Friday, May 31, 2013


I'm reading a book by Max Wideman at the moment: A Framework for Project and Program Management Integration.

I  respect Max's work and experience and his contribution to project management, and I particularly admire his view that project management is not a profession. If you want to characterise it, I suppose it is more like a craft than anything else; just like general management, in fact, a craft with a collection of practices.

Why I admire this view is that Max was one of the instigators of the PMBoK. The 'BoK' was developed in a forlorn attempt to demonstrate that project management is a 'profession'. Of course, a 'profession' has a 'body of knowledge'. The Guide to the PMBoK demonstrates that. Does it not?

If your 'body of knowledge' can be encompassed in a single book then there's not much to it, in my view. Compare this single book to the contents of a law library, and its depth of precedent, or medicine, similarly. A 'body of knowledge' cannot be captured in a single volume, or even in a whole bunch of volumes, but is dispersed across the history and activity of an entire profession's intellectual output; coming to grips with this is the point of professional practice.

So, in documenting a 'guide to a body of knowledge'; project management demonstrates that it is the very opposite of what it seeks: to be regarded as a profession.

That's not to decry the value of project management: of that it has plenty, but I'm sceptical that it has much discrete knowledge to offer society beyond its collection of practices.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Doing risk management

As Glen Alleman often quotes, 'risk management is how adults do projects'. But how to do risk management?

I'm reasonably familiar with the typical approaches taken in business and the project world here in Australia, and I'm also reasonably familiar with what has been written both on the Internet, and between hard covers ('books', for GenY and younger): it ranges from nonsense to good practice, of course.

It seems to be universal that risk events are identified, then categorised as to effect (or 'impact', as if they are meteors), and probability of occurence.

I had a look at an explanation on wiki answers and got the all too familiar twaddle about multiplying the effect rating by the probability of occurrence, in the misbelief that this produces something meaningful; in matrix fashion.

But even getting past this, whence the list of risk events?

I've been in countless 'workshops' where the collective wise heads dream up a list of risks, and assign the two ratings to each, in long tedious hours. And that's about it.

There is a more structured way.

Start with the project work breakdown structure, at whatever level it has been developed to; one hopes at least three of four levels; and examine each identified work element or package for risks to schedule (what could prevent this being completed on time), budget (will the budget fund the performance or capability needed) and technical performance (what would stop the deliverable form performing as required by the project).

The risks will come from a number of sources; in building projects, it will include adequacy of programming/briefing, owner engagement with the project, materials supply and labour/contractor delivery, design adequacy, sub-surface conditions (foundation conditions, in-ground services, presence of rock), and so on.

Risks occur as interuptions to dependencies: so what does a particular work package depend upon for completion (including for commencement). For instance, footing construction completion depends on adequate footing design. A major risk is foundation conditions: is sub-soil marsh or rock? What is the market like to supply expertise for either type of foundation condition and consequent footing design? How do we manage (mitigate) the risk? In this case, we get a drill rig on site and drill core samples to see just what is under ground. We also retain geotechnical engineers to conduct a fulsom examination of the site conditions, including relevant usage history.

For a well known type of project in a well known location, there should be some record of risk events and their frequency and effect: this produces real probabilty numbers to work with.

Thus, a more structured basis to develop an appreciation of risks than sitting in a circle dreaming in a workshop.

But...I've never experienced such a structured approach, or one that sought historic data, or even attempted reasoned cost ranges for effects! And they want to call project management a profession!!

By the way, for some helpful discussion on project risk, check out the relevant tags at Herding Cats and Eight to Late as a starter (see the blog list to the right); for a useful critique of the faulty practices that seem to be dominant at the moment, at least in Australia, I suggest a click on The Limitations of Scoring Methods.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One man band

Another article that thinks the world of business (and by extension, projects) is for prima donnas. At Quality Digest, an article entitled Systems Thinking is hardly about systems at all!

One of the comments posted says it all:
...the article is more about the vicious fiction of personal performance; and not the system that the person/s work in to achieve the organisation's mission. So, completely wrong-headed!
But the author is right in pointing to systems thinking as the source of organisation performance. Top management has to see the organisation as a total mission orientated system that facilitiates people achieving mission oriented outcomes: typically this means serving the customer.
One rule of thumb for a system oriented business is: no voice recognition call centre merry-go-rounds; but customers dealing with people who solve their problem or meet their need.
 [Link in quote added by me]

All about me!

My first post; and not a thought directly about projects, but it does touch: the principle is the same.

An article on Strategy and Business The Discipline of Managing Disruption by Clayton Christensen (a Harvard Business School 'professor'; in Australia this probably means 'lecturer') says it all: all about 'me', that is.

This article, like much of the rhetoric about 'leadership' emphasises the one at the expense of the 'community of action' which is the company. So how does a company; a community of action, stay fresh and resilient in the face of market changes (read 'project changes')? The challenge is to cultivate difference whereas most groups gravitate to similarity. So a sentinel of danger in any company is entrenched similarity: the company then ends up working for itself, and demonstrates this by creating a culture of conformity: language, ideas, personal style, and even personalities that are brought into the company gravitate to a modal identity: difference, and therefore innovation, are bred out. The company ends up being unable to tolerate difference, and undifferentiates itself out of its market, which, as an engine of difference, forges into the future.