Sunday, December 5, 2010

One of the top 5 PM's of all time: Santa Claus

It is time to start a new, more serious, and much-needed debate. Who are the top five non-religious mythical project managers ever? My first pick? Santa Claus.

I mean really, how many of you can say that if you missed your project deadline by one day, you would disappoint 6.89 billion children? That is quite a bit of pressure! Not only that, missing the deadline likely would stop his existence! As some of the great texts will tell us (by texts, I mean movies and TV) children must continue to believe in Santa Claus for him to continue to have the magic. I teach in my seminars to ask the question, "Can I ask the significance of the date?" when a mandated date is posed. Santa can answer, "My very existence will be diminished and I will crush the hearts of billions of children." I think that constitutes an acceptable reason to mandate a date.

So every December 26th, Santa and his team of elves hold a lessons learned session to begin the planning for the next project and literal "go-live" date of December 25th. I wonder if the elves are looking at Scrum and Agile methodologies for toy making?

There have been some interesting situations that Santa and the elves have discussed during lessons learned of the past. Like the one time in 1947 that Santa had to go to court to prove that not only did he work at Macy's, but that in fact he was the real Santa. The Commonwealth of New York agreed.

Contingency plans have been put in place now for weather thanks to the discovery of the infamous birth defect in one of the reindeers in 1939. There was also the time in 1966 where Santa helped Batman out of a jam all while keeping regular status report meetings with his team back at the North Pole. In more recent times, Santa Claus had to work out a wrestling dilemma for the World Wrestling Federation in 2006. The man is just everywhere!

However, the secret documents that were smuggled out and made into the movies "The Santa Clause" have given us the greatest insight into the risk mitigation strategies. First, if the actual Santa gets hurt or is in an accident and can't continue his duties, then someone else just puts on the suit and the risk has been mitigated. Of course, we find out that the lucky person who enters into the clause must also obtain a wife by next Christmas. That nearly caused the demise of the 2002 Christmas project.

Think about the scope creep that Santa has to deal with as well. First about 1.4 billion new children are born every year. That is quite a few new names and toys to have to estimate. Also, there is the checking of good versus bad that has to be worked out. I can tell you by experience that some kids can make a comeback! New technologies are being developed every day as well and it is harder and harder to keep the attention of our youth. What used to be wooded toys are now Wii's and Xbox's. Things move, make noise, and even appear to think nowadays. The cost of upgrading the workshop every year alone is staggering.

The teams change, the circumstances change, toys change, and yet year after year, the project date is made. There are over 800 appearances of Santa in the documented tales of his exploits and issue resolution practices in the ancient texts (again movies and TV!). Each and every time, Santa and his team find a way to deliver the project on time. For that, he is one of my top 5 mythical project managers of all time. Let the debate rage on for the other 4 slots! Who do you think and why?


Unknown said...

The time deadlines are serious here! Being late for Christmas is akin to being late for the old Y2K. Nobody wanted that one for sure!

Anonymous said...

Padding is frustrating. I recommend reviewing in detail with the PM, understand the basis of their estimates (function point, complexity, experience of the resource, ...) and work with them (read challenge) to come to agreement. Padding to your point is not founded and at best is a % to total effort. Work always expands to fill the time / contingency.