Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne
by Lynda Bourne
Project managers and processes go hand in hand. But are the processes of the past the right ones to guide future projects? And if project management is evolving beyond today’s generally accepted 40 or 50 processes, what should the next version of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) look like?
The Evolution of Process as a Concept
To consider these questions, let’s start by looking at the way processes have evolved. The concept of describing the process needed to accomplish a task emerged as part of the development of scientific management in the early 20th century. Scientific study and careful analysis defined the “one best way” of doing the work and the time it needed. Shortly after, the application of learned experience entered into the equation as a way to improve the current “best method.”
By the 1950s the concept of a process with defined inputs, transformed by the application of defined tools and techniques to produce outputs, was firmly established in quality control and management. Process improvement was central to the rapid development of post-war industry.
During the development of the 1996 version of the PMBOK® Guide, PMI adopted processes as the best way to organize and explain the complex flow of information through the life of a typical project. The PMBOK® Guide came to embody “generally accepted good practices that apply to most projects, most of the time.” Over the years, the 37 processes in the 1996 version of the PMBOK® Guide expanded to 49 in the Sixth Edition (released in 2017). Through the editions, PMI has progressively increased the emphasis on the need to customize and tailor processes to meet the needs of each individual project. But is this enough?
The questions I want to ask in this post are:
In the past, processes were developed around the concept of transforming specific inputs in a defined way to create consistent outputs. Business processes define how the how work is done within an organization, to meet the needs of its customers. PMI’s approach to generalizing processes across a management discipline adapted this basic concept.
The idea was powerfully successful when most projects, most of the time, had similar characteristics. They were approved, planned, built and closed. The same approach was used in construction, engineering and most other industries that did projects in the 1990s—and the concept remained largely true for the next 20 years or so.
However, does this generality still apply in the current environment, where some projects still follow the traditional approach (e.g., construction/engineering), others use various iterative approaches, while others take a fully adaptive and agile approach?
Some core objectives are consistent across of all of these approaches. For example, they all use some form of schedule management to get the right people into the right place at the right time, adequately resourced to do the right work. However, the processes applied to accomplish this objective have very little in common. For example, resources are allocated to logically constrained activities by the planner in traditional critical path method scheduling, in agile resources choose which activities to include in their next “sprint.” Similar challenges exist across most, if not all, of the knowledge areas. Has creating processes that can work across all of the different delivery strategies become impossible?
Focusing on the next edition
This brings me to the second question. What should the next edition of the PMBOK® Guide look like?
As our profession rapidly changes and diversifies, it remains central to the development of the world’s economy. So how do you think the PMBOK® Guide can best evolve to maintain its preeminent position as the global reference defining the management of projects?
Your answers will help inform my next post looking at managing the accelerating rate of change in our profession.
By Lynda Bourne
Accurately predicting project outcomes has always been difficult. The standard tools in use today for doing so don’t offer much help. These tools work on the assumption that the planned duration or cost of future work is the best option to use for calculating completion outcomes.
The significant exceptions to this approach are earned value (EV) and earned schedule (ES). EV, ES and some other tools do adjust future performance based on past performance to predict outcomes—and they have demonstrated significantly more accuracy as a consequence. But no mainstream control tools deal with the management opportunity to actively change future performance with the use of incentive and motivation.
The performance of any activity is influenced by:
Incentive Schemes and Motivation Theory
Incentives in the form of piece rates have been used since the commercial revolution of the 11th and 12th centuries. Then in the 20th century, a range of more sophisticated payment schemes were introduced by management consultants looking to drive enhanced productivity (some of the better known are outlined in the chart above – click for more information).
The word “piecework” first appears in writing around the year 1549. Under this system a worker is paid for each piece of work he produces. Since the 16th century, a wide variety of incentive schemes have been developed to encourage productivity by directly linking payments to performance.
Individual schemes are either time-based, with incentives being paid for completing on time or early, or production-based, with workers paid based on the number of items produced.
Group incentive schemes reward team performance by paying a group bonus instead of individual bonuses. The bonus is distributed among all the employees of the organization or team.
From the 1920s onward, management researchers began to realize simple incentive schemes were not sufficient and a range of motivational theories were developed.
Management theorists are still debating whether it is possible to motivate a person or if motivation is an internal state that can be encouraged. However, there is a consistent view that when motivation is increased, productivity increases.
The Planning Conundrum
From the 12th century on, managers have known that well-directed incentive schemes can influence worker behaviour. Consequently, we know the productivity of a worker is a variable based on how he or she responds to various incentives and motivators.
Similarly, the emergence of scientific management and other management theories in the 20th century also highlighted the importance of organization and planning of work, and the workspace, in enhancing productivity. Improvements are always possible.
However, these concepts are largely ignored in project planning and control disciplines. Plans are set based on estimates made at the beginning of the project and rarely changed; at best, tools such as EV adjust future estimates based on performance to date.
What seems to be missing is a process that takes an objective look at productivity and identifies the changes needed to improve productivity to the levels needed to achieve project objectives. The concepts of process improvement and total quality management exist in general management and are mentioned in the A Guide to the Product Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), but no one seems to have moved these concepts into the domain of project planning and controls.
How do you think we could better approach the management of future work to enhance productivity and deliver better outcomes?
Knowledge Is Creative
by Lynda Bourne
In my last post, Information Is Subjective, I outlined the way data is gathered and transformed into information by the subjective application of personal knowledge. Now, let’s look at how knowledge is created and shared (the gold connections in the diagram above).
People know things: Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created. It exists in the minds of people. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit—they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is tacit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights, grounded in the person’s experience.
Therefore, managing knowledge means managing people.
The fact that knowledge exists in people’s minds does not preclude joint activities to create knowledge, share knowledge and refine knowledge. But the people involved need to be in communication with each other.
Some of the structured ways this can be accomplished include:
Structured approaches work well if the information that needs to be transferred or created is understood, and the people involved focus on creating or acquiring the required new knowledge.
Less formal approaches are better for generating completely new information or insights that people did not know they were about to create.
Spontaneity and serendipity are encouraged through social interactions, such as:
Knowledge will never be uniform in its distribution or in the way people interpret what they know. The function of a creative knowledge management system is to smooth out the differences as much as is practical and to facilitate the creation of new knowledge through the synthesis of different people’s ideas and insights.
So as you venture forth to share knowledge, remember:
Information Is Subjective
by Lynda Bourne
Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created—it exists in the minds of people. A person’s store of knowledge is built from their life experiences, their observations, and their formal and informal learning. Consequently, what one person knows will be different to what everyone else knows. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit, meaning they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is implicit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights grounded in the person’s experience.
Information is recorded, held in systems and made accessible to people. Good information management systems contain verified information in a useful format. This information is based on data. Because it is written, it is consistent—but it may not be correct. How the data is interpreted to create the information depends on people’s knowledge and perceptions.
Data Is the Starting Point
Data is a set of observations or measurements. If nothing changes in the world, another person can perform the same measurement or observation at another time and gather the same set of data. Data may not be accurate or reliable but it is based on observed facts about something. The potential for error rests in the way the observations or measurements were made.
The Interpretation of Information
Information is organized data. It provides the answer to a question of some kind or resolves an uncertainty.
However, transforming data into information is not automatic; it requires the input of knowledge. Someone has to look at the data and observe patterns that indicate something of significance or make decisions on what is important in a particular context. Information is refined data in a context that is designed to communicate a message to the receiver of the information.
The problem is different people with different knowledge frameworks will interpret the same set of data in different ways. You only need to listen to politicians arguing about the state of the economy to see how different the interpretation of the same set of data can become. The old adage applies, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
When I reduce my knowledge to a codified or written format it becomes available to others as information. But I have no way of knowing how you or anyone else will use or change the information I have created.
Information Management Systems
Changing data into information is the first application of knowledge in an information management system. And the journey from data to useful information may need several passes through the information management system. PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) identifies:
At each step in this flow, a person applies their tacit and explicit knowledge to the information they have received. They then codify their new knowledge to create another piece of information ready for use by others. The problem with this process in isolation is it is asynchronous and based on individual transactions. This is suboptimal and potentially dangerous.
However, the model of the information management system above is very common and spans global systems, such as Wikipedia down to simple knowledge repositories in project web portals. What’s missing in this type of system is the knowledge management element, which we will look at next time.
An information system on its own will at best simply make useful information available to people. There is no control over how, or if, the information is accessed or used appropriately. In a full knowledge management system, information is the bridge between data and knowledge:
More on this next time.
by Lynda Bourne
Do really good ideas pop into your mind at the most inconvenient moments, like when you’re in the middle of taking a shower? This flash of bathroom brilliance presents two problems:
And typically, that flash of brilliance fades quickly and can be very difficult to reconstruct even a few minutes later. That may explain why Archimedes went running naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” following his flash of bathroom brilliance. This occurred when he discovered the relationship between volume and mass (density/buoyancy) by observing the change in water level as he entered his bath.
How can we unleash this kind of innate creativity on a regular basis and not just in the bathroom?
While everyone is different, there seems to be three key elements to being creative:
Now, think about your teams and how you work with them to develop creative solutions. Do you call them into a room, dump the problem on them, demand a brainstorming session right there and then wonder why it doesn’t work? Or, do you socialize the problem first, ask people to think about it and discuss it with each other offline, and then call the meeting to see what’s been developed?
Creativity needs space, time and freedom from pressure. This is the antithesis of most modern work environments where people work in a high-pressure job and are constantly inundated with a stream of “stuff” via technology.
How can you make the time to be relaxed, creative and successful?