In Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he posits that we have entered the conceptual age. In this age, right brain skills, such as empathy, storytelling, and play are increasingly important.
Project management has historically been perceived as an analytical, linear, and detail-oriented field. Software tools have, for the most part, treated projects in that way, by focusing on schedules first. Then the Agile movement came along. Working to a detailed schedule was replaced by working in sprints, which focused on value delivery. While, in many minds, this represented a positive trend, it also caused scope management to take a back seat in some circles.
The Project Management Institute recently released its 2019 Pulse of the Profession report. It opens with the eye-catching statement below; the bolded part was set in very large type face – impossible for readers to ignore.
“PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® data show what it takes: Engaged executive sponsors, projects aligned to organizational strategy, control over scope creep. And certainly organizations must value project management. They may call it by a different name, but they still recognize its power to turn ideas into reality. Yet despite all the talk, project performance isn’t getting any better.”
The report goes on to discuss the need for project managers to improve their TQ, or technology quotient. This is “a person’s ability to adapt, manage and integrate technology based on the needs of the organization or the project at hand.”
In Michael Gerber’s classic, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, his thesis is that the best companies build solid work processes that are repeatable, consistent, and well-documented. This allows the best companies to hire people who can do the job, at a lower cost. Employees need to follow the process. They don’t have to develop it.
It seems to me that one of PMI’s premises in their Pulse of the Profession report is exactly the opposite of Gerber’s position. PMI advocates “recruiting and retaining project professionals with the skills most needed for this digital era. They have the will, the disposition and the ability to keep up with trends and adapt their skills accordingly. And they help their teammates do the same.” This may be good for project manager careers, but is it helping project success?
Are we getting to the point where the next stage should be a complete re-thinking of how we do project management? Should new project tools that work more effectively in a conceptual age be considered? If so, what are the relevant factors?
Measure alignment with organizational strategy, as life changes.
We live in a world that is rapidly evolving. The ten-year strategic plan has become the three-year plan, often with yearly re-evaluations and bulleted lists of strategic objectives. How can we ensure that projects remain aligned with the organization’s strategy? By focusing on that.
Whether that means that we automate the effort or not is a longer-term question. I think simply making it a part of your project management processes to periodically re-assess that alignment is a step in the right direction. Of course, that means that executives need to ensure that changes in organizational strategy are clearly communicated down the chain. And it means that teams need to be following a disciplined process.
Address the distinction between measuring project success and the realization of project benefits.
The subject of benefits realization management has been around for some years. But, it has only recently made it into the canon of concepts taught to those sitting for the PMP exam. It’s important to understand that there is a big difference between measuring project success and measuring whether a project has achieved the benefits that were anticipated.
Projects are undertaken to produce results. And those results should, over the longer-term, generate measurable benefits for the organization. It is important for executives to be clear about what those benefits are.
For example, suppose a city undertakes a project to build a pedestrian bridge that crosses a river that divides the city. The project result is the new bridge. From the outset, the project manager and sponsor should have determined what success will look like. Did the bridge need to be completed in time for a certain community celebration? Or, did the bridge need to look a certain way? Or was cost a factor? The project team can be held accountable for delivering the end-result, given the agreed upon success factor(s). I would caution teams to think through the success factors and avoid having too many.
The project benefits are another matter. Why did the city think it was important to build that bridge? Is this about the need to move traffic off of a nearby road bridge, for safety reasons? Or was this about building community by connecting two areas of town and/or making the city more walkable? Only the city leaders can answer these questions. But the point of benefits realization management is to understand that projects should deliver measurable benefits. And, we need to identify the benefits, how we intend to measure them, and who is responsible for that. The project team will be long gone. This needs to be done somewhere else in the organization.
Achieve agility and scope management – it’s not either/or.
Managing project scope and achieving agility are not incongruous. For many projects, we need to do both. Most companies do not have the luxury of being able to ignore the costs of scope creep.
Reliable and comparable project metrics
I have a video below that explains the problem with gathering reliable metrics when teams use Gantt charts. And, I’ve written about developing a common project language, with the hope of building more comparable project analytics. I’ve also written about earned value management, and why the metrics are flawed.
In a Scrum world, velocity is a popular metric. And it works well when full-time, employed teams are of the same size. But in the business world, or the construction world for that matter, the use of contractors and subject-matter experts often complicates a reliance on velocity.
If you are interested in some people management metrics that might improve the project management discipline, check out this blog.
Building meaning and teamwork
This is something that no technology tool, in and of itself, can do. Perhaps the incorporation of blockchain into a tool would build trust. I’ve written about how blockchain would improve teamwork but that’s not to be confused with building meaning and teamwork. Dan Pink, notes that the search for meaning is increasingly important and finding meaning in your work is heavily dependent on finding a group of people who you like working with.
Let’s assume that Pink is right, and we are moving into the conceptual age, which will be characterized by a heavier reliance on right brain thinking. This suggests the need for project teams, and particularly leaders, to build more context for stakeholders, provide safe spaces for emotional expression, improve stakeholder relationships, and be able to synthesize the larger picture when assessing options.
New technologies might be very useful if they incorporated some AI and blockchain features. But what is more important is how they help us develop reliable metrics that executives badly need, balance the need for both agility and scope management, and improve team effectiveness and efficiency.
As I read PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report, I pondered the increasing trend to encourage project managers to adapt their styles, and in many cases their technology choice, to fit the project. I wonder if we are moving in the right direction and I question whether teams, confronted with constantly changing technologies, as PMI seems to advocate, are going to get tired of that. I doubt clients are excited to pay for the learning that is required when teams are changing things up frequently, without solid reasons. And I wonder if the loss of reliable and comparable data metrics over the longer-term does us all a disservice.
I’m reminded of the well-known, definition of insanity. Is anyone interested in working on a better project management software tool? If so, give me a call.