Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why classical Project Management fails to deliver for IT

Classical Project Management methods and systems fail to deliver what is needed for IT strategic planning because they are oriented at a different problem (not strategic planning or management) in a different domain (not IT). Consequently classic PPM solutions, and PMOs applying them, fail to provide some key strategic insights required in a IT and business transformation context. 

Classic project management has its roots in the built-environment (construction and engineering). The classical paradigm assumes a well defined solution scope, well defined solution impacts and focuses on defining and managing the plan i.e. what is required for execution and delivery i.e. when, in what sequence, who, etc (i.e. tasks, resources). It also assumes well defined methods for detailed delivery, boundaries between teams, and an implicit and detailed understanding of the behaviour and characteristics of materials and technologies. So essentially it focuses on tracking and predicting: costs, dates, overruns and overloads, etc. at a task and resource level.

To give a simple example when planning the delivery of a building - it assumed:

  • the design of building being delivered is fairly well defined (solution scope), 
  • where that building is and how it relates to other buildings, services etc. is fairly clear.
  • how bricks are laid (methods for detailed delivery), how brick laying relates to wall plastering is know (boundaries between teams), we know what bricks do (behaviour and characteristics of materials and technologies)

The reality is that in IT, when considering a portfolio of transformation initiatives, key things we are trying to understand are: 

  • how the transformation portfolio produces the desired business outcome
  • what the portfolio of solutions (and therefore projects) looks like and what the scope of each is exactly
  • how each solution (and therefore project, and sub-project) relates to other solutions and projects.
  • what new technologies do, how new technologies are best applied, and how this affects boundaries between delivery roles.
Strategic planning operates at a different level of detail than execution planning. Strategic planning of the portfolio is like a property investor working out which building he will build, retire, etc. It doesn't require task level details of resources that would be require for execution - its only requires a project level allocation of classes or resources and scheduling at this higher level.

Even detailed IT project management focuses more on managing scope with an, ideally fixed, time and budget - than it does to managing time and budget to an explicitly defined scope. 

The things PPM systems excel at when managing execution are often just not applicable e.g. task sheet production, time sheet recording and tracking detailed actuals of execution tasks, estimates cost and time to complete based on task level critical paths. That is not to say they are not useful - they are just not useful for strategic planning.

What is required are multi-dimensional views of various impacts i.e. on the many aspects of the business plan, policies,  architecture, assets and agreements (and related IT policies, architectures and assets). 

More thoughts on the underlying issues is here:

Projects are artificial constructs and often managed in ways unsuited to enterprise change initiatives

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