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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.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

If Project Management is the answer, what's the question? -- On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure to talk to a Project Management Institute gathering in Harrisburg, PA. I gave my usual talk on Critical Chain-based multi-project management, based on the addressing the need for processes and policies to prevent the prevalent practice of multi-tasking resources across project tasks. But this time around, I tossed in an additional spin on the subject. One that I sensed was well-received by this seasoned audience.

One of my basic beliefs about project management is that it's first and foremost about promises -- making reasonable promises and keeping them. As I've written elsewhere, effective project management is about turning significantly uncertain efforts into reasonably certain outcomes. That's the outcome. That's the "why" associated with project management. But the question that I had in mind with this new spin was more related to "how?"

If project management is the answer, what's the question? My contention is that it's "What should I be working on?"

Since most of the effort associated with making projects happen is in their execution, it makes sense to me that a key role of project management is to provide resources appropriate information so that they use their time for best benefit for the organization. A portfolio of projects needs to be based on and subordinated to the needs of the organization. Projects need to be subordinated to the objectives of that portfolio or program. And resources assigned to project tasks need to subordinate their actions to the needs of the projects. Project management is the thread that ties these layers of needs together. And whether we're talking about the portfolio, project, or task level, "what we work on" is key to its success.

This question, "What should I be working on?," is related to the idea of priority. The roots of the wasteful practice of multi-tasking are found in a combination of too many things in one's in-box and a lack of clear priority about which of those things one should be concentrating on. Based on this view, the first role of project management is to define and limit the launch and assignment of work to that necessary to the needs of the project, as well as to the capability and capacity of the resources expected to deliver it. The second key role is to provide guidance on priority of the use of one's time and attention when two or more tasks contend for the attention of a resource.

Project managers should not get into the details of how resources work within tasks, but should instead maintain focus on what they work on. If project managers (and, for that matter, managers in general) focus on the question "What should I be working on?" by limiting the opportunity to multi-task, and providing clear and rational priorities when it might happen, more projects will get done, faster.

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