Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Role of Project Management Communities in Organizations

In life, there is rarely a "single version of the truth". I think the same can be said in the context of project management.

Yes, there are tools, templates, methodologies, "best practices", often promoted by broad PM communities, vendors with a product to sell, and often by consulting organizations brought in to salvage run away projects. They come in, "quick fix" and leave once the contract objectives are met. Often their expertise is never really leveraged for the longer term benefit of the organization.

But where the more significant challenges occur is investigating, deciding on, and applying these practices in complex organizations and shifting contexts / unanticipated organizational change, bringing multiple perspectives to bear on complex issues, and acting on lessons learned from previous successes and "not so successes".
I think this is where a strong community of internal project / initiative managers can be of tremendous benefit.

An internal PM community can play a large, effective role in evolving practices that work in the the organization's complex environment, and ensuring the transfer of important context, information, and knowledge across succeeding generations.

I suspect that one of the important challenges many internal PM communities face is that they are very appealing vehicle for beginning to intermediate project managers, but fail to attract more senior / experienced / seasoned project managers. I've heard of situations where they are actually discouraged from participating by their supervisors in favour of "real work".

And it would appear that experienced PMs are also good at surveying the landscape and building their own small personal networks in order to get their job done. That's fine for achieving personal effectiveness, but what about the "greater good" of the organization and of their fellow PMs? How can this expertise be diffused / broadly shared for the benefit of the organization as a whole?

Imagine an organization where senior project managers were expected ... or should I say required .. through their performance (or contract) agreements, to play a leadership role in the project management community in developing and stewarding the community's PM knowledge development activities, and building capability among more junior project managers.

Imagine these senior project managers bringing their techniques, approaches, mental models, expertise in the organization's context to the community to be reviewed, synthesized, evolved, and yes, even critiqued, by the more junior members who are perhaps less experienced in PM, but no less adept at analytical and critical thinking. They may even have their own related experiences about the nuances of the organization to contribute.

A PM community of practice can be a part of "the solution" of sustainable project success over the longer term. If the community is infused with the learning and expertise of all the organization's senior project managers, and even external experts who come in on major initiatives, the organization will be better off for it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More on Project Management in Knowledge-Based Organizations

I've been thinking about this topic a bit more, and having some interesting conversations with colleagues about PM in KBOs. I even had a very stimulating conversation with someone involved in enterprise risk management and new organizational environments where this process takes place.

It could be that PM in knowledge-based organizations (complex, un-ordered, adaptive systems)is rooted in a very "mechanistic" view of an organization (that it's an ordered system where you can predict cause/effect relationships well into the future) and based on a resulting set of assumptions that don't apply in today's knowledge based/complex organizations. Assumpitions like "the project has a high probability of happening as planned," "desired project outcomes will remain static," nothing should get in the way of success," "the project WILL happen as planned because we planned it that way.. "

Project Managers are constantly challenged with "standing on shifting sand"... from the instant they start planning and executing change is constant - people (decision makers/project resources) change, budgets change, organizational context changes, even business needs, objectives and project outcomes change... this is life in complex, unordered systems. I wonder if traditional project planning methodologies, if followed as prescribed, truly account effectively for this - despite the profile of project risk management in the project plannaing and management processes. I see a lot of Project managers with major headaches dealing with unintended consequences, unexpected events internal and external to the project, and a lot of pressure and expectations around sticking to "the original plan".

Borrowing and building on some cues from noteable experts, perhaps something to try is to look at project plans more as living-breathing entities and plan for change. This might involve:

  • ensuring a "change" mindset and expectations across the project team, clients, stakeholders etc.
  • building specific activities in the project plan, and identifying specific roles and responsibilities, for sensing (even anticipating), and communicating consequences of project actions as well as contextual and environmental changes
  • building in specific activities to bring all the right perspectives to consider the sensing data/information, along with other appropriate related information and make sense and learn from it (sounds a bit like an after action review, dosen't it?)
  • bring that learning to the decision making table with the appropriate people around it to adjust the project plan accordingly - which could include adding new tasks to frame up sub-activities to innovate around newly surfaced challenges and opportunities.

Perhaps this doesn't sound all that different from traditional good project management. Maybe what is truly different is setting and managing expectations around project planning and management processes in organizations today, and building sensing and learning activities more explicitly in project plans.