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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Free Work Breakdown Structure Worksheet

WBS WorksheetAs I look at the logs of the Critical Path website, I notice a trend for what people are searching.  Most visitors coming to this site are searching for project management related templates and worksheets.  If there is one thing I try to instill in other project managers, it is listen to your customers!  That being said, here is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) worksheet to complement the Project Charter Template so many have downloaded.  Both files are free for download, modification, and distribution. [WBS Worksheet] [Project Charter Template] When using the WBS worksheet, list the project’s major milestones and deliverables, the corresponding unique identifying numbers, and the target dates for delivery. This list should reflect products and/or services delivered to the end user as well as the delivery of key project management or other project-related work products.

With preliminary approval, copy these values into Section 3.2 of our free Project Charter Template.  Upon Project Charter approval, copy the values from the major milestones column into Microsoft Project or your selected Project Management application and begin creating the activity list (decomposing).

Responsibility Assignment Matrix

As a graphical depiction of a more detailed perspective of responsibilities, the responsibility assignment matrix should reflect assigned responsibility by functional role for key project deliverables.  An example of roles detailed below could include (1) Project Manager, (2) Project Sponsor, (3) Implementation Manager, (N) Team Lead

Project Deliverables Role 1 Role 2 Role 3 Role N
WBS - Project Charter E A C I
WBS - Project Schedule E A,C A I
WBS - Project Budget E A,C E I
WBS - Status Reports C C A E
Legend E = responsible for execution (may be shared) A = final approval for authority C = must be consulted I = must be informed

I use this matrix in a few of my project artifacts, to include the Lessons Learned. You can download a free copy here

What is missing from a Cost Performance Report

I recall a very positive meeting where we exposed several non project management team members to a Cost Performance Report (CPR) for the first time. A CPR addresses project performance through a defined period of time in relation to contractual requirements.  The CPR details budgeted work scheduled and performed, actual cost work performed, and the variance in both schedule and cost.  All of this is itemized per Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) element for both the current period and the cumulative to date.  The last values you see are the budgeted, estimated, and variance at completion of the contract. There were a lot of questions as to why one WBS element has a positive or negative cost variance and why it may have a positive or negative schedule variance.  Trying to explain this to those without a project management background can be a challenge.

I was having a sidebar conversation with one team member who could not understand how the element that pertained to him could be both ahead of schedule and below budgeted cost. The answer came from across the room in the form of a question.

"Is there any way this report captures quality?" The answer was no.

That my friends is called Triple Constraint.  We know the Scope, Time, and Cost within this report.  What we don't know is Quality, Risk, or Customer Satisfaction.  That's ok.  This is the CPR, not a Total Project Status (TPS) Report.

By not committing the scheduled time and budgeted dollars to complete the task to a level of quality that meets the customer's expectations, the contractor looks good only on paper.