Faux Compliance

Crappy BumperOne of the nice things about living on a golf course is that there’s plenty of well-maintained scenery. Since we don’t play golf, we’re able to take nice, long walks unencumbered by clubs, balls, bags, and the need to keep score. While on our walk this morning, we passed by a car had apparently encountered an inattentive driver. Bumpers are legally required here in Nevada, so the owner removed the outer portions of the smashed rear bumper and used a hank of clothesline to support the inner plastic core, now in two pieces. I’m not sure whether the Metro Police Department will object to his handiwork or simply chuckle and drive on, but it plainly isn’t going to absorb the impact of his next collision.

True Compliance

Most of my projects over the last thirty years or so required compliance with some regulation, standard, or guidelines published by some external authority. In many cases, it was administrative rules interpreting some legislation; in others, it was standards like GAAP. In all cases, compliance was one of our critical success factors. In many cases, we were self-auditing; in others, we had inspectors or auditors review our work. But compliance testing was a part of every plan. To that end, we tried to understand the nature of the regulation – what is it trying to accomplish, or prevent? It isn’t enough to just go through the motions of compliance. Your subject matter expert has to think like the inspector, and ensure that you are truly in compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the regulation.

Mitigating Bad Outcomes

The impact of a finding of non-compliance in an inspection or audit is a business risk in itself. In some cases, the bad outcomes that the regulations were designed to prevent or mitigate are also an operational risk. This is especially true when safety or privacy is at issue: the organization has a stake in preventing bad outcomes during the project and in operation. Consequently, compliance should be part of your project risk analysis. Think of the regulation or standard as a proven risk response; your goal should be to make it effective, so the organization doesn’t have to assume additional risk.

Like risk management, compliance management is part of a practicing IT project manager’s professional tool kit. You don’t have to be the subject matter expert on the regulations; you simply have to manage the efforts taken to comply, and ensure that compliance is effective, rather than merely cosmetic. Like that trussed-up bumper, for example.

New PM Articles for the Week of July 14 – 20

Garden picksNew project management articles published on the web during the week of July 14 – 20. We gather all of this stuff so you don’t have to search for it! Recommended:

PM Best Practices

  • Oleksandr Drozd shares a graphic on increasingly distributed teams, and some best practices for managing geographically distributed project teams.
  • Gina Abudi addresses the things we can do to facilitate decision making by members of our project team.
  • Elizabeth Harrin reports from the Gartner PPM & IT Governance Summit, on a case study of a rollout of Microsoft solutions presented by Gérald Morin and a panel discussion on PPM.
  • Cecily Dennis and Dan Meers outline their process to develop data quality metrics, rapidly and repeatably.
  • Johanna Rothman has an article published in a new, on-line quarterly called “Women Testers.” It looks like it will be an excellent resource.
  • Nick Pisano gives us the benefit of his long experience with contract negotiations, in the form of critical success factors and an illustrative anecdote.
  • Bassam Zarkout gives an excellent overview of the relationship between reactive e-discovery and proactive information governance.
  • Calen Legaspi explores the productivity impact of accumulating technical debt.
  • Andreas Eisele looks at technical debt with a project manager’s eye, and sees four viable approaches to preserving maintainability.
  • John Reiling asks the rhetorical question, why is a PMO needed?

Agile Methods

  • Neil Killick shares his heuristic for “slicing” work into granular chunks, to facilitate collection of empirical data to support forecasting.
  • Mike Cohn suggests we simplify ordering our backlog with just two priorities: “now” and “not now.”
  • Andrea Brockmeier advocates for the daily standup, from a project manager’s perspective.

The Limits of Agility

  • Glen Alleman points out the problem with incremental delivery, when the customer can’t derive value from the interim releases.
  • Shim Marom sees a potential down side to the embrace of late changes inherent in Agile methods.
  • Tushar Patel notes that Agile development presents problems for project managers, who still have responsibilities to stakeholders outside the team.

Professional Development

  • Cheri Baker proposes a structure for ethical behavior in leaders and managers.
  • Mariel Norton explores the impact of body language in meetings.
  • Lindsay Scott explains how “impression management” applies in job interviews. Note that interviewers are trying to manage their impression of you, too!
  • Jen Skrabak sees the increasingly common chief strategy officer as a potential career opportunity for portfolio managers.

Podcasts and Videos

  • Cesar Abeid interviews Liz Pearce, CEO of project management software house LiquidPlanner. Just 22 minutes, safe for work.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Wayne Turmel, who says we need to meet like we mean it. Just 36 minutes, safe for work.
  • Rich Maltzman and Dave Shirley share a Green IT webinar. Just over an hour, safe for work.
  • Dave Prior interviews Melanie Franklin on her new book, presenting an Agile framework for planning and implementing change. Just 24 minutes, safe for work.
  • Margaret Meloni provides some techniques for procrastinators. If you don’t click on this link right away, I’m sure she’ll understand.

Enjoy!

The Impossible Deadline

Limes or Lemons?Another day, another question on a LinkedIn project management group discussion: “How to refuse your sponsor for the impossible deadline committed to by him?” Or, to put it another way, how do you tell him his lime is actually a lemon?

First of all, you aren’t refusing – you are simply calling his attention to reality. Good project managers are a force for truth. You can’t fit ten pounds of flour in a five-pound sack, as Dolly Parton once said, and no one benefits from spilling a lot of flour all over the floor, trying to make it so.

Exploring Alternatives

Explain why the scope to be delivered cannot be done in the time frame the sponsor outlined; ask if it makes sense to cut some things out of scope; then ask if there is budget to add resources. If the sponsor wants to make it about you, reply that you are simply doing the math – the project will not succeed, as currently envisioned. Ask what was the basis for the timeline that he provided. The answer will probably be about lack of support for the project at senior levels, whether it’s said that way or not, or about the sponsor’s personal ambitions. If you’re not making any progress with the cost or scope legs of the triangle, ask if it makes more sense to cancel the project. At that point, he’ll either deflate or explode.

Consequences and Culture

If you simply try to overcome reality (you can’t) in order to please this sponsor (you won’t), you’ll end up as the scapegoat when it becomes obvious the project is going to be late. Better to take the abuse up front, and get whatever credit there is to be had for putting the organization first.

Of course, I say this recognizing that, in some cultures it isn’t easy to stand up to authority. Deference and obedience to the manager are valued over loyalty to the best interests of the organization. I’m describing what I would do, with my American upbringing and cultural values. But even in our culture, it takes a lot of personal integrity to do all of this, especially when the sponsor is an ambitious tyrant. Before signing on to be a project manager, do a gut check: how would you handle this situation? Because you will face it, if you manage projects as a career.