Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Great Wall of China, governance and my sock drawer

Went to a talk by Geoff Reiss tonight - author of, amongst other things, Project Management Demystified (I own a copy - recommended).

All sorts of interesting points cropped up and I thought to relate a few here. The talk was entitled "Great and Deadly Projects". Geoff it turns out has a considerable interest in singular projects undertaken across the millennia (The Great Pyramids and The Great Wall of China) to name a couple.

The Panama Canal which was undertaken in 1911 for instance (great) thought to have had 30,000 fatalities (deadly) was noteworthy. The question of whether in 2011 there were the 30,000 projects with <1 fatality begs an answer.

A well intentioned attendee suggested that there was a clearly a case of better governance. Some wag in the audience responded that this would simply have led to more accurate record keeping of the casualties.

This last is a prompt that I must set pen to paper on the topic of governance. Mind you I must first acknowledge the dilemma that if you asked 10 PMs what governance was you'd get 11 different answers. Can the governance specialists do better?

Thank goodness too that Geoff Reiss fielded something that's been on my mind for quite some time now, namely that the truly great projects were very lucky.

There's a lengthy post in its own right here but I'll aim to unsettle you bit right now. Let's set the scene a bit on the topic of risk. (I have to do this because the nomenclature used on the subject within the spectrum of project management is inconsistent and imprecise). And that's twice I've been hindered by terminology in one blog post.

First, what's risk? Something bad that may happen? Maybe. Let's say that risk management is the job of reducing the likelihood of something bad happening and reducing the impact if it does happen. So if you can't assess the likelihood of something or what the impact could be - is it a risk?

Building on this is the assertion that if the something bad that may happen is a) subject to probabalistic.distribution and b) has a known consequence / impact then it is a risk. I've been racking my brains for the perfect illustrative vehicle for this and the best I could come up with is my sock drawer. More on this in another post, but for now, if its not a risk what is it? I suggest you're standing at the yawning abyss of mathematical uncertainty. The problem is  that almost everything you read about risk will incorporate the word uncertainly. 

Something else rather interesting arose on the topic of communications today too. While bemoaning dwindling levels of interest and low rates or response to communications initiatives a fellow project professional bemoaned that stakeholders were only reporting positively via surveys about their experiences. The noteworthy point in this is that those stakeholders who were still attending sessions were feeding back positively. No channel of communication existed with stakeholders who'd left for greener pastures. I don't quite know what the communications parlance is for talking to people to who are talking to you any more, but in its absence you might try 'friendly consultation'.

Note to self - must write to Francis Maude and ask why isn't Earned Value Management mandated in public sector projects.

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