Monday, August 13, 2012

Projects? Like poker? Surely you jest...?

If you've been around a project life-cycle a few times, you've probably stood on the periphery of some passable projects, some not so good projects, the odd biblical disaster and possibly, just possibly a success story or two.

I've often reflected on the various circumstances corresponding to success and failure and have (as doubtless we all do) a few thoughts on the matter. 

However, let's look elsewhere for inspiration other than our own personal project hurt lockers for a moment.

How do Google and Apple manage such consistent successes? What are their project manage approaches that so consistently deliver commercial success in amongst the most high risk, cut throat fields imaginable?

Well here's the thing - Google and Apple fail just as much (if not a good deal more) than us mere mortals.

So the distinction is certainly not simply one of success or failure.

I'm not going to prattle on too much at this juncture as most of this is done to death elsewhere in great detail. I can't help however draw a distinction between projects and poker however. Namely, when you lose, try and lose a little. When you win, try and win a lot.

You don't read a lot in the project management blogosphere about Prince 2 - admittedly, it can be a dryish cornerstone of what must seem to PMI / PMBOK advocates to be a project management oddity. I would even have a modicum of sympathy for the view that it is a project management methodology with no project management due to its conspicuous (and quite deliberate omission) of earned value management or anything resembling it. 

But, I will break the trend a little in the context of this post (possibly a web first to encompass poker and Prince 2 within a single blog post).

I had to put pen to paper in a professional setting recently and wrote the following. 

"Teams seeking to undertake projects via Prince 2 are challenged by constraints which often diminish the effectiveness of the Prince 2 methodology and consequently the overall success of their projects. These constraints relate to people, processes and systems. Specifically, the efforts to recruit appropriate staff, acquire Prince 2 knowledge, develop and implement appropriate policies and the subsequent execution of the Prince 2 methodology is exceptionally demanding."

And, I know what I'm talking about here having assembled a the odd 180 line responsibility assignment matrix for the purposes of administering the full suite of Prince 2 processes. And, yes, just in case you were in any doubt, that's 180 activities that that need to be undertaken in a fully compliant (admittedly non-tailored) Prince 2 compliant project that are quite independent of actually delivering anything. I'll upload this matrix to the resources page accompanying this blog in due course.

But, I remain a fan albeit with one or two provisos. Consider the following.

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by exception
  6. Focus on products
Not too shabby a list of tenets for the project manager to abide by is it? Well those six points are 6 of the 7 Prince 2 principles. The seventh is "Tailor to suit the project environment" which goes some way to palliating the 180 line items in the responsibility assignment matrix.

Just in case some of you were sitting there scratching around a long ago Prince 2 practitioner course thinking you really don't recall anything about 7 principles (and seven additional themes for that matter) you're probably right. I'm not sure what preceded Prince 2 2005, but in 2009 the framework was overhauled with the imaginative re-branding of "Prince 2 2009". I judge it to be substantially improved.

And what's all this got to do with Apple and Google? Well, whatever those folks are doing with their project management methodologies I'm pretty sure it will incorporate the 6 principles above. I shall resist the urge to conclude that Apple and Google are Prince 2 houses but I am guessing they don't rely much on full-houses either.

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