Most mornings, I leave the house and say something like "Going to work now". It's a mysterious statement. If you ask, I explain that I am a program manager in the technology divsion of a financial services corporation. I expect blank stares. Maybe a smirk (they're thinking of Dilbert). Perhaps a sad grimace, I'm another sell-out artist.
Let me back up a bit. Project Management as a discipline emerged out of the Department of Defense and NASA back in the 60's and 70's. They were trying to build a rocket to go to the moon, or develop a new fighting plane and then build lots of them. The Project Manager ran everything, a figure of distant power. Project Management methodology is a set of tools that allow the Project Manager to answer a couple of simple but profound questions. I'd frame those questions as follows:
- First, based on what we know today, are the things we said yesterday still true.
- Second, did everyone mean the same thing when they all said "Yes".
It boils down to insight, and the protocols to communicate across a wide group of stakeholders Talking about those two questions identifies risk. Or rather, talking about those two questions identifies risks, plural, of many different types.
- Schedule (will we finish what we said we'd do when we said it would be done).
- Cost (when we're sitting here, finished, will it have cost what we thought it would).
- Scope (when we say we're done, have we done everything that the people paying for the project intended).
The level of risk can most simply be reflected as a relationship between the likelihood of something happening, and the results if it does happen. Just because something is certainly going to happen, maybe the impact is so low - and the cost to prevent it so high - that we decide to accept the risk. On the other hand, a highly unlikely event that could have a catasrophic impact is the kind of risk that should make your bowels watery. If you're a project manager, watery bowels are an occupational hazard.
At any point in time, a project manager needs to understand myriad questions. Questions like what work has been completed, what work is remaining, who's going to do that work, when will they be available. What is the impact of a delay to a specific task. Work Breakdown, Network diagrams, Gantt charts, Pareto analysis...it's all to give an insight into risk.
More important, it is to give insight into risk before that risk occurs. It's much easier to make a change on a whiteboard than it is to re-engineer a widget. I'm assuming that they had whiteboards at DoD in 1965...probably reverse engineered from alien technology.
Its different where I work, in software technology. We apply the same principles, but the stakes are lower. We aren't building the space shuttle, or a new suspension bridge. If my projects go awry, some people may lose some money (serves them right!), but nobody will die and for the most part it can all be fixed by getting the right computer jock on the phone at 2am.
It isn't what I thought I'd end up doing . I always figured I'd end up Chair of Music Composition somewhere, or become Phillip Glass. (Maybe The Larkin Project will get me on a magazine cover). I didn't choose this career. Except in the sense that I think we all some part of us choose a lot more of our present moment than we are aware of. I can complain about the drudgery ...but the reality of it is that when I'm at work, I enjoy a set of challenges that aren't accessible anywhere else.
And I get a nice paycheck, which doesn't come with any preconditions about my writing. This was fun, I'm going to blog more about project management, the office etc.