Shooting Yourself in the Foot

I’m back from speaking at SD West, where I met several project managers who were promoted on the “Coder on Tuesday, Project Manager on Wednesday” program (similar to the “Coder on Monday, Manager on Tuesday” program). Expect to hear more about that from me and from Johanna Rothman.

In the meantime:

A friend of mine, who works in a large company, described how the Project Management Office in his organization is helping projects. The Project Management Office is chartered to ensure the company is receiving value from the projects it undertakes, and to make projects more predictable.

First, there is a rigorous process to initiate a project. This is a good thing. Projects that have no sponsor, no business case, and aren’t solving a problem or creating an opportunity can be a drain on corporate resources.

Once the project is initiated, the project manager is required to project costs every month. Probably makes sense to keep an eye on spending and notice and investigate if spending is significantly off from what you expected.

And that’s where the sense ends.

Navigating the corporate budget system and re-projecting takes, on average, one week a month. That’s one week when the project manager wrestling with an unwieldy financial reporting systems and an equally unwieldy time tracking system. While the project manager is projecting, he is not managing the project.

Project managers are required (i.e., punished or rewarded) to manage their projects within 2% of their monthly budget projections. And what’s the easiest way to do that? Manipulate the hours reported in the time tracking system.

My colleague has been instructed how many hours to report each week from now through mid-summer. He will be reporting 35 hours a week, whether he works 50, or 15.

What happens when some future project manager looks at the “actuals” captured in the project time tracking system?

Did that project really take 5,000 hours, or was it closer to 7,500. Or 10,000? Know one will know. Project work will become less predictable. Someone planning a project with similar scope will commit to an effort and cost estimate based on a fiction. And that project manager will fudge hours or miss schedule or work the team to the bone and slip quality.

It’s frustrating to see a project manager walk into this very old trap. But the trap has been set with a poorly designed measure, and baited with a bonus.