Traditional Project Management vs. Project Delivery Military Style
Whether we are talking about IT projects, R&D programs, strategic initiatives or process improvement journeys, I feel many of the foundations of project portfolio management are taught as if the environments in which they are applied are frozen in time. We all know that these environments are very dynamic and rapidly evolving. Some or all of the constraints placed upon a project and its team frequently shift -- and often at the same time -- including scope, timeframe, resources, stakeholders, organizations, quality and other success metrics.
If we focus too much on the PPM journey (for example, learning and applying the right tools and methodologies) and not the destination, we may never get anything done. This is especially true because there are myriad built-in excuses not to deliver… “my resources were diverted,” “the scope creeped”, “we lost a couple weeks due to the re-org,” etc. As a result, PMs are not held accountable.
In light of this, I have changed my project management teaching focus to one of teaching project delivery instead of just project management. Knowing how to deliver a project is much more valuable in an erratic environment than just knowing how to manage a project.
So, what are some steps we can take to transition our PPM efforts to be more delivery and results focused.
First, we can start with something symbolic by re-defining the project manager role in order to signal the importance and emphasis placed on results delivery. Rather than appoint Project Managers, let’s develop Project Delivery Expert (PDEs) or Project Execution Expert (PEEs -- OK, this may be a tough sell).
Second, it’s not enough to give a guy a new badge or title and say “OK, you are empowered, now go do it.” PDEs need to be armed with the skills, acumen, and confidence to actually deliver a project with fluctuating constraints and unforeseen impacts. This will require a different approach to project management training. One approach is to borrow some concepts from the military:
- Focus on the objective. The military model is very focused on the “mission” or the “objective” or the end game. When all discussions are framed in this context, a lot of distracting politics, organizational red-tape, and other obstacles can be exposed for what they are.
- Simulate the battlefield. Planning a project like a military exercise shifts the focus from backward looking analysis of what happened to forward-looking strategizing about what could happen or go wrong and how best to respond to the issues, risks, and uncertainty. Simulating conditions is also a good way to model required competencies and skill gaps that need to be filled.
- Train teams and not just individuals. The teams that plan, design, and deliver as a unit will be more productive as they have a better understanding how their performance affects the unit. And, team cohesion and bonding that results from sticking together and amassing collective experience will result in a team that will outperform any group of all stars that have never worked together.
- Create a culture of self-reliance and accountability. Teams that are on a mission and have trained together will take ownership for the business result and less likely to automatically request leadership intervention to remove roadblocks and rely on the rich menu of excuses at their disposable for non-delivery. A culture of self-reliance and accountability for delivery results in the face of uncertainty should be supported with appropriate incentives such as compensation that is tied directly to results and not activity.
In sum, I believe if companies actually want project delivery, they need to invest in team delivery skills and provide the appropriate incentives and rewards. It’s about Enterprise Project and Portfolio Delivery and not just enterprise project and portfolio management. What do you think?