Big Project

How big’s your project?

I’m baffled.

Baffled by a profession which describes its contribution in terms of the cost to the organisation rather than the benefit.

No matter who I ask, when I ask ‘how big’s your project?” The answer always describes the budget for the project.

Sometimes people add things like the time the project will run, the number of people working on it, the number of external suppliers, political imposts or even the span of implementation impact across the organisation.

And that’s all correct.

But I’m left wondering.  “Why are you telling me the cost as the biggest thing?”

I wonder if this causes problems? If you’re managing a project with a budget of X you think in terms of x. However, if you start thinking about the project as being about delivering Y then you’ll think about the delivery and you might even make different decisions – and you might even hire different people to deliver it.

As an example, let’s think about an enterprise-wide Business Intelligence System implementation in a large organisation.

Let’s talk to two different PMs:

PM 1 describes the project as “$28M over two years”

PM2 describes it as a project that will over three years release $102M to the bottom line.

Both people are talking about the same project.

PM 1 is thinking of it in project terms and will run it as a cost and time constrained implementation. I’ll bet they’ll compromise on scope, in order to meet time and budget.

PM 2 is thinking about the project in terms of what it will mean to the business beyond the project. This PM is more likely to engage the business, and help the business make decisions leading to the desired outcome.

Both PM’s have to manage time, budget and scope – but I’ll bet only one will deliver the value sought.

So, why is it we accept as PMs people who want to administer within a box and eschew the ones who can inspire and lead to valued outcomes.

I sum it up for myself when I think of a surgeon. Would I want to go to the one who says “the operation will run for 6 hours and the cost to you will be”; or the one who says “after the operation and some recovery you’ll be good as new”?

Of course, they’ll both have to manage the time and dollars but as the client, I know which one I want to operate on me – the one who knows the most important part to me is the after part.

What do you think? Do you think we can change the conversation and with it the calibre of project managers?