Published here October 2003.


Musings Index

A Question of Attitude

Given the aggressive competition between project management consultants looking for available work these days, the efforts extended towards "inventing" new project management techniques should not come as a surprise. A new, or seemingly new approach foisted on gullible clients can provide quite an edge in the market place. But "Murder Boards"?

We first came across this the other day and apparently a murder board can be described as a key element of configuration management. It works like this. If someone wants to change the project requirements, that requestor must go personally before such a board and make their case. For example: if your approach is "I think we should adopt the following changes ...", the response will be "Make a compelling case for change, otherwise forget it!" Whether or not this also applies to client stakeholders who are willing to pay for the change is not clear.

Actually, the murder-board label is probably a cynical pseudonym for Change Control Board (CCB) and may or may not be appropriate, depending on the phase of the project. Once the project is well along in its execution phase, assuming that it is that kind of a project, then it is probably a good thing in the interests of financial control and avoidance of work disruption. However, that may not be true if the project is in an earlier phase when all positive suggestions should be encouraged to the ultimate benefit of the final product.

Yet a second possible application of the concept is in the selection of projects in the first place. That is, for assembling a corporate project portfolio. In this case, the corresponding attitude would be: "In order to make sure we support only worthwhile projects we need to put the burden of proof on the shoulders of the project's proponent." That sounds like a plausible approach, but is it? Why would anyone, presumably someone lower on the totem pole, exert themselves to come up with ideas, and then have to vigorously defend those ideas? Especially if it is in the face of being dumped all over by a group of senior, influential, (and seemingly arrogant) management. It just doesn't make sense.

In fact it appears to be yet another manifestation of the all-pervasive negativism we see so much of today. Perhaps that is because of the predilection towards power, command and control, used to exercise regulation and constraint. Or perhaps because of its prevalence in the media: that only bad news is really newsworthy and is the only way to attract attention. No wonder so many people feel so consistently disheartened, discouraged and distraught. Our contrary position is that people should be encouraged to vigorously promote their ideas. Note the not-so-subtly shift in emphasis.

In this contrasting way, aggressive and successful companies actively encourage the submission of all kinds of bright ideas. Each are actively and positively examine for their possible potential as projects. Many times the approved project is not exactly the same as the original submission, but the original submission did provide the germ of the idea for the project.

Now, with a robust menu of solid projects to choose from, management can apply a rigorous process of project selection based on corporate mission, vision, strategy, goals and objectives. Failure to prepare such a preliminary menu typically results in a scramble amongst senior management. The scramble is not only to identify projects of any kind, but often takes on a strong tendency to ride personal hobby-horses.

As we suggested in our title - it's all a question of attitude.

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