I wrote my recent blog, An Old Dog Makes the Case for New Tricks, on a flight early one morning. That afternoon, in a meeting with an intelligent and well-respected friend and client, we discussed the case for disciplined project management. Why should a PM use MS Project instead of MS Excel to manage the schedule? Why should there be a documented risk and issue log? Why can’t a good PM, whose talent is getting stuff done, just work at getting stuff done? I immediately realized the need for this follow-up blog.
Let’s consider the effectiveness of two butchers as it relates to supplying a fine dining restaurant. The first works only from experience. His father taught him to be a butcher and his grandfather taught his father. While he has some familiarity with industry standards, he received no formal training and works from memory and feel. Each cut of meat is a new and exciting experience. The second butcher also had the benefit of generations of experience, but supplemented that experience with formal training. He continually refreshes his skills and utilizes the cuts of meat posters on his wall. I will grant that the first butcher may be preferred by consumers or “mom-and-pop” restaurants; however, the fine-dining restaurant must have a consistent product to please its staff and clientele. Only the second butcher can provide precise, dependable cuts that ensure an esteemed, high-quality end-product.
Does your company or employer intend to operate as a “mom-and-pop” shop, without enforcing consistency and risking waste? Or, should you be leveraging your education and industry standards on a daily basis, assuring the finest and most consistent products possible? Like the fine-dining restaurant, you have the same choice to make when you are staffing a project manager, business analyst, or other professional position. More importantly, you have the same choice to make when you show up to do your job every morning. Greatness is the result of 1) having on-the-job experience, i.e. knowing what problems have arisen and how those problems were successfully solved; 2) having formal education of a structured and vetted body-of-knowledge which helps elucidate and allows you to articulate the ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of your job and being able to plan and articulate those why’s and how’s; and 3) being highly disciplined in applying a formal process to your job.
Think about that highly-respected PM that gets stuff done but does not use the toolkit. Why is that PM so respected? I will argue it is because his/her contributions are highly visible. That PM is working late nights. That PM is doing other people’s jobs. That PM is being the hero the night before implementation. Consider how much more effective that PM would be if he/she invested the same amount of energy but operated in a controlled and disciplined environment and properly realized the collective value of their experience, training, and tools.
The lesson applies far beyond butchers, chefs, and project managers to practically every individual earning a paycheck and includes airline pilots, plumbers, architects, software developers, quarterbacks, and the list goes on… Formality and consistency are the hallmark of a high performer in almost any industry or discipline. There are few professions where surprises are encouraged. Maximum results can only occur when a performer utilizes training and standards to the best of his/her ability.
Education, certifications, and plans are useless unless they are applied consistently. Superior performance results when your teammates and clients know what to expect from you, and when all stakeholders are highly confident in your ability to produce on a consistent basis.