Nov 232011

If you’re a serial, hard-core career Project Manager, you will probably have a healthy regard, amongst other things, for correct process. After all, repeatable process is one of the things that helps the PM create order out of chaos, helps her get things done in an uncertain world. This respect for systems, process and doing things the “correct way” does however need to be balanced against “fit for purpose”.

Let me give you an example [which you may struggle to fully understand unless you’re a S’african or have some knowledge of our cooking practices.] I and my team are currently bumping up against a corporate policy scenario that is quite obviously not fit-for-purpose in the project execution realm. Imagine the scene. You’re in the African bush with all the magic and emotion it evokes. The sun is setting on a perfect day and as you sit by the fire, the calls of the hyena mingle with the soft and gentle sounds of the Nightjar. On the camp fire in front of you, nestled in the coals, is the largest potjie pot you ever saw. Big enough to cook the meal for the 20 or so guests expected for dinner. Now this is a BIG pot, make no mistake, but everything seems under control, the kitchen staff have done their work well and the wondrous fragrance of ox-tail stew is already beginning to permeate the air. Management have tasked you with vital role of making sure the stew gets stirred. Absolutely key to a good and successful outcome. There’s only one problem. Corporate policy dictates that only certain privileged roles in the organisation are allowed to have the 6-foot wooden spoon. Everyone knows that for a pot of this size you really need that specific spoon, but because of your position and rank in the team, you have only been given a teaspoon. [Don’t laugh – it happens, particularly in the IT context]

So, as PM and key team member – what do you do? Do you just resignedly accept your fate and try your best to stir the potjie with the tea-spoon, all the while falling back on the position of “it’s not my fault” and knowing the venture is doomed from the start, or do you flout convention and corporate norms, doing whatever it takes to get the right tool for the job in order to secure a better chance of success? I know what I would do …. !

Remember, procedure, systems, policies are useful and necessary but they have to serve the project. Don’t blindly follow because that’s “the way things are”. Make sure your systems, policies, processes and procedures are positively adding to the project effort. If not, be brave and find a better way!

To borrow the recent thoughts of Corbett Barr in his article “Question Everything“:

How did I end up here?

Why don’t I believe I can do it?

What limits am I putting on myself that I’m not even aware of?

What am I really capable of?

How can I change the world?

What’s holding me back?

What am I so afraid of?

Who says it has to be this way?

Who would join my cause?

Why hasn’t anyone tried it that way before?

What if I did it anyway?

Why can she do it, but I can’t?

What if I say no?

What if I say yes?

What’s the worst that could happen?

What am I waiting for?

Will I be happy in ten years if I don’t do this now?

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