For more than 10 years of my career I worked hard at being the best Project/Program Manager ever. I could bring a team together and work with them to devise the best plan ever. We would start by defining the scope of our project, then evolve this to our work breakdown structure, we’d sequence those activities and finally identify the resources required and estimate the dozens of tasks. In the end I had this beautifully architected plan/schedule for our project. It was a thing of beauty! Then one day … I woke up in a cold sweat asking myself what on earth was I doing?!?!
OK so the cold sweat thing is a bit of a dramatization, but the story of dragging my team through such planning exercises is very real. Recently I was reflecting on why the change of heart for me. The other day I think I finally figured it out:
I was substituting responsibility for a plan!
A long time ago the IT industry made the move towards trying to industrialize the profession of creating software. The Project Management processes are a great example of this. I’m not old enough to be able to say I lived through the whole evolution, but it seems to me things evolved where organizations are desperately trying for predictability in an unpredictable domain. As a result of this when things went wrong (as they always will), a new process would be applied instead of allowing for people to take responsibility.
As projects are started teams of ‘resources’ are obligated to follow the plan (or risk getting a bad comment on their performance review from the Project Manager). Through the course of the project the business learns something and wants to change a requirement you find on page 32 of the 103 page business requirement document. So what is the team’s response? To blame the customer for changing their mind … again (with eye’s rolling). Then the team creates a change request to cover their collective butts. This ensures at the end of the project the PM can justify why things went the way they did and declare the project a success.
I see plenty of signs to support this:
- Large numbers of change requests on file blaming and justifying wrong decisions made earlier
- Schedules are ‘accurate’ to the hour for weeks and months into the future
- Project Close reports showing vast budget overruns on projects while scope is slashed, yet the project is hailed a success
- The good people on your team are on autopilot and frequently use the phrase “that’s just the way it is around here”
- Schedule chicken is considered a normal management practice to hopefully allow someone else to be blamed for bad results
Where in all of this are people being given the opportunity to act with responsibility?
Creating a plan is not a bad thing. However, a plan should never abdicate the personal responsibility of those being guided by it. As a leader, manager, project manager, team member or whatever you consider yourself … it’s everyone’s job to create an environment demonstrating and encouraging people to act with responsibility.
My challenge to you is to examine how you work. This includes the processes, documents, relationships, etc used by your teams. Eradicate things used to blame others, justify crappy results, live thinking we can never be better, or obligate someone to do something whether or not it makes sense.