Intuition is Not Enough for Knowing About the Project Portfolio

I've been reading Jeffrey Kaplan's book Strategic IT Portfolio Management, as part of my research for my project portfolio book. He says something astounding (I'm paraphrasing a sentence on p.73:

Managers intuitively know when their projects are not delivering sufficient value.

Wow, that has not been my experience at all. My experience is that managers don't know sufficient details about the states of their projects to know which projects are delivering any value at all.

Managers need data. And they don't need the awful traffic lights (red/green/yellow) to tell them about the state of the project. Any non-agile project can't be anything other than yellow (if the PM is honest) until some pieces of work are finished. An agile project doesn't need traffic lights if the team creates a velocity chart and compares it to what was committed for an iteration.

If you're a manager, ask your PM to create some sort of project dashboard, maybe even using some of the ideas in Manage It!.

It's fine to have intuition. But unless you know what to measure, your intuition doesn't have a good chance of being right. Why risk your organization's success on intuition when you can measure a few things other than dates, and greatly increase your ability to manage?

5 Replies to “Intuition is Not Enough for Knowing About the Project Portfolio”

  1. I think it is possible for Managers to know the project status intuitively, if they are concentrating on the project enough. Unfortunately, I suspect that when a project isn’t delivering sufficient value, it’s partly because the PM is too busy doing something else. Measuring team’s progress using Agile methodologies is a great way to consistently detect the productivity of the team, irrespective of the activities of the PM…

    Interesting post, thank you.

  2. I also read Mr. Kaplan’s book, and I too had a major problem with the statement you paraphrased. I like the use of the word “value”, but sufficient? What is “sufficient” value? I much prefer “required” value. I also agree that the level of value a project is delivering is far from intuitive. I completely agree with your assertion that we need concrete data based on well thought out project performance metrics and measures. The reality is that few organizations have mastered the science and art of metrics and measures and the associated systematic approach to collecting, integrating, aggregating, analyzing and disseminating the data required to make good fact-based project decisions.

    Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

  3. Pingback: Arjan`s World » LINKBLOG for August 15, 2008
  4. A manager is managing a thing. We can measure the attributes of an thing. Use the measurements, use the numbers, we the facts.

    Leaders lead people. I cannot measure all the attributes of a person, so with people I try to use intuition and such part of the time.

  5. I am having trouble with the definition of the word “value” in this context. Do you mean showing progress, as in earned value, or value to the customer, such as in ROI or payback period? Value has become a loaded word. Please define your terms.

    Either way, I agree that managers intuitively don’t know anything. I fully agree with your Red, Yellow, Green statements.

    Unfortunately, many managers do not believe that it is their job to ensure that their projects deliver value, if we mean that the product of the project, when implemented, provides value to the organization. We may do a cost – benefit analysis when a project is launched, and may track costs during development, but how many of us actually go back after the fact and ensure that benefits are being realized?

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