How I Learned to Balance the Project Vital Signs

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
I named the key project factors of Time, Cost, Scope, Talent, Risk and Quality the Project Vital Signs nearly thirty years ago. I named them to evoke the signs one measures in the Emergency Room at a hospital. In that setting, are not measured to see if the patient is dead yet, but to determine whether she or he was improving. My rationale: Effective project managers use those factors to manage for success, not just to identify when the project failed. But I did not originally learn the importance of balancing those Vital Signs in the project world. Instead, I learned it in a number of early formative experiences. This article is about one of those experiences.

Growing Up In the Cherry Capital of the World

I grew up in The Dalles, Oregon, the fresh dark red, ripe, sweet cherry-producing capital of the World (at that time). Other competitive regions included Italy, California, and Michigan, but our orchards produced the largest, richest-flavored cherries. They were so much in demand, that flights to Paris would next-day deliver our cherries to such noteworthy gourmet places as Fauchon.

One part of our packing process was to box the cherries in elegantly foiled and lined wooden boxes. This way, they showed a classy image in the shops. And one of the choicest jobs, once I turned 18 years of age, was to be one of the workers who made those boxes.

The box-making process involved standing at a large, noisy machine, and following these steps:

  1. Insert two ends (called heads) and one side into the machine, and push the nailing pedal. A large mechanical device containing the hammers would rapidly descend and nail the parts. Caaarrrunch!
  2. Flip the box over and place the lid on the assembly. Press the nailing pedal; caaarrunch, went the machine. Note that the boxes were filled from the bottom, with the top several rows carefully arranged by packers. The goal: when opened, the customer would see exquisitely-perfect rows of artfully placed cherries.
  3. Flip the mostly-assembled box to its final position, add the last side, and push the pedal; caaarrrunnch!
  4. Place the finished box on the slanted track behind me, where four people added the foil, cardboard, and poly liner. Meanwhile, I began to repeat the cycle.

Those four steps required 6-10 seconds for each box.

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Who Really Manages Your Projects?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
In many organizations today, there exist competent and experienced Project Managers, Senior Project Managers and Program Managers. We refer to them all as PM or PMs in this article. And, they all have the responsibility and authority to deliver the organizational changes and benefits.  Senior Managers, Executives, and internal and external customers expect those actions of the PMs. They are a credit to their organizations. The Managers and Executives are incredibly effective, and their organizations (Government and Enterprises) thrive as a result. We shall call this phenomenon Exhibit A.

IPMA’s* Advanced Project and Program Manager certification program, is perfect for these competent and performing practitioners. And IPMA-USA’s PRO program, Performance Rated Organization, is a perfect match for the Exhibit A organizations.

And then we have the other organizations, that we shall call Exhibit B. In the Exhibit B organizations, project success usually depends on several layers of Managers, rather than the nominal Project Managers. These other layers are directing or controlling Time, Cost, Scope and Talent (and other factors). They leave the PM to be a mere implementer; despite his or her best efforts. The result: Poor PM Performance, and Executive Managers, who blame the practice of PM, rather than their misplaced authority.

Who Sets Time, Budget, Scope and Talent?

Some of those Exhibit B organizations depend more on team heroics than deft management. Too often, Project Managers are identified after timelines and budgets are set; scope is never quite “nailed down”. Not only that, promised talent never appears, while cherished talent disappears. Much to the chagrin of PMs, requests for some flexibility somewhere are met with the classic excuse: “we just have to do more with less”. This almost always results in delivering far less with less.

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