IT project managers: The quick and the dead

What used to matter most in IT project management -- cost and quality -- now ranks below speed, capacity, and adaptability

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For the uninitiated, OODA stands for "observe, orient, decide, act." It's a loop because after you act, it's time to observe again, for two reasons: First, to see if you got the expected results from your actions; if you didn't, you just learned something that should improve future decisions. Two, if you don't observe, you can't orient and will have no knowledge of your current circumstances to use for your next decision.

In most competitions, the contestant with the fastest OODA loop wins because by the time the slower contestant acts, the situation isn't what it was when it observed, oriented, and decided what actions to take. As a result, the contestant's decision won't fit current circumstances, and its actions will be misguided.

When the "act" portion of the OODA loop takes the form of a project, it's always the slowest step -- not just by increments, but by orders of magnitude. Even in the most evidence-driven, analytics-intensive organization, projects that come out of the decision-making effort take much longer than the other three steps combined.

Thus, to speed up your OODA loop, you have to finish projects faster. Cycle time just moved to the top of the priority list for project management optimization.

Next: In our OODA loop, "act" isn't always simple enough to be satisfied by a single project. The implication: In addition to finishing individual projects quickly, IT -- and the rest of the business -- has to increase its total capacity for projects. In other words, we need more throughput.

Given that the whole point of undertaking projects is to increase the business's flexibility and adaptability, excellence joins cycle time and throughput as the third parameter project management should be optimizing.

Next-generation project management

It's a remarkable conclusion when you get right down to it. When it comes to managing the kinds of projects that keep the business competitive, the criteria that define "good" have been stood on their collective head. We've moved from a world in which cost and quality were what mattered most to one in which they're relegated to afterthoughts.

Not that they're unimportant -- they still matter. They simply don't matter as much as speed, capacity, and flexibility.

The question: Do your project managers understand just how radically their priorities have changed? If you have a project management office or program management office (PMO, either way), do the practices they recommend take this sea change into account?

Most haven't. They're what we might call "Fiddler on the Roof" organizations, trapped in Tradition, capital "T." Only a relative few have figured out that while "Tradition" might make for a wonderful opening number, it has no place in the business top 10 list.

So if your company has a Fiddler PMO, you might want to send them a link to this column, suggesting they watch this space. Because next week we'll start to talk about how project management has to change to adapt to its new priorities.

This story, "IT project managers: The quick and the dead," was originally published at Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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