The PM Minimalist “Cut the Fat” Audit: Part 1, The Sources of Project Management Bloat

In this two-part series, I’ll introduce you to The PM Minimalist “Cut the Fat” Audit. The goal of this audit is to uncover and eliminate the useless PM stuff that you and your organization might be doing — the stuff that swells up your projects for no good reason, wasting peoples’ time and weighing down those who are trying to create your project deliverables.

Part 1: The Sources of Project Management Bloat

PM bloating manifests primarily in two forms:

  • Too many artifacts (i.e., schedules, worksheets, reports)
  • Too much supervisory hovering

Too Many Artifacts

For most people, their first contact with Project Management (PM) comes as they squint their eyes and furrow their brows to decode that venerable, time-honored PM artifact, the Gantt chart. There it is! The entire project displayed all neat and tidy in a single graphic. Once they decode it, their heart reaches out in gratitude to this lovely little chart. They are relieved that it has finally summarized the chaos everyone’s been describing as “our project” in a tight, easily apprehended little nutshell. This scary project may be doable after all! The Gantt gives hope, as well as the illusion of control.

Encouraged by the Gantt’s near-magical powers, the PM novice quickly reaches out to other artifacts such as the Project Charter, WBS (Work Breakdown Structure), Scope Statement, tables showing staff responsibilities, schedules, cost estimates, and so on. These all share one commendable feature: They bring order to chaos and, in turn, stimulate confidence. Better yet, they can have a genuinely positive impact on the project by keeping the team focused and allowing the tracking of actual progress against the plan.

A downside of these artifacts, however, is that each one of them consumes a little time — time to create it, time to share and review it, time to react with feedback, time to finalize and time to revisit and maintain it. Worse, these artifacts can quietly grow roots and establish themselves as unquestioned members of the PM administrative process. As new projects unfold, the project managers each create, then deploy, their favorite artifacts. Sometimes they add their own to the organization’s collection. Out of respect for the organization and its PM history, however, they seldom eliminate any. So these things just accumulate like so many barnacles on an old boat hull, with no one noticing the drag they create… or at least no one willing to complain openly. In fact, anyone complaining runs the risk of being regarded as either too lazy or too technically incompetent to create them.  The result: PM artifacts continue to pile up and weigh down project managers, project teams and, ultimately, the entire organization.

Too Much Supervisory Hovering

One of the first things you notice about a small start-up organization’s PM is the leanness of its project teams and processes. Lacking organizational depth, the start-up’s projects run on the enthusiasm and vigilance of the people who are creating the deliverables. They don’t have the luxury of a lot of roles; there are few, if any, supervisory levels. And there are few, if any, PM consultants, formally-titled Project Managers, or officially certified PM professionals. Running on the adrenalin that comes from pioneering and innovating, they simply synchronize themselves and get the work done.

Over time, if they are successful, the typical start-up grows larger as an organization and acquires more projects. Formal project roles emerge, with inspection processes, formal review cycles for evolving deliverables, formal life cycles, and prescribed management interventions and sign-offs. At first these roles and processes make sense as a means of adapting to the stress of the heavier work load and as a way of maintaining higher quality and greater  consistency. Unfortunately, over time and as the organizational PM culture evolves, these PM supervisory processes develop a life of their own. Like the artifacts discussed above, the formalized roles and processes are welcomed at first because they keep things running more efficiently. But, also like the artifacts above, they can begin to accumulate as unquestioned elements of “the way we do things around here.” Few managers are willing to challenge the organization to look back on the times when things were less formalized and more intuitive… less manager-heavy and more team-driven.

Eventually an organization can reach the point where the people doing the work of creating deliverables are nearly outnumbered by the managers inspecting and intervening. And as PM process is piled upon PM process, the time spent in creating deliverables can be overshadowed by the time spent in meetings, reviews, feedback sessions, and revision cycles. And unlike the excess artifacts discussed above, the excess processes and the excess managers typically are backed by considerably more political energy to maintain them. After all, in the more mature organization, it’s the PM consultants, formally-titled Project Managers, or officially certified PM professionals who have a deeply vested interest in these processes and managerial levels. So anyone trying to trim or eliminate them will likely find they have a fight on their hands.

The result: PM processes and layers of PM management build up, dig in, grow roots, and develop ways of defending and perpetuating themselves.

What to Do: Look in the Mirror, Step on the Scales and Admit You’ve Got a Problem!

PM bloating and process-obesity can be treated! But the first step in treating it is to acknowledge it… to admit it exists. And that means having the courage to be a bit introspective — to take the time to document and analyze what’s really going on in your projects.

In Part 2 of this series (… A Project Management Weight Loss Strategy), I’ll show you how you can conduct your own audit to distinguish fat from lean, reduce your bloated PM processes, and generally figure out how to cut the fat and manage your projects Minimalist style.

 

 

 

Posted: March 1st, 2011 under Project Management.
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