Overcoming the dysfunctions of IT project management

I've had fun on twitter since I tweeted The 20 dysfunctions of IT Project Management and said that it comes from my presentation "Project Management is the worst thing ever to happen to IT".
Twitter turns into a shitstorm when you upset people's sacred cows, especially when it's a cow they make a living milking.

So those 20 dysfunctions are:

  1. Define once
  2. Business case theatre
  3. Estimates become commitments
  4. Bells and whistles, gold plated
  5. Latency between requirements and delivery
  6. Lack of experiment
  7. Difficult to pivot
  8. Difficult to kill
  9. Do once: no incentive to automate
  10. New only: no funding for defects or debt
  11. Remote from customers
  12. Testing ends at go-live
  13. Big bang change
  14. Complex change across multiple systems
  15. Time, cost, deliverables, quality. Quality loses.
  16. Dead cat syndrome: no accountability for quality
  17. Those building the system don’t run the system
  18. Handover of knowledge and artefacts
  19. Break up teams
  20. Set people up to fail

If I was more hip I'd have called them "antipatterns".

There were some good suggestions for extra dysfunctions, especially from Stuart Bailey (@undentity):

  • Fear of scope creep becomes scope myopia where PMs limit connectivity to related projects. Governance should pick it up and make connections, but often doesn’t.

I love to tell IT people that their job is to make defects. Every project has as a standard deliverable a defect list. Therefore our product is defects: packaged, paid for, installed into Prod. It's a living.

The resulting shitstorm was, as always, a useful crucible for generating more thoughts on this subject. So here's all the stuff I had to say:

I seriously can't think of any one aspect of IT that has done more harm than conventional project management. It's not clickbait bullshit though it is deliberately provocative.

The evidence is strong that IT sucks at the successful delivery of projects.
There is also plenty of evidence of the crap left behind.

Many replies to this have been ad hominem about how only "juniors" or poor project managers have these problems.
That may be the case but if only the strong survive your system it's time you fixed your system.

Capex can be realised without a project construct.
We do have problems with government funding models, but the NZ govt is working as we speak to allow other models.
It's irrelevant anyway, it just means you need a buffer at some level between agile and project. Solved problem.

I'm immersed in DevOps and Agile every day. It's a human movement.
But the way to fix culture and behaviour is to change the system. And the greatest single issue in IT systems is project management (there are many others).

It's almost never the people's fault (except a few bad actors). It's the system. People cannot modify their behaviour in a system which drives it somewhere else. Fix the system.

And there lies the reason IT Project Management fails. All systems with people in are complex systems. Project Management is a simple system methodology.
It's hard for any people except the owners of the system to change the system. The organisation needs to stop using Project Management to structure itself and to drive work.

Incentives are an important part of the system, but only one knob to turn. Project Management incentives are wrong, but it's not a good system for driving other incentives, e.g agility, quality, security, or operability. The system has to change and yes the people will change it.

The issue is not bad Project Management. It is that Project Management is a minor administrative tool, not an organisational construct. If you build an org out of projects you build out of materials that evaporate. All you have left is the droppings.
Build out of products, with standing product teams. Bring the work to the team not the team to the work.
You will never have quality as good as when those who build it run it.

The dysfunctions of Project Management are overcome by
- product portfolio mgmt
- good programme management
- work organised by product not project
- Lean/Agile/DevOps ways of managing/working
- Project Management becomes a tracking and coordination function

See more here: A project is a wave in a product structure

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