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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, May 06, 2003

Consultants and Practitioners -- Who Really Drives New Thinking? -- Yesterday, I spent the day at a Project Management Institute (PMI) symposium put on by my local New Jersey Chapter. All in all, it was a pleasant experience, providing an opportunity to network and get in front of potential clients, but as an educational exercise, it was (dare I say "predictably") frustrating.

The symposium consisted of what one probably would expect...a couple of keynotes, a luncheon presentation, five tracks of three presentations apiece, a gallery of "poster presentations," and a collection of paid placement vendors hawking their wares. The keynotes were particularly entertaining, but only touching on project management as a peripheral component of their messages. I walked out of the luncheon presentation when it was clear that it was nothing more than a blatant commercial for their "learning simulation" game. The vendors were doing the vendor thing, offering education or software to support the "generally accepted practices" and certification of PMI members.

That left the presentations to provide new information or learning. Going through the fifteen track offerings, it was tough to find three of interest, given titles like "PM Practices According to Meatloaf," "Turning Engineers Into PMs," and "Are We Having Fun Yet?" With the absence of any real new thinking evident in the proceedings (In which, by the way, I couldn't find any of the following words -- lean, agile, extreme, or critical chain.), I stuck with a Risk Management track, since it's my philosophy that Risk Management is the raison de'tre of Project Management. It consisted of a presentation by on getting executives involved in risk management, an interesting talk about "Project Interdependency Management" in the IT area of the Canadian Department of National Defense, and a case study on the use of risk management in an IT project. I think I chose pretty well, since later in the day, only one other presentation on contract negotiation was offered to my conversation-opening question..."What were the highlights for you today?" The only other one in the schedule that I might have considered was "Establishing a Complete PMO."

But even of the three that I attended, to reasonable satisfaction, only the idea of cross-project interdependency management would have been new to most attendees. So much of PMI's focus is in the management of individual projects that any discussion of multi-project, program, or portfolio management is a refreshing breath of reality. The other risk management presentation were straight from PMI's Guide to the PMBOK, emphasizing the ranking and weightings of probability and impact of risks, or the use of old tools like Monte Carlo simulations. Good messages for those who are not using such practices, but this was a PMI event, where I would hope attendees would be familiar with these basics. In my opinion, they missed the boat by stressing the "addition" of risk management practices rather than the "integration" of risk management into and with the other processes associated with project management. I'm not saying that they were a waste of time...far from it...just that there could have been messages to stretch the attendees' experience a bit more.

Fortunately, at least some of the "poster presentations" -- typically a collection of PowerPoint presentation slide printouts -- did do a bit of stretching. Once I got past the one that suggested a list of activities with associated due dates as a component of "project management basics," I found two in particular that came close to new ideas of general value to project managers. One, by Somnath Kundu of Fi-Tek, LLC, provided a very nice discussion of project reserve, distinguishing what he characterized as "Committed Activity Target" from a "Reserved Activity Target," cleverly discussing "the duty of the project manager to keep the CAT and the RAT apart, in order to make sure there is always some reserve available for the project." Perhaps the concept appealed to me as a parallel to the idea of project buffer in CCPM, but nonetheless, it was a realistic view of dealing with the need to promise rationally, and to protect those promises.

The other poster presentation that I liked was by David Vincenti of BD Consumer Healthcare, entitled "Burn the Gantt! - Tools and Techniques for Crisis and Rescue Projects." His message was about getting out of crises and catastrophes in projects, and to my eye, served as a stealth introduction of lean/agile/extreme concepts, focusing on short term commitments and dedicated team attention to getting out of a crisis. A chat with David regarding this characterization resulted in agreement, but also an emphasis that this was his idea of "good practice" for short term efforts, and that to deal with larger efforts, Gantt charts and up-front planning are still, and will remain, good practice. His presentation included a quote that I warned that I would steal from him.
"The shortest way to do many things is to do one thing at once." -- Samuel Smiles, Self-Help (1859)
It is interesting that the big, carefully juried, expense-paid, consultant-heavy track presentations seemed to be rehashes of the "generally accepted" good practices in project management that PMI is in the business of promoting (Actually PMI's "business" is the promotion of its self-defined brand of professionalism in the subject, but that's a whole 'nother rant.), and that the less formal poster presentations by in-the-trenches practitioners offered the best new insights of the day.

Not what one would typically expect...

...but promising for the future.

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