Sunday, October 22, 2006

Leave Well Enough Alone

One thing I am noticing is that PM forms tend to grow and grow. The existing forms get more complicated and the number continues to expand. I was working a risk form the other day given to me and it was in excel. The cells were locked and I had to choose from drop downs as to what type of risk I had, what the cause of the risk was, and which strategy I chose. There were a few others that I forget, but basically I was very constricted in the choices that I had. It was frustrating, what if my risk impacted both cost and time – I couldn’t choose that, I had to pick one or the other. I couldn’t even align the text in the fields – it wanted to center all the text on the bottom I thought it would look better if it was left justified and in the middle – too bad. What were they thinking??

Here is what I think they are thinking:

  • By restricting the choices, the form is easier to fill out for novice PMs. With limited choices, you can guide the PM through the process without a lot of confusion. I think: With this kind of paint-by-the-numbers, either you have a project that is so simple you should probably not need a risk assessment, or you have the wrong PM. Either accept that you don’t need much of a risk assessment, or get a new PM. This form is not going to fix the problem.

  • The restrictions make it easier for the PMO to categorize all the project risks that are happening throughout the company, and maybe steps can be taken to eliminate or mitigate those risks at a higher level. A noble and worthwhile pursuit. I think: Maybe the PMO should do some work. Instead of forcing PMs into neat boxes, maybe the PMO should be looking at the risks as they are – not as they are categorized. Where are the lessons learned? Where is the communication and community of practice to share this information? I think the access database with pie charts and pareto analysis is a lazy approach to the idea of recurring corporate project risk. Do all this, but do not force the PMs to fit it into your box, analyze the risks and find out how the risks categorized themselves. By forcing them into boxes, you risk misunderstanding, mis-categorization and actually fixing the wrong issue.

  • The form is being constantly tweaked and improved over time. As the PMO – form owners – learn more they make changes to the forms. Each change is designed to capture more information, or prevent mistakes, or to make it easier to fill out. I think: Leave well enough alone!! Maybe it’s time we started thinking of forms as works of art (although many are hardly that!). Van Gogh did not keep repainting Sunflowers to make it “better.” I think that we would all be a lot better off if we simplified every form and then made it next to impossible to change them. Unfortunately, we end up with PMOs who’s only job is maintenance of forms and methodologies, so we take all that knowledge and expertise and destroy it by forcing these people to come up with every more complicated forms and methodologies. Tell me it’s not true.

So I think we would all be a lot better off if we took all that experience and knowledge and spent it helping people become better project managers than in creating forms and methodologies under the assumption that people are bad project managers. First, no form is going to make a bad PM good. Second, no good PM needs a form designed for a bad PM. So make your forms useful, simple, flexible and few. Spend your time spreading PM knowledge not PM paper.

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