A Project Manager's Reflection on Labor Day and Agile
On this Labor Day, I am reminded of my roots as well as where my career is currently. Growing up in a blue collar family, I learned the importance of an honest day's work. The importance addressed the needs of physical growth, mental growth, social growth and skills growth. There was also something else that goes a lot deeper. That is the sense of collaboration and safety. A team of laborers, whether they be truck drivers, longshoremen, carpenters or electricians (to name a few) must always share the same vision, working together towards the same goal and watching for each other's safety. When you see construction workers on a site, you may notice that some of those workers may not look like they're working as they are standing at the work location, just holding a tool. However, when you look closely, you'll notice that they have a sharp eye on their coworkers and the immediate surroundings ready to alert the active worker of sudden danger. These workers are the risk managers of this construction project, ready to jump into action executing the risk management plan and ensuring the safety of their coworkers. Until organizations realized the importance of looking out for the safety of their workers, many lives were either permanently changed, perhaps through loss of limb, or they were lost. It wasn't until Labor Unions were formed in the United States, that American workers were ensured of safe working conditions. In addition, these same workers were guaranteed livable wages and skills training. By giving back to the workers, organizations were able to raise the skill levels and competencies of their workers. This resulted in higher quality products being built and higher quality services being provided. As consumers of motor vehicles, homes, office buildings, clothing and restaurant meals this raises our standard of living. While some may think that this has caused a division in economic classes, it has done the opposite. By encouraging skills growth, collaboration and worker safety, this has actually resulted in delivering of value early. The early delivery of value is a variation of the principle #3 of the Agile Manifesto, which says "Frequent delivery of working software". This, of course, is evidenced in principle #5; "Support, trust, and motivate the people involved." The implementation of Principle #5 not only applies to Producer and Consumer; it also applies to labor and management within the Producer organization. (See to find the Agile Manifesto and its principles.)
As I continue to study, learn, understand and share my lessons on the value of the Agile framework, I realize that the journey's destination is a lot further away than I had expected. Well, that's Agile for you! I recently had the experience of managing an infrastructure move project for a large financial services corporation. It was an experience that I won't soon forget as I realized that all of the tools that I've mastered in both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies don't really matter if the culture of the company, or any of its departments, are not ready to adapt them. This particular project was dormant for eight months before my arrival. Let me put it another way...the project was in a coma for eight months. I was the third project manager assigned to it and the project was still in the brain storming or concept phase, with no clear scope, schedule or budget agreed on by the stakeholders and the sponsors. That's fine for me. This was my opportunity to apply skills, experience and insight to get this project out of its coma. I was able to do that within a three-month period but not without a major realization of the topic of this post. We frequently hear of cultural transformations in departments, divisions and companies from Waterfall to Agile. When we drill down to the functional departments we hear about Agile methods or the Agile framework in software development, product development and process improvement delivering value early on. [What does that mean "...delivering value early on"? To put it simply, the concept of Minimal Viable Product is something that can be put to use and reap a return on investment as soon as it's put to use. This helps keep project costs down and also allows for the project to fund itself. The best example is the construction of a multi-tenant building which will have rentable/leasable units before the total construction is complete. In other words, complete one of six units and lease it immediately, which will help in recovering the investment and help finance the rest of the project. Each completion and renting/leasing of the six units can be considered as a Sprint and has the added benefits of a lower Internal Rate of Return and Minimizing Financial Risk.] The project that I worked on was no different than most projects in that I had to be mindful of the triple constraint (Scope, Schedule and Budget). What I soon came to realize was that it was the Budget leg of that triangle which had the least agility. For this project, the Corporate Finance department, which feeds the project financially, was also its biggest threat by not "feeding" the project and starving it out of existence. To this day, there are many companies that have finance departments that are predictable and monolithic, meaning their budgeting practices are mapped to the fiscal year at the enterprise level. If a project's budget cannot meet the deadlines required of estimation, execution and management within a certain timeframe, then the funds are withdrawn and the project management team MUST go through the entire process to secure project funding again. When I asked some of my Agile colleagues about this, they introduced me to the concept of "Beyond Budgeting" (https://www.toolshero.com/financial-management/beyond-budgeting/) There are twelve principles of Beyond Budgeting and Four Benefits. Two of those benefits are Shorter Response Time and Lower Costs. These two benefits would have also minimized an unforeseen risk, that became an issue having negatively impacted the Project Schedule as well as the Project Health/Performance. This unforeseen risk is the current pandemic that we are experiencing right now - COVID-19. In conclusion, had the Corporate Finance department of this organization adapted the principals and practices of Beyond Budgeting when the rest of the organization went through their Agile Transformation in 2016, then it is reasonable to say that this infrastructure move project could have been completed in the eight months before my arrival and the organization would have reduced their exposure of financial loss once COVID-19 came upon us.
In late 1969, the Project Management Institute (PMI) was formed after two men, Jim Snyder and Gordon Davis, came up with the idea in Philadelphia, PA. Through years of growth, research and education, PMI has set the global standard for Project Management worldwide. in various disciplines in the business world and academia, in both public and private sectors. The first certification for Project Managers occurred in October of 1984 when 43 candidates of 56 passed the exam and received the much-coveted Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. (Webster, F.M. (1994). Project management certification: the history. PM Network, 8(11), 24-25). Since 1969, we've had nine Presidents of the United States. Since 1984, when we saw the first PMP, we've had six Presidents of the United States.
What do both timelines have in common? Not one PMP was elected President of the United States. Interestingly, not one PMP was a party nominee for President of the United States! Still, since 1969 of the nine Presidents of the United States, four of them were attorneys and since 1984, two of the six were attorneys. While that might not seem a strong enough case for a PMP to run a successful campaign and be elected President, it should be noted that since 1776, the breakdown of previous experience for Presidents of the United States shows that an overwhelming percentage have been attorneys! According to the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_the_United_States_by_previous_experience#By_the_numbers), twenty six Presidents were previously attorneys, four taught at universities, twenty two had previous military experience (with nine being Generals in the U.S. Army) and all but five held some form of public office.
It almost seems like it is a requirement to either be an attorney or be a Veteran. While both previous experiences and occupations are honorable, the skills and continuous training of PMPs must be considered. As a point of interest, you can look at the memberships of many PMI Chapters and see a significant number of Veterans that are PMPs or in the process of attaining PMP certifications. Lawyers, while their training and testing is rigorous, are often limited by the scope of the jurisdiction of the state where they practice, even if it's within the same industry.
In order to strengthen the argument of why a PMP should be the President of the United States, we should analyze some of the Knowledge Areas as defined by PMI's "Project Management Book of Knowledge" or PMBOK. Before we do that, we should look at the definition of a Project. As per PMI, a Project is an endeavor that is temporary with the expectation of creating a unique product, service or result. This addresses two of the ten Knowledge Areas; "Schedule Management" and "Scope Management". Since the Presidency is defined by the U.S. Constitution of consisting of no more than two terms, with each term being four years, we've addressed "Schedule Management". Keep in mind, that a second term is something that is approved by the "Sponsors", specifically the voters, provided that the first term's performance indicators shows positive value to the citizens, or "Stakeholders". A campaign promise by a candidate is the equivalent of the "Scope"; answering the question "What will the President do for the nation during their time in office?"
These two Knowledge Areas require one more Knowledge Area to make up the "Triple Constraint" and that is "Cost Management". This is an area that can be a deal maker or deal breaker for a Project Manager, especially if that Project is being the President. In order to get elected, or re-elected, a candidate for the Presidency MUST identify the Scope and a high-level estimation of the Schedule. In many campaign promises the candidate may say "As your President, I will increase the funding for education!" Really? How? And how long before we see the results? (Raising taxes, fees and budget cuts to programs may be ways to fund such promises.) Something similar is also said during the State of the Union address - the Annual Status Report. Once the candidate is elected, they may say something like "I've got a five-year plan to increase funding for education!" The problem with that is the end of the term is the end of the project. Is the President forcing the voters to re-elect them so that the President can follow through on their campaign promise? This is similar to pushing out the project's deadline and increasing the budget as a result of poor Project Management.
A PMP would pay close attention to campaign promises (Scope), the plan to complete the promise on time (Schedule) and how that campaign promise is funded including managing the financials (Cost) through Earned Value Management. A PMP, as President, would also effectively manage two other Knowledge Areas that encapsulate the Triple Constraint; "Risk Management" and "Quality Management". Using the campaign promise of funding education, there needs to be a comprehensive Risk Management Plan around that campaign promise. How is the risk of funds going to the several states and counties managed so that the campaign promise isn't a failure? In 1975, President Gerald Ford identified the risk of federal funds being "...used to support administrative paperwork and not educational programs" when he signed Senate Bill 6- "Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975". The entire speech can be read here: A PMP, would have identified the risk and managed the risk by working with the legislature on mitigating that risk. (This of course, would be two other Knowledge Areas; "Stakeholder Management" and "Communications Management".) To reiterate, there is "Quality Management" which works with "Risk Management". A President, who is a PMP, will understand that the campaign promises must be followed as closely to their plan as possible and will ensure that it is managed appropriately to ensure quality.
Welcome to my blog! My intention is to offer an interactive experience for you, the visitor, where you will get the opportunity to read and comment on the project management experience. I will post on the attributes of project management, as defined by the Project Management Institute and applying my professional experience to it. I strongly encourage robust comments! That means, you can strongly disagree with me, how I perceive things and how I present them. I just ask that we all be respectful. Some of the areas that I will cover are the triple constraint Scope Schedule Budget Just to make it annoying...I mean interesting... I will also cover Quality Risk Resources To make it more fun, I will post articles, thoughts and documents that may not be easily categorized as one of the six constraints mentioned above. The end game is that we can all edify each other's knowledge in project management. Thank you for stopping in... stay a while ... and come back soon!