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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All Good Management Is Project Management

One of the vital things they never told me when I became a manager was how to think. So, among the many truths that took decades to crystallize for me was the concept of "the managerial attitude." Matter of fact, I'm still working on it.

In recent years, I've discovered that an obsession with Project Management is very helpful in clarifying this matter. The Project Manager enters a situation of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk -- and convinces skeptical (frequently negative) people to act with specific vigor to make tough things happen.

An important practical factor in successful Project Management is that deadlines, cost/resource allocations and concrete requirements/outcomes are established as if things weren't uncertain, ambiguous and risky. The risk, especially, is at the core of the process, and the risk rises dramatically when the Project seeks a "stretch" Goal, one that is quite valuable and quite distant from the starting point.

The way success is implemented is through a planning process that first, artificially "freezes" the dynamic reality, and slices it into ever-thinner/smaller pieces until risk is manageable and individual actions are simple and do-able. Secondly, the process reassembles all those little parts into a coherent, controlled whole in which management of the process and the relationships is seamlessly blended with investment of effort and resources.

If you look at day-to-day management in Project Management terms, you don't see routine, with one day following the previous one in a string of similar cycles. Instead, each day is one more application of a known, trackable process in each path through a broad complex of planned activity. For example, there should be measurable movement by each staff member along prearranged paths of skill development and results production. Each day is distinctly different, measurably ahead of the previous day, in the mind of the staff member as well as that of the staff member's manager.

The Process Control Cycle therefore is the manager's way of life: the Planning node accounts in detail for the Execution node, which is tracked closely by the Monitoring node, whose output is compared to that of the Planning node by the Analysis node, whose output is converted into the Correction node, which then becomes the Planning node as the cycle turns.

Planning -- Executing -- Monitoring -- Analyzing -- Correcting.

Everything in the manager's worklife is disciplined into that Process Control Cycle. It accounts for everything. How simple. How neat.

If only reality would allow itself to be organized effortlessly into that pattern . . . we wouldn't need managers. So, at the constantly irritated seam where circumstances, events, people and process meet, the successful manager is developing and tending the Process Control Cycle, the effective gizmo of Project Management.

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