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Saturday, April 23, 2016

So it's a big deal . . . Is it a project?

     This was going to be a big deal. I knew that.
     What I didn’t know was that it was a project.
     I didn’t even know, actually, the meaning of “project,” what a project is.
     If you ever had mentioned the word to me, all I could have summoned up would have been a memory of my mother telling me about the Saturday morning cellar cleanup: “Don’t make a federal project out of it.”
     Mom was expressing a culturally current joke reference that influenced my automatic reaction to the idea of a project. In that conception, a project was an unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming ritual intended to draw things out and waste time instead of just getting the job done.
     Just get it done!
     Do it. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Don’t sit around theorizing and “planning.” Act. Do. Produce.
     Today, many years and countless iterations later, it is a little bit of a surprise to stop and realize that things haven’t changed all that much. Many, maybe most, organizations of all kinds are committed to action. Period.

    Know why? They’ve bought a sad conclusion. Their experience has convinced them that any attempt to modify accustomed behavior is going to be uncomfortable, time-consuming, disruptive . . . and unsuccessful.
     So, here you come with your shiny new project ideas, and you want to change things. When we are assigned to take on some additional chore (“off the corner of the desk” – ha!), it’s just one more thing. And you want to complicate it with all this analysis-breakdown-requirements stuff? Go away!
     Back when I was handed this big deal, that complication was not a problem -- none of us had ever heard of project management. The matter at hand was to be an eye-poppingly unprecedented special edition of the newspaper where I was city editor.
     There most definitely would be problems, plenty of them.
     The only way we knew how to proceed, no matter the size or unfamiliarity of such an assignment, was just to add it to the disheveled mound of workload problems and accelerate the shoveling process.
     So that’s what we did.

     It was by far the most difficult challenge I had ever addressed to that point, but we got to the finish line on time, hitting the six-month deadline on the nose.
     No one got paid for the extra time and work, so cost was not an issue. We fell short of my personal standards of quality, but no one else mentioned anything about that. There were 212 pages of mostly readable content, so I guess we met the deliverable requirement.
     There you have it: The Triangle of Truth – Good, Quick & Cheap. I don’t know if the Triangle had even been invented by then, but I never heard of it until I got into real Project Management 10 years later.
     There was, of course, no post-operations review of the mighty effort. We didn’t do that back then, either, although I had heard that well run organizations made a regular practice of it.
     Had we done one, our management might have learned something about the real cost. And it was substantial, because our best people had been burned out. Some of them might still be in total refusal mode when some non-routine work is to be done.

     And those were the most imaginative, energetic, enthusiastic and dependable staff members. During the rest of my tenure there, you couldn’t spark much interest in improving either the regular product or the occasional special editions. That’s what burn-out does.
     Project Management has the opposite results, across the board.
     It takes some doing to get an organization to accept Project Management, but it’s well worth any effort. There are beneficial results from the very beginning. You reduce waste, establish control, improve predictability and get rid of a lot of participant stress.
     The enterprise is planned, coordinated and executed through open understanding and mutual commitment among all the decision-making stakeholders.
     All the real issues are put on the table and dealt with. Workloads are equitably adjusted, extra work is compensated, extra staff is secured as necessary and accountability is properly distributed among all parties, including senior management.
     Completing a well-run project improves everything about an organization, including its public standing and its professional capabilities. Staff pride and morale become strong contributors to quality and growth.
     You don’t have to make a federal project out of it. Making it just a project will do fine.
When Is It a Project?


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