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The Process is not the Objective

1.    Background

For quite a number of years, organisations have seen a need to prove their “excellence” in an objective way to their current and potential clients. This has led to a proliferation of standards, such as TQM, Six Sigma and, of course, the focus on the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) for high-tech companies. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) has followed suit with the Organisational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®). All of these, and similar, methods of assessment focus to a large extent on the consistency and cohesiveness of the way in which an organisation defines, adopts, applies and improves their processes.

The advantage of this approach is to the assessor: once the set of processes is defined, it becomes relatively easy to carry out an assessment, since the “evidence” is mainly in the form of the outputs of the processes, and this is easily proved or disproved.

The disadvantage is to the organisation being assessed since the correlation between good process management and good management is far from proved. It is certain that if an organisation cannot run its processes effectively, it will not succeed:  good process management is clearly a necessary condition for management excellence. However, it is by no means sufficient and just because something helps to avoid failure, does not mean that it will give you success: releasing the handbrake on a car will allow you to move forward, but without the ability to start the engine, you will not get very far (except downhill!).

On its own, for example, CMMI has been said to stand for “consistently mediocre management, institutionalised”.

2.    Best Practice: the Broader View

So, what is missing? The missing ingredients are: content and direction.

Process management provides a set of techniques, but technique without content or direction is little more than a mechanism for administrative self satisfaction.

Content comes from knowledge of the domain in which the processes are to be applied. PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) defines nine such knowledge areas, which together span the full set of knowledge and performance competencies required for effective project management.

Direction comes from leadership. This includes such skills as strategic planning, motivating and direction setting. For project managers these skills are listed in the “personal domain” in PMI’s Project Manager Capability Development Framework.

Focusing on processes for project management is like looking at your feet when dancing – it helps you avoid tripping over and making a fool of yourself, but you will never place you in great demand on the dance floor: that requires choreographic skills and the ability to delight your partner.

3.    A Slippery Slope

The current popularity of CMMI and other process-focussed “maturity” models has led PMI to place an increasing focus on process, in detriment to end-to-end project focus (such as life cycle management) and the content of the project management knowledge areas. In fact, with its forthcoming standards, PMI is currently only submitting the overall concepts and list of processes for standardisation: the rest of each document, where the knowledge-dependent content resides, will not be acknowledged in this way. The risk is that PMI will become increasingly associated with the Process Management Interface and lose its focus and reputation on the broader and more valuable concept of Best Practice.

4.    The Danger for the PMO

It is very easy for the PMO to find this approach attractive. As mentioned above, the attraction comes from the fact that it is fairly straightforward to audit compliance with process and so, like the drunk, searching for his keys under the street light rather than in the dark, where he had dropped them, they do it “because it is easier”. This does not encourage the culture of creativity and intelligent risk-taking that are required to create an atmosphere in which people feel motivated to succeed. No one ever leapt out of bed and rushed in to work singing “Hey ho, hey ho, we’re level three, you know!”

So, make sure that your PMO does not remove all spontaneity from the staff and sink to the level of becoming a Process Monitoring Oppressor!

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About Kik Piney

Kik Piney

Crispin Piney, an instructor with ESI International, has developed and deployed technically advanced—and culturally complex—capabilities and services in both research and business environments for large multinational companies, advising on project management expertise enhancement throughout such organizations.
Mr. Piney is well known for his ability to link the theory of project management to practical examples taken from his work experience and from everyday life. He is a lively speaker who generates enthusiasm and interaction in his audience. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Imperial College, London, and is anAssociate of the Royal College of Science, London. He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) and is a member of the PMI® France chapter. He is bilingual in English and French.

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