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This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Management For Their Own Good -- The following essay was written by a particularly articulate friend and competitor of mine on a TOC-oriented discussion list. Ive often said that he should get into blogging. Since Tony allows, in his "Copyleft" statement, copying and dissemination of it, here it is.

The subject is management responsibility for and involvement in creating and maintaining an effective multi-project organization.

...the answer to this question impacts directly an executive's ability to delegate successfully.

Smart executives know when they need to take charge.

Tony Rizzo

One obstacle has blocked me for a rather long time, in my quest to bring sanity to multi-project organizations. It has been my inability to convince key decision-makers that they need to take action personally, to make certain improvements to the performance of their organizations. Now, that longstanding obstacle is showing serious cracks. Soon, with some effort, it may just tumble and vanish.

For what seems like a countable infinity of years (6 years actually), I have encountered executives whose model for taking action has been to delegate to subordinates, for everything that affects all matters internal to their organizations. Often, the results of such attempts to delegate have been only improvements that remain local to the subordinates' own domains. The overall organizations and their performances have continued to languish.

For example, it is quite common for an executive in charge of, say, product development, to request that his/her subordinates implement improved project management methods. The executive might even mandate that all the project managers of the organization become Project Management Professionals, PMPs (R) [the term Project Management Professional is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, PMI]. At times such a mandate might actually bring modest improvements to some of the projects within the organization. But the overall performance of the organization remains largely unchanged. The organization's ability to complete its projects on time, with full scope, and within budget, remains largely unaffected, because local improvements rarely cause system-wide improvements. This brings us to the question at hand, which is also the foundation of that longstanding obstacle. How can an executive know when he/she needs to make a system-wide change personally?

This may seem like a trivial question, at first glance. However, it is anything but trivial, for the answer to this question has wide-ranging implications. It impacts directly an executive's ability to delegate successfully, which in turn impacts the efficacy of many organizational change efforts. So, how can an executive know unequivocally if he/she needs to take action personally?

The answer is provided by Dr. Russel Ackoff's definition of the term, system. Ackoff states that a system is defined not by its components but by the interaction between those components. By definition, local improvements affect only the inner workings of individual departments. They do nothing to change how departments interact with each other. Therefore, local improvements almost never cause a system-wide performance improvement. Thus, if an organizational improvement effort must affect how departments interact with each other, then the success of that organizational improvement effort absolutely requires the very active participation and leadership of the owner of the organization, the executive.

Does this apply to projects? It absolutely does. Consider the impact of implementing improved project management methods on individual projects, which is all that any project manager can achieve. Project managers may improve their plans, and this certainly can help an organization that lacks good project plans. Project managers may even improve their ability to track their projects. But the project managers of any organization can achieve only improvements that are local to their own projects. They can do nothing to change how the organization's many projects interact with each other, through the many shared resources. The interaction between projects is the clue, which tells us that the performance of multi-project organizations cannot be improved by project managers.

Therefore, if you are in charge of a multi-project organization, and if you want to really improve the ability of your organization to complete its projects on schedule, with full scope, and within budget, then you must make the appropriate system-level changes. You cannot expect your project managers to do it for you.

(L) Copyleft, Tony Rizzo 2003. This article may be copied and distributed freely, without permission from the author. The article also may be published in print or electronically, so long as it is published in its entirety.
I wish I wrote it.

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