Monthly Archives: August 2013

Eli Goldratt wrote “Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I behave.  If you measure me in an illogical way…do not complain about illogical behavior.”  People will take actions based on how they believe they are being measured and managers get what they measure.

I’ve written on the topic of measurements and their impact on the behaviors that drive performance here.  I’ve discussed the dilemma between managing the expenses of an organization and achieving the goal of the organization. In a project management context, there is tension between holding down costs, maintaining the schedule, and achieving the project scope; the classic project management triangle.  The conventional thinking is that you can have two, but not all three.

 

In many projects (particularly in matrix organizations), these objectives are divided into separate entities.  For example, the expenses of the project are borne by the resource owners and they control the labor costs.  It is similar for other projects as well, the resources are not owned by the project, but are allocated – on a planned budget.  Yet another group – the customer team or engineering team, determines the scope or deliverables of the project but they do not have the resources or the budget to achieve them.  The schedule is the only aspect wholly owned by the project manager, “ownership” is to be taken with a grain of salt, as often there is a due date dictated by an outside party (customer, market, management, etc.) that the project must achieve.

The resource manager’s main objective is to hold down costs – spend as little as possible.

The customer team’s objective is to get every feature or aspect of the design they want.

The project manager’s main objective is to deliver on time (or as quickly as possible) while somehow resolving the inherent conflict present in the organizational structure.

Most managers are not even aware they’re dealing with a systemic conflict.  How does it play out in project execution?  The conflict shows up as a sacrifice then a compromise.

The resources aren’t present when they’re needed
There aren’t enough resources
The scope is changing (emerging?)
Poor choices in suppliers (low reliability or quality)
Reshuffling of task priorities
Compromises on scope, budget, and delivery

The project manager is unable to resolve the conflict; all he or she can do is try to make the best of things.  This is why I claim that in a conventionally managed organization, the best project managers are the best negotiators.  The best negotiators are able to get others to act against their own self-interest in order to meet the demands of the project!

But what to do?  The real solution, the permanent solution, is to change the measurement system of the company.  However, most project managers are unable to address a problem of this scope.  They’re too busy slaying the dragon before them to get to the dragon’s lair.  Everyone is locked into a no-win situation.

The conflict can be broken if we recognize that there are two types of objectives in a project:

1.  Satisfying the necessary conditions
2.  Achieving the goal

Therefore, for example, we do not need to reduce costs to the lowest possible level, only the lowest acceptable level.  In other words, as long as the overall budget has not been jeopardized, there is no additional benefit to reducing expenses or costs.  We do not need to add more features or additional quality checks, as long as we have satisfied the requirements of the project; better quality does not necessarily result in improvement to the project results.  What is left, is schedule.  Does it make sense to get the project done faster?  In many cases it does, in others, it does not.

Thus, project champions must be clear about the purpose of the project.  What is the “goal”?  This is foundation of the performance management system around.  We check to make sure we have not violated any necessary conditions, but we work towards the goal.

We ask the members of the project teams we work with to live by one common objective.  This sometimes means there is a temporary suspension of the “normal” local performance measures during the project duration.  This is where the negotiation takes place; at the start of the project, when you decide its purpose and write its charter.  You must identify the measurement conflicts and resolve them early or you will have problems in execution.

Read more about the measurement conflicts in our eBook Blindsided! Five Invisible Project Threats Successful Managers Must See.

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I was recently posting a Visual Portfolio Board for a customer and before we were even finished posting all the elements, the board had already begun providing real value. Just seeing the big picture of an entire portfolio of projects allowed the managers to understand relationships and issues they had never seen or understood before. In this case, they discovered the scope of money they were wasting on efforts that were not feeding the bottom line. For the first time they were clearly seeing the projects that were starting (investing in) but never completing.

This manifestation is not uncommon. Every time we have created a visual project or portfolio board, the team members begin congregating at the board and working together, solving problems, and explaining what they are doing. For the first time they can understand the entire process, see where they are and where they need to go, understand their relationship to the rest of the activities, and help move the entire portfolio to a successful conclusion. And all it takes is the appropriate tool.

Understanding the entire process: When you have the organizational processes depicted on a visual board at an appropriate level of detail for all the team to see, everyone has the same understanding of their route to success. For many, it may be the first time they have seen the organizations processes applied to their work. At a visit to one of my customers last week, again as we were just beginning to post our board, we “caught” team members already using the board to teach fellow team members their process and explaining what they should do next. An appropriate visualization of either a portfolio or a project consistently leads team members to better process understanding and ownership of their activities. The see their efforts as part of a larger process. Visual tools like the ones we often use at Pinnacle Strategies almost require no training to use and provide rapid performance improvements.

Where you are and where you need to go: A good visual board allows everyone to instantly understand the status of each activity and drives your attention to the issues that are or may soon begin impeding progress. Therefore, time is not spent explaining what everyone has already finished or what they are working on, the board does that already. The board allows managers to focus the team on what they need to be doing next. They see the issues, who is working the issues, when the corrective actions should be in place, and most important, when they or others need to be engaged to ensure the projects are flowing rapidly through the system. What team members really like is that the meetings at these boards are normally only 15-20 minutes long. One of our customers said that these meetings were the “most effective of all his meetings”, calling the boards “simple but elegant”.

Understanding the relationship to the rest of the activities: In addition to taking ownership of their activities, the board facilitates one other behavior that is almost always essential to project success – teamwork. At another customer site where we had posted a board, the production team was overloaded with “other” assigned work (multitasking is fun isn’t it). Their workload was having a direct impact on the project they were meeting at the project board to discuss. Classically, in this organization, the production and engineering resources did not have “close” relationship. But something great occurred at the board. When everyone saw the same problem and recognized it’s impact on the overall project, they began working together to come up with a solution. In this case, the engineering manager offered up some of his resources to assist. This was unheard of in their organization since this was not “their” responsibility. The engineering manager clearly saw the bigger picture and they worked as a team solving problems and moving the project forward. By the way, the picture at the top is where it happened.

Visual boards have proven effective in a lot of environments. In portfolio and project management, they are beginning to prove essential to both the effective and efficient execution of projects. At Pinnacle Strategies, we have been using and perfecting these tools for a number of years. ViewPoint™ is our proven methodology for developing, implementing, and sustaining these tools. You can read more about Viewpoint™ here.

To learn more about our project management methods, download our newest ebook Blindsided! Five Invisible Project Threats Successful Managers Must See.

Duke Porritt is the Pinnacle Strategies lead for ViewPoint solutions. In this role, Mr. Porritt is responsible for developing and implementing ViewPoint delivery processes, establishing training programs for both internal and external customers, and establishing essential quality assurance processes. Mr. Porritt is a Project Management expert with over 25 years of experience developing and executing management solutions and facilitating organizational change. He is highly proficient at analyzing organizational issues and guiding leaders to effective process improvements in all facets of management. His extensive background has made him a recognized expert at applying the Theory of Constraints (ToC), Lean, and Six Sigma methodologies to organizational issues. His specialty is implementing Critical Chain Project Management.

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