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Project Management Theater

After hearing public outcry over all of the “junk” grabbing going on at Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoints, I heard the resurfacing of the term “Security Theater”.  I’m not certain if TSA “gets it”.  If you are going to take true action to help fix issues, you need to treat the cause and not a symptom.  Have a shoe bomber?  Make everyone take off their shoes.  Have someone wearing baggy clothes wear a bomb onto a plane, spend millions of dollars to see beyond the baggy clothes.  Without telling you what I did, I bypassed both the new full-body scanners and the TSA pat down in two major airports within the last few weeks.  Certainly, I didn’t want to deal with either so I was happy.  The problem I have, as a stakeholder, is a lot of money has been spent and the issue still exists.

Imagine if that happened on your project?

I see Lessons Learned meetings or a Retrospectives as opportunities to help you refine your processes.  You see what works and doesn’t work.  You find out the root causes and then you make changes.  You refine.

Today I witnessed what I call Project Management Theater.  The vendor loves to use Gantt charts.    On a program level, both the customer and vendor follow a more traditional waterfall process.  At last count (5 minutes ago) the “integrated” schedule had 5,954 lines.  (Internally, I use a backlog and Kanban) Within seconds of reviewing this monster schedule, I could point out improper work decomposition, improper work package mapping, description inconsistencies, improper use of preprocessors or successors and the list goes on.  If your customer prefers the use of Gantt charts over Burndown charts, I’m not going to argue with them.  Whatever the culture will demand, you have to work with it.  But, the problem here is these are just charts.  They are only as good as the data driving them.  When the customer asked me today what I thought of the split view the vendor provided (WBS/Gantt chart), I was blunt.  I hate it. I added, everything that needed to be reviewed at the meeting could have been presented either as a milestone report or backlog.  Instead, we spent most of our time trying to locate activities and get statuses on each.  On top of that, the schedule provided had not been updated in two weeks.  Therefore, we had to ask over and over again if certain activities had been completed.

If you’re going to commit time and money for a support activity, please make sure the resulting “thing” has some value.  At the next meeting, I expect the Gantt chart to go the way of the dinosaur.  I’m advising the customer to request a milestone report from the vendor (instead of the WBS/Gantt Chart).  In the end, I want to ensure the vendor is reaching agreed upon milestones.  Currently, the customer is so distracted by all of the inaccurate details of the schedule, they forget to ask the hard questions about the milestones.

Eliminating the Gantt chart is not going to solve the problem.  Next week, I’m going to show the executive team a Kanban of the milestones.  Let’s see if they find more value in that.

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About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

8 Responses to “Project Management Theater”

  1. December 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    There you go executing your executive power and authority! JK. No really. Whatsup with all the terrible information documents that provide zero value? Please, these vendors get a clue

    • Anonymous
      December 29, 2010 at 8:50 pm

      Well, the vendor bills the program every time they make a change to these documents. So, THEY see great value in it. And yes, I recommend a short pay on their invoice every time they try to bill to fix their previous mistakes. 🙂

  2. Laura Bamberg
    December 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Derek – you’re right – the chart is only as good as the data driving it. And also, with a huge project (meaning LOTS of tasks) there isn’t a way to print or create a Gantt that’s easy to understand. Of course, we love Gantts here!!! But we understand there are other report outputs that work better in certain situations, such as a large project with several hundred/thousand tasks. (our SPA provides lots of reporting options). Mostly, just wanted to say kudos on a good post. I noticed you mentioned the schedule hadn’t been updated in two weeks, either. Not just that a current one hadn’t been distributed to stakeholders, but that it hadn’t been made current at all. Hmm. How did you handle that one?

    • Anonymous
      December 30, 2010 at 12:06 am

      Sorry if I came off a little extreme. You could probably pick up my frustrations when I wrote the post. I don’t want to totally pan the Gantt nor totally eliminate a tool from my toolbox. I know a few C-Levels who LOVE Gantt charts. But, it’s all about knowing what your customer sees value in. My customer likes up-to-date statuses. The impression I got was the fellow running the meeting is at least 2 people removed from updating this schedule AND getting an updated Gantt chart. If they empowered him to update the progress of the activities, perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad. But, I can guarantee that is not going to happen.

      The reasoning behind the schedule not being updated was the guy or gal who updates the schedule went on holiday break and the most recent schedule was dated 2 weeks ago. Several activities have since been completed. I would have been ok if the vendor “spoke” to the activities right away. “This is what we completed since this schedule was last updated”. Instead, we questioned them and they then tried to explain. A lot of this is just poor stakeholder management. They should be ready to run an efficient meeting. They were not. Let’s see how things go next time. Thank you so much for the comment!

  3. January 2, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    You managed to create a post without mentioning zombies even once – we’re proud of you, Derek!

    Also, I agree – a Gantt chart that can’t be collapsed to provide a big picture or focused to show the current state is a worthless communication tool, whatever else it might be good for. Of course, if all you want to do is buffalo a client, I suppose 5,954 lines would do a great job.

    • Anonymous
      January 3, 2011 at 2:19 am

      Dave, those Zombiholics Anonymous (ZA) meetings must be working. I’m getting better, I think.

      In the end, it’s up to the client to demand something meaningful. I can just make my recommendations. I swear I am not a big nay-sayer. But based on the costs I see associated with so many meetings and reports, I want the customer to get something of worth for their money. Generating a canned milestone report should only take a few minutes. We could have reviewed a 10 line milestone report in 1/3 the time it took us to fish for deliverables in the Gantt they delivered. Instead, I drank half a pot of the vendor’s coffee and ate half of their cookies.

      I hope we don’t get billed for that as well.

  4. January 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Great post Derek! Probably one of the best on why detailed integrated master schedules and Gantts are lousy ways to update folks on status, regardless of whether you are following a waterfall or Agile set of processes.

    Cheers!
    Paul

    • Anonymous
      January 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks, Paul!

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