Efficiency and Effectiveness in Project Management

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

This article is inspired by the theme of the PMRC, IPMA-China, Congress held August 24-25 2013, in Wuhan China. The theme is Efficiency and Effectiveness in Project Management, and both Mladen Radujkovik, IPMA President, and I presented keynotes. This article provides more details on the first half of my topic, Balance Efficiency and Effectiveness With Actionable Project Information.

Efficiency Awareness
The 1960s were the era of the Efficiency Expert. These were people with training or skills in process optimization, who then moved into productivity improvement, which became a buzzphrase of the 1970s. This set of skills was merged with improved interpersonal skills to become a foundation of the systems analyst or business analyst of the 1980s. Look how far we’ve come: Today we have certifications for people who demonstrate many of these skills—and more. Efficiency became part of an entire gamut of systems engineering disciplines. Efficiency is clearly important.

But it was not consistently applied. In fact, a big part of the “re-engineering of the organization” that was done in the late 1980s and early 1990s was not RE-engineering at all. It was the first-ever true engineering of poorly-designed processes which were randomly piled on top of other processes during the ’70s and ’80s. The efficiency focus benefited projects, because many project managers brought the business concepts of efficiency and productivity into their projects. How do I know? I learned from some of the best during that time.

One problem with this emphasis on efficiency was shown by many organizations’ initiatives over the last 50 years. We can go overboard—sometimes focusing so much on efficiency that we forget about effectiveness. Part of this is because it is easier to look at efficiency; easy to identify it; to measure it. You see, efficiency by itself can be dangerous: If you look up Efficiency Expert on Wikipedia, one section notes: see also Layoffs.

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Do You Manage the Leading or Lagging Factors?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

We have just returned from the outstanding-as-usual 2012 Resource Planning Summit, organized by the irrepressible Dick Rutledge, dean of the PM-related conference providers. Only a few others operate at the same level of excellence. One of the key differentiators of Rutledge’s events is his ruthless demands of his speakers for audience take-aways and truly new ideas, as opposed to retreads of tired themes. And this time, we experienced those demands first-hand, as we were a presenter–our first opportunity in the four events we have supported.

Our presentation, Tip of the Iceberg: Managing the Entire ‘berg Improves PM Performance, was developed for this audience of key managers and enterprise leaders. The presentation looked at project and program decision-making from the perspective of top Executives–the tip of the iceberg, as it were. And we identified key practices that Managers in the Middle follow when they add clear value for their executives, their project teams and their organizations.

We asserted, as we did in our 2005 article, Project Levers and Gauges, that the most-effective project and program managers don’t just provide lagging data, they also provide leading information. And, we have carried the theme further, pointing out that this leading information is a well-kept secret of the most effective managers of project managers.

But, let’s start with the background. Many are familiar with the old misconceptions of project management, illustrated by the Triple Constraint, the Iron or Golden Triangle, or some other name. It often includes Time, Cost and Scope. Sometimes Quality is there instead of Scope. Sometimes Performance is the third parameter, which might include Quality and Scope. So far, so good; but why do we call this a misconception in project management?

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How I Learned to Balance the Project Vital Signs

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff

I named the key project factors of Time, Cost, Scope, Talent, Risk and Quality the Project Vital Signs nearly thirty years ago. I named them to evoke the signs one measures in the Emergency Room at a hospital, not measure if the patient was dead yet, but to determine whether he or she was improving. My rationale: Effective project managers use those factors to manage for success, not just to identify when the project failed. But I did not originally learn the importance of balancing those Vital Signs in the project world; instead, I learned it in a number of early formative experiences. This article is about one of those experiences.

Growing Up In the Cherry Capital of the World
I grew up in The Dalles, Oregon, the fresh dark red, ripe, sweet cherry-producing capital of the World. Other competitive regions included Italy, California, and Michigan, but our orchards produced the largest, richest-flavored cherries. They were so much in demand, that flights to Paris would next-day deliver our cherries to such noteworthy gourmet places as Fauchon. One part of our packing process was to box the cherries in elegantly foiled and lined wooden boxes, so they made a classy image in the shops. And one of the choicest jobs, once I turned 18 years of age, was to be one of the workers who made those boxes.

The box-making process involved standing at a large, noisy machine, and following these steps:

  1. Insert two ends (called heads) and one side into the machine, and push the nailing pedal. A large mechanical device containing the hammers would rapidly descend and nail the parts. Caaarrrunch!
  2. Flip the box over and place the lid on the assembly (the boxes were filled from the bottom, with the top several rows carefully arranged by packers, the goal being, when opened, the customer would see exquisitely-perfect rows of artfully placed cherries). Press the nailing pedal; caaarrunch, went the machine.
  3. Flip the mostly-assembled box to its final position, add the last side, push the pedal; caaarrrunnch!
  4. Place the finished box on the slanted track behind me, where four people added the foil, cardboard, and poly liner, while I began to repeat the cycle.

Those four steps required 6-10 seconds for each box.

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