‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others…’
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Now I am not about to rant about the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but give power and privileges to a small elite, nor am I to argue about how this applies to the world of project management. But it did come to mind when considering the process of matching the right skills to the right projects since many seem to believe the complete opposite of this Orwellian decree. They believe and behave as if all projects are truly equal. They are not!
Availability is not capability
The ‘one size fits all’ approach is a recipe for eventual disaster.
As a project manager and head of various PMOs I have often heard, and used, the phrase:
‘Availability is not capability’
And this is so very true and yet so very often ignored by organisations.
Situation: A project needs a project manager and there is a project manager sitting at that desk over there, apparently available, and the next thing that happens is that they are no longer free but leading a new project that needed a project manager. But questions should be asked:
- Are they the right project manager to select for this project?
- Do they have the right experience for this project?
- Are they reducing or adding to the risk profile of this project?
‘Yes’, ‘Yes’ and ‘Reducing’ are the only appropriate responses to the above 3 questions, anything else and the only sensible conclusion is that this is not the right project manager for this project. As a caveat if there is no other project manager then ‘life happens’ and that project manager gets the job, but at least the business should know that this is a) a risk and b) that project manager is going to need some help.
…and availability is not scalability
Unfortunately in the ‘real’ world the logic goes ‘A project is a project is a project and therefore, all project managers clearly being equal, this project manager will do nicely, thank you very much’.
I would perhaps extend the phrase further:
‘Availability is not capability, and availability is not scalability’
If you consider what makes a project challenging then you might come up with a list along the lines of -
- Multiple stakeholders
- Ambiguity of project features, resources, phases, etc.
- Significant political/authority influences
- Unknown project features, resources, phases, etc.
- Dynamic project governance
- Significant external influences
- Use of a technology that is new to the organisation
- Use of a technology that has not yet been fully developed
- Significant internal interpersonal or social influences
- Highly regulated environment
- Project duration exceeds the cycle of relevant technologies
And there will be more that you can add to this list I am sure.
Managing the risk of projects
Surely then this is an overwhelming argument to use the right project manager on the right project?
Accepting firstly that all projects are not equal and then secondly that all project managers are not equal is the starting point for dealing with project complexity. Matching the right project manager to the right project offers the best platform for project success.
Availability is not necessarily capability and effort needs to be made to profile projects correctly and match the project manager to the project according to their experience and capability.
The more complex a project is then the more risk it is to the business. The higher the risk then more senior and experienced project manager should be charged with the role of managing this ‘risk’. To do anything else is illogical – we all know this, the executive team knows this, the ‘C’ level knows this, and yet despite this knowledge this still happens every single day. It probably even happens in your organisation.
Which brings me to a second George Orwell quote, this time from his 1984 book:
‘Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them’.
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