Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Do We Have to Own Projects Start to Finish?

I know what I am about to suggest is controversial.  I will state up front that it is not the most ideal situation.  In my experience, over 90% of the companies that I work with have more projects than project managers.  This is a problem that plagues the industry.  Companies should recognize this as an issue and address it by either hiring or reducing the project load.  Instead, they give projects to other people who are not project managers, nor do they want to be.  In these environments, I have a new theory.  Do project managers have to own the project start to finish?

I know that is what we have been taught and what we believe.  However, if a company will not commit to the resources necessary, the answer can't be to wallow in self pity.  I recently worked with an organization on the maturity of their project management practice.  Using the capacity model that I explained in an earlier blog post, I found that the company needed 35 project managers and they had five on staff.  When we presented this to the CIO, he stated that he would just tap 30 of his resource managers to become project leads.  This is just as ludicrous as asking 30 people who finished high school math to help with the backlog in accounting.  It would never happen!  Yet it does on a daily basis in the industry of project management.  When we countered that the 30 people were not trained project managers, he stated that the 30 should be mentored by the existing project managers.  This would further reduce the time that the project managers had on their projects.

The decision was devastating.  We were all at a loss on how to proceed.  To further complicate the issue, the client was on Clarity.  This would mean the training of 30 people who are not project managers how to perform project management functions and try to protect the normalized data that was within Clarity.  It was definitely an uphill battle.  This is where the theory was born.  I held a meeting with the project managers.  Although we want to, the real question is do we have to own a project from start to finish?  We began to analyze the activities  that were required to run the project.  We came up with the average time it took to do the normal project management activities and the value that each activity played in the overall success of the project.  The high value activities were creating the WBS, project plan, risk analysis, and high level monitoring.  The lower value activities were scheduling meetings, writing meeting minutes, filling out the various reports.  There are some of you out there that may disagree with these value rankings, but this was the case at this company.

What we began to see is that if we split the duties on each project, there was a way to improve the quality of projects without the hiring of 30 more project managers.  What we decided was that all projects would be planned by project managers and they would be responsible for creating the initial schedule and loading that into Clarity.  They would also monitor the status logs, issues and risks, and monitor variances.  The project leads would schedule and conduct the status meetings, be responsible for the meeting minutes and status reports, and handle the day to day monitoring of the tasks.  This worked especially well since most of the project leads were resource managers and the tasks that they were monitoring came from staff that reported to them.  This approach allowed the project managers to focus on planning, risk, corrective, and preventative actions.  The project leads were responsible for day to day execution.  If projects were going well, then the project manager was free to monitor the other projects.  If the project wasn't going well, the project manager could re-engage and put the project back on track.

This model has been in place for over a year now and has been quite successful.  The overall quality if the projects rose because every project was being planned by a certified project manager.  Since then, the company has hired 5 more project managers to bring them up to 10.  They are beginning to realize the value that the certification brings and that there is a method to the madness. 

Again, I know this is not the ideal setup.  It is an effective one for a company that has a low maturity, questions the value of project management, and will not make the investments required to be successful.  This is a nice bridging technique that can be measured and prove the need for properly trained resources.  So I will answer my own question.  Do we need to own the project start to finish?  Ideally, yes.  However, with the current state of project management, it is time we start challenging some of the older principles and come up with innovative new ways to solve old problems.  So the answer is:  not always!

That is my story and I am sticking to it! 


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

But It's The Way It Has Always Been Done Here! - Part 2

After posting my last blog post, a friend of mine told me about this story. I researched the story and found what I believe to be the originating post. The link to the original blog can be found here: Original Blog

Here is the story written by Ron Beasley:

As a Psychologist I have studied human behavior. While I am not a veterinarian, I can make several applications and lessons learned from the following story about monkeys, especially as it applies to life and business. Can you?

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, you'll see a banana hanging on a string with a set of stairs placed under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, all of the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt to obtain the banana. As soon as his foot touches the stairs, all of the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. It's not long before all of the other monkeys try to prevent any monkey from climbing the stairs.

Now, put away the cold water, remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him as he makes his way toward the stairs. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not?

The Answer is: That's the way it has always been done here!

Interesting story!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

But It's The Way It Has Always Been Done Here!

How many times have you heard that? Other familiar change barriers are "That's not the way we do it here," or "that will never work!" With that type of attitude, most likely they are right! I deal with change on a daily basis. As project managers, we enact change. We are the change agents and the front lines for change. I have brought in over 200 projects in my career and they all deal with change. I have heard many statements that try to stop the change from occurring in the first place. I have developed a technique on helping start the change discussion or even defend the change barriers that are typically thrown my way. That is the topic of this post.

I will find the ways that things "used to be done" in various industries and professions and use that to start the discussion for change. I usually like to make a game of it. For example, I was working on a project for a hospital and we were streamlining a process for the patients. The process would require the nursing staff to change a system that they were all comfortable with, but quite antiquated. The rumor mill had been quite active and many opinions had been formed about the project and it hadn't even been kicked off yet. At the initial kickoff meeting, you could feel the tension. I had done some research on the web and found a Top 10 list of insane medical practices published on a comedy site called Cracked. Click here for the article. Some of my favorites were: 
  • Children's Soothing Syrups were made to help calm children down. They were often pumped full of narcotics.
  • Mercury was used to treat wounds and a litany of other ailments.
  • Heroin was used to suppress coughs.
  • Bloodletting was used to cure just about everything.
I kicked off the presentation by showing some of these old medical practices. Then I followed up with, "Aren't you glad some things change?" There was quite a bit of laughter and surprise, but the point was made. Sometimes change isn't all bad! We moved right into the scope of the project and the tension was drained from the room. It was a fantastic lead in and the team really became engaged in the project.

Riding the success of this meeting, I began utilizing the technique for many other industries. For each project, I research practices that have changed or ideas that revolutionized the industry. I then have those on the ready when I am talking to someone and I hear a change barrier. I was working with a financial services firm when the CFO challenged one of the changes that the requested project was bringing. I answered back that all of his data entry people used to have to be trained on a 10-key by feel and processed manually as well. He said, "Good point."

Change is really just an idea coming to fruition. Someone has an idea, thought, product, or goal and change is what brings that to light. Some of these ideas are astounding such as CNN's article or Tim Crane's article of ideas that have changed the world. Some of the ideas are not so good, like the ones found in the Time article about the 100 worst ideas of the century. This technique has been very successful in preparing an organization for change. While it can be funny, it also sets the tone that things do change for a reason (most of the time). It is a good way to open the minds of the team and get them prepared. I will leave you with some of my favorite change resistance quotes of all time.

  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
  • "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." -- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.
  • "But what...is it good for?" -- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.
  • "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.
  • "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  • "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility." -- Lee DeForest, inventor.
  • "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible." -- A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  • "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" -- H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
  • "I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." -- Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With the Wind."
  • "A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." -- Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.
  • "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
  • "Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax." -- William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.
  • "It will be years -- not in my time -- before a woman will become Prime Minister." -- Margaret Thatcher, 1974.
  • "With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market." -- Business Week, August 2, 1968.
  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented." -- Attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899, but known to be an urban legend.
Make sure you are ready for the next change headed your way!