The king’s son – a project management fable
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.
This piece was inspired by Craig Brown’s New Prince2 Hypothesis.