Marshall McLuhan was Right!

I recently had a discussion with a project management acquaintance who pointed to the fact that my approach was basically “tools-and technique stuff.” He was more interested, he said, in organizational- and behavioral-based approaches.

This was slightly disturbing to me because, despite the fact that much of my work over the years has been in the tools-and-techniques-based stuff, I nevertheless feel that the behavioral and organizational aspects are more important than the tools! So do I feel that my focus on techniques and metrics is somehow misguided, or at least of lesser importance? No, because it’s my strong feeling that it is largely the inadequacies of the metrics and techniques of traditional PM that lead to poor organizational processes and behaviors.

In fact, my new book Managing Projects as Investments: Earned Value to Business Value is precisely about this subject. It focuses on how these problem metrics (and omissions) can have really negative impacts on organizational processes and the behaviors of project teams, project managers, and even on departmental managers and executives. For example:

The failure to define “project” and “program” as investments (and all of them are!) has both the behavioral and organizational process effect that they are not being planned, measured and tracked as all other investments are, on the basis of ROI. And, as investments, no metric is more important!
The failure to monetize the value/cost of time on a project in terms of its impact on the ROI leaves time as an externality, and the well-known behavioral impact of items left as externalities is that their value/cost is treated as zero. This makes it almost impossible to justify additional resources, because their cost is always very much monetized!
The use of “deadlines” causes myriad bad behaviors: from padding, to clandestinely cutting scope and quality, to Parkinson’s Law, and to the well-known principal/agent problem and moral hazard on contractual projects.
The use of earned value schedule tracking (as opposed to cost tracking, which is a good technique) leads to work being performed out-of-sequence specifically to game the tracking system.
All these issues, and others like using utilization rate as the functional managers’ metric, or the impact of multitasking on project schedules, are well worth examining from the process and behavioral side.

My new book explores them all, and I plan to discuss them further in upcoming articles for this blog. It is my contention that many of these issues are invisibly (because ROI is not being tracked!) eroding the value of project and program investments. The fact that what is emphasized and measured is what people pay attention to is a real problem if the wrong things are being measured and tracked. Marshall McLuhan was right – the medium is the message. And many of the problems in the practice of project management are behavioral issues generated by the medium of the metrics and techniques that are being emphasized.

Fraternally in project management,

Steve the Bajan

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