Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Project Management in Knowledge-Based Organizations

I recently facilitated a workshop created by our project management community of practice called "Intro to Project Management at ... " The intention of the workshop is basically to lay a simple, solid foundation of common language and process for "non-project managers" in the context of the organzation, and point them to further learning, develop and knowledge exchange opportunities, including the community itself.

Not "rocket science".

But in the context of facilitating the workshop, there was a universal identification, even among this group of "non-project managers", that projects never work out as planned and that there are continuous, very difficult challenges associated with keeping project teams focused and working together on outcomes and objectives - especially in the context of internal projects and resources. The "people side of project management" seems to be a regular topic of concern and conversation across project management disciplines and communities.

So in this workshop I found myself starting to talk about how knowledge-based organizations are complex, adaptive, and cause-effect relationships can't be predicted with any degree of certainty etc. (Obviously I'm being influenced by Dave Snowdon.. but it makes sense to me.)

And I found msyelf thinking that perhaps the traditional way of planning and managing projects, as mapped out in the PMI's Project Management Body of Knowledge for example, is too mechanistic. But then, in the chapters about the project management process, there is explicit mention of a foundation of "plan-do-check-act" (sounds like quality & learning to me) , and there are good descriptions of processes and deliverables about project change.

Then I thought, maybe the issue is more related to expectations on the part of clients, project managers and staff that "plan - good!, change - baaaad!". Maybe there is a traditional mind set that there is a real probability that the plan will be executed more or less as created, that people and resources can be effectively "managed and controlled" to the degree necessary, and that client needs / outcomes won't change.

Do we need to look at our traditional project planning and management practices and adapt them to the emerging view of organizations as complex adaptive systems rather than the traditional, mechanistic, predictive view?

How do we do that?

Do we need to treat project resources, in particular internal ones that are constantly balencing demands from a number of different fronts, as volunteers, with the project manager's role one of encouraging volunteerism?

How do we do THAT?


rybinski said...

I think you are right, people fear change and try block it. Those who benefit will be less involved (unless they are team members) than those who think they may face different reality as a result of ther project. Different does not mean "worse", it often can mean "better" but uncertainty created by change make people resist this change. I have seen it many times, also at the central bank.
I believe in incentive economics. Whne people have right incentives, they behave in right way. When they do not like uncertaintly, they oppose change. They have to see that change brings benefits on personal basis. As there are no fixed causality relationships (even money does not cause inflation anymore, well, in medium and short term) people need to be involved, everybody has to be made change manager, responsible for her or his part of the organization. I am trying to make this change at the National Bank of Poland, when all people in departments that report to me were asked to provide Individual Development Targets, related to organization development targets. This is a big change, as so far NBP was a silo-type public institution, formalized and hierarchical (I am not sure about spelling).
Dale I announced a research project on my blog (link below):
I hope to assemble a team of knowledge management experts from various central banks (Canada, Poland, it would be nice to have Fed, ECB and Asian CB) and other people (academics, passionates). Let me know your thoughts.
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.

Dale Arseneault - Bank of Canada said...

I agree.. individual change resistance certainly is a recurring theme and issue..

It is coincidental that you mention "incentive economics", and that "when people have the right incentives they will behave in the right way.."

Here's the funny thing I've observed about people.. myself included. In the face of clear "incentives" -- very valid, logical resons to do someting -- people will behave in completely opposite, and often unpredictable ways.

Doctor says "quit smoking.. it will KILL you!"... People still smoke..

The risks associated with poor diet and obesity are very well known.. People still eat very poorly..

If you don't maintain your car it will cost you lost of money later on... People still procrastinate and end up paying for truly unnecessary repairs..

You can't get reimbursement for your conference trip until you fill out this form and enter it into the database.. People will do the least amount of work possible so they comply..

I think the traditional concept of "incentives"... the often referred to "carrot-stick" approach or it's many subtle manafestations in today's corporate environments do not work in the long run.. they presume that people can be managed, moved like pieces on a chess board, manipulated untimately, into behaving in a way that suits management. Today's knowledge worker rebels against this concept... and tomorrow's Generation Y will even more so.

I think we need to think of approaches to encouraging employee volunteerism aligned with corporate objectives and outcomes. This will be a leader's role going forward I think.

Nimmy said...

If i am not mistaken, the "Agile" project management methodologies are a step ahead in this context...! :)

Dale Arseneault said...

Nimmy.. you're absolutely right.. it is certainly heading in the right direction.. triggered by your comment.. I took a few minutes to refresh myself on Agile PM..

I caught this quote from Highsmith's book Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products.

Balancing at the edge of chaos between flexibility and stability requires people who are good improvisers—who have the ability to deal effectively with the ambiguity, and the paradox, of pursuing two seemingly dissimilar goals at once. Organizations that support these improvisers have three key traits:

- An adaptive culture that embraces change

- Minimal rules that encourage self-organization, combined with the self-discipline to closely adhere to those rules

- Intense collaboration and interaction among the project community

He also touches on complexity theory and complex adaptive systems.
I'm sure there are some general project management approaches in the agile framework that extends beyond product/software development.

Thanks for the comment Nimmy..