Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Feudal Line Management and Shared Resources

There is often a fuzzy line in practice between the role of a project manager and an I/T architect. I say in practice because all too often it is not possible to be a “pure” I/T architect. We have to help the project manager be successful if we want to continue to have our fun creating new solutions to solve new problems.

I know, for example, that my project managers often rely on me for help setting up a viable project plan. How are they supposed to know which tasks in the technology mix are predecessors of others if the I/T Architect doesn’t tell him? And since all of my projects have at least some first-of-a-kind (with the client anyway) element to them, how would the project manager know what the tasks are in the first place.

Then there are the resource issues. If the first-of-a-kindness of the project involves some development tool or middleware that we haven’t used before then a good I/T Architect should help the project manager identify the skills required. I know once names are submitted, I often get involved in the interview and selection process as well.

One of my project manager friends and I were discussing a common project management problem – the resource that everybody needs for their project. In our case, we are anticipating that if our client adopts SAP then the already thin ranks of the programmers supporting the legacy systems will be in great demand. Who will provide the routine support if these people are in requirements discussions related to SAP? Who will create that urgently needed report if they are in a conference room trying to help the data migration team move the legacy transaction history over to SAP? What if the client’s business climate becomes more competitive and the business requires yet another tweak to the legacy system to support the latest marketing program? But there are all those SAP meetings to go to!

We came to the quick conclusion that the client could hire 20 or 50 or 100 SAP consultants (or another 250 in India) and not deliver a working SAP instance any faster because those few legacy subject matter experts (SMEs) could only attend just so many hours a day of meetings.

My project manager friend pointed me to a set of really wonderful project management “fables” which uses the feudal system of middle age Europe and the story of Robin Hood to illustrate the real-world, political problems faced by today’s project managers in a the resource constrained realm of shared resources. Check out Robin Hood PMs and Feudal Line Management by Dick Billows at This article makes some great points and is amusing reading and all too true! A small sample of this gem:

“Sure, there were all those blasé assurances of “full support” from the line managers before the project started. Now that the work has begun, these feudal Sheriffs of Nottingham patrol their castle walls hurling stones and boiling oil on PMs who attempt to utilize one of their artisans.....’A person can have but one boss and that is I.’.... the sheriff notes the PM’s project work assignment on a scrap of paper but does not assign a specific individual from the castle to complete the task. ... They (the PM) don’t know who will be working on the assignment When the sheriff finally does allow work to start, the selected individual is usually not the most skilled artisan in the castle. Often, the sheriff picks an individual whose absence from the castle may actually improve the castle. .... The sheriff may recall them on a whim or to silence another whining Robin Hood. How does the borrowed person react to all this? It’s clear that the project assignments should not, in any way, interfere with the person’s accountabilities in the castle. It’s there after all, that the sheriff will decide on compensation, promotion and continuing employment. The PM has none of these rewards to dole out... With several borrowed people on the team, usually on critical path assignments, the project team takes on an excessively casual, holiday-like atmosphere. This is in stark counterpoint to the user or client King who views the project as a crusade and reminds the PM of its importance at annoying frequent intervals.”

Another gem from the same site, Project Approval Games: Three Fantasies where the fantasies are Executive Fantasy Land (too much confidence in the PM), the Used Car Lot (PM as “slick shyster” trying to rip the executive off), and The Eager Puppy Dog (which drives PMs to pad their project estimates with contingency and executives to assume there is extra fat which can be cut).

Read both and enjoy!

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.


Anonymous said...

Sounds all too familiar. I as a project manager know what I am talking about. We project manager need our own castles - with people in it of course !
No really, the more organizations transform from functional or weak matrix organizations to projectized organizations the higher the chance for a project manager to stop fighting for people all day long and focus on delivering a successful project.

Philip Hartman said...

I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a good comment. My experience is that consulting organizations are pretty "projectized" but our clients are not. If we need a significant amount of time from a client-owned resource, watch out!