Working Towards PM Perfect, Now and Free

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We participated in a Decision Sciences Institute conference in Toledo in April, and it was a very interesting event. A combination of practitioners and educators with a learning focus, the variety of papers presented was impressive. We presented on the educational outreach opportunities of PRO, the Performance Rated Organization standard. Drs. Gary Klein and Neeraj Parolia presented our unique SCiPM program–which generated great interest among the participants.

Exploring Perfect, Now and Free

But the purpose of this posting is to acknowledge the stellar paper of one of the participants. She appears to have a clear grasp of what project stakeholders really want. Ms. Pushpa Agrawal, from the MBA Program Office, University of Nebraska at Kearney, is the presenter who impressed us with her insights. She spoke of the “voice of the customer”. She acknowledged that projects that are Perfect, Now and Free are (currently) unachievable. And yet, she pointed out that this outcome is what every project customer (and manager) desires.

Of course, popular project management practice continues to obsess about the “triple constraints”, or “iron triangle”. Meanwhile, others, such as Duncan, continue to distinguish between project success measures and business success measures. And from our own part, we have for years treated them as part of the Vital Signs of project success.

In fact, we have published a range of articles here on our website, that cover related topics:

  • That there are more project attributes to manage than just three;
  • That the factors are not constraints, but key areas to manage;
  • That the measures emphasized most during the project change to different ones at the end;
  • That the attributes go far beyond knowledge, to embrace competence and performance;
  • That those most-frequently emphasized (Time and Cost) are trailing, not leading indicators;
  • That the truly competent PM must manage the business factors, in addition to project factors.

So you see, we have put quite some energy into guiding practitioners towards optimum project and business results. That is why we were so impressed with Ms. Agrawal’s insights: She pushed the measures to their limits, with Perfect, Now and Free. But while she admitted that they are currently unachievable, are they?

Paths To Nirvana

Perhaps this is a Physics challenge: You can never reach infinity. But maybe, if we work very hard, we can get close.

Even planning a project takes time and cost. Perhaps, to get closer to Perfect, Now and Free, we should just skip planning. However, many people already do that, and their results are far from Perfect. I guess that is not the solution.

Some organizations develop good plans, but then fail to track at all, or they only track the good news. Then, they proclaim the results as excellent, on time and within budget–and there is no data to refute the proclamation. Of course, those stuck with the results don’t always agree, but by then, the team is long gone.

Or, we could suggest a modification to Nike’s famous slogan, changing it to Just Don’t Do It. If you could agree with some interpretations of Perfect, not doing the project at all seems to come close. In fact, this would be a huge improvement for some organizations: those that incessantly launch too many concurrent projects. Not only that, they have too few resources, and assign project managers with missing competences, and no authority.

Accomplishing the Impossible

Some would say that suggestion might be an improvement. Others would assert that achieving Perfect, Now and Free is impossible. Yet our own definition of project management states that it is “completing the impossible, better, faster and cheaper.” Impossible because it is new; it involves changes; it has never been done before. And Better, Faster and Cheaper? Those are relative–where Perfect, Now and Free is the ultimate.

So if we are to be considered competent and performing practitioners, perhaps we have two missions:

  1. Optimize all the project factors within our control and influence. Then, identify all the additional ways (currently out of reach) that the permanent organization can further optimize. Lastly, move incrementally closer to Perfect, Now and Free.
  2. Perfect our ability to identify, measure and manage the business success factors. These could include benefit realization, customer satisfaction, or relief from regulatory requirements. They should also include improved management effectiveness.

Otherwise, many Executives will continue to believe that PM is that group of people over whom we have no control, no visibility, and no hope.

Meanwhile, Ms. Agrawal has shown us what Executives really, really want. Thank you!

Footnote: Since we wrote this posting, we have also found a book at Amazon.com with a similar title. The book is not directly related to project management, so Ms. Agrawal has still done a bit of breakthrough thinking. See: Free, Perfect, and Now: Connecting to the Three Insatiable Customer Demands, A CEO’s True Story by Robert Rodin and Curtis Hartman (Paperback – Jan. 15, 2000)

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