Eight to Late

The king’s son – a project management fable

with 22 comments

Once upon a time there was a king who was much loved by his people. The people loved him because he did many Good Things: he built roads for those who needed to travel long distances, houses for those who lacked a place to live and even initiated software projects to keep geeks in gainful employment.

All the Good Things the king did needed money and although the king was rich, his resources were not unlimited.  Naturally, the king’s treasurer wanted to ensure that the funds flowing out of the state coffers were being put to good use.

One day, at a council meeting the treasurer summoned up his courage and asked the king, “Your highness, I know your intentions are good, but how do we know that all the money we spend is being used properly?”

“It must be so because the people are happy,” replied the king.

“Yes they are happy and that is good,” said the treasurer, “but how do we know that money we spend is not being wasted?  Is it not possible that we could save money by coordinating, planning and monitoring the Good Things we do in an organized manner?”

The king (who was known to think from time to time) mulled over this for a few days.

After much mulling, he summoned his treasurer and said, “You are right. We should be more organized in the way we do all the Good Things we do. This task is so important that I will ask my second son to oversee the Good Things we do. He is, after all, a Prince Too.”

The second son (who was a Prince Too) took to his new role with relish. His first act was to set up a Governance Committee to oversee and direct all the Good Things that were being done. He ordered the board to come up with a process that would ensure that the Good Things being done would be done in an efficient and transparent way.  His second act was to publish a decree, declaring that all those who did not follow the process would be summarily terminated.

Many expensive consultants and long meetings later, the Governance Committee announced they had a methodology (they could coin a word or two…) which, if followed to the letter, would ensure that all the Good Things being done were done efficiently, in a way  to ensure value for the state. They had the assurance of those expensive consultants that the methodology was tested and proven so they believed this would happen as a matter of course. Moreover,  the rates that the consultants charged convinced the Governance Committee that this must indeed be so.

In keeping with penchant of committees to name things, they gave the methodology the name of the king’s son (who, as we have seen earlier, was a Prince Too).

And so it came to pass that all the Good Things being done followed a process.  Those who managed the Good Things and those who actually did them, underwent rigorous training in the foundations and practice of the methodology (which meant more revenue for the consultants). The planners and the doers then went out and applied the methodology in their work.

And for a while, everyone was happy: the king, the treasurer, the Governance Committee ….and of course, the Prince Too.

After sometime, however, the treasurer noticed that the flow of money out of his coffers and into the Good Things had not lessened – on the contrary, it seemed to have increased. This alarmed him, so  he requested a meeting with the king’s son to discuss the matter. The king’s son, on hearing the treasurer’s tale, was alarmed too (his father would not be happy if he heard that methodology had made the matter worse…).

The king’s son summoned the Governance Committee and demanded an Explanation Now! Yes, this was how he said it, he was very, very angry.

The Governance Committee were at a loss to explain the paradox. They were using a tested and proven methodology (as the expensive consultants assured them), yet their cost of all the Good Things they were doing was rising. “What gives?” they wondered. Try as they did, they could not find an answer. After much cogitation they called in the expensive consultants and demanded an explanation.

The consultants said that the methodology was Tested and Proven. It was simply not possible that it wasn’t working.  To diagnose the problem they recommended a month long audit of all the Good Things that had been done since the methodology was imposed.

The Governance Committee agreed; they had little choice (unless they preferred summary termination, which they didn’t).

The audit thus proceeded.

A month later the consultant reported  back to the Governance Committee.  “We know what the problem is,” they said. “Those who do Good Things aren’t following the methodology to the letter.  You must understand that the benefits of the methodology will be realised only if it is implemented properly. We recommend that everyone undergoes refresher training in the methodology so that they understand it properly .”

The Governance Committee went to the treasurer, explained the situation and requested that funds be granted for refresher courses.

On hearing this, the treasurer was livid. “What? We have to spend more money to fix this problem? You must be joking.”  He was very angry but he could see no other way;  the consultants were the only ones who could see them out of this mess.

The money was sanctioned and the training conducted. More Good Things were done but, unfortunately, the costs did not settle down.  Things, in fact, got so bad that the treasurer went directly to the king and mentioned the problem.

The king said, “Summon my second son,” he said imperiously, “I must have Words with him.”

The second son (who was a Prince Too) was summoned and arrived post-haste. His retainers had warned him that the king was very very angry.

“Father, you requested my presence?” He asked, a tad tremulously.

“Damn right, I requested your presence. I asked you to ensure that my money is being well spent on creating Good Things, and now I find that you are spending even more than we did before I put you in charge. I demand an explanation,” thundered the king.

The king’s son knew he was in trouble, but he was a quick thinker.  “Father,” he said, “I am as disappointed as you are with the performance of the Governance Committee; so disappointed am I that I shall terminate them summarily.”

“You do that son,” said the king, “and staunch the flow of funds from my coffers. I don’t know much, but I do know that when the treasurer tells me that I am running out of money, I have a serious problem.”

And so the Governance Committee was terminated. The expensive consultants, however, lived on as did the king’s son (who was after all a Prince Too ).  He knew he would try again, but with a more competent Governance Committee.  He had no choice –  the present bunch of incompetents had been summarily terminated.

Acknowledgement

This piece was inspired by Craig Brown’s New Prince2 Hypothesis.

Written by K

May 2, 2012 at 7:19 pm

22 Responses

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  1. My proudest day!

    I love this :)

    Next chapter… The King’s OTHER son was a Rugby player of note…

    craigwbrown

    May 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    • Craig,

      Thanks mate, I’m truly honoured by your comment. Thanks too for your questions and hypothesis; this post would not have happened without them.

      The Rugby angle merits consideration but could turn out to be a hospital pass :-)

      Regards,

      Kailash.

      K

      May 2, 2012 at 11:04 pm

      • A find and replace even.

        craigwbrown

        May 3, 2012 at 8:34 am

      • Actually, Kailash, the rugby player could have a parable that speaks to chapter 10 of Heretics…

        cleverworkarounds

        May 3, 2012 at 7:12 pm

        • Hmm, I see a joint post in the offing ;-)

          K.

          K

          May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm

  2. a quite nice display of the cost of externalization the externalization … :)

    monnoo

    May 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    • Monnoo,

      Thanks for your comment. If I have understood the term correctly, externalization is rife in business environments. Hence, for example, the common situation where people attempt to solve complex problems using simplistic “best practices”. When these attempts fail, there seems to be a general reluctance to fault the practice; it is so much easier to blame something or else, or better yet, look for scapegoats.

      Regards,

      Kailash.

      K

      May 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      • I really love it :)) not only those guys with that special talent, but how you and what you write about!

        monnoo

        May 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

  3. Great amusing and illustrative story, and made all the more amusing as I work on helping people to improve governance (or at least consider how to make governance work). Thanks.

    Ken Glover

    May 3, 2012 at 8:38 am

    • Ken,

      Many thanks for reading and for your very kind feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Regards,

      Kailash.

      K

      May 3, 2012 at 8:48 am

  4. Great story mate, thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Cheers, Shim

    Shim Marom

    May 3, 2012 at 11:22 am

    • Thanks Shim, your words mean a lot to me as always.

      Regards,

      K.

      K

      May 3, 2012 at 11:57 am

  5. There is so much of the book in here. In fact we wil add this to a second edition if we ever did that.

    This is for me some of your finest work!

    cleverworkarounds

    May 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    • Thanks mate, I appreciate the very kind words.

      If we ever do a second edition there’s a stack of other stuff we can add as well.

      K.

      K

      May 3, 2012 at 7:36 pm

  6. Agree. Great parable. Rugbyish, though IMHO and experience is simplier/lighter/better could be voiced by another Son to good effect.

    David Smyth

    May 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

  7. I really enjoyed your parable. It has me laughing but also thinking that if I can’t be a Prince Too I need to get a consulting gig.

    Kandy Crenshaw

    May 7, 2012 at 2:27 am

    • Thanks Kandy, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I hope you don’t mind my taking this opportunity to advertise my book: if you liked the post I think you might enjoy reading The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices :-)

      BTW, your comment has also got me thinking about a post on the some of the wrong reasons why consultants are engaged. I reckon it’s a topic worthy of exploring in a future post.

      Thanks again,

      Regards,

      Kailash.

      K

      May 7, 2012 at 6:31 am

  8. Kailash
    This is great. I like the play on words, especially ‘Prince too’. Yes, there’s more to it, when managing a project, than the methodology. The subject that I think facinates all your blog followers, is what the other ‘to-it’ is!

    I think that the ‘to-it’ comes from the ‘livestock’ (the latest jargon from the geeks that they use when conceding that people have a part to play in today’s scheme of things) and what they bring to the party. Systems have limited value in clarifying intent, selling ideas, adapting to events, building teams and orchestrating change.

    Last week Boris Johnson was re-elected Mayor of London; winning against his opponent Ken Livingstone in a tight race. In ‘The Times’ on Monday 7th, Lynton Crosby, Boris’ Australian Political Campain Manager was interviewed about how he came to win. (Lynton apparently planned John Howard’s election campaign for four successful terms as Australian Prime Minister.) Boris is a very spontaneous as well as an ambitious politician who takes risks very skillfuly in his conversations with the voters bringing wit and humour. He is obviously very bright and he projects a great sense of warmth towards his electorate. Lynton is quoted in the interview to say, “There’s a bit of a risk because you are never quite sure what he is going to say, but it is him. Ken has a political strategy, whereas Boris just does it. With Boris there is genuineness – he doesn’t have a technique.”

    It’s my experience that the pace and performance of a project is derived from the livestock. It’s the qualities of their behaviour, individually and in groups (organisations) that make the difference.

    This difference is to an extent intangible and tacit. Your work Kailash is helping is all to sort the code.

    Best regards

    Martin Price

    May 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Indeed it is all that other stuff – that which is not process or methodology – that I find fascinating, particularly because it is not so easy to pin down. As we had discussed when we met, models and methods can be useful but are not panaceas. Neither are they universally true. As Craig Brown puts it in this post, they are at best checklists that are useful in handling routine tasks. To overcome the really hard problems in a project, one needs a mix of intelligence, judgement and above all, an understanding of human nature. Unfortunately, all too often we forget that projects are social constructs – among other things, they are organisations made up of people with diverse worldviews and interests.

      Regards,

      Kailash.

      K

      May 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm

  9. [...] blogger Kailash Awati presents The King’s Son: a Project Management Fable posted at his blog Eight To Late. As I’m reading Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding [...]

  10. […] Yes, I’ve written a few satirical pieces  (Editor’s note: see this piece, for example). Unfortunately, that kind of writing doesn’t come naturally to me.  It is a […]


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