#FlatEarth Explanations of Project Performance

The Earth is Flat. The Earth is the Centre of the Universe…

FlatEarth map with Scripture that condemns the globe theory

Scripture that condemns the globe theory

…and equally #FlatEarth…Projects have a clear beginning and a clear end. They are successful when they deliver to cost time and scope.

…and…A programme is a temporary flexible organization structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to an organization’s strategic objectives.
A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.  “Copyright © AXELOS Limited 2012. All rights reserved Material is reproduced with the permission of AXELOS

Well that’s 6 full-stops at the end of 6 equally out-of-date views.

Two Perspectives on a cylinder

What you see depends on where you stand. What you understand depends on how you interpret. Its easy to confidently draw incorrect conclusions

In its day each view-point was a useful and as complete an explanation as we knew. Over time we’ve learned more and have better models. Those better models enable us to achieve better results.

An alternate definition for project and an alternate program definition.

It’s a fact that organisations struggle to respond to change.

It is my suspicion that in part the struggle exists because of a vocabulary that is mismatched to the concepts and principles that affect success. Ultimately, an organisation’s responses to change must create new steady-state flows of benefits if it is to survive.

 We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

A result of decision making about the strategy and tactics to deploy resources. If the words that properly describe reality are not commonly understood, then discussion and debate cannot design reliable models from which to select the most usable solutions.

Without good concept labelled with good vocabulary we do not cope with change, we do not maximise benefit.

We need good definitions of the concepts and good vocabulary to name the concepts. There has been an initiative running at time of writing (Q1-2019) by a band of folk in a Linked-in group (>>>Here<<<) who are building models of portfolio, program and project governance information. Jump to my thoughts on p3m Definitions and Jump to my thoughts on elements of a  p3m Data Model

Good means accurate, agreed and the basis for building shared mental models of the As-Is and To-Be state of Business-As-Usual (2bBAU)

Historical Simile Public Domain Public Domain

Once upon a time, the Catholic Church held that the Sun orbited the Earth. Geocentrism. An explanation of observed facts that was as good as needed for crops to grow, for the daily, weekly and annual conduct of ceremonies to remain reliable. The model gave the year a predictable cyclic pattern. How to navigate at sea was an unsolved problem.

It had been suspected/independently discovered by a few people at least 800 years BEFORE Rome made a geocentric decree that, in fact, the solar system is heliocentric. The sun is in the centre. Rome pronounced heliocentrism as heresy, “That the earth is centre is an absolute and indisputable truth.” Rome’s decree of the ‘fact’ fixed the penalty for dispute as censure, even execution. Rome’s insistence lasted for several centuries after it was commonly held as indisputable that the earth orbited the sun. A conclusion necessary for global navigation and a growing list of endeavours that needed a correct model of how the solar system actually works.

Operations is Sun and Moon driven, Change is event based

Our Own Challenges

I suggest several modern day ‘bibles’ have similar misconceptions.
Here is an attempt to reinterpret some observations to account for known facts in different ways. With a shift of perspective things we haven’t been able to do or not do reliably become possible.

People Are Our Most Important Asset

Four people hold placards with "People are our most important asset spelt out

We all know an observable truth is that, ‘People are our most important asset’. People are necessary but not 100% sufficient.

To realise benefits in operations or to navigate change we have to add buildings, equipment and machinery, supply chain, customer, trade-secret processes and money to the equation.

All these ASSETS interact. They are in total recognisable to the organisation’s leaders as forms of CAPITAL and together their interactions generate Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) and Earnings Before Interest Tax and Depreciation (EBITD) .

Saying, ‘People are the important asset’ isn’t precise enough for managing change. A more precise statement would be, ‘Our most important asset is the patterns of behaviour by which our people interact’. The habitual, shared responses that result from various triggering events encountered. When our people SHARE understanding of how to interact their cooperating actions transform our raw inputs to our value-adding outputs. The roles and procedures our people know and follow together in routine, stable, reliable and predicable fashion are shared habits and shared habits are our organisation’s ‘culture’.

On receipt of a threat or opportunity, we need shared interactions that change the shared habits and possibly also change the enabling infrastructure. Arrival of adaptive challenges means a need for different shared habits between our human capital. We might also need to adjust other forms of asset such as systems and building or supply chain or marketing, etc.

Ownership of Capital

We each own our own time. Some of us trade it, plus our will and skill for the relatively sure thing of a wage. The equation for the employee runs, “If I give you my will and skill over time then you, boss, give me preferential (higher certainty) access to a portion of the benefits from the shared capital we have in use.” For the equity owner (or taxpayer) it runs, “If we screw-up, I carry the consequences. I’m taking the higher uncertainty and I only collect a benefit after preferential creditors like my employees have taken their earnings from the returns created. So if we prosper then I get a bigger share than others because my risk is higher.”

Agency (Style of and Reasons for Governance)

There is an added complication. Often the real equity owner or taxpayer has none of the time, skills or inclination to be ‘Boss’ in loco parentis. So they assign people into governance roles. Governance has two main varieties: steward and agent. Agent is common in business. The equation is, ‘Owner, if you pay me a wage for my will, skill and time overseeing everyone else, then I’ll direct everyone’s actions to maximise your capital growth and benefit-flows’. This model has inefficiencies when the agent is less than 100% motivated by the same interests as the actual owners, and less than 100% morally reliable. Stewardship implies high degrees of trustworthy maintenance of the owners interest for reasons not related to payment. It’s uncommon outside of family (genetic) and religious communities.

Start of The Model For Managing Change

The start point for coping with change in organisations then is, ‘An Organisation is a collection of forms of capital that interact to generate benefit’.

We can usefully extend that to be, ‘An Organisation is a collection of forms of capital that interact to generate benefit. Benefit may be to grow any of their value for money and or profits and or gross capital.’ If profit is left in the organisation, it adds to capital.

We also know that the most important capital assets are the people. The people either contribute the non-human assets (their Equity) and take any surplus after everyone else’s claim or they contribute time, will and skills and collect a wage.

We now need enhanced ability to navigate a sea of change.

All Other Things Equal

Ideally the profit and wage maximising behaviour of people making up an organisation attempts to use all assets/capital in the immediate generation of maximised benefits. Using all the resources for short term benefits works as a strategy (pattern of behaviour – culture – shared habits) when the component parts of our world (system) are stable (unchanging). Stability is increasingly shorter lived, increasingly uncommon and increasingly the adjustment period between change pressure or opportunities is shrinking, the consequences for incorrect responses is also growing. We now need enhanced ability to navigate a sea of change.

Things Ain’t All Equal

Every bounded collection of cooperating capital is constantly interacting with other organisations in ways that roughly repeat but not exactly. Adaptive pressures build until they trigger a non-linear (different from last time) re-action. At that time a response to change be optional. Sometimes the response is mandatory for survival, in other cases a response (change) may be to maintain existing benefit-flows. Sometimes change is to exploit a new opportunity.

When the adaptive trigger arrives, if we elect to respond to change, then resources that would be used for immediate benefit are diverted into pursuit of future benefit. A change that sacrifices some immediate benefit for future potential. This mechanism was described by Kaplan and Norton in the Balanced Score Card and by countless people who repeat the dichotomy of, ‘Run the Organisation versus Change the Organisation’. #LMLCtO.

When Change Arrives

Capital is transformed through programs of change containing at least one social engineering work stream and zero or more technical engineering work streams.

Taking the ‘simpler and most typical case’ first: when change (an adaptive trigger) arrives the result is a PROGRAM of at least TWO workstreams  – a mandatory one to change the capital that is shared commonly understood behavioural habits – the people’s roles and procedures – and the second (possibly an unneeded one) to change the systems, relationship, buildings, reputation or any other aspect of CAPITAL.

Capital is transformed through programs of change containing at least one social engineering work stream and zero or more technical engineering work streams.

Note 90% of ‘classic project management’ is 100% focused on 1) the asset base that is not the sociology and psychology of old and new habits, 2) is commonly described as existing with out a parallel social, behaviour oriented work-stream, and 3) defines program as two or more technical initiatives to change the non-habit stuff. There is little heliocentrism (Earth round Sun) here and lots of geocentrism (Sun around Earth).

An Aside About the Moon, The Earth and The Sun In Operations and Projects

The influence of Earth and Sun is deeply embedded in all we do. In operations many actions are triggered by the Earth and Sun relationship – Everything done Daily and Annually  and seasonally. Monthly cadences may derive from the lunar or solar calendars. In change based working the decision points are event drive – “We’ve finished”, “we’ve proved it works”, “The competition just…”, “…technology now enables us to…”, “its broken” “its ready to …”.

A Second Aside: Public and Private Sector Are Just the Same

Organisation can be for profit business or they can be publicly owned providers of benefit to the community that owns them. Both have procedures and pressures to behave ‘in a business-like manner’ even though they do not share the same values.

‘For-profit’ businesses make choices about preserving and growing their capital and consuming the capital to generate (possibly maximise) revenue. Tax regimes that allow depreciation and the offset of (for example) training costs against ‘profits’ recognise that capital needs replacement over time if it is to continue to create benefits.

Public sector organisations also have a capital base from which to deliver benefits. Their delivery is assessed through the lens of ‘Value for Money’.


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  1. Concepts and Vocabulary for a P3M Data Model | Logical Model Limited @pm_ngt - February 16, 2019

    […] For justification, explanation and a lead-in to pragmatic guidance see >>>The #FlatEarth post here<<<). […]