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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Organizational Dysfunction and Projects

Just over a year ago I posted about Projects, Leaders, and Discipline.  I started the posting with the text below: 

One of the things that hurt project teams most is the lack of an enterprise (executive) focus and oversight regarding the management of projects.  It takes discipline to manage projects, and enterprise project discipline is lacking when executives are disinterested and/or disengaged from the project process.  Great organizations (not project managers) manage projects well, and in doing so they have employees with higher morale, they get better project results, and implement projects faster with higher quality.

Is your organization disciplined?  There have been many studies that show a lack of executive support for projects is a key contributor to project failure.  You can meet all your project objectives and still have failed if your project does not support a business need.

Organizations that have successfully embraced and implemented project management have a few things in common.  They are:

  They treat project management as a profession

  They treat project managers as assets

  They have internal policies that support the management of projects

  They align their strategies to a published project portfolio

  They recognize that a project management methodology is only works when it is coupled with         experienced   project managers

  They have a formal training program for new and experienced project managers

  They have a formal job classification and promotion path for project managers

  They have a strategic program/project management office

  Have been through a formal project management maturity assessment

Regarding discipline, George Washington said, "Discipline is the soul of an army.  It makes small numbers formidable, procures success to the weak, and esteem to all".  

You cannot have effective organizational project management processes without discipline.  Discipline begins at the top of the organization and works its way to the bottom.  Organizations that have weak organizational discipline have weak leadership.

As I have stated previously, undisciplined organizations have high turnover, low employee morale, and poor project results. These organizations cheat their investors, employees, and customers by not providing the highest level of service possible. Highly disciplined organizations make and keep commitments, manage to clearly articulated and measurable goals, and have executives that are engaged and visibly participate in the oversight of projects.

BOLD TRUTH - If you are not visible, your are not relevant.  If you are not relevant, you are not needed. 

In closing, dysfunctional organizations believe that the workers are solely responsible for managing projects and other day-to-day work. These organizations believe that the executives should spend the majority of their time strategizing and making policy. This is a failed approach (see General Motors, Ford, K-Mart, etc), and ensures the work, including projects, will take longer than planned and cost more than what was budgeted.

Executive leadership and oversight of projects has been proven to motivate project teams to be accountable, results driven, and focused on achieving a common goal.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leading Geeks

Ralph Nader once said, "I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers". In the IT world is is hard to produce leaders and it is doubly hard to produce and keep followers.

On his blog, Alexander Kjerulf talks about How Not to Lead Geeks and mentions that "the main reason IT people are unhappy at work is bad relations with management". He goes on to say that "the fact is that IT people hate bad management and have even less tolerance for it than most other kinds of employees".

Wow, I couldn't agree more. It is suprising that this flawed geek leadership strategy is still very prevelant today in our organizations. I see the mistakes listed below happen every day. I can only wonder how much more productive "geeks" would be if these mistakes weren't continuously repeated on a regular basis.

Here are Alex's thoughts on the top 10 mistakes he has seen managers make when leading geeks:

1) Downplay training

I had a boss once who said that “training is a waste of money, just teach yourself”. That company tanked 2 years later. Training matters, especially in IT, and managers must realize that and budget for it. Sometimes you get the argument that “if I give them training a competitor will hire them away.” That may be true, but the alternative is to only have employees who are too unskilled to work anywhere else.

2) Give no recognition

Since managers may not understand the work geeks do very well, it’s hard for them to recognize and reward a job well done, which hurts motivation. The solution is to work together to define a set of goals that both parties agree on. When these goals are met the geeks are doing a great job.

3) Plan too much overtime

“Let’s wring the most work out of our geeks, they don’t have lives anyway,” seems to the approach of some managers. That’s a huge mistake and overworked geeks burn out or simply quit. In one famous case, a young IT-worker had a stress-induced stroke on the job, was hospitalized, returned to work soon after and promptly had another stroke. This post further examines the myth that long work hours are good for business.

4) Use management-speak

Geeks hate management-speak and see it as superficial and dishonest. Managers shouldn’t learn to speak tech, but they should drop the biz-buzzwords. A manager can say “We need to proactively impact our time-to-market” or simply use english and stick to “We gotta be on time with this project”.

5) Try to be smarter than the geeks

When managers don’t know anything about a technical question, they should simply admit it. Geeks respect them for that, but not for pretending to know. And they will catch it - geeks are smart.

6) Act inconsistently

Geeks have an ingrained sense of fairness, probably related to the fact that in IT, structure and consistency is critical. The documentation can’t say one thing while the code does something else, and similarly, managers can’t say one thing and then do something else.

7) Ignore the geeks

Because managers and geeks are different types of people, managers may end up leaving the geeks alone. This makes leading them difficult, and geeks need good leadership the same as all other personnel groups.

8) Make decisions without consulting them
Geeks usually know the technical side of the business better than the manager, so making a technical decision without consulting them is the biggest mistake a leader can make.

9) Don’t give them tools
A fast computer may cost more money than an older one and it may not be corporate standard, but geeks use computers differently. A slow computer lowers productivity and is a daily annoyance. So is outdated software. Give them the tools they need.

10: Forget that geeks are creative workers

Programming is a creative process, not an industrial one. Geeks must constantly come up with solutions to new problems and rarely ever solve the same problem twice. Therefore they need leeway and flexibility. S trict dress codes and too much red tape kill all inovation. They also need creative surroundings to avoid “death by cubicle”.

Making one or more of these 10 mistakes (and I’ve seen managers who make all 10) has serious consequences, including:

Low motivation
High employee turnover
Increased absenteeism
Lower productivity
Lower quality
Bad service

Happy geeks are productive geeks, and the most important factor is good management, tailored to their situation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

PMI Global Congress Atlanta Wrapup

I just returned from the PMI Global Congress and I believe it was the best one I have attended (this was my eighth conference). During the Global Congress I attended several different awesome presentations covering a wide array of topics. Each presentation offered valuable information to help me do my job better.

I highly recommend you attend one of PMI's Global Congresses (next year's congress is in Denver, CO). Attending the PMI Congress is a great way for a project manager to earn PDUs (professional development units), which are required to maintain your PMI Project Management Professional (PMP) designation with PMI.

I have been a big supporter of the TenStep family of products and I rely on several of their methodologies to do my job. As usual, Tom Mochal and company from TenStep were at the Congress talking about their new products and training services. Check out Tenstep's website and look over their latest methodology called ProcessStep. Another great project management methodology vendor is Method123. I use and own some of their products and they make great tools and templates.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has been busy over the past year, and during that time they have released a few new project management related standards. They are:

Practice Standard for Project Configuration Management – This standard defines processes and tools to help develop a project configuration management system.

Practice Standard for Earned Value Management – This standard helps the project manager objectively identify where a project is and where it is going. EVM methods cover project scope, schedule, and costs.

Practice Standard for Scheduling – A guide to help the project manager build effective schedules, and additionally help to provide quantifiable processes to determine the maturity of a schedule.

Also, PMI has made updates to existing standards, which are:

Project Manager Competency Development Framework – 2nd edition

Combined Standards Glossary – 3rd edition

Government Extension to the PMBOK Guide – 3rd edition

Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures – 2nd edition

There were many vendors at the show and I heard there may have been over 4000 attendees. PMI membership is growing fast and interest in the project management profession is at an all time high. If you have not yet earned your PMP certification now may be the best time to seriously consider earning this valuable credential.

The PMI Global Congress is a great place to network with other project managers. I met some great people at this year's conference and plan on keeping in touch with all of them. Your best project management learning experiences will usually come from talking with and listening to other project managers.

Until next time.