Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Project Matrix Management: The bane of every project manager.

Matrix management, where project managers do not directly control their project resources, is the norm these days. The project team members report to department managers who can, and do, change their work priorities to suit their departmental needs. When these changes occur you might, or might not be informed. You are responsible for delivering on time and to budget with a team that can be changed at any time with little or no notice. That is why I call matrix management the bane of a project manager’s life.

In my opinion this form of management is a sign of an organization that doesn’t want to be run has a project based enterprise. It doesn’t want to cede power to program and project managers. It wants to retain the old paradigm of departments and managers. It is the departmental managers who create this compromise in order to maintain their existence and provide a career path in their discipline.

This form of management also makes creating a project schedule even more difficult. Now departmental managers won’t commit either resources or even estimates until you have started the project. Our bosses want firm schedules and accurate delivery dates and yet the key resources are uncommitted until the very last moment that we need them to start work.

And the situation is getting harder. In previous decades typically projects teams where based on a single site and the team shared a general cultural heritage. So a matrix management structure could be managed by informal discussions and personal relationships. Talk at lunchtime in the cafeteria, over a pint of beer after work, or around the water cooler could alert people to changes and issues and also lead to solutions.

Over time that paradigm has changed. Now most teams are displaced not only spatially, but also in time and culture. Now matrixed teams consist of Germans, Indians, Brazilians, and Chinese, with a smattering of Americans working from their own homes. Face to face meetings are becoming the exception. Your developer resources may have managers who are also displaced from them. Creating lasting relationships and personal influence in these circumstances is all but impossible.

So now there are political issues with your team and their remote managers. You now have more interfaces to manage within your team.

How do you do it? Well with great difficulty. It takes a great deal of organization and perseverance. You need to establish a frequent set of telephone conference calls, use video (skype is one) where bandwidth permits, web meetings, etc, anything that establishes a bond between you and your team (and their managers). You need a common glossary of terms and standard forms and charts. You need to get the team to talk about what else is going on in their lives: births, children, engagements, family events, anything that puts a human face on your team and helps build empathy and understanding. It has to be communicate, communicate, and communicate all the time.

The paradox we have to address is that has we move into a more technically interconnected world, we have in fact become more unconnected, in a personal sense, from our work mates. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Project Managers and Client Types - The Interpreter

This person sets herself up as the arbiter of what is really meant by the project specifications; contract terms, building leases etc. They usually appears almost as soon as the contract has been signed. Typically at the first planning meeting she will announce that you are responsible for providing some service that you believed the customer was clearly expected to do, at least according to the contract.

I was once on a large contract when we were informed that as consultants we could only claim eight hours a day, but that we would have to work ten hours: effectively giving them two hours of uncharged for effort. The so-called “Professional Day”. This was not just a hit to the company’s revenues it also hit the utilization rate of all the consultants. A key metric for all consultants since it not only drives bonuses it also drives job retention. 

In this case the phenomena known as the miraculous shrinking testicles appeared and our management caved and gave them the interpretation they wanted, the deal was too big.  In the long term the deal was greatly reduced and the goose didn’t lay the golden egg, it just laid a brick. But we still had our "Professional Day"!

In this instance no amount of political skill or acumen can help you manage this. When senior managers cave into this type of sharp practice then all you can do is salute and either go down with the project or move elsewhere.

In general battling with an interpreter can only be done with the full support of your management and contract people. The basic rule is to make them work for every concession. Don’t agree to any changes without a full discussion and never agree to them without consulting your managers. 

More project managers have got into trouble by accepting client interpretations of specifications or contracts than any other single error. We have all been faced with this issue. The survivors have been those who stuck to their guns until their management reached an accommodation with the client. Remember we are project managers not operations executives.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stratagems to be wary of: Hide the knife behind the smile

Just because people are friendly doesn’t mean they’re your friends. Don’t mistake friendliness for sincerity. As a cynical politician once said, “The key to success is sincerity; once you can fake that, you’ve got it made!” 
An example of this takes us back to our Anglo-Saxons leaders Hengist and Horsa and their descendants in the 5th century. Continuing the saga: after a few years of consolidating their hold on the area of Britain now called Kent, the Angles and the Saxons arranged a feast with all the leaders of the Britons, including the King, Vortigern.  At that feast each Anglo Saxon sat next to a Briton and on a command from Hengist, pulled out a hidden knife and slew his neighbouring diner: It was the original “Night of the Long Knives”. The only Briton spared was Vortigern, who was also married to Hengist daughter, some in-laws they turned out to be! He was then ransomed for large swathes of his kingdom and forced to flee to that apart of Britain that is now known as Wales. It was an important step towards Anglo-Saxon dominance and the expulsion of the Britons to the Celtic fringes of the island.
The Anglo-Saxon had deployed the stratagem of “Hide the knife behind the smile”. They had given all the appearances of friendship whilst planning a supreme act of betrayal. History is full of similar events in both western and eastern histories.
For project managers the point is that your opponents will not always show animosity. The greatest villains have not always looked villainous; Hitler, Stalin, Ted Bundy, Peter Sutcliffe aka the Yorkshire Ripper, the world would have been a much better place had their evil been more readily discernable. 
So do not be duped by the friendly demeanor of people you know have competing goals. Corporate life is often a zero sum game – if I win, you lose – so you need to be aware that friendliness may, at best, be common courtesy; hiding their real intentions. The main response to this is to judge your opponents solely by their actions and their interests: Words are cheap: Smiles are worthless: Protect yourself at all times.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Political Stratagems to be wary of: Guest to Host

Well summer is over and it’s time to get back to regular postings.

I want to detail some of the typical ploys that are used to subvert project managers the world over. Some of these you might find deplorable or even fanciful. But personal distaste or incredulity, are poor tools to evaluate other people’s actions. One of the more foolish decisions ever taken was the dismantling of the American intelligence service after the WW1 because “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” Well unfortunately not everyone is a gentleman or woman. Plus, knowing of the techniques doesn’t mean that you’ll use them, but forewarned is forearmed.

So we’ll start with a very common stratagem, which is known as “Guest for host”.
This refers to the situation where someone who is a visitor usurps the leader and moves from guest to host.

In history the most significant example occurred in Britain during the 5th century when two Germanic leaders Hengist and Horsa were asked by the then King of the Britons, Vortigern, to help him fight the Picts (ancient Scots). So Hengist and Horsa assembled a fighting force from the Northern Germanic tribes – Angles, Saxons, and the Jutes, You can see where this is leading. The Jutes have disappeared into the mists of history but the Angles and Saxons are the forerunners of the Anglo-Saxons and Angleland morphed into England.

To complete the story, Vortigern with the aid of his new allies defeated the Picts and as a reward paid them not in gold but, fatally for him and the Britons, in land, Principally in that part of England now known as Kent. From that base the Anglo Saxons expanded their power and ultimately forced the Britons to the fringes of the island, namely Wales and Cornwall. There were other stratagems displayed in this conquest but they are for another posting.

So how does occur in the business and project world? It happens when someone is attached to the project to act as an advisor or consultant to the project manager. The reasons may be to carry out an evaluation of performance for senior management, provide mentoring to the project manager, advising on new project methodology. Whatever the reason you now have a cuckoo in the nest. If you are not careful they will usurp your position and they’ll be in and you’ll be out!

This happens fairly frequently. I personally know of a consultant who was asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a Y2K project. Within three months he was running the effort and two years later he was generating $30M of business for his firm with that client.

How do you defend against this? Well it’s difficult. The simple answer is not to allow the parasite in. I did this on a project when one Monday morning a guy turned up from our American affiliate and said he been sent to observe how we Brits ran projects. Yeah right. I froze him out, didn’t invite him to meetings, and never shared any information. Within two weeks he was gone.

However had he been imposed by the client I’d have had a problem. The only way to handle this ‘guest’ is to provide enough information to avoid the charge of being obstructive, whilst retain your grip on the flow of information. Answer their questions and only the specifics of those questions. Resist the temptation to prove how smart you are by blurting out all you know. This gal might be after your job. 

With ‘guests’ you need to switch the Reaganesque saying from: ‘Trust, then Verify’, to ‘Verify, then Trust’.