The cost of control

I saw a great post by Ron Ashkenas on how controls create complexity.  We’ve been struggling with this issue in our transformation program.  We have put stronger controls and more frequent communications in place.  However, these controls and communications shouldn’t create double or triple work.

Askkenas captures what drives these issues in his opening paragraph:

Have you ever noticed that organizations are great at creating controls and policies to prevent incidents that have already happened? Once the proverbial cow escapes the barn, they adeptly make sure it won’t happen again by, say, authorizing only certain people to man the exit and constructing barn-door status reports. 

Sometimes this needs to happen and usually it is straightforward to figure out what a “new normal” approach should look like.  But the rest of the program or business can get left behind and needs to be brought along to the new reports.  There is nothing more frustrating than reconciling “old program” status reports to the “new project” control paradigm.

Portents of Impending Doom

...and another thing: I told everyone that we needed daily meetings!

How do you know if a project or program is going off the rails?  IMO, the first signs show up where you might expect, in communications.  Remember that the core of project communications consists of presenting the progress, status, and forecast for the various elements the project is supposed to deliver.

Perhaps that is the first sign: project communications don’t substantively cover at least one of those three elements.  For example, I get worried when issue reviews only contain the issues’ current condition (status) with giving a sense of what was done (progress) or what remains to be done (forecast). 

Neglecting or ignoring an issue’s “bigger” picture — e.g., a timeline of what was done and what comes next — has been a warning sign that there isn’t much of a plan behind those issues.  Without putting the issues into context, the review can devolve into an “Airing of Grievances” that has nothing to do with moving the project forward.

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