Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

A visit from the methodology police – a PMO satire

with 15 comments

They came for me at 11:00 am.

I  was just settling down to finishing that damned business case when I heard the rat-a-tat-tat on my office door. “Come in,” I said, with a touch of irritation in my voice.

The door opened and there they were. They looked at me as though I was something that had crawled out from under a rock. “Mr. Hersey, I presume,” said the taller, uglier one.

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Joe  Hersey?” He asked, wanting to make sure before unloading on me.

“Yes, the one and only,” I said, forcing a smile. I had a deep sense of foreboding now: they looked like trouble;  I knew they couldn’t be enquiring after my welfare.

“You need to come with us,” said the shorter one. I did imply he was handsomer of the two, but I should clarify that it was a rather close call.

“I have better things to do than follow impolite summons from people I don’t know. I think you should talk to my manager. In fact, I will take you to him,” I replied, rising from my chair. “He won’t be happy that you’ve interrupted my business case. He wants it done by lunchtime,” I added, a tad smugly.

“We’ve already seen him. He knows. I would advise you to come with us. It would make life easier for everyone concerned,”  I forget which one of the two said this.

“What is going on?” I asked, toning down my irritation. To be honest, I had no clue what they were on about.

“We’re the methodology police,” they said in unison. I guess they’d had a fair bit of practice scaring the crap out of hapless project managers. “We’re from the PMO,” they added unnecessarily – I mean, where else could they be from.

“Holy s**t,” I said to myself. I was in big trouble.

“Well, Hersey,” said the short one, “I think you owe the PMO an explanation.” Ah, I loved his use of the third person– not “us” but “the PMO.”

We were seated at a table in a meeting room deep in the bowels of the PMO: windowless, with low wattage lighting sponsored by one of those new-fangled, energy-saving, greenie bulbs . The three chairs were arranged in interrogation mode , with the two goons on one side and me – Joseph M. Hersey, Project Manager Extraordinaire – on the other.

I was in trouble alright, but I have this perverse streak in me, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” I said, feeling a bit like a hero from a Raymond Chandler novel. I knew what I had done, of course. But I also knew that I was one of the good guys. The clowns sitting opposite me were the forces of evil…such thoughts, though perverse, lifted my spirits.

I must have smiled because the tall one said, “You think this is funny, do you? We have a direct line to the board and we could make life really unpleasant for you if you continue this uncooperative attitude.”

That was bad. I did not want to be hauled up in front of the big cheese. If I was branded a troublemaker at that level, there would be no future for me in the company. And to be absolutely honest, I actually enjoyed working here – visits from the methodology police excepted, of course.

“OK, tell me what you want to know,” I said resignedly.

“No, you tell us, Hersey. We want to hear the whole story of your subversion of process in your own words. We’ll stop you if we need any clarification.” Again, I forget which one of the two said this. Understandable, I think – I was pretty stressed by then.

Anyway, there is no sense in boring you with all the PMO  and process stuff. Suffice to say, I told them how I partitioned my big project into five little ones, so that each mini project would fall below the threshold criteria for major projects and thus be exempt from following the excruciating methodology that our PMO had instituted.

Process thus subverted, I  ran each of the mini projects separately, with deliverables from one feeding into the next. I’d got away with it; with no onerous  procedures to follow I was free to devise my own methodology, involving nothing more complicated than a spreadsheet updated daily following informal conversations with team members and stakeholders. All this held together – and, sorry, this is going to sound corny – by trust.

The methodology cops’ ears perked up when they heard that word, “Trust!” they exclaimed, “What do you mean by trust?”

“That’s when you believe people will do as they say they will,” I said. Then added, “A concept that may be foreign to you.” I regretted that snide aside as soon as I said it.

“Look, “ said the uglier guy, “I suggest you save the wisecracks for an audience that may appreciate them. “You are beginning to annoy me and a report to the board is looking like a distinct possibility if you continue in this vein.”

I have to say, if this guy had a lot of patience if he was only just “beginning to get annoyed.” I was aware that I had been baiting him for a while. Yes, I do know when I do that. My wife keeps telling me it will get me into trouble one day. May be today’s the day.

“…I do know what trust is,” the man continued, “but I also know that you cannot run a project on warm and fuzzy notions such as trust, sincerity, commitment etc. The only thing I will trust are written signed off project documents.”

Ah, the folly, the folly. “Tell me this, what would you prefer – project documentation as per the requirements of your methodology or a successful project.”

“The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, methodology improves the chance of success.”

“No it doesn’t,” I retorted.

“It does,” he lobbed back.

Jeez, this was beginning to sound like recess in the local kindergarten. “Prove it,” I said, staking my claim to the title of King of Kindergarten Debates.

“There are several studies that prove the methodologies efficacy,” said the short one, “but that is not the point.”

“All those studies are sponsored by the Institute,” I said, referring to the August Body that maintains the standard. “so there is a small matter of vested interest….anyway, you say that isn’t the point. So what is your point then?.”

“The methodology is an internal requirement, so you have to follow It regardless. We could have a lot of fun debating it, but that is neither here no there. Compliance is mandatory, you have no choice.”

“I did comply,” I said, “none of my projects were over the threshold, so I did not need to follow the methodology.”

“That was subterfuge – it was one project that you deliberately divided into five so that you could bypass our processes.”

I was getting tired and it was close to my lunchtime. “OK, fair point“ I said, “I should not have done that. I will not do it again. Can I go now?”

“Hmm,” they said in unison.  I don’t think either of them believed me. “That’s not good enough.”

I sighed. “What do you want  then?” I asked, weary of this pointless drama.

“You will read and sign this form,” said the short one, “declaring you have been trained in the PMO processes – which you were last year, as you well know – and that you will follow the processes henceforth. I particularly urge you to read and digest the bit about the consequences of non-compliance.” He flicked the form in my direction.

I was not surprised to see that the form  was a multi-page affair, written in 8pt bureaucratese, utterly incomprehensible to mere mortals such as I. I knew I would continue to bypass or subvert processes that made no sense to me, but I also knew that they needed me to sign that form – their boss would be very unhappy with them if I didn’t.  Besides, I didn’t want to stay in that room a second longer than necessary.

“OK, where do I sign,” I said, picking up a pen that lay on the table.

“Don’t you want to read it.”

“Nah,” I said, “I have a pretty fair idea of what it’s about.”

I signed.

“We’re done, Hersey. You can go back to your business case now. But you can be sure that you are on our radar now. We are watching you.”

“Well Gents, enjoy the show. I promise, to lead a faultless life henceforth. I will be a model project manager,” I said as I rose to leave.

“We’re counting on it Hersey.  One more violation and you are in deep trouble.”

I refrained from responding with a wisecrack as I exited, leaving them to the paperwork that is their raison d’etre.

15 Responses

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  1. this is just brilliant. BRILLIANT.

    Like

    judith

    May 10, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    • Hi Judith, thanks for reading and for your very kind words.

      Regards,

      Kailash.

      Like

      K

      May 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

  2. Absolute GOLD K, it reminds me of a place I used to work…

    Like

    MP

    May 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    • Glad you liked it mate.Thanks for reading!

      K.

      Like

      K

      May 22, 2013 at 7:56 pm

  3. Reblogged this on A Different Perspective.

    Like

    Mounir Ajam

    May 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm

  4. I believe that PMO methodologies are mandatory to control the project management in the firms.
    Documentation and signed papers are not that important for small project if you are sure that everything will go well, but when you face troubles, nothing but signed papers can save you and prove you are right. and no one can complete all his project without having troubles.
    In addition, without standardized methodologies and processes you will be leading your project management to chaos, you can’t give every project manager the option to choose what procedures and tools to use, you need a standard, something measurable you need a baseline to measure the success and the failure.
    I hope i make sense,

    thank you

    Like

    Hasan Jaffal

    May 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    • Hi Hasan,

      Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Firstly, I should reiterate that my story is a satire, so it is considerably over the top. I don’t think there’s any real life PMO that is quite as enforcement obsessed as the one I caricatured in the post, but there’s always the possibility, of course…🙂

      To the points that you have raised:

      I agree with you in principle that some kind of system is necessary for managing projects, but am not sure that what we have now (methodologies, PMOs etc.) work as well as they should. Projects continue to fail, so there is still something not quite right with the way we do things. One can argue endlessly about the reasons for this – improper implementation, lack of sponsorship etc – but IMO these are not causes but symptoms of an underlying systemic issue. I’m currently working out some thoughts on this and hope to post them sometime soon.

      Regarding your point about signatures and standards – I think if one has to rely on signatures to “save oneself” or to “prove one is right” then something is already wrong. Instead, I believe the focus should be on creating the right environment that fosters trust and enables teams to collaborate and grow, rather than on enforcing standards and processes. Paul Culmsee and I have written up some thoughts on this in this paper and (in greater depth), in our book, The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices. There are a number of ways in which the ideas presented there can be augmented and extended to apply to teams in general (and project teams, in particular) and we’re hoping to write these up sometime in the not too distant future.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      Regards,

      Kailash,

      Like

      K

      May 26, 2013 at 4:37 pm

  5. Good article, and one that makes good use of the story format and humour to make the point.

    I think that what is needed is _just_enough_ PM process. Done well, robust PM processes and methodologies form part of an organisation’s corporate memory, and are built making intelligent use of the lessons the organisation has learned from previous projects. They are aimed at preventing the repetition of past mistakes without unnecessarily impeding delivery. To subvert such processes is to ignore these lessons, relying instead on personal experience (which may of course exceed corporate experience).

    One approach that _could_ help, and combines organisational experience with personal PM experience, is to devise a bare minimum of mandatory documentation for running projects (which often the organisation will require anyway, to provide reassurance that an investment made in a project is being managed responsibly). The rest is made optional and at the discretion of the project manager (based on project complexity and risk), but with the project manager taking full responsibility and accountability for their decision to use or not use a process or piece of documentation.

    Regarding signed documents vs. trust, I have seen situations where stakeholders have “forgotten” what they agreed to – documents bearing their signatures would have been a useful way to “remind” them of this. In my experience the people least willing to put their name to something (including documentation) are probably the very same people most likely to betray the trust you place in them. I think there is a paradox here in that if you can get signed documents, you probably won’t need them, and if you can’t get them, then you’re probably heading for trouble!

    Like

  6. […] The PMO can add the lessons to the corporate PM methodology. Done well, robust PM processes and methodologies form part of an organisation’s corporate memory, and are built making intelligent use of the lessons the organisation has learned from previous projects. They are aimed at preventing the repetition of past mistakes without unnecessarily impeding delivery. But the more you add to the methodology the more rigid and prescriptive it becomes, and the more likely to either be ignored or implemented in full (and you can bet it will be ignored on the big risky projects and implemented in full on the little simple ones). The PMO should also avoid becoming the methodology police. […]

    Like

  7. Any methodology should be your servant not your master.

    Like

    Richard

    December 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm

  8. […] Manifesto, and to support the image of PMOs away from such outdated misconceptions as the “Methodology Police” towards a more customer-oriented, business-centric, agile (with a small “A”) […]

    Like

  9. Writing as a serious (second & lucrative) career?

    Like

    Sashi

    February 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    • I wish,mate….but taking a cold, hard look at my ability, it is clear that is not going to happen.

      Like

      K

      February 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      • Oh, the ability is there! Kudos to you. I enjoyed it and passed it on. Maybe I get paid to wear the “police hat”… but we all have to laugh at what is sometimes real close to reality… 🙂 Thank you.

        Like

        Undercover Police

        April 17, 2014 at 9:08 pm

        • Thanks for reading and for your very kind words!

          Regards,

          Kailash.

          Like

          K

          April 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm


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