PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > Project Management - It's THE LAW

Project Management - It's THE LAW

By Carl Pritchard

I was cruising along in a 65-MPH zone in Maryland recently when I realized I had set my cruise control to 69. You would have thought I was standing still. As I looked over at one of those individuals passing me, she was talking on her handheld cell phone. And despite the fact that HOV was still in effect (for another three minutes that evening), she was flying solo in the high-occupancy-vehicle lane. That's four potential citations in a matter of seconds! Two for speeding. One for talking on a handheld cell in a moving vehicle. One for an HOV violation.

C'mon, Carl! Those are minor infractions. No one cares.

We violate laws all the time. Did you know that when you don't pay sales tax for an Internet purchase, you're supposed to notify your home state and pay it to them? Did you know that cute sticker of you and your stick family on the rear window may be illegal? Ever sing "Happy Birthday to You" at a public event? Copyright laws are broken. Throw out the previous homeowner's junk mail? Illegal. Put a Dilbert cartoon into a business presentation? I think you get it.

There are so many laws. And for so many of them, we either don't know we're violators, or genuinely don't care. When I make this point, I've heard others say "It doesn't matter! No one's going to prosecute." And my counterpoint is that they could prosecute. An overzealous officer can send me into a legal quagmire just for my ordinary, conservative driving habits.

There's a very real possibility that best practice will be thrown out along with the excess.

This should be a cautionary consideration for those who run projects and project offices. Too many project laws lead to lax enforcement. Project management practice, done properly, can enable amazing accomplishment. But when project management practice turns into rules, forms, protocols and procedures that are seen as excessive or punitive, there's a very real possibility that best practice will be thrown out along with the excess.

What can we do? As the presidential election season heats up, I believe I have a winning idea for ANY project manager (or candidate, for that matter), who wants a winning theme. "Trim the FAT!" Our project forms or rules should be reviewed on a regular basis to see if they can stand up to this simple 6-question test:

  1. Is the data actively used or law enforced by the organization?
  2. Is the data required by law or contract?
  3. Is the data or law unique (not redundant with other forms, templates or processes)?
  4. Is the data easy to report or the rule easy to follow?
  5. Is the rationale for the data-gathering or practice or rule documented with the form, process or protocol involved?
  6. Is the approach aligned with current internal practices?

Only if you get a "yes" answer to all six questions should a process go unreviewed. Otherwise, it's time to reconcile with reality. While I am an advocate of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide ®), I find it a little staggering that the project management ISO (ISO 21500) tallies less than 50 pages, while the current edition of the PMBOK Guide has over 400. Those wrestling with reconciling their Project Management Professional ® certification and the real world may be suffering from a need to pare down project management practice to the bare essentials.

How do you become a law- and rule-abiding hero? First and foremost, find out how and why practices have been put into place. If there's a form someone requires you to fill out, analyze where the data's going, who's using it, and how. You may find a way to eliminate either the process at hand or a redundant data set. The same should apply when meetings are called and when reports are generated. It takes a little time to actually discover how or why information is generated, but in some cases, the small amount of effort involved here may ultimately save an inordinate amount of time and frustration.

If we keep making more and more rules, our team members and organizations will become progressively more adept at weaseling their way around them.

While I was growing up, my hometown had a curfew for teenagers of 1:00 AM on the weekends. The local park bore a large sign: Park Closes at 10PM. I called the local police station one Saturday night with a simple question, "When does the curfew end? And when does the park re-open?" For my gifted insight, I was rewarded with a terse response that shouldn't be reprinted in a public forum. But it goes to my point. If we keep making more and more rules, our team members and organizations will become progressively more adept at weaseling their way around them. If we stick to the laws ... er, rules that really matter, we have a much greater chance of being taken seriously.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Can this link be posted on other sites such as LinkedIn? Or can I get copies for distribution say in teaching project management processes, tools, requirements, business process writing, policy and procedures?

Thank you.

Excellent article. It encapsulates those uncrystallised concerns that have been floating round in my brain for years.

My only suggestion is that the six questions need to be a bit more punchy, something like:

eg "Scrap the form/process unless the info is:
1 Required by law/contract OR you can answer YES to *all* of these questions about the information. Is it:

2 Actually USED by someone?
3 Not already available elsewhere?
4 Easy to provide?
5 Essential to support other processes?
6 Collected for a reason that is clearly explained in the form "

The comments to this entry are closed.

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