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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