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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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

It Ain't the Tools -- Interesting. I just got finished writing a response to a request for a "tool for project prioritization" with the advice not to rely on tools, but on conversations to do such important stuff, when I visit good old Hal's blog, in which he says something along the same line...
"It's time we stopped acting like good technical wisdom is what makes for good project management. It doesn't. Likewise, accountability, authority, and responsibility (someone needs to explain the difference between accountability and responsibility for me) don't make a project manager. Let's try care, guidance, attention, listening, and openness. Now we're getting somewhere!...

"...What might we be able to accomplish on our projects if we put our attention on learning to increase the relatedness of people on our projects rather than studying for the PMI certification exam? Does anyone really think that doing better work breakdown structures will make our projects successful? No one. That's what I thought. How about learning to repair trust between two important team members? Now that would make a difference. Not the role of a project manager, you say? Then who's role is it?"
The incessant online requests for project management tools and templates drives me to distraction as well. The example of the project prioritization tool request implies something that you apply to an undifferentiated pile of projects and delivers a prioritized pile. There ain't no such animal, in my opinion, unless it involves a collection of human brains.

Effective prioritization involves understanding first what is important to the organization in question...its goal(s) and the strategy that has been determined to be the path to achieve it. Very often, I go into a client that has brought me in to help with project management processes, and one of the first things we need to do is to back up a step and get clarity on the interdependent tactical objectives that make up a viable strategic plan. We need to do this in order to prioritize (in many cases, kill and replace) the projects they have on their plate.

So the first cut of prioritization is alignment with strategies and tactics. If designed to ba a useful, living document, the strategy will also include aspects of interdependence and dependence between tactical objectives and the projects and programs that will put many of them into place, relative to one another. Without being able to have meaningful conversations about goals and strategies, many prioritization processes result in situations in which 80-90% of projects land up in the quadrant of "most important/ highest priority."

This is a common symptom of organizations for which what is important globally is not clearly defined by a strategy. Everything is important to some local part of the organization, but as a result, nothing is recognized as important to the organization as a whole. But we can't say that my silo is important and yours isn't -- it's just not polite -- so I scratch your back by not questioning the value of your desires and you scratch mine. A clear strategy will go a long way to getting leadership on the same page, and understand why it is best to delay "my" local interests in order to use scarce resources for "yours."

Again, we come back to the lack of a strategy as the source of this. Such a strategy needs to recognize current organizational constraints, and where the constraint needs to be in order to move to a defined desirable future. The individual silos then can recognize that their important role is to support the plan to address the constraint (which may not be their area, in which case many local "improvement projects" are a waste of time), and come to an honest understanding and agreement on priorities not for local doorknob polishing or phony cost reductions, but for real global improvement in the ability to achieve more organizational "goal stuff."

Without such real understanding of the interdependencies and dependencies of the projects in a portfolio, too many "tools" end up relying on a "weighting factor," some multiplication factor applicable to some ranking process. Personally, I'm not too keen on any such process. If they have any value at all, it is in the inevitable arguments about the factor -- at least then we're getting into what people really think is important. But it you've already got a handle on your vision, values, goals, and strategy, you already know what is important.

Yes there are important considerations and collections of data/information about the individual projects and programs to take into account, beyond strategic alignment, and there is an excellent summary of such useful information in a book I've recently read and that I am recommending all over the place...Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO, by Kendall and Rollins...but such spreadsheets and grids, no matter how useful they are, are not "tools" that produce appropriate decisions. They are only inputs for a decision/prioritization process that best takes place as a facilitated "conversation." that takes into account cost/benefit, risks, use of critical resources, etc. If you need to rely on a "tool" to avoid having the frank, open, and honest conversations about what is important, then the first step -- definitely -- is to assure the clarity of agreed upon goals, strategies, and tactics.

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