Guiding Quote

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Project Manager as a Conductor

One of the favorite analogies in project management says that you can consider a project as a piece of music and the project team as a group of musicians: Band, Orchestra, Ensemble,etc. That makes the Project Manager the Conductor or Leader, the person responsible for making the group play and the music to flow. At it’s best the music is transcendent, at its worst it is a cacophony of discordant notes: Beethoven or Schoenberg, Teamwork or muddle. 

The important principle is that members of the group have to understand their role and the impact it has on the performance of the team. Critically the smaller the team the greater the impact of each role. A bum note in a sweeping orchestral movement will be lost, the same error in a string quartet is calamitous. However in a small group feedback on a performance is quick. The error and its creator are obvious to everyone, including them. In a large group then people can deny error and pass it off to another player. So the second violins as a section “carry the can” rather than an individual violinist.

Where the analogy breaks down is in the world of matrix management of resources. Imagine an orchestra in which every section is answerable to a different conductor as well as the person who is standing on the podium in the spotlight. And at random periods during the performance the section conductor is giving different advice on how to play the piece, or worse yanking the player off the stage to play for another group. 

Matrix management manifestly will not work for an orchestra, and it often doesn’t work for projects. Pity too many managements don’t realize that fact!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Project management, software development, and executive management- an intellectual void

The software industry has been in existence for around 60 years. That was when the foundational ideas of Alan Turing and the genius of John von Neumann were turned into practical usage. Project management has been around for millennia, the Pyramids didn't build themselves. But in it's modern recognition as a separate profession it is also about the same age. Similarly modern business management became a teachable subject around the same time.

Yet the three practices do not co-exist in harmony. You would think that after all this time that they would have worked out how to relate to one another, understand each other's needs, and develop common series of practices: Construction has, movie production has, automobile manufacture has. Software? Not really.

Software has developed many astounding applications and enabled devices that where in the realm of SciFi a decade or so ago. Yet the number of projects, large and small, that fail is high. The UK has been trying to create an integrated system for it's healthcare system for decades. Best minds employed, big budgets, etc and it's been one failure after another.

You could argue that it is only the big complex systems that fail, but ask any internal IT department about the success rate of their projects and you'll get a deluge of horror stories. A lot of companies have trouble consistently delivering $50K projects on time and on budget.

Even if the project and software teams have a methodology they have a hard time of explaining their process to their business management. Software projects may be moving to a more flexible iterative process and yet their executive management is still wedded to point in time solutions. "How are you tracking to your milestones?", is a common question. Explanations of the new approach elicit nods of understanding, followed by a repeat of the same question.

Executives are not educated to handle uncertainty. They are trained to expect firm dates and to track to them. Their "profession" lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that they cannot predict outcomes. They expect, no demand, definite dates and expect everyone to stand by their initial estimates, no matter how circumstances change. They are in a state of intellectual denial, in an intellectual void.