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:
- Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
- When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty
that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of
the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience
is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
- Durable Agreements
- People at work often make agreements in which they commit to cooperate — to share resources, to
assist each other, or not to harm each other. Some agreements work. Some don't. What makes agreements durable?
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting."
We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
- The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we
tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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