Project Health Checks and Audits
With the coming of 2011, it is time to reflect on our past and contemplate the future. We think about our families, our friends, our successes and failures; we think about our jobs, our professions, and the world of possibilities. We must reaffirm our ship's direction, stay the course, make corrections, or find a new destination. As project managers, we must look at the recent changes in the discipline and translate those into a plan for our professional development—a plan that meets our needs and the needs of the discipline.
Conflict resolution is a major part of recovering red projects. The solutions range from firing the bastards to analyzing where the sources of conflicts are and determining a more friendly way to resolve them. I have to admit, when stepping into a project where the estimate at completion is a couple million dollars over the budget, everyone is pointing fingers, and the customer is screaming the supplier is in default, replacing people is sometimes the best option. So much so, my kids occasionally refer to me as 'hatch.'
A couple Friday's ago, I was in a meeting and I reiterated my mantra, "Process stifles creativity." A friend, well, I think she still is, nearly jumped out of her chair. "I need to correct you," she barked, "Only poorly implemented process stifle creativity." The suddenness and passion in her response caused the gentleman sitting between us to slide his chair back quickly in order to avoid being tangled in any physical altercation. The room was full of jeers for us to settle the dispute in the parking lot. Realizing I had just stepped in a hornet's nest, I made a joke of it. However, her attack does not dissuade me.
Let me be perfectly clear, I hate PMOs. It matters not if you call them project management offices, program management offices, or portfolio management offices, they only spell one thing—poor leadership. Now those of you that know me, have heard this enough times that your eyes are rolling back as you mumble, "Here he goes again. Who set the bait in front of him this time?" However, I have confused people with a couple of PMO articles that might seem contrary.
Estimates are a pain in the... er... butt. Everyone hates doing them. The reason? They are always wrong. They are either too optimistic, when we think we know more than we do, or they are overly padded, trying to account for the unexpected. Other times it is much more subconscious. Some little voice in the back of our heads is working on our conscience to change the perception of the work required. We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to creating estimates and do even more harm when we go to work the task. For now, let us look at a couple factors that influence how we determine the length of time it takes to do simple tasks and save the effects of that estimate for another article. With a little audience cooperation, we will produce a fun answer from a simple mental exercise.
Most projects do not fail for the problems on the project; they fail for the problems in the organizations associated with them. Even issues within the project are usually personnel related requiring the project manager to do more counseling than managing. So where does the project manager get these skills? Unfortunately, they come from experience; few come from formal training. Instead, project managers get training on process, which, as can be seen in many of my articles, is misguided. Project managers need to spend more time developing the organizations, making them stronger. Without doing extensive organization development, projects will continue to fail.
Recently I have seen an abundance of references to decision making in everything from presentations to job titles. Yes, I said job title. Director of Quality Decisions. The second thing that struck me (the first being that it was actually a title) was that it was too low in the company. Are other leadership roles like C-Levels, Presidents, and VPs exempt? Unfortunately, I know little about that job and cannot find the person that got the position. I would love to interview him or her.
Last week I had coffee with fellow tweep, Peter Kretzman, at the Zeitgeist Coffee in Seattle. We had a wonderful conversation and shared stories, philosophies, and impressions. In the process we stumbled upon a common literary love—The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks. I read it for the first time last summer and Peter reads every few years. We both extolled the virtues of the book and lamented at the fact that so many of the items Brooks brings up continue to plague us today.
From her corner office, the new executive decried, "Decentralize the PMO. Let each department be responsible for their own projects." Maybe she had made a pact with another executive for some other bit of power, or it could be she lost a power struggle and the PMO had to go, or possibly she has little regards for project management thinking it is a mechanical, blue collar discipline that methodically follows a recipe to execute each project. Bottom line, she is missing the point of the Project Management Office (PMO)—it is all about business goals. Unfortunately, for the company, decentralized PMOs provide little if any value. They are similar to distributed teamwork—an oxymoron. The concept is illogical.
The quickest way to get lost, in business or in your personal life, is failing to make decisions. Not knowing where you are headed increases stress and frustration. It would seem natural, then, that teams on projects beleaguered with indecisive management would be excited to have the logjam broken by a dynamic, decisive leader. Simply put, they are not. Every decision has its opponents and they are bound to be irritated, feeling they have lost prestige or stature. However, turning the decision into action requires a unified team. One of the best tools to accomplish this is to understand what impeded decision making and tactfully educating the team members on the source of the problem. This will garner their backing and improve their willingness to support the decision.