive them crazy. Conversely, whenever the Gamesmen begin to complete a Work Package, imply that it won’t pass quality control review. To avoid the embarrassment of being seen as a target of the Craftsmen, the Gamesmen will thoroughly review, if not completely re-do, the work that was about to be wrapped up. This will delay the beginning of the Performing cycle significantly.
What happens when the Project Team (finally!) achieves the Performing cycle? Is the Jungle Fighter now bereft of tactics? Absolutely not! Do what you can to influence the Team’s narrative, so that the actual achievers are not given credit for their accomplishments. Oh, sure, it’s a charge to have their successes attributed to the Jungle Fighters, but this is usually a difficult narrative change. It’s safer to have the successes attributed to nearby personnel, while transferring failures or errors to the real performers. Such mis-attribution, if done thoroughly enough, can actually push a Performing team all the way back to a Storming one!
After all of this Machiavellian skullduggery a bit of a caveat emptor is appropriate. Richard III is killed at the battle of Bosworth Field by the eventual Henry VII after being double-crossed by the Earl of Northumberland and Thomas, Lord Stanly, while Iago is led away to captivity and torture once his machinations, so cleverly hidden, come to light at the end of the play. Snidely Whiplash is accidentally shot and taken into custody in the 1999 film Dudley Do-Right, leaving Dr. Evil as the only master schemer/manipulator to escape a dreadful fate.
I’ll close with this little exchange from the 1999 film The Mummy[ii]:
Evelyn: You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance.
Beni: [laughing] Really? They do?
Evelyn: Oh, yes. Always.
[i] Wikipedia contributors. (2018, June 1). Tuckman's stages of group development. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:21, July 15, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tuckman%27s_stages_of_group_development&oldid=843918688
GTIM Nation is aware that one of my favorite targets for (wholly deserved, of course) criticism is the Asset Managers. It’s not personal, and I don’t do it out of spite. It’s just that what we know as double-entry bookkeeping can trace its origins back to the late 1400s Italy, and has largely become the basis for much of what passes for accepted management science today. Quick question: what other field of science is still predicated on 600-year-old theories? In a very real sense, the whole of Project Management can be seen as a revolutionary concept, and a direct challenge to the Asset Management paradigm. We PM-types disagree that the point of all management is to “maximize shareholder wealth,” preferring to focus on accomplishing set scope within pre-defined parameters of cost and schedule. We use different tools and methods to accomplish our aims, often to the chagrin of the nice folks in Finance and Accounting. In almost every single organization I’ve worked, there’s a kind of rivalry (if not out-and-out hostility) between the accountants and the Program Management Office, much of it stemming from this very divergency of management science world views.
In previous blogs I have taken the Asset Managers’ approach to resolving business problems to task on the grounds that their approaches aren't always valid. This lack of validity stems from a derivative of the old expression “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” I would paraphrase that to say “If you believe that the source and residence of all management information involving costs is the general ledger, then every problem that comes your way is going to present as needing a solution centered on ‘maximizing shareholder wealth.’” All of which serves to deliver us to the specific subject of this week’s blog, that of how this particular approach to management can influence organizational culture (ProjectManagement.com’s theme for July). I’ll start with a personal experience.
I was providing PM support to a certain department. This department had around two dozen people, and they were trying to implement a new software platform to handle the information streams they needed to do their jobs. I had come up with a schedule for all of the activities from their Work Breakdown Structure, including durations and schedule logic, and it became apparent that the overall project was going to experience a delay due to one particular activity on the critical path. This activity was being performed by a team of four people. I pointed out the likely delay and the responsible activity/team to the head of the department. It just happened to be on a Friday.
“Have the entire department work this weekend!” was his snap decision.
“Wait a second – your whole department doesn’t need to come in for the weekend. If you can just get this one team to put in the time it takes to wrap up this specific task…” I began.
“No, I want the entire department to come in. I can’t have this project come in late.”
And that was that.
I have often wondered since then what all of the non-critical-path activities’ team members did when they came in over that weekend, and if they had to cancel anything important to do so. Outside the four people on that one team, the others were very likely unable to do anything to help ensure speedier scope delivery, but the director was probably expecting them to at least look like they were doing so.
And what of the director himself? He was, no doubt, taught that the remedy to almost any managerial problem is to get more out of the existing assets, to maximize their “return.” Since these professionals were all on salary, the demand for more of their time carried with it no direct monetary costs. Sure, morale would take a hit, particularly when these professionals realized that their ruined weekends didn’t do a darn thing to help attain on-time milestone delivery. But so entrenched in this director’s mind that greater asset performance was the answer to this particular problem that, even when shown that his was the wrong response, he would not abandon it. This inflexible, highly formulaic approach is common fare among most University’s business schools, and I think it’s a shame.
And yet this is a rather common way that the mindset that the general ledger is the ultimate yardstick for evaluating various management strategies or problem-solving tactics manifests in organizational cultures everywhere. Do you have it in your organization, or are you even an initiator of it? A simple mental exercise can answer that question.
Imagine coming across a singularly difficult problem in the middle of a project. I’ll use the analogy of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. You and your team have done everything you can think of to overcome this problem, but have not succeeded. Suddenly a consultant arrives, and proposes that she can overcome the difficulty – guaranteed – and you propose a price. She solves the problem, but does so in a way that requires minimum effort and time. Essentially, she makes the solution look exceptionally easy, especially in light of your teams’ failed efforts. Here’s the question: Are you resentful that it was so easy for her, or are you completely okay with it, and happy to pay her the agreed price?
The Asset Manager is more likely, by training, to take the earlier stance, the PM to take the latter. We have Grimm’s fairy tales telling us of the potentially bad consequences of the former, but none on the latter. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think it’s an illustration of the mindset that dramatically increased efforts are always needed for improved performance, and the undesirable consequences of that mindset.
If you are in an organizational culture beset by this mindset, you have probably already observed some of the following manifestations:
Don’t misunderstand – by no means am I asserting that all organizations headed by Asset Managers are poorly led, or prone to less-than-optimal, formulaic solutions. After all, many of these managers went on to get their PMP®s…
As most of GTIM nation knows, my third book as well as the webinar I did with the help of ProjectManagement.com involves significant research in the area of ProjectManagement.com’s July theme of Organizational Culture (and, no, I did not bribe Cameron to set this particular theme). In going back over my notes, a couple of things popped that I hold to be rather fascinating about this topic, so I’d like to pass them along.
First off, I’d like to give a call-out to Michael Maccoby’s book The Gamesman (Simon and Schuster, 1977), which I’ve referenced often and will, no doubt, refer to in the future. To take a hydraulic press and metaphorically condense his main point, Dr. Maccoby asserted that there are four types of workers in a given organization:
Interestingly enough, psychologist Richard Bartle performed an analysis of people who play massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG), and also proposed (wouldn’t you just know it?) a four-tier archetypal pattern of those players. Bartle named his categories after the suits in a deck of cards, so:
And, of course, for those of my readers who have had their Meyers-Briggs type assessed, you are aware that they also use a four-axis evaluation method to determine your type. With all of these people who are way smarter than I am using structures based on four archetypes, who am I to differ?
In order to even address the topic of organizational culture intelligently, we must come up with some sort of basis to actually quantify it. Recall the axiom that that which cannot be measured cannot be managed. I’m going to base my four-tiered architecture on Dr. Maccoby’s assertions, and simply expand them. Here’s my thinking: if Dr. Maccoby is largely right (and I think he is), it stands to reason that organizations comprised of Craftsmen, Jungle Fighters, Company Men, and Gamesmen will tend to take on the aspects of which category holds the most personnel. For example,
“Wait!” I can hear GTIM Nation say, “What about organizations controlled by …” Then I hear the voices trail off as everybody realizes that Company Men can’t, by definition, dominate an organization, as they tend to assume the persona of the team around them. If you believe that your company’s CEO is, in fact, a Company Man, it simply means that there is a power behind that throne, another person (or persons) making the key decisions that are passed through such a one. And those people are absolutely not Company Men.
So, now that we have a guide to types of Organizational Cultures, what are the major implications? For starters, keep in mind that it’s entirely possible that a plurality (or even majority) of the organizations within a given industry can exhibit the same macro-culture. Easy examples include technology and dot.com orgs, which are notorious for being headed by unconventional, innovative thinkers, i.e., Gamesmen. Commodities-based companies, such as grocery stores or automobile service stations, are notable for quickly eliminating non-Craftsmen, since low quality goods or services for a given cost can’t survive much competition. Jungle Fighter-led organizations can only flourish in areas where performance is subjective, even speculative, such as media companies and political action committees.
I believe that most project-oriented orgs can and do allow for widely varied mixes of the four archetypes, making generalizations about them difficult. However, I think it’s fairly safe to say that
As for useful tactics in surviving in these environs, I can provide, with a high level of confidence, the following guidance…
Oooops! I ran out of blog pixel ink. Tune in next week, to further the discussion on My Organization Has A Culture. Now What?
Continuing with ProjectManagement.com’s June theme of technology, I feel the need to stick with my contrarian position, since most of the time advances in technology, be it in materials science, construction methods, or information systems are met with enthusiastic acceptance. However, if the large volume of horror-laced science fiction films and novels have taught us anything, it’s that carelessly or recklessly advanced technology can have terrifying outcomes. While careless or reckless advances in Project Management technology probably won’t threaten mass extinctions or the entire population of the Earth becoming enslaved to supercomputers and their robot minions, PM advances do carry the threat of being soul-crushingly boring and terrifyingly irksome. To paraphrase Kyle Reese, “Listen. Understand. Those technology-enhanced PM experts are out there. They can't be reasoned with, they can't be bargained with...they don't feel pity or remorse or fear...and they absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you do PM the way they want.”
Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…
“But Michael!” I can hear GTIM Nation exclaim, “What possible nightmare scenarios can come about from advances in PM technology?” Well, I can imagine a few, including:
How did I know that the completion of the second draft was worth precisely 65%? I didn’t. It’s just an approximation that tends to reflect actual performance on these kinds of WPs. What if the exact percentage were to be 59.4, in this specific instance? Well, it’s okay, since there are no VATs set as low as 5.4% (not by adults, anyway). The system is set up to acknowledge a certain amount of imprecision in EVM and CPM performance assessment claims, and compensates for them. But not if this compare-actuals-to-budget business keeps going, no siree! The technology will allow for immediate and accurate appraisals of each and every instance, not of a Cost Variance, but of a spend variance, which is very different and very irrelevant. Before you know it, the PMs will have to fill out Variance Analysis Reports on why they bought a bottle of Dr. Pepper when the spend plan clearly called for a can of Coca-Cola. For those who think I’m exaggerating, keep your ears open during your next project review. Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.
Yes, science fiction is full of horror stories of technology gone wrong, and the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence make it easy to imagine terrifying outcomes. But PM isn’t all that different. Imagine a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger coming to your project review, his glowing red killer robot eyes obscured behind sunglasses, saying in his German accent and droll delivery style “You spent $105.40 on a part that appears in your basis of estimate as costing $100. Hasta la vista, baby!”
Also, just by the way, The Terminator came back in time from 2029, which is only 10 ½ years away.
Since most (if not all) of the takes on technology in the PM universe are that it’s by and large a good thing, it falls to me (of course) to take the contrarian position. Consider the famous study that showed that, when time-saving devices and appliances were introduced into homes with electricity to run them, the amount of time housewives spent doing housework did not actually decrease. Instead, two influences kept them working at about the same pace: since cleaning rugs and clothes became easier, the expectation became that people’s rugs and clothes would be clean all the time, hence the act of cleaning carpets and clothes was more frequent. Also, since more coffee brewing, ironing, and cooking could be done within the same amount of time as before, more of that starting happening. The amount of work didn’t change, just the level of cleanliness and ready availability of unwrinkled shirts and full cups of coffee (prior to the establishment of specialty coffee shops on every city corner) did.
Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…
I’ve spent a lot of
Hack Number One: The Reliable Estimate at Completion
One of the most, if not THE most, valuable pieces of PM information that can be generated by an EVM system is the accurate answer to the question “At the present rate of performance, how much will this activity, task, or project cost when it’s done?” Springboarding off of Dave Christensen’s work on Cost Performance Index (CPI) stability[i], the fact of the matter is that an EAC that’s accurate to within ten points can be calculated (once the activity/task/project has cleared the 20% complete point) by dividing the Budget at Completion (BAC) by the CPI. The fascinating aspect of this (besides its underestimation by Establishment PMs) is the fact that the formula
EAC = (BAC / CPI)
can be algebraically reduced to
EAC = Cumulative Actual Costs / % complete.
Crazy, right? But it works, and reliably so. All you need is the cumulative actual costs from the general ledger, and a reasonable estimate of the activity’s/task’s/project’s percent complete, and you’re there. Not only is it gobsmackingly easier than all that bottoms-up nonsense, it’s also provably more accurate on a consistent basis.
Hack Number Two: The Reliable Duration at Completion
Earned Value and Critical Path methodologies are more closely related than many people realize. When you place your percent complete amount into the schedule network on your CPM software, it calculates a new forecast date using a formula identical to the one mentioned above, except it uses duration rather than costs. My regular readers know where I’m going with this: to calculate a duration estimate for any activity, task, or project, all you need to do is to divide the percent complete into cumulative duration, and your answer will be accurate to within ten points! In fact, for all those organizations using some form of milestone tracking system as a cheap substitute for a real schedule, stop asking the tasks’ owners for an estimate of when they will be done, and start asking them for their percent complete. Divide that number into the cumulative duration, and compare that date to their original scheduled completion date to tell if they will be early, on time, or late. Your accuracy rate will skyrocket.
Hack Number Three: Testing What You’re Being Told About At-Completion Costs
For those technically-advanced projects where they provide a new “bottoms-up” EAC on a regular basis, these estimates are usually highly optimistic. To test them, compare the Cost Performance Index to the To-Complete Performance Index (TCPI), which will always be available from the technically-advanced cost processors. The TCPI indicates how well the project must perform in cost space in order to come in under a given parameter, usually the Budget at Completion (BAC). However, if you substitute the
Can a PM survive a project with just these hacks? It depends on the project, but usually not. However, if your project team is completely stalled for want of readily available cups of coffee, and there are no coffee shops around, and you’re the only person who knows how to make hot coffee and assess project performance without an electronic device, you may just be in a position to rule the world.