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The kindness and cruelty of project management

Jed Simms
May 29, 2012

The human body is both kind and cruel. In the event of an emergency it will allow us to make a mad dash for safety (kind) and punish us later when our muscles seize up (cruel).

Our project delivery approaches are also kind and cruel. They will allow us to make a mad dash to completion, albeit at times over many months, and then punish us later when our operational options and flexibility seize up due to system and process constraints.

We long ago discovered that the opposite to project ‘success’ is rarely failure but ‘compromise’: significant compromise not only in project delivery performance but also, and more importantly, in compromised future performance.

The delivery of the solution by the project is the start not the finish. It is the start of what you can do with that solution. Unfortunately with most of our performance measures focused on completing the mad dash to the end of the project, the longer-term business consequences are too often compromised.

  • Scope is treated as a variable: to be adjusted to meet the budget or schedule.
  • Functions and features are defined that ignore their implications on the end-to-end processes.
  • Design decisions are made to meet technical standards at the expense of operational costs and productivity.

And so on.

While reports of poor project performance are consistently measured in terms of time and budget overruns, the most significant cost is the deficiencies, compromises and constraints that are delivered to the business.

Whereas over time the human body will relax the seized muscles and allow us to return to normal; project solution constraints only ‘relax’ with additional expenditure and effort, and some constraints being irreversible as they are built into the core of the solution.

It is, therefore, better to be cruel than kind: cruel in insisting on achieving the optimum business results so as to be kind in providing the operational options, flexibility and productivity desired.

We don’t do projects to deliver something on time and on budget, we commission projects to deliver the desired business outcomes, benefits and value. Let us not be ‘kind’ and compromise these outcomes; rather let us be cruel and insist on getting what we want.

Jed Simms
Jed Simms is the founder and co-creator of Totally Optimized Projects, an internationally recognised strategy-based, business-driven approach to delivering projects. He specialises in project governance and control and value and benefits management. He is also the founding partner of consultancy Capability Management.
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One thought on “The kindness and cruelty of project management

  1. Well stated Jed.

    Too often decisions are made to compromise design and outcomes for misguided savings in time and cost so you end up with a lousy design result but on budget and on time. After achieving the budget and time you are still left with a lousy design that the Client has to live with.
    Making informed decisions on design by understanding and assessing the implications on the design of decisions purely based on time and cost can make a big difference on the outcome for the client..

    Paul Sancandi

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