Project Discipline


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Process Violations Are Our Friends

Do we always follow the logical, well thought out planned process we have established for repeatable success, or do we short-circuit the process every time an eminent deadline, cost pressure, or demanding customer or stakeholder surfaces? I am not advocating that you never violate logical, well thought out, planned processes that ensure repeatable success, but when you do, you must have a process in which such a deviation is approved and publicly acknowledged to all. When you handle process violations properly, you signal to the entire project management community within the organization that you and they will act with integrity when under pressure.

Although these violations should be rare, they are very important because they help you improve the process. These process violations are signals that the process may need to be improved, and you therefore must view process violations as opportunities for process improvement. It is vital to exercise due diligence with regard to each process violation’s root cause. I once worked with a program manager who would always say, “We have improved our processes one failure at a time.”

The most important word in program management success is integrity. It is ironic that when companies perform assessments to learn why a project failed, they rarely cite lack of integrity as the reason. However, lack of integrity is a leading cause of project failure and program management headaches. Poor program management practices do not instill or maintain discipline, and this results in a lack of integrity. Accountability plus discipline equals integrity and results in clarity. Lack of integrity is a sign of an immature project management organization or an immature program manager. Lack of integrity at the program management level contributes to a chaotic project management culture.

You may be in a level of management in which the pay is good and accountability entails tremendous self-discipline: the type of self-discipline that requires a focus on the process that accomplishes projects rather than the work of the projects itself. This requires a long-term view, something many program managers lack.

If you are currently a program manager, examine your schedule from last week. Assess the percentage of time you spent on improving the process of accomplishing work versus the work itself. The trap of being too busy fighting fires to spend any time preventing fires is common. Also, some of the managers at this level got there through their heroic ability to wade through the chaos and successfully deliver projects. This prior success often makes them susceptible to jumping into troubled projects, spending their precious time on remediation rather than ensuring that valid processes are in place that help eliminate the need for remediation in the first place.

Integrity: Staying True to Your Process

Multiple models are used to assess project management process maturity, but as in a lot of project management fads today, the definitions and assessments are more complicated and detailed than necessary. Project management is simply the application and execution of structured, organized common sense.

To avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and sophisticated assessments, answer these three questions:

1. Do we have a process?
2. Do we follow the process to accomplish the work?
3. Do we improve the process?

In summary, do you act with integrity and do what your process documentation says you should? If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, you have an organization that acts with integrity (accountability and discipline). If your organization is not acting with integrity, you have a program management issue.

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“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.