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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The business of America is business…not project management.

Andy Fralick sent me this thoughtful and revealing guest post last week.  I've worked with Andy, and come to know and trust him.  

Here is a brief bio followed by's first guest post:

Andy has been involved in IT management for almost 30 years. He served as IT Director and CIO for a variety of national and international manufacturing companies, mainly within the automotive arena. He’s been a practitioner of project management since the early 90’s, leading major system implementations on an international scale. Married with five kids and four grandkids, he spends what his leisure time teaching karate to kids and enjoying the great outdoors in Michigan!

 “The business of America is business.” – Calvin Coolidge

Years before being a “project manager” was the cool thing to be, I was one. While my official job title might have been IT Director or CIO, my primary duties were implementing ERP, messaging, CRM and other major solutions both domestically and abroad. I initially got my introduction to Project Management back in the early 90’s from Francis Bado, who pioneered standardized project management at IBM. I sat in rapt attention during his seminars and devoured every tidbit of information I could glean from his teaching. Here was a solution to my problems and I was thankful for the methods and procedures he taught. Throughout the years I’ve continued picking up additional training in project management from a variety of sources. Because of my positions I never really felt it was necessary to get formal certification in project management and the lack of a piece of paper on the wall never negatively affected my advancement.

With the decline in the automotive industry and the economic “bust” of 2007, my work world changed. Suddenly companies weren’t interested in an IT Director or CIO who was “older.”
Frequently in job interviews I’d be asked something along the lines of, “well don’t you think that technology is actually the realm of younger people?” In order to be gainfully employed I find myself taking contract jobs as a project manager. These jobs have been in a variety of industries and the scale of the projects have ranged from huge international implementations to smaller, one location installations. In the past year I have come to the conclusion there exists in many companies, large and small, a militant view of project management which is doing tremendous damage, not only to their own businesses, but I believe to the U.S. economy as a whole.

Now, before people start collecting firewood and lashing me to a stake, let me assure you that “I get it.” I understand and believe in “project management.” I subscribe to the basic tenets and principles of project management. But I think there is a destructive, even militant side of project management that has wormed its way into corporate America and needs to be recognized and addressed.

Just a couple of years ago, in the depths of a recession, the United States ranked number one world-wide in productivity. This year, we have dropped to 18th. It is projected that within a couple more years we will drop below 30th. While it is true there are many factors involved in this decline, I am not alone in seeing that militant project management is a major contributor to this rapid fall. Recently some tech journals have raised the same point. How have we gotten here and what can be done to mitigate the effects of project management gone wild?

As is true in so many things in life, if you want to find out the truth…follow the money. In the 90’s and through the early 2000’s you couldn’t turn around without running into ISO. ISO certification was necessary for even the smallest “mom and pop” shop to do business. Billions were spent training, documenting, testing, and certifying companies of all sizes. Consultants and “testers” sprang up overnight and companies couldn’t wait to throw money at this whole process. A Utopian world of perfection was promised if you attained certification. Processes would be optimized, quality would be near 100% and profits would soar. Sounded great but it wasn’t true. There was nothing in the certification process which assured or even suggested a company optimize the processes they were documenting. You just had to make sure you documented what you did and did what you documented. If you were producing crap using lousy processes filled with non-value-add steps, that was fine…as long as you documented it and slavishly stuck to it you would be ISO certified. In fact many companies, who received awards for their adherence to ISO, went bankrupt in the real world because they consistently made junk that no one wanted to own. The heads of these companies couldn’t understand why people didn’t want what they were offering…after all they were ISO certified! ISO was King…but never really lived up to what was promised. However thousands of people and “consulting” companies made billions of dollars trying to convince us the King was dressed in royal robes even though eventually most saw he was in his “tighty whiteys” and stained undershirt!

Militant project management is the new ISO.

Corporate America is again spending billions training employees in project management. PMO’s are springing up, run by people with brand spanking new PM certifications and little or no understanding of real-world business needs. In many cases, in spite of all their classes and certifications they never learned the cardinal rule of project management, which is the same as the opening of the Hippocratic Oath, “first, do no harm.”

The last three major projects I worked on all had new or relatively new PMO’s. Armed with freshly minted certifications the PMO’s were starting the process of establishing their basic methodologies and procedures. Of course these fledgling PMO’s were also attempting to simultaneously manage major infrastructure or system implementation projects as they figured out who they were. As happened when companies adopted ISO, the thinking went “if one document (or step, or procedure or whatever) is good then a jillion must be even BETTER!!!! Demand for documentation, meetings, forms, etc. from the business units becomes crushing.  Threats emanate from the Director of PMO, and the poor minions who actually have to be productive day in and day out are confused as to why they have to keep supplying the same information over and over and over again…just in a different format…to a PM who more often than not has no idea what it is that they are looking at! The front line people can’t do their jobs in that manner, it’s not productive. Whether it’s accounting, shop floor, shipping, or customer service these workers know they need to do their job quickly, accurately, consistently and ONCE. Shipping doesn’t put 30 labels on a box just because “someone might not want to look at the other side.” Accounting doesn’t repost numbers to the General Ledger multiple times just to make sure they got posted. Yet those are the very types of excuses heard from PM’s when they try to justify why all the redundancy. Antipathy grows between the business and the PMO and the organization which was supposed to bring order and profitability is becoming the bane of business. At the top, executives stay blissfully unaware of what is happening within their company and if any dissatisfaction happens to waft up to the rarefied air of the C-Level suites it is immediately dismissed as whining from those who are adverse to change. Sadly, these redundant demands for information are the least of our worries.

I am currently working on a project which has now spent over a month while various groups have held countless meetings debating which “method” to use to make a very small change to a project. Adding six fields and the ability to upload a document to a website has resulted in heated discussions as to whether this should be: a) an entirely new project with its own RFI, scope etc., or b) a change to the existing CRM implementation project this website is related to, or c) a change to a future project which is to create a whole new website for the client. Scores of man-hours have been spent in impassioned exchanges by members of the PMO as to how this should be handled. The irony of this is…I’m not a developer…haven’t written a line of code in decades, but I could actually complete this modification to the web site in less than half an hour.  A competent web developer could do it in 10 minutes or less. Is it any wonder that business units look at PM’s and the whole project management movement and think we are total waste of time and resources? It’s because in far too many cases…we are!

On at least a weekly basis I’m confronted by leaders from various business lines who complain that the very same type of project, adjusted for inflation, now takes them 2 to 3 times as long to complete and costs them up to 5 times as much money as it did just two or three years ago.  They believe the PMO claiming these projects are coming in under budget is grossly misleading. While they may be “under” the projected budget amount, it is still costing them multiple times what it cost to do the same thing just a couple of years ago! Their contention is the added expense comes from the corps of “consultants” related to the PMO which must get their fingers into the budget pie. To make matters worse the networking consultants can’t speak to AD or LDAP issues and those folks aren’t allowed to address messaging concerns and the messaging people can’t answer data storage questions and data storage is clueless about VMWare, the list goes on and on. Scores of people all clamoring for “control” leads to endless discussions with few decisions. Questions or issues that used to be dealt with via a single phone call or email now take multiple meetings and endless discussions. The entire project management process becomes a self-perpetuating leviathan consuming every resource in its path and not giving back to the business in proportion to what it demands. Yes, I know there are “techniques” which can be used in these circumstances, but far too often this is caused by those leading the PMO being more concerned about justifying their existence and budgets than they are about helping the rest of the business complete projects and tasks in a streamlined, precise manner. As professional project managers, if we are honest with ourselves, we know this is true.

What can be done? How can we get back to the concepts and promises that formalized project management first offered to us? I think the solutions are fairly simple, if everyone involved is willing to think of what is best for the organization before what is best for the PMO. After all, isn’t the whole idea behind project management to be an “enabler” for the business?

  • Project management is not a religion…so stop acting like it is. Unwavering,unquestioning adherence to techniques and methodologies won’t change the world…it won’t even change your business! Use what is useful, discard what isn’t. Don’t bedazzled by the latest terms and techniques. Stop and find out if they are simply a re-hashing of what you already know. You’ll find in many cases that the seminar you just can’t miss or new concept promising to “revolutionize” your job is merely a re-wrapped method designed to make money for the company promoting their “latest and greatest”overpriced presentation. Bring common sense back to project management.
  • As Francis Bado used to remind us, “project management doesn’t really ‘produce’ anything.” We are not the business…we are a tool, a vehicle, by which or through which the business moves toward higher productivity, higher profitability and cleaner processes. To paraphrase Coolidge, “the business of business is business…not project management.” If we as PM’s or the PMO are actually holding back the business then we have forgotten what our role is. While it is true that sometimes we need to have some short-term losses of productivity in order to become more effective long term, far too often project management aficionados think THEY are the reason a business exists. Do whatever is necessary to acquire and retain a proper view of your role.
  • Don’t setup a PMO just to be “cool.” For most small to mid-sized organizations, getting a key person or two up-to-date and perhaps even certified in project management is sufficient. Let them sell the concepts and methods into the organization. Have them demonstrate the reality of the benefits of project management in less formal settings. It is far better coming from a peer than from an “execu-troid” who makes a presentation in project management speak then disappears never to be heard from again!
  • Keep methodology and required documentation SIMPLE. Redundancy is a productivity killer and frustrates those who already have more than enough to do in the course of their day. The concepts of process engineering (e.g. kill off all non-value add steps) should always be applied to project management.
  • We really don’t impress anyone by throwing around project management terminology to make us sound superior. Scrum sounds like something your hygienist scrapes off your teeth. I was scratching my head at a recent job trying to figure out what the “Neo-Stratification Matrix” was. The link sent me to a convoluted spreadsheet that looked as if a demented statistician had finally lost their mind creating this monstrosity. Out of frustration I called a co-worker and found out all the list was for was to display the status of various tasks within the project. REALLY??? Neo-Stratification Matrix? Use the technique without being overbearing with the terminology or being overly complex in reporting. Gradually introduce LEGITIMATE terms as people show more interest.
  • Keep a sense of humor. While what we do is certainly important, we can’t take ourselves too seriously. Remember, we are invading other peoples “territories,” most of the time unwanted and uninvited! Encourage a feeling of “team” rather than us vs. the unwashed, uninformed and unenlightened peons. 
  • DO NO HARM. This is related to the second point, but is a bit different. We are there to HELP not hinder. Yes, there will be times we might slow things down in a work day because we are asking for any number of important things. However, as a rule we should strive to enhance the everyday work processes of the business. We must not come across as “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Instead we should be walking empathetically with our co-workers, honestly endeavoring to understand their world and work with them to improve it.
Much more could be said…and perhaps should. I think those of us who make our living within project management recognize there is room for improvement…dramatic improvement. Speak up…respectfully…and try to assure those in your organization that you and the PMO are there to honestly enhance the business and streamline it, not BE the business. The business of America is business…not project management.


  1. Thanks for putting this out there Andy. I think we have all run into some of these challenges, but it is a brave step to come out and say it in a public forum. Thanks also for choosing as your platform!

  2. very good article.

  3. Excellent insight on what is really happening with the Project Management label. Hindrance versus Help...

  4. Any small business owner will agree that time is money. Personal and financial success relies heavily on ability to manage your time effectively.