Allison stood at the front of the room, next to the LCD, wanting desperately not to be there, as the marketing VP demanded, "Don't give me 'March 15 to April 29.' I want to know when exactly this thing will ship!" Trouble was, she couldn't say exactly — things were too unpredictable, and he just didn't seem to get it. So she caved: "OK, we'll have it by April 29."
"Oh, no you don't," he replied. "We'll take the middle of your range. What's that," he turned to the director beside him, "April 5? April 5. That's it. Next case!"
So that's what they did, and Allison's team finally shipped on April 26, three weeks late. A black eye for Allison, for the team, and for the engineering group. What was going on here?
Problem-solving organizations do two kinds of work — Operations and Projects. Operations work is ongoing effort repeated often — things like manufacturing, "routine" administration, and infrastructure operations. Project work is one-of-a-kind — new product development, relocation, and reorganization. Operations are repeatable and less risky. Projects are unique and riskier. Although we usually manage Projects as if they were Operations, Projects must be managed differently. Quantum Physics can help us understand why.
In Quantum Physics some things are inherently unknowable. For example, the more precisely we know the position of a moving body, the less precisely we can know its velocity, and vice versa. Classical Physics had no such restriction.
Not both.There is an analogy in management. If we want to know cost and schedule precisely, we must reduce innovation, because innovation creates risk. If we accept risk, we must settle for less predictability of cost and schedule. Quantum Management says that you can't have precision in the context of risk.
Since our management practices originated in operations-oriented organizations, our managers don't like to hear that "we expect completion within 4-6 months." They often demand "drop dead" dates. This is Classical Management, and it's analogous to Classical Physics.
You can move your organization toward Quantum Management. As a manager:
- Ask not "When will it be ready?" Ask, "When is there a 95% probability that it will be ready?"
- Reward project managers who make estimates in 95% confidence bands.
- Require that Corporate Finance manage risk across a portfolio of projects, rather than by demanding precision at the individual project level.
As a project manager:
- Estimate best and worst case as 95% confidence bands.
- When people ask you for a drop-dead date, try to educate them in Quantum Management. You might fail — or you might make some progress.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
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More articles on Project Management:
- Toxic Projects
- A toxic project is one that harms its organization, its people or its customers. We often think of toxic
projects as projects that fail, but even a "successful" project can hurt people or damage
the organization — sometimes irreparably.
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths.
In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is
important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- Symbolic Self-Completion and Projects
- The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators
of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior
has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
- Some Risks of Short-Term Fixes
- When we encounter a problem at work, we must choose between short-term fixes (also known as workarounds)
and long-term solutions. Often we choose workarounds without appreciating the risks we're accepting
— until too late.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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