Can we 86 Project Management in IT?
I paid for much of my college education by working evenings and weekends in nightclubs and restaurants where I picked up the term "86". Sentences like, "86 the fries for the corner table" are commonplace for waiters. For you non-waiter folks in the group, "86" means, "to get rid of something" or "stop usage".
Of late - and to my surprise - I have overheard several conversations between IT Directors on whether or not they should hire project managers. After all, they say, a project manager adds a layer of unneeded bureaucracy: constantly scheduling meetings, slowing down the process with gate reviews, always documenting stuff instead of just moving forward.
Can we 86 project management in IT the same way a waiter 86es the fries?
This is surprising to me due to the years of experience we have with project managers in IT. After hearing this for several months, however, I started pondering this question, "Can we 86 project management in IT?"
In the club and restaurant business you 86 a product when it is out of stock or the customer cancels. In business you 86 something because it is no longer of value e.g. the cost exceeds the benefit. So, to answer the question on 86’ing project management we must look at the value (or perhaps lack of it) that project management brings to IT.
In general, organizations are looking for project management to lower costs by bringing greater efficiencies to their processes, create improved customer and stakeholder satisfaction, and generally provide them a greater competitive advantage.
The same is true for IT.
To underscore these points an Economist Intelligence report showed that 80 percent of global executives believed having project management as a core competency helped them remain competitive during the latest recession. 1
Additionally, a survey by consulting giant McKinsey & Co. found that nearly 60 percent of senior executives said building a strong project management discipline is a top-three priority for their companies as they look to the future.2
Why is it that business executives around the globe and top consulting firms hold project management in such high esteem?
It comes back to value.
The value proposition for project management has three components:
- Risk Management
- Cost Containment
Risk management is a core competency for professional project managers. Project oversight by PMs frequently identifies and sidesteps risks. If a risk does materialize, good project management will minimize the impact.
Keeping a project on track financially is another core competency of PMs. The ability to manage cost while juggling resources (the project team, 3rdparty suppliers, clients, stakeholders), project scope changes, and schedules can only be accomplished through project planning and due diligence, frequent project reviews, and milestone management.
In real estate, what matters is location, location, location. For projects it’s communication, communication, communication.This is the PM's wheelhouse. (Have you ever met a good PM that is not a good communicator?) I cannot over emphasize the importance of communication. Let us count the ways: business case development, charter, RPF’s, contracts, kickoff meetings, assigning tasks, requirements gathering, expectation setting, stakeholder engagement, project updates, risks, mitigation, budget, timeline, resources, and the list of communciation topics and forums goes on and on.
No wonder most PM’s subscribe to a 20/80 rule - 20% of the time is spent doing transactional based activities needed to control the project and 80% of the time is best spent on activities associated with leadership and delivery of the project - communication being considered the most important.4
Let’s sum up. Do project managers add a layer of bureaucracy? In fact, yes, they do. However, I would characterize it as "governance", not bureaucracy. I would argue that a consistent level of governance is a good thing. Combine governance with project leadership, monitoring and reporting and, used well, project managers actually eliminate much of the bureaucracy and papework that could otherwise slow a project team to a crawl.
Patrico Romero, IT Governance Officer at Direct TV, says, "You can have the point of view that a PMO takes a lot of time, people and money, but if you make room for it, feed it, and give it power and responsibility, you’ll see results. You’ll have a better organization and better communication about project progress across the company, which is key for the success of any business."3
I say more simply, "a good PM is worth their weight in gold."
Riddle me this: How does IT provide value to customers? Answer: By delivering solutions to business problems (either new capability or increased functionality). How does IT bring these solutions to life? Answer: through the delivery of projects.
In essence, the value chain for IT looks like this:
Project Delivery >> Solutions to business users >> Happy and Productive Customers!
So, while many, many factors go into creating good business solutions and happy customers - none of which I'm discounting - we know that good project management is a critical component, one that we should continue to invest in, nurture, and grow.
So, let’s answer the question: "Can we 86 project management in IT? " My answer: Absolutely not! (and if you are considering it, you are looking to cut costs in the wrong place).
1 Closing the gap: The link between project management excellence and long-term success, Economist Intelligence Unit, October 2009.
2 McKinsey & Co., January 2010. Results based on a survey of 1,440 senior executives.
3. Project Management Institute whitepaper: The Value of Project Management, 2010
4. Project Management Communication - perfection eludes us,Holland & Holland Enterprises Ltd, 2012