Published here October 2008.

 

Musings Index

Corporate Governance and Project Teamwork
A small allegory, thanks to Peter Halas, Quality Architect[1]

The following amusing little allegory by Peter Halas clearly illustrates how confrontation can quickly cause a situation to get out of control. Occasional references to IT are included in the story to help IT people understand the overall working environment. Underlying the story line, however, is a clear message for project managers and project practitioners generally - as we shall explain later.

Scenario: Final Report from the Body Management Governance Team[2]

In January, the Liver said to the Lungs, "Justify yourself. I do not see your value". The Lungs were so shocked at this "power play" that they started hyper ventilating. By February, the brain had to issue a general alert (bio E-mail) saying that lack of oxygen is starting to affect the entire body, and started orchestrating a coordinated release of hormones, adrenalin, blood supply constriction activators, etc.

In March, the Brain proceeded to monitor the levels of hundreds of actions to see, in real time, that they are again doing the job - and issued reports to the Heart, Kidneys, and Skin, advising them to make adjustments as needed. During April and May, the entire Body had benefitted from this response. Flows of work orders were being processed efficiently by all stakeholders, even traditionally less then cooperative areas such as the Thyroid, Pancreas and Adrenalin Glands were if not happy, at least not throwing stones.

By June the crisis was over; but in July the Liver that had been relatively unaffected by all this, and had not really seen (nor fully understood) what had just unfolded, issued a message to the Brain. Evidently, the Liver had determined that too large a percentage of the Body's blood supply was residing in the head. But not only that, the blood was too rich. It knew that other species can live without so many red blood cells and white blood cells, so it recommended the Brain cut back its blood supply. Further, it recommended "thinning out the blood" itself by 14%. (This was a magical number it had learned at a Gartner Executive briefing on "Offshoring, and IT Cutback Best Practices".)

By August, the Brain, having made these adjustments, was now just in subliminal mode and the autonomic Nervous System was by then the one really running the Body. The Brain no longer functioning as before, but was just handling the vital "needs of the business".

From September onwards, some of the results of the thinning out of the Blood (i.e. outsourcing, and IT cutbacks) and the fact that there was now less blood in the cranium began to show (i.e. Willy-nilly IT initiatives, no clear "alignment", no tools to assist in "governance" structures).

The effects were as follows:

  • The Eyes did not see as well and as far down the road as they used to. So any truck coming in the opposite direction could "blind side the Body" at any time,
  • The Hands did not work as fast and as nimbly, so many items picked up slipped out of them, were dropped and broken
  • When the Body consumed alcohol or smoked, it was so overwhelmed that it practically shut down. Similarly, it could hardly withstand any competition at all
  • Since many other cells did not like the climate that the liver had unintentionally caused, they started leaving inconspicuously through skin pores, by being exhaled through the lungs, and yes, when ever the opportunity arose, through the gastro and urinary tracts. Since metrics were no longer kept of this turnover rate, no one noticed.

By October, the Stomach was no longer working efficiently because of the new restrictive (cost cutting) measures, bile that was spewing out the liver was starting to accumulate. As a result, the bilirubin, biliverdin and haematoidin metrics were off the charts, and no one seemed to know what to do about it anymore.

In November the Liver started fighting with the Stomach, not realizing that the Brain was the real reason for the way things being as they were. The fact is, whether one likes it or not, one cannot ignore the Brain, for it orchestrates the entire health of the organization and its ability to cope with its environment.

The Body died (went into liquidation) in December.

The Cast:

Brain

played by IT (Information Technology)

Heart

played by HR (Human Resources)

Liver

played by Finance

Lungs

played by Sales / Marketing

Hands, Stomach

played by Manufacturing and Inventory Logistics

Commentary

Especially for those in the IT world, does this scenario look familiar? It is mainly a result of how the various players perceive each other. For example, there are significant differences between two prevailing viewpoints, namely:

  • "IT" as a: "commodity service provider" or
  • "IT" as a "strategic partner"

This is not an "either/or" comparison. IT departments need to be respected, and for the most part, are looked at as falling somewhere on a continuum between these two perspectives.

But when it comes to IT projects and their management, we can gather from the allegory the sort of complexity involved. This is where it is essential to distinguish the difference between managing the technology and managing the project. You need specialists in each bodily area (i.e. technology) to maintain the health of each (i.e. tactical management). Then you also need a wellness campaign (i.e. strategic project management) to ensure that the whole collection runs smoothly.

A "wellness campaign" (i.e. project management) can be as intensive or casual as you wish (i.e. level of project management ceremony), but without it, things will quickly unravel. But one thing is clear, it is quite a different exercise from the brain's day-to-day control (governance) of the body (technology) as a whole. In project work, project management and technology management cannot be divorced but they do need to be understood as different disciplines and, where necessary, managed separately often by different people working together.


1. Peter Halas, Quality Architect, QuinneTech LLC may be reached at pth@comcast.net, tel: (908)-803-6485
2. References: Gunn Partners (as edited by Peter Halas, Quality Architect, QuinneTech LLC); meta_Methodology, QuinneTech LLC, Scotch Plains, NJ; Focus on Dr. Jeanne Ross (MIT Sloan School of Management), A CAI (Computer Aid, Inc.) State of the Practice Interview, IT Metrics and Productivity Journal Special Edition, ©2006 (CAI)
 
Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page