Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Management information in projects – a meaningful source of data or post rationalised intuition?

Much of my work in recent years has been to work with senior managers who are looking for some kind of a magic bullet to give them an insight into their organisation…a data set which:

  • They can trust where the ‘provenance’ is clear and consistent. The consistency in particular has to relate to qualitative experiences they’ve had with their employees or other relationships they have internally or externally
  • Relates to their own experience either in the function or as part of a general management knowledge bank
  • Is easily explained and manipulated so that it can be communicated quickly and with powerful effect. Most managers fear the powerpoint presentation where a graph is shown and 20 minutes are spent to explain the variables…loosing the point, purpose and considerable credibility during the process.

In the programme and project management arena, this is particularly challenging for a number of reasons:

  • As much as we would like to present highly quantifiable data around the progress of projects against milestones, even at the task level, the time taken to deliver something is highly individual. There are many examples of projects which have ‘defied gravity’ in delivering milestones which looked impossible at first glance. The cult of the ‘heroic’ project manager, written about elsewhere in this blog is a testament to that.
  • The reality of any rating system (RAG) is that the PM is going do his / her best to make it consistent across their project but is that consistent with the overall portfolio of projects? The potential for variance is significant.

So ultimately, the issue has to be one of trust. Trust between the manager and the person producing the data, trust between the project sponsor and the project manager. Not a particularly quantitative measure, do you think?
Without that trust, what happens is interesting. In my experience, a couple of things start to emerge:

  • There’s a circumnavigation of the data point as the manager looks to validate or perhaps quell his / her fears about the robustness of the information. What follows is a series of ‘one off’ specials, causing significant challenge to the data producers as they try to manage the extra requirements alongside their usual management reporting roles.
  • There are a series of iterations of the data point both in terms of both actual information and the way in which it is presented.
  • And finally, direct manipulation of the data to make it read, validate and confirm the point that the manager wants to make!

Call me a cynic if you like!

Categories: Complex transformation, Consulting, Management Information

Tags: , , , , ,

1 reply

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