the missing piece

This week I was co-opted to act as a temporary project manager for three weeks while someone’s on holiday. I’ve spent much of the week shadowing the PM I’m replacing, and it’s now 4:15 on Friday afternoon. I’m packing up my laptop and beginning to think of fish and chips, when I see the said PM and the technical lead in conversation a few desks away. I have much to learn, so I can’t pass up on an opportunity to listen in and learn some more.

It turns out that they’re discussing Monday’s milestone, in which some parts of the project will be handed over to the live deployment team. As they check off the modules in this mini-release, it becomes apparent to them that there’s one missing! The technical lead knew, at the start of the design phase (yes, I know), that it was needed. But for some reason it had never made its way into the project manager’s plan. And the developers only worked on things that were in the plan. So it was never developed! Very honourably, the manager took the blame and set about finding a solution…

I’ve been wondering for a few hours now how such a blatant error could happen (I know it isn’t unique, and I surmise that problems of this nature probably cost this organisation millions annually). I’ve come to know these two people a little in recent days: the manager is proudly non-technical – it’s his job to schedule other people’s work, not to understand it; and the designer is proudly technical – it’s his job to design solutions, not to run projects. This corporation sees nothing wrong with that, and in fact selects people for precisely these characteristics. So the manager’s role was to create a plan from technical input he couldn’t understand; and the technician was not required to review that plan for correctness. And that’s part of the problem: the culture here is one of specialists in silos. In this case something fell between the cracks (in many ways it’s remarkable that they actually spotted it before live deployment).

But why did neither the manager nor the designer develop any interest in what the other was doing? Because another part of the reason for this failure is that each of them, indeed everyone here, is always concurrently working on two, three, even twenty projects! No-one has enough time to care about what they are producing.

Eli Goldratt would have a field day here…

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