The Recipe; “From Scratch” part 2

disciplineNOTE: This one is totally baked. This is part 2. If you haven’t read Creating “from scratch” yet, consider doing that first.

Back to Jim Collins for a second. His point was that if you get the right people in the right positions, you will want to avoid bureaucracy. Bureaucracy tends to demotivate your best people, who end up leaving. Then you need more bureaucracy to compensate for the resulting increase in mediocrity. And the vicious cycle continues. Bureaucracy has gotten a bad reputation. It has become synonymous with worker-drones filling out forms in triplicate without ever getting anything done. Maybe it deserves this reputation so I am going to borrow from Jim Collins again and use a different description of one element that is needed to be a great organization. Discipline is bureaucracy’s role model. Like a great ancestor who is revered, looked up to, and often emulated. Bureaucracy is a pale imitation of discipline. Or the way Jim Collins puts it in Good to Great (paraphrasing again), great organizations have a culture of discipline combined with an ethic of entrepreneurship.

With this in mind, we rejoin our heroic (but weird) project manager (HWPM). Different client, same problem. A to-do list with hundreds of “projects”. Probably incomplete. Most assuredly not making the progress the client wishes it were making. What’s missing? How do we solve this problem for this new client?

Culture of discipline combined with an ethic of entrepreneurship. Luckily for our HWPM, said client already has a strong ethic of entrepreneurship. Unluckily for our HWPM, sometimes our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. Entrepreneurship is great in startup organizations, which every organization once was. There comes a time, though, when the organization must go from startup to adult. This is when discipline is needed to focus and direct the entrepreneurial spirit. Not bureaucracy. Bureaucracy will strangle entrepreneurship to death. Also not enforced discipline, bureaucracy’s older brother.

The seemingly competing priorities are as follows:

  • Develop/Instill/Reinforce a Culture of Discipline
  • Maintain the already strong Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Obtain enough truth about the ongoing projects (scope, schedule, resource needs, business drivers) to be able to categorize and prioritize them
  • Determine which projects MUST be done (sometimes we call this mission critical) and which ones are “somebody’s priority but not mission critical or life & death” (what is the one word for that? Let’s use the word, OTHER)
  • Make sure every mission critical project has the right resource in sufficient quantity to complete ON TIME

Make sure resources are assigned to the other projects ONLY if they are not needed for the mission critical projects

If I had never read Jim Collins’ Good to Great, I might just try to drop in the portfolio management process I designed for the other client. Two huge differences, though. Different company with a different culture. And, the system I designed looks too bureaucratic to my decade-older eyes.

The first idea: I am considering a portfolio management approach that would apply a continuum of discipline to the portfolio. All projects would need to meet the minimum information requirements, for example, to allow for categorization into several buckets. Then, the buckets would receive their own level of discipline, depending on how much entrepreneurship is needed at that level. For example, mission critical projects, like regulatory compliance issues, would receive a high level of discipline, while OTHER projects, like a new parking garage or a tweak to an existing product line, might receive lower levels of discipline.

A variation of this idea could be that there are only two levels of discipline: follow the Portfolio Management Process or don’t. We could give leaders the freedom and flexibility to do any project they want, so long as they are providing sufficient resources to get the mission critical projects done. I think I am liking this approach best. Straightforward and simple. “We have two kinds of projects here. Projects that must meet their date and resource targets and those that we would like to have meet their date and resource targets.” Undisciplined execution on the former could mean existential threats to the organization while failing on the later could mean slower growth or less than desired business performance.

My hope is that the success of the mission critical portfolio at achieving the objectives of those projects would cause people to ask the question, “why wouldn’t we want that level of success on all of our projects?” After all, if a project is worth doing, why not do it well using a disciplined approach? But I am gambling on something with this client – baby steps first will lead to giant leaps and hopefully the culture change that is needed for this organization to maintain greatness.

How would you handle this challenge?

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