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No Slogans or Disingenuous Pep Talks (#10 in the series Deming’s 14 Points in Project Management)
By Josh Nankivel

Dr. W. Edwards Deming recently re-introduced to me in my Project Performance and Quality Assurance class. I have heard of him before and touched on some of his philosophy in other classes, but focused much more in-depth this time. The majority of his philosophy around quality and organizational management resonate with me. So, I’ve decided to do a series of articles on Deming’s 14 points, and how they relate specifically to the field of project management. I may decide to not touch on all of them or I may. I am not really sure at this point.

This point consists of two elements as I see it. (1) Walk the talk, and (2) hold systems accountable.

Walk the Talk

Slogans are phony. The word slogan has a connotation of something that is not real. It sounds like an advertisement, and not something you can really trust in. In a project management organization, it is much better to have published guidelines and a vision that defines your philosophy and practice. Train your project managers and teams on the methodology. Then, let them execute within that framework, and put a system in place so that the practitioners can revise the process and make it better.

Additionally, if you say you are going to deliver the product by a specified date, budget, and quality, then do it. Consistently. Estimating a launch and then consistently missing the deadline is a sure way to make upper management believe you are full of it. Sometimes this goes with Point #9; the project manager points the finger at the stakeholders and says “well, it wouldn’t be so late if they wouldn’t have changed their requirements.” It’s your job to fully understand the requirements early on, so step up to that responsibility and stop the finger pointing. If you took the effort to better understand what they wanted, perhaps you could have provided more reasonable estimates. No excuses.

Hold Systems Accountable

If you do not have a common and well-defined company methodology for project management, you must be expecting every project manager to be perfect. The lessons learned from other projects and project managers must be transmitted through osmosis or psychically, I suppose. That project manager “should have known” how to do proper risk planning. If you lecture the project managers, they should automatically be motivate to do a better job right? After all, it was their fault for not being omnipotent in the first place, right?
A better approach might be to have a set of guidelines, tools, and techniques within well defined processes so that a project manager does not have to also be a mind reader. If projects are constantly failing at your organization, it is not because you have a set of lousy project managers (more than likely), it’s because you have no system in place to manage projects.

Josh Nankivel is the Vice Chair of Special Projects for the Students of Project Management SIG of PMI, and a project management student/enthusiast. His website is http://www.pmstudent.com.

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