Picking up from last weeks post on Agile Project Management – Managing the Job, I’d like to focus on the concept of money becoming the central deliverable of the project. I like to refer to this as the Job Management Distortion Field. I didn’t really intend this to be a parable to Steve Jobs but, if we were to draw comparison, Mr. Jobs never made it about the money. It was always about making the world better with his product creations. The distortion field I’m referring to completely ignores product and market users. Most importantly it ignores the work; the critical ingredient in the product. Here are a few of the key signs and indicators that the project has fallen victim to the likes of the distortion field.
Long Term Infinitesimal Financial Detailed Planning
This is a prevalent practice in certain industries that have long New Product Introduction (NPI) cycles and are staunch waterfall centric planning advocates. Here the level 1 schedules are typically 10,000 to 30,000 line items spanning up to five years. Each task (some being a single day activity) is time phased and costed. This is the kind of absurd management philosophy that has led to the complete abandonment of gantt based planning. With such a plan cast at initial project kick-off, the baseline is set, and the financial time phased plans are imported into the Enterprise Requirements Planning (ERP) system.
Annualized Budget Alignment
With the multi-year planned down to ten to thirty thousand tasks, the job and financial expectations get extracted in a similar way that the media would extract incriminating phrases out of context. This methodology perpetrates fairly rigid annul financial gates. To jump back to the product and work world for a moment, will the dynamics of the work environment follow this detailed roll out? Well, not to bloody likely! The reality of late and changing requirements will almost immediately reshape the intermediate milestones which will most certainly change the annual financial targets and actuals. This is the classic plan to fail mentality. As much as it’s not being said, this is clearly setting money as the deliverable.
Scope Change without Re-Baselining
This is a favorite pet peeve of mine. A scope change, by standard project definition, is a change outside the control of any Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) element. For those projects being managed as described herein, management will acknowledge the need for change in the form of an approved growth to time and/or cost. For change cause within the WBS overall structure, the project contingency absorbs the effect but, for cause outside the WBS the budget and timeline must be re-baselined. This realignment is absolutely essential to apply earned value metrics to the work. In my experience, the distortion field doesn’t recognize this impact thereby continuing to set financial expectations to the baseline.
Short Range Outlook Financial Management
This practice is one of my favorites. Essentially Short Range Outlook (SRO) planning is likened to driving in the rear view mirror. In these planning sessions, senior management will hedge bets on future spending based on past financial performance. Considering that the baseline is completely out of step with the work (i.e. approved scope change without re-baseline), then SRO management exponentially distorts the project. The hedging doesn’t consider scope change or work as it is focused solely on money as the deliverable.
Resource Fill Rate Management
Resource fill rate is a manpower tracking metric that is used in Job management to hit enterprise level targets. It is obviously important for the enterprise to supply the project demand but the distortion field effect completely ignores the work execution which is synchronized to product deliverables; not money deliverables. Organizations that focus only on the linear Job view the project as a static “turn the crank” mechanism. The fill rate mis-alignment is a self fulfilling prophecy.
These are just five examples of how a project can be completely hijacked when the job financials become decoupled from the work. As much as the financial metrics are true indicators, they are only accurate when the plan stays in sync with the work. When the earned value metrics indicate a misalignment, the ONLY way to remedy the situation and get the project back on track is to manage the work scope and fix the work execution. The financial numbers will snap in line. Reversing the cause and effect results in Job Management taking on a form of fantasy management otherwise referred to as managing the optics.