Is Project Management more an ‘Art’ that is unique to the capabilities of few individuals or a ‘Science’ that can be systematically studied and applied predictably?
The best way to answer that question is by drawing inference to the field of Photography. There is a rule in Photography called ‘The Rule of Thirds’. In its most basic form, the rule of third says that you should imagine a tic-tac-toe board on the frame of the picture, and then place whatever is most interesting in the photo on the intersection of those lines. See below for examples of use of rule of thirds.Now look at some of the most famous photographs / art below and you will see that the subject matter of interest is in the ‘dead center’ (that’s how photographers call things in center… dead center).Similar to Photography, learning the basic techniques, rules and theories are essential for Project Management as well. A seasoned professional having learnt what works and what doesn’t work, knows how to make rules work for the situation. In my view Project Management is nothing but common sense in action within the boundaries of what not to do i.e. common sense with learnt knowledge to avoid stupidity.
Below are some key learnings on couple of my successful projects and a failed project.
Successful Project – Strategic Partnership SAS70 Audit.
Microsoft had signed a strategic partnership deal with Yahoo and Microsoft was required to demonstrate, through an independent audit, existence of robust controls to process and account for search revenue. From the signing of the deal to the audit report, we had about 10 months and within such a shorter timeframe, we had to achieve controls maturity across multiple IT and business processes impacting 250+ employees and pass the audit without any failures. We delivered a clean audit report without a single failure. Below are some key learnings.
Successful Project – Royalties Monthly Accounting Processing.
Closing the accounting books and making accounting entries every month involves multiple processes and systems across multiple teams. Multiple dependencies naturally create inefficiencies and for a very long time, it required heroic efforts to close the books on time. With the diversity of process and skills of the people involved (i.e. Accountants, Operations, Information Technology, Engineers, Compliance, etc.), it is very important to align motivations, incentives and view of success to achieve efficiencies. Once we defined the view of success in very simple terms ‘8AM on Close Day 2’ and started to track performance against that view of success, within 5 months, we started to see dramatic improvements in the books close timing. Below are some key learnings.
Failed Project – Revenue Adjustments Reporting Platform.
Revenue Adjustments is a complex area and not many people understand how that P&L line operates. This project was initiated to demystify activities in that line item and provide insights to corporate management on key drivers and variances through a reporting platform. This project did not see the light of the day and below are some key learnings.One tool from my tool kit – Influence
As professionals of the modern economy, we do not work on assembly lines with widgets and mechanical tools. Our work is to work with ‘People’ and our success and failures mostly depend on people we work with. Our ability to influence people is the one of the key determinants of success and I deem it a pre-requisite that every working professional should learn ways to influence people. Here are some tools I use in my daily work that I learnt from Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence’.
Here is a video on the same topic narrated by Robert Cialdini himself.
Story of a Zen Master
Once upon a time in the high hills of Japan lived an old wise Zen Master in a monastery. He had answers to all life’s problems. A corporate executive from US travels all the way to Japan to meet this Zen Master. After a long and strenuous hike up the hill, the executive finally meets the Zen master and says “I am here to gain all your wisdom. I have taken a long sabbatical from my corporate life, please take me as your student for three years”. Zen Master says, “You don’t need three years to learn how to be wise. I can teach that to you in three words – Make Good Decisions“.
The executive is not happy with those words of wisdom. He says “Yes I get that but I don’t know how to make good decisions. Please take me as your student, I’ll live with you here in the monastery and serve you daily”.
Zen Master – “You don’t have to serve me in my monastery to learn how to make good decisions. I can teach that to you in one word. To make good decisions you need – Experience“
Executive – “Yes I get that. It all sounds plain and simple. But I am not still sure how to gain experience. Please take me as your student for at least two years”
Zen Master – “You don’t have to spend two years here in my monastery to learn how to gain experience. I can teach that to you in two words. You gain experience when you make – Bad Decisions“.
All the very best and keep making decisions. When you learn from your mistakes, every bad decision is another way towards making good decisions.