The PM Minimalist “Cut the Fat” Audit: Part 2, A Project Management Weight Loss Strategy

In Part 1 of this series, The Sources of Project Bloat, I described how PM artifacts and processes typically accumulate over time and weigh down all of an organization’s projects. In this article, I’ll show you how you can determine whether your organization’s PM has become obese and devise a customized strategy to lose some PM weight.

Part 2:  A Project Management Weight Loss Strategy

So how can you figure out if your organization is PM process-heavy and weighed down by too many PM artifacts?  The PM Minimalist “Cut the Fat” Audit can help. It consists of three major activities:

  1. Inventory your active PM artifacts and processes.
  2. Conduct the “Is This Really Valuable?” Analysis and the “Fix It or Ditch It?” Survey.
  3. Develop your “Fix It or Ditch It” Recommendations.

Inventory Your Active PM Artifacts and Processes

Before you can decide which of your PM artifacts and processes are really useful and which contribute to PM bloat, you have to figure out what’s actually going on with your projects. You need to develop an inventory. Here’s how:

Step 1: Locate all of your organization’s documents or policy statements that spell out the following:

  • PM “best practices”
  • Recommended Project Life Cycles
  • Minimum requirements re: internal PM reviews and approvals
  • Minimum requirements re: external (regulatory, legal, etc.) PM reviews and approvals
  • PM minimum requirements related to staffing, equipment, support, etc.

Step 2: Locate as many actual project schedules as you can. Analyze these and determine common milestones, deliverables, PM practices, and so on. Specifically, look at:

  • Project Phases
  • Project “approval gates” (review & approval cycles)
  • Generic deliverables (Project Charter, Project staffing plan, etc.)
  • Any other common events that are assumed to be essential to every project

Step 3: Locate any actual PM artifacts related to project staffing. Analyze these and determine common assumptions made by all projects re:

  • Staffing depth (numbers of people assigned to tasks, etc.)
  • Internal quality assurance & review assignments
  • External stakeholder or manager review assignments
  • Any other assumptions about the roles and numbers of people assigned to projects

Step 4: Locate all key paperwork (approval forms, internal or external contracts, etc.) that typically tracks or validates your projects

  • Forms used by senior management
  • Forms used by financial, legal, HR, or other departments
  • Forms used to coordinate with or legally bind customers
  • Any other key paperwork that is required of projects

Step 5: Create a “Summary List of Project Management Processes and Artifacts” that enumerates everything you located in Steps 1 – 4.  Subdivide this list into sections that cluster similar items together. For example your subsections might include:

  • Required (Minimum) Project Phases
  • Generic Project Deliverables (administrative requirements of all projects, no matter what they are creating)
  • Required, or Minimum, Project Roles (i.e., essential team players for every project)
  • Required Project Artifacts (Project Charter, Formal Proposal, Schedule, Budget, etc.)
  • Required PM Practices (i.e., Practices employed on every project, no matter what the deliverables or schedule)
  • Odd-but-common PM practices (i.e., Practices employed on some projects but we’re not sure why)

After you’ve assembled this comprehensive list of PM artifacts and processes, you’re ready to figure out which are worth keeping, which are in need of repair, and which should simply be dropped.

Conduct the “Is This Really Valuable?” Analysis and the “Fix It or Ditch It?” Survey

OK. You’ve documented all your PM artifacts and processes. Now it’s time to analyze them and figure out:

  • Which of these artifacts and processes are valuable in their current form.
  • Which need to be fixed or repaired. (i.e., Which might be more useful if they were revised in some way).
  • Which should be ditched… eliminated entirely… because they are more trouble than they’re worth.

Here’s how you can answer these questions:

Step 1: Identify the people who work with all this PM stuff on a regular basis (project managers, subject matter experts, senior managers, client reviewers, project team members, administrative aids, etc.).

Step 2: Ask them all (or a broadly representative sample, if your organization is really large) to help you evaluate your PM artifacts and processes. Then ask them to complete an “Is This Really Valuable?” questionnaire with items like this:

Sample Questionnaire: Who Really Cares About this Stuff?

Sample Items from the "Is This Really Valuable?" Analysis

(Be sure to include all the items you identified in your “Summary List of Project Management Processes and Artifacts,” discussed earlier.)

Step 3: Obtain feedback from everyone and summarize their responses to the questionnaires. (You’ll be using this summary info in the next step.)

Step 4: Create and circulate a “Fix It or Ditch It” Questionnaire that includes items like this:

Sample Items on a "Fix It or Ditch It" Questionnaire

Note that the left column presents the results of your “Is This Really Valuable?” analysis. By including this information, those responding to the survey can see how others in your organization feel about each artifact or process they are evaluating. With this background information as context for their decision, they are asked to decide whether your organization should “Ditch it” (i.e., eliminate the artifact or process entirely) or “Fix it” (i.e., improve the artifact or process). If respondents choose “Fix it,” they are also asked to provide their specific suggestions for how the item might be fixed.

Develop your “Fix It or Ditch It” Recommendations

At this point you’ve developed quite a collection of input from members of your organization about your PM artifacts and processes. Now it’s time to do something with these recommendations. Specifically, you might:

  • Rank order the the PM artifacts and processes that should be “ditched” and summarize them in a comprehensive list. Present this list to senior management, along with your recommendations for abandoning them. Then formally decide, as a management team, which ought to be abandoned. (Note: If senior management is reluctant to abandon some items, suggest that you try abandoning them on a few test projects and see if these items are missed. If not, then you can go ahead and discontinue their use throughout the organization.)
  • Summarize all the “fix it” items, along with respondents suggestions for fixing them. Ask for volunteers to work together to create the repairs to PM artifacts or to develop guidelines for streamlining and improving PM processes. (Ask the people who provided you with the most thoughtful suggestions for improvement to “volunteer” for this repair work.)
  • Get everyone together who helped with the analysis and tell them how things have changed as a result of their input. If it makes sense, develop a few brief guidelines that reflect your new, leaner approach. (But be careful not to generate more PM bloat!)

Conclusion

Anyone who has ever lost weight and kept it off knows that it takes an entire lifestyle change. It’s not simply a one-time event. Similarly, The PM Minimalist approach to reducing your organization’s PM fat is not a one-time event. Like the dieter who is continually tempted by high-fat desserts and buffets, your organization will be continually encouraged by PM consultants and “experts” to add layers of complexity to your PM.

Dieters learn to say “No” to temptation, all the while monitoring their weight and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program. Similarly, your PM leaders need to learn to say “No” to PM “experts” and periodically conduct their own “Cut the Fat” audits as part of your organization’s quest for PM Minimalism. The good new is that by repeatedly asking everyone “Is this really valuable?” you will be encouraging a healthy skepticism among your PM practitioners that can, in effect, establish a PM Minimalist “cut-the-PM-fat” support group. This way, when anyone tries to pile on a new PM artifact or process, there is likely to be someone ready to push back and ask, “Is this really, truly valuable and worth our time and effort?”

As more people stand up and defend PM Minimalism, you’ll eventually all come to enjoy the benefits of a leaner, healthier PM culture.

———————

Would you like help getting started with your own PM Minimalist “Cut the Fat” Audit? Or would you simply like to offload this potentially controversial process to an outside consultant and let him take the heat for raising the tough issues that are likely to turn up? Then email me at pm.minimalist@gmail.com and we can discuss your unique situation. I’ve got lots of experience dealing with messy PM issues in all sorts of different industries. — MG

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 under Project Management.
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