The hidden rules that help Project Management

In his book Why Does Software Cost So Much?, Tom DeMarco states that software organizations have clearly articulated and widely known rules to help manage projects better, such as :

Keep quality high
Leave time for unanticipated problems
Respond to user needs
Work hard
Keep promises

He says though, that organizations 'think' these rules are primary guides to their decision making. However he says there are Hidden Rules too :

False Precision Of Estimates : There are tolerances and buffers built into estimates at all levels but what is most ironic is that no one, and especially not 'management', will take a range of numbers for an answer ! Ever tried your boss with 'About 17 to 71 days' ? :)

Power Shifting : A reference to power play during corporate consolidation and its effects on the project and its success.

Anger: Ideally there should be no emotions as far as work is concerned but a large part of work is centered around interactions with other humans. And 'fear' is the most seen on display, mostly disguised as anger.

Fat: Another irony - 'managing people is not by itself enough to justify managers' salaries' ! Makes you wonder why the word 'management' entered the English dictionary. This unpleasant truth makes most managers go out of the way to 'add value' and leave people unmanaged. A fit case of 'Yeh Dil Maange More', no ?

Denial : What is expected is 'can-do management' and any expressed 'realism' is shouted down with a chorus of 'loser' and 'defeatist', as well orchestrated as the 'two legs good, four legs bad' refrain ! That leaves little room for 'risk management' says he. Cheerleaders are not restricted to football and cricket it seems.

This is just a summary and one must read the the book for more details - it has more such great insights and is a very useful read for the Project Manager. The work may be dated, but the content is relevant and your learning can be as fresh.



Managing Contractual Risks on Projects

As a Manager, one is involved in projects right from the stage where contracts are being signed. While a Project Manager cannot be a lawyer himself, and is expected to have organizational support from the legal angle, here is an excerpt that serves as a good high level checklist to Managers :

Every contract has risks that must be reviewed from the perspective of protecting the state's assets and interests. This document provides you with guidelines and tools to help you manage those risks when you contract on behalf of the state. An inherent part of contract management is to:

1. Evaluate the risks involved;

2. Decide whether to avoid, transfer, or accept the risks; and
3. Implement appropriate risk transfer and/or risk financing mechanisms.

Read the contract thoroughly and anticipate events or situations that could happen within the scope of work outlined. Ask yourself:

1. Who are all the parties involved?
2. What kind of work is being done?

3. What type of accidents or losses could occur?

4. What is the worst-case scenario in terms of financial loss and/or injury to persons or property?

5. Are the responsibilities for the risks appropriately placed with those in the best position to control them?

6. What is each party's ability to manage the risks and absorb the losses?

7. Is the contract legal and enforceable?

Within the contract, risk transfer is accomplished through a combination of indemnification, hold harmless, and waivers of subrogation clauses. Insurance is commonly required as a means of providing the financial support to back the indemnitor's obligation to hold the indemnitee harmless.

These are generic of course, and appropriate customizations will be applicable for respective kinds of projects. Here is another nice article on the various aspects of contractual risks.


Managing Change

This is a topic for many words but here are a few that that resonate well with me at this point in time. This article by Dave Cheong on embracing change is great advice, do check it out. I liked the Satir Change Model too, heres another article on it by Steven Smith, this one talks additionally about a 'Transforming Idea'.

The key takeaway is to be a conscious and willing part of the change.


Data Driven Decisions

I am currently learning about intuitive management vs professional management driven by numbers obtained from measurement. I'm learning about it at work and it does come across as an effective methodology to manage projects and organizations to make unbiased data driven decisions.

Its a challenge to come up with metrics that will help you achieve the same, but it is possible. Once you innovate and design appropriate metrics, and administer them across the organization, the data repository gets built over time and you can really achieve high productivity in managing the projects and the organization. Its an enabler for accurate decision making.


Post-Acquisition Strategies

There seem to be two post-acquisition strategies employed :
1. Nurture and Integrate
2. Annihilate and Assimilate

The former would be applied in cases where the products are based on a different technological platform, or are strong in different geographies. There would be a mature plan to let the acquired organization adjust to the new environment while it continues to execute on its former plans and continues to succeed as a business unit. The essential ingredient of this plan would be avoidance in changing anything that will cause disruptions or delays towards achieving success. After all the acquisition was done with the aim of generating value and losing that focus would be seen as detrimental.

The latter would be applied in cases where the products are in direct competition with the acquiring organization and technologies are similar. The integration plan would include both process and product integration. [I would suggest however that the focus be more on interoperability rather than integration.]Such a strategy would also be applied in cases where the acquisition itself is not seen as synergistic on day one, and speedy and active intervention is deemed necessary towards reaping positive results.

Both the strategies include integration but are differentiated by its speed.

Irrespective of which is employed, it is imperative to understand that 'people are important'. Checkout a slightly old list of EMC's acquisitions and a stunning report that says that 15 of the 17 chief executives of the EMC acquisitions have remained with the company.


Lots to learn

1. Will this project complete on time and with targeted profit margins ?
2. What are the dependencies on the customer for this project that will affect the above ?
3. If you discover that the project will incur loss, and you've run out of alternative ways of avoiding that, what is the right approach to take ?
4. When is the right time to raise the alarm and stop the project ?
5. What are the different business compulsions that need to be juggled when taking this decision ?
6. What is the manner in which this action should be communicated to all internal and external stakeholders ?
7. And finally, who's to take the blame ?

As one grows, one learns. :)


Integration Success : Declared vs. Acknowledged

The recent acquisition that I have been part of was 'declared' successful by the Integration Task Force setup to smoothen post merger blues.

The initial motives behind the acquisition and the learning and growing that happens within the acquiring management team through the process of integration plays the key role in the decisions taken during integration.

This article mentions four central themes viz. control versus cooperation; how to handle the culture of the acquired firm; trust versus distrust; and speed versus carefulness, which play out towards the final outcome. Plus, "the most important factor when it comes to post-acquisition management seems to be the ability of managing people rather than systems and structures" says a related paper, and I concur.

I know of companies that take special efforts at keeping morale of the employees in the acquired organization high. For instance, to make them feel comfortable, their emotional links to their previous organization are retained by actions like honouring their joining-date and treating them as equally old employees of the new organization. As far as I know, this international best practice is deemed so important that it is done even if it does not go very well with the employees of the acquiring organization.

Another thing that I have experienced being done is about not only retaining but also expanding the cultural activities of the acquired organization to include the new larger organization.

Little things, done right, show the sensitive side of the new management and give re-assurance to the new set of employees which, IMO, is the defining factor for successful integration.

Integration is successful only if it is acknowledged as such by the employees who are the ultimate customers of any Human Resource exercise.