Why a CIO Should Ignore New Technology and Trends When it comes to Project Management!

Dr. James Brown, Owner, Seba Solutions Inc
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Dr. James Brown, Owner, Seba Solutions Inc

There is no question that technology has been, is and will be accelerating and as a CIO you must be able to embrace and exploit it. However many conclude that the pace of change of technology applies to everything and that is not true, especially when it comes to project management. I have Google alerts set for Program Management and Project Management. A week doesn’t go by without some organization or individual touting they have a new method or tool to execute projects and of course it is better than all of the other previous methods and tools. When someone is telling you there is something new in project management, there is a 99.9 percent chance they are selling something. A CIO should ignore new technology and trends when it comes to project execution. Many in the project management community are irritated when I state that mankind’s greatest project management achievements occurred before we had these fancy tools, methodologies and certifications. If we were building the Taj Mahal or any of the other great wonders today, I would be betting on behind schedule and over budget despite all the technology, methodologies and certified project managers at our disposal.

"Project management is simply Structured Organized Commonsense (SOCS). The challenge is do we deploy the discipline and thinking to assure the commonsense thing is done"

Highly respected consulting organizations are always publishing the latest trends in project management. My belief is that the primary trend in project management is that there are none. Project management has been, is and will be fundamentally about leadership. Project management success is more art than science because it involves thinking that includes using judgment in the context of your environment to assure the commonsense thing is done.

Consider the whole Agile/Waterfall debate. Can Agile work? Absolutely! Can Waterfall work? Absolutely! What’s the underlying commonsense principle? It does not make sense to plan beyond your planning horizon. Your planning horizon is how far you can see into the future with validity (stable requirements, assignable resources, etc.). Why would anyone plan beyond this regardless of the methodology? I was scheduled to provide the keynote speech at a Fortune 100 company’s project management retreat. Prior to my presentation they were discussing their rollout of Agile as they moved toward becoming an “Agile” shop. As the discussion progressed one of their senior PM’s stood up and said “I hear what you are saying, but we have been doing this for over twenty years.” Agile is full of sound principles, they just are not new principles.

Project management is simply Structured Organized Commonsense (SOCS). The challenge is do we deploy the discipline and thinking to assure the commonsense thing is done. Whenever I see project failure, I always find a violation of a commonsense principle like: working ahead of requirements; trying to work with inadequate resources; not involving the customer, or not understanding the technology, etc.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Glen Salow, former Executive Vice-President - Service Delivery & Technology, Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. and asked Glen "From your point of view, what is the hardest lesson you learned as a leader over your career?" Glen’s response to this question was for a situation in a previous role in his career: “I will tell you the lesson I learned that hit me the hardest… that should not have – I should never have had to learn because it’s so obvious it’s painful – was that if a client wasn’t along for the ride, you’re going to fail. And it doesn’t matter – it doesn’t matter about anything else. If ultimately the people who are supposed to use and benefit the system aren’t with you along the way it doesn’t matter… even if you deliver to them something extraordinary, because they were not part of it, the organism will reject it.”

Glen’s self described “so obvious it’s painful” lesson involved a commonsense principle of assuring the customer is involved, and ready to accept what we are providing. Due to a variety of factors organizations regularly violate this commonsense principle. Inadequate change management is always raised as an issue from project managers when I interact with them, New technology and trends will always be at the forefront of discussion, but successful project execution is not rooted in technology, templates or governance. Successful project execution is rooted in leadership that paves the way to allow commonsense decisions and practices based on your organization’s context. Leadership has been, is and will be the factor that drives project success and it is not a trend.

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