Wild Horses — Horsetrading and Positive Variances in Program Management

Last few weeks was making my rounds and received some good feedback on blog posts found here.  One of them had to do with contract harvesting and what it means.  I had posted a few scenarios and offered my opinion on how they are or aren’t part of normal project management.  What I didn’t do was point out an obvious example: old fashioned horsetrading.

A few words on policy for this blog before proceeding in order to make two points.  I work with people in an industry where consensus building and tact is of great importance.  There is a very good reason for this.  Everyone–as part of the saying goes–has an opinion, but I believe that opinions are only of value if backed up with observations, facts, and supportable conclusions.  I throw out a good deal of conclusions and opinion here based on facts that I assume the reader is familiar with or may become familiar with as a result of reading this blog.  The facts I cite are just those–they are taken from public sources and I provide links for the more esoteric ones.  The conclusions and opinions derived from them are my own, in my own words–and they are contingent.  That is, the opinions expressed are those based on experience and empiricist methods, but given new information I am always open to changing my opinion.  Sometimes I run something up the flagpole just to see if anyone salutes.  That is the first point.  The second is that I cite my sources with links (where links exist) to distinguish the work of others from my own, but there are times when I must cite an observation or opinion of someone else on a non-attribution basis.  As with any journalistic enterprise–though this is a blog–I have my sources and sometimes in order to work effectively those sources provide information or opinions that I use to inform my conclusions and opinions, but who need to remain anonymous in order to work effectively in their positions.  Sometimes it’s just an off-hand comment that is of little importance to the utterer, but that sparks some issue in my own mind.  There are politics in all kinds of places and free speech is not entirely safe in the workplace when contrary to an official policy.  So i respect a non-attribution policy.  I also firewall off information from my own commercial activities from what I write in this blog.  Only items publicly discussed are found here.  This is not a gossip column.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can get back to the topic at hand.  What if you have a program that has a number of positive variances, that is, where your performance shows that you are ahead of schedule and under cost.  But there is an area of risk and/or opportunity where those resources can better be applied?  What is wrong with negotiating a horse trade?  That is, we’ll take allocated resources from A, B, and C and apply it to X, Y, and Z.  How do we handle those cases and do I imply that it is wrong to do so?

In the earlier post I posited that taking resources from one area in a project and applying them elsewhere constitutes traditional project replanning.  My understanding is that some organizations forbid this type of horsetrading but it seems clear that it is well within the judgement of the project manager and contracting authority.