Project wrestling championship
How often do you end up wrestling with your team members and other colleagues when the project isn't going as well as you'd like? What has conspired to take the project off the rails? Whose fault is it? Is it the project manager? The resource manager? The team members? Yours? Mine?
If you have been reading my material for a while, you might guess that the answer is none of the above. Assuming the basics of project management are under control, I think there are two sets of effects that conspire to land organizations in these situations: variability and communication.
I have written about the impact of variability on projects before. I particularly like this graphic vicious cycle graphic that the CCPM community uses. Projects require coordination of many activities. If any one of those activities runs longer than expected, then the next dependent activity is going to start late. This creates a small loop of delays. But then there are additional loops around making people "look busy" and "efficiency" which end up creating more situations for delays to arise. The direction of the solution is to acknowledge that variability exists and devise a mechanism to work WITH the variability - rather than trying to manage the effects of the problem by fiat.
The other element that leads to project chaos and finger-pointing is communication. More specifically, it is poor communication about what is happening and good methods for talking about the impact. Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry have a great piece on this: You Cannot Yell at a Board with Stickies on It. They highly recommend placing the facts of the project somewhere that everyone can see and understand. Visual controls provide a means around which people can understand the status without resorting to faulty memories or information locked away on one person's computer (or brain).
A visual control gives the team a gift: a disinterested third party that merely reports reality. The kanban becomes an interactive arbitrator. Our work is no longer the responsibility of one person. On the board it becomes an object (the sticky note) that everyone involved wants to move. The inability to move a sticky note becomes a shared responsibility, and is no longer personified by the last person holding the task.
Rather than spending all your time wresting with your colleagues, design a process that acknowledges variability AND provides a consistent means of visualizing the facts. This should help de-personalize questions about status and history to their impact on the project and what can be done to help the project - all the projects - get and stay on track.
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