That Guvmint Stuff

Attended a meeting this week in which the discussion surrounded whether EVM is a financial reporting requirement or a project management tool.

Cited was a 2009 report to Congress that indicated that program managers were still viewing EVM as external to their operations–that it is a reporting requirement. Five years have passed since then but there is more than a little confirmation of the currency of this observation around us: the lack of PM participation at professional meetings and conferences, the chestnut complaint that EVM and other indicators are “looking in the rear view mirror” despite significant methodological and technological advances, and the inability to anticipate and handle manifested risk despite the fact that EVM and other metrics provided early warning of those risks.

It is not as if EVM is totally being ignored. Industry increasingly uses EVM as one of many of its tools to determine progress In order to course correct. Long gone are the days when mention of EVM would elicit the response that they don’t do “that Guvmint stuff.”

Also, the aforementioned report to Congress is part of a statutory requirement, so it’s not as if we are dealing with an esoteric methodology of little importance or visibility. So what gives?

My opinion is that the problem is twofold. First, the Congressional reporting requirement causes PMs to treat the data as something to be overcome, knowing that politics is involved. This is a case where the underlying culture closed ranks rather than embrace the change. Second, PMs are rewarded by senior management on entirely unrelated criteria.

Keep in mind that when I talk project management that we aren’t talking about schedules with 50 activities and a couple hundred work packages. These folks are into double caps PM: tens of thousands of schedule activities, hundreds of WBS assignments at the cost control level, complex calculations of indirect and direct costs against resource assignments, technical performance measures against a baseline over multiple years, all under an intense oversight environment. That elephant cannot be eaten all at once, it has to be consumed one piece at a time and it takes a strong partnership between the government PMO organization and the private industrial base.

Even something that appears to be failure can, in fact, turn out to be success. Exhibit 1 in this case goes to the performance of the M1A1 Abrams tank. For years this project was held up by anti-“Guvmint” and anti-DoD types as an example of government waste.  This seemed borne out by DoD’s own analysis by the Project on Government Oversight entitled “The Army’s M1 Tank:  Has It Lived Up To Expectations?”  (Sorry–the report is removed thus no link).  Turns out that just a year later in Desert Shield/Desert Storm spending that extra money (and perhaps the extra scrutiny) was decisive in making the ground war a turkey shoot, with the Russian T72 outgunned and with inferior range, among other issues.

m1a1 tank

Having been an operational U.S. Navy military professional I understand the culture that views methods such as EVM as unnecessary intrusions into the job of delivering the maximum “bang for the buck” to the Fleet. After all, lives are in the balance.

But I believe there is an equally, if not more, important overarching consideration that must be kept in mind by the career military officer and senior civilian. It is the principle of the public interest. If we committed all of the funds to meet any possible threat we would have no funds for anything else. This is the danger to which, I think, that Eisenhower was referring when he invoked his famous phrase. It is assuming that one consideration trumps all others, akin to the after action reports that I would read in which an aviator became so concerned with one problem that he or she didn’t notice that the aircraft was falling out of the sky.

EVM and other analytical methods do have their origins in oversight, and no doubt there is still some hangover that influences perceptions from that history, though it hasn’t been the case for almost 20 years. But, I would argue, invoking this history doesn’t pass the “so-what?” test. After all, it is the public’s money and accountability is part of being a PM. Such standards are much higher in military officers.

Study after study (published but not on-line alas) have shown that the largest risk factor in project management is the PM. In the end it comes down to leadership, but leadership of a different kind.

I believe that educating and grading PMs on their ability to effectively use the tools given them–similar to the way they are assessed in flying the aircraft, leading their units, or fighting the ship–is the only way to gain their attention and, in the process, elicit full value from the tremendous talents and essential perspectives and experience that they bring to the table.

Fight the Project if we must characterize it that way. The enemy is entropy, which cannot be defeated, which never sleeps, and cannot be effectively overcome without the right tools and techniques effectively applied.

Obviously much education still needs to be done.

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