Creating “from scratch”

CAUTION: This is half-baked. It is a post I began as more of a book chapter than a blog post. But, what the hey… What is missing to make it totally-baked?5-01_1-woosa7

Almost a decade ago, I my client had a long list of projects that were not making the progress that my client thought they should. I had just finished managing a large program for them so I had some credibility and I knew my way around the building. I had a charter to turn things around for their pile of projects. What I did not have was a ton of experience or knowledge on how to help them make sense of a to-do list as long as my arm (single spaced Arial 8 pt.).

This was a unique client and would require a unique approach. They were not versed in the tools and nuances of formal project management. You might guess that your friendly weird project manager would have invented an approach from scratch for them. You might be wrong, depending on your definition of “from scratch.”1

My first move was to get my hands on copies of the Project Management Institutes best practice guides for portfolio management and for program management. I taught myself using these practice guides and the consulting firm of Google and Google. I researched approaches and I toyed with some concepts. And, oh did I play with Excel Spreadsheets. Man oh man do I enjoy playing with spreadsheets.

The approach I ended up designing and implementing for this client did not follow the letter of the law when it comes to best practice. It did had quite a bit of governance and *gasp* bureaucracy to the process. To paraphrase Jim Collins, bureaucracy is added to compensate for mediocre performance. Which makes bureaucracy, added wisely and frugally, not necessarily a bad thing. Mr. Collins’ remedy for this is to put the right people in the right seats and they won’t need bureaucracy to ensure above average performance. Right. And I could win the World Series if I could have the first 15 picks of all active players in the MLB.

My goal was to add as little overhead as possible while adding enough to get results. The governance was aimed at collecting information at first, then at ensuring centralized review of projects and opportunities. The goal of the centralized review was to ensure priority projects moved to the top of the list and new projects were inserted at the right spot in the list so that the organization’s limited resources were focused on the right things. The key elements were:

  • A form that each ongoing project must complete. Minimum information was (can you guess?) scope, schedule, and budget. In other words, a project description, when it was targeted to finish, and who needed to work on it for how many hours.
  • Project drivers: We chose four categories as the highest level driver. Value Adding Projects (Return on Investment projects – usually a cost savings); Compliance Projects (regulatory requirements); New Product Development Projects; Strategic Projects (these are the ones either passed down from Corporate or an executive’s “pet project”)
  • Project Benefits: depending on which category (bucket) the project was in, it would require additional details to allow prioritization within each bucket. For example:
    • Value Adding bucket: calculated ROI or NPV; Payback time
    • Compliance bucket: consequences/cost of NOT doing the project; regulatory actions being remediated
    • New Product Development: fit within company’s strategy; ROI; NPV; Market potential
    • Strategic bucket: Best executive arm-wrestler

Thus ends this half-baked post. Where should it go from here?

1 I brew beer using dried malt extract and pelleted, premeasured hops. Some of my friends say this isn’t “from scratch” because they mash their malt from grain and grow their own hops. Well, I ask, did you harvest the yeast from a cave in Germany? Did you plant the barley yourself? Did you find wild hop seeds someplace or did you buy rhizomes from the local homebrew shop? You brew beer like the Amish and I will pick a point at which I can balance the extra work with my desire to bond with the beer. Either way, we can safely say it’s from scratch if I make my own wort, right?)

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