Friday, April 12, 2013

How Should Project Manager’s Be Measured?

"Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't”

                                                                                                - Margaret Thatcher
“How should I measure my PMs?” is a frequent question (in a number of variants) on various LinkedIn discussion boards.  The classical answer to this question, of course, is that the Project Manager is measured on their success at delivering the contracted/ chartered scope on time and within budget.  The practical answer is not so simple.

The traditional response is based on the purist PMI definition of a project and project manager:  a Sponsor funds a specific project (agreed-on scope, time and cost) and the PM has complete authority and autonomy to deliver the project.  In this scenario, it is proper to base the PM’s performance on those criteria.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never worked on a project like that.  So let’s look at a couple of scenarios more consistent with what I’ve experienced.  In the first, the PM is assigned to a VP or senior manager and is their agent for delivering their project.  (From the purist PMI definition, the executive is the PM, but that’s not how it’s recognized in the industry.)  In this scenario, the PM is the agent of the executive;  the executive makes the strategic and significant controlling decisions;  the PM is responsible for tactical and operational delivery on behalf of the executive and for monitoring and reporting.  The key PM skill is proactive stakeholder communications.

This PM should not be measured on the traditional criteria:  they don’t have the authority to make significant or strategic resource reallocations to meet the project objectives.  However, this PM should be measured on the quality of the plan (relative to the organization’s delivery capability), the quality of the schedule, delivery to plan and frequency, appropriateness and quality of communications.  On this last point, communications, for example, the PM should be measured on how well they keep the stakeholders (particularly the executive) informed about variances from plan, but the PM should not be assessed on the magnitude of the variations, that there are variations or the response to the variations.
Another common scenario is that the PM is assigned to a PMO or that the organization has a formal, well-defined project delivery process.  In this scenario, the organization, not the PM, takes on the responsibility for delivering scope within time and cost by specifying the process.  In this scenario, the PM should be measured on adhering to the process, the quality of the deliverables and the contribution to improving the process.

There is an important lesson in this scenario:  if the PM follows the process and the project fails, the PM was successful;  if the PM doesn’t follow the process, regardless of whether the project is a success, the PM has failed.  This may sound heretical, but is the difference between how GM and Toyota manufacture cars.  For GM, delivering a car on schedule is paramount, regardless of the process disruption.  Thus, each car becomes a one-off craftsman product with inconsistent quality (results are not in statistical control and quality is tested in).  In contrast, for Toyota the process is paramount.  If the process is not working properly, they will stop the process until the problem is corrected.  That is a true assembly line and the product quality is consistent.
If your organization has a project delivery methodology, the only way to know if it works is to apply it absolutely and allow it to succeed or fail.  If it fails, then do the appropriate root cause analysis and problem resolution to improve the process.  Thus, a PM who shortchanges the process is not benefiting the long-term quality of the organization.

The bottom line is that the PM should be evaluated based on their performance within their span of control and to the organization’s delivery objectives.  Use of any other criteria creates dissonance between what you say you want and want you are rewarding the PM for.  To paraphrase Sgt. Esterhaus, “Let’s be consistent out there.”
What experience do you have with inconsistencies between the reality of what the PM does and how the PM is measured?

© 2013 Chuck Morton.  All Rights Reserved.

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