jim@millikenproject.com

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why & How to Go against Nature

When you really think about it, project management doesn’t make sense.
It attempts to introduce a strange mix of discomfort and disorder into a system whose purpose is to pursue adherence to repetitive predictability.
Start with the nature and make-up of organizations. You gather people and resources together to pursue an outcome – say, profit, or public notice or a worthy cause – that requires the focused dedication of this effort, talent and wealth. You devise and implement processes, and constantly tune them, to make your valued outcome happen.
If the processes you invent/import are to get you where you want to go, they must be good processes. Effective processes that do not waste resources and human input, that make good use of your investments. If the processes don’t work, the organization does not reach its goal. The resources and the human effort turn out to have been wasted.
As the leader of such an enterprise, your obligation is to assemble the kind of people who will respect the process, learn and improve the process, stick with the process to make it ever more effective. They become increasingly invested in the established process.
 
A process is a set of sequentially dependent steps that, properly carried out, lead efficiently to a predetermined outcome. The more trustworthy the steps are, and the more rigidly they are followed, the less variance there is in the process and the more assured is the desired outcome.
The people drawn to and chosen for this kind of work collaborate well in an orderly environment. They constitute the much-maligned “bureaucracy,” which is as necessary to civilization as roadways and waterworks. Good bureaucracy makes communal survival possible, and is generally taken for granted. Bad bureaucracy, usually a minority, gets all the mentions because of its encrusted maladjustments.
In sum, the smooth functioning of an organization requires that there be a minimum of disruption, while the very purpose of project management is to take away resources and familiar routines from the organization to do or install something that’s never been there before.
So, when we mount a project, no matter how valuable we expect the payoff to be, we’re going against the nature of the sponsoring organization. Should we take carefully planned special measures if we want this alien thing to make it? Well, yeah.
Do we? Well, most often, no.

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