It’s the Deliverables, People!

Toolkit1BubblePeopleToolkitPublished in the Project Post-Gazette, February 2014

by Paul Lohnes, MBA, PMP

With this lead article, we at the PPG begin to provide solutions to some of the problems and issues that we researched and discussed during our 2013 initial year – and what a year it was. Our publisher, Ms. Cheryl Wilson, is illustrating our 2013 year in her annual, “Year in Review” piece in the Publisher’s Page. Be sure to stop by and see the highlights of the project management, risk, compliance, ethics, and business analysis disciplines, but also how the PPG provided coverage on these important and timely topics.

The most pressing quagmire facing the project management and business analysis environments has to be the stagnant or in some venues the deterioration of project success ratios over the past 20 years while the number of professional certificate holders in the disciplines have increased over 10,000% — yes that is right, over 10,000%! One would expect that with such an explosion of certified individuals in a single discipline that the results of the application of such talent would have had at least the smallest impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. Regardless of the survey, and there is a most impressive list of them which a simple Google search will produce (Forrester, Gardner, Standish, ComputerWorld, and host of academics), the statistic of project success rates (and there is some debate about this definition) has remained fairly flat or digressed during this period of certification growth.

Comparing this to the absolutely different outcomes in the electronic engineering discipline and specifically in the field of micro and now nanofabrication of integrated circuits, the successes have been most demonstrable and quite notable. Computer chips have progressed along a suggested improvement line called, “Moore’s Law,” after American Engineer Gordon Moore which postulates that engineering advances in this field would climb a line where the number of transistors on an integrated chip would double every 1-2 years (depending on when you took his statement.) In actuality the integrated circuit industry has kept a pace up that averages around a doubling every 18 months. OK, so what?

Let us put this effect, it is not really a law, into something that is a bit more understandable: if the aviation industry would have kept up the same level of improvement since 1978, Intel the world’s largest and best known computer chip manufacturer has calculated that a transatlantic flight from New York to Paris would have gone from costing USD 900 and taking over 7 hours to costing about USD 0.01 and taking just less than 1 second! That is correct – about 1 US penny to taking less than 1 second. The project management discipline should hide in shame with its project success rates flat or even dropping over the period where the number of professional project managers (PM) has risen over 10, 000%!

Can we draw some conclusions beyond the numbers and statistics?

YES! The conclusion is simple and plain – what is being taught or passed off as the industry’s bodies (note the use of the plural) of knowledge (see the previous PPG issues for reviews on the disciplines various bodies of knowledge, methodologies and frameworks) IS NOT WORKING! Can we be any plainer, any more obvious?

Therefore, with this conclusion firmly in place we at the PPG will await any one of our readers or detractors to prove the above assertion in error, we will from this point on only refer to this as accepted without having to redo the above login chain. We will place it in our CONCLUSION LOCKER as PPG CL 2014-001 and thus continue on from as if we had made the hypothesis, research, and conclusion in place of the simple listing of the conclusion ID.

Our next discussion centers on understanding what makes a project unique from the other major set of cohesive activities at an organization called operations? What is a project?

  1. A project is finite,
  2. A project produces unique ‘fit-for-use’ deliverables, and
  3. A project has clearly defined metrics for completion

The last characteristic is ours since it has been forgotten in almost every other definition of a project and is one of the missing links that we feel leaves the definition of a project lacking. The first two characteristics are quite well-known and most demonstrable in the form of the schedule and statement of work or project charter. The third characteristic has a very limited physical artifaction and may be why it is often dismissed in most descriptions of projects. We are not speaking of the deadlines or budgets or even the deliverable summaries. A project must have clearly defined and approved metrics of success so that the first two characteristics have a basis in reality.

Since the current bodies of knowledge focus on the completion of processes and not the deliverables themselves this final characteristic is usually not defined and thus most projects are not sure and more importantly most project teams are not directed towards the achievement of the deliverables on-time and on-budget since the focus is elsewhere. Processes turn the attention of the teams towards plans, meetings, communications, and quality reviews. All of these ARE important, but not the most important. The deliverables produced as ‘fit-for-use’ are the most important focal point of any project that wants to be successful:

This is the central premise of what our sister organization, MCLMG LLC, have developed as “Deliverable-Centered Project Management (DCPM).” This central premise serves as the foundational difference between why our projects produce the acceptable outcomes that their clients sign off on as ‘fit-for-use.’ Please allow us the expediency of using the acronym ‘FFU’ since we will be describing this key metric for achievement through our writings

How is the focus of DCPM different from the focus of current bodies of knowledge? To put it concisely and briefly, it is the following series of logic rails, as we call them:

  1. No deliverables, no project;
  2. No project, no constraints;
  3. No constraints, no risks.
  4. No risks, no gain.

These logic rails simply state the relationship chain from the lack of deliverables through to the lack of gain from accomplishing a set of activities that most call a project. Without risks, nothing is uncertain, and this double negative is equivalent to ‘everything is certain.’ If everything is certain, anyone can accomplish or complete the set of activities and thus an organization can derive very little if any business value enhancement from the accomplishment of the activities. We are NOT saying that all certain activities should NOT be accomplished in organizations – quite the contrary – we are simply saying that they have little if any business value of moving the organization towards the achievement of their strategic mission or vision initiatives: only successful projects can produce such value.

One final issue with the focus on processes versus deliverables is that processes cannot be standardized for the production of unique outcomes. While most of the current bodies of knowledge are revealing in their status as a standards body this or that, they are missing the point that projects do not produce standard outcomes. If you are using a project to masquerade as an operational activity (an condition that we have found at many organizations especially the US Government since there is money for projects but not for operations and maintenance actions) then processes can be standardized, but if the project is truly producing unique, mission/vision initiative achieving deliverables, standards detract as they focus on the activity and not the outcome itself.

So to endow organizations with the understanding of how to solve their project success rate issues, we need to understand the underlying ideas of DCPM. What are the logic rails of this new project mindset?

  1. Everything starts and ends with the project deliverables,
  2. All project activities are baselined against the production of FFU deliverables,
  3. Nothing is planned, constrained, or executed that does not clearly improve this production

Each of these logic rails will be more fully detailed in the articles of the PPG in both March and April 2014 where DCPM is completely defined and presented to the project management discipline in their entirety; however, for now, please accept this shortened explanation of each of these rails as a starting point for discussion and debate.

Concept #1: Everything starts and ends with the project’s deliverables

This logic rail is based on the assertion that the goal of every project is the production of FFU deliverables than the focus of the project should center on their achievement to the level of being accepted by the project’s sponsor as ‘fit-for-use.’ The logic derives its power from the concept of a circle where the only common area is the object’s core or common region. For projects this common concept is the production of FFU deliverables and therefore as in a circle serves as the beginning and ending of all project’s attention. This means that all other project artifacts are tied back to a specific deliverable: requirements, WBS work packages, schedule activities or tasks, resource assignments, control accounts, quality metrics, risks, issues, procurement, and even stakeholder expectations. EVERYTHING!

Concept #2: All project activities are baselined against the production of the project’s FFU deliverables

In determining the value of any project activity, the one benchmark, the only benchmark for its inclusion in the project is the activity’s value in producing FFU deliverables. While this may seem circuitous logic, it is not. A project activity that consumes project resources, time, and budget allocations must be chosen from all the other activities that a project manager (PM) could choose to include or plan for execution. This choice must therefore be based on some rational foundation of business value or it merely expends the project’s limited consumables without moving the project towards the objective of FFU deliverable production – in other words, it is merely wheel-spinning. This baseline metric clarifies for MCLMG’s PM and project team members the reason for taking this action without having to guess of its value to their project.

Concept #3: Nothing is planned, constrained, or executed that does not improve this production

To plan, constrain (more on this in a bit), or execute an activity that does not improve the production of FFU deliverables, the project team is wasting its limited consumables (time, budget, and resources) on an action that does not have business value to the organization. The more such wasted actions an organization accepts, the more likely the organization is going to miss the achievement of its mission or vision initiatives since such initiatives, if they are of value, are not completed without direct, focused, planned, and executed actions. Again, if this were not so, the mere statement of the initiatives would be sufficient to support their completion. Goals require action else an organization settles for the passive existence of a ‘cash cow,’ or government program awaiting deconstruction.

What is meant by constrain in the above concept? Simply, to constrain an activity within a project is to apply one of the five project primary constraints of scope, time, cost, quality or risk to its achievement or execution. The primary constraints are in similar force to the physical laws of nature that surround our lives in this space-time continuum – they are inviolate. One can choose to ignore the five primary constraints, but it does not mean they do not impact or are not impacting their project’s outcomes. Try ignoring the law of gravity when at the top of a 50 story skyscraper!

Thus, in closing, we at the PPG are in analogy – throwing down the gauntlet to the entire project management and business analysis environment to reconsider their current, lackluster, and proven ineffective focus on processes and procedures. Take back your disciplines by concentrating on the reason for project management – the production of ‘fit-for-use’ deliverables under the constraints of the agreed upon statement of work. Nothing more, nothing other.

Stick with us and we will help you increase your project success rates. In this month’s PPG we focus on the rethinking of training and how it has produced this focus in processes versus deliverables for a whole generation of PM and BA. In March and April 2014, the PPG will lay out the principles of DCPM for our readers to begin the relearning of their discipline’s professional standard that is wrongly focused on processes. The battle has begun, and it will take time, effort and commitment. The PPG is willing to stake its future on this very important and needed change.

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