Garbage In, Garbage Out. Haven’t We Learned That Yet?

Okay, so I feel the need to take my views on PM2.0 further. On Friday I posted a piece about what I perceive as an overreaction to new tools on the marketplace for project managers to take advantage of. There seems to be a contention that the tools are either going to hurt project management as a profession or be the next big thing.

I view the emergence of these new tools as essentially a non-event. Vendors seem to stop short of providing appropriate frameworks for the tools to operate within, so it falls to innovative customers to find a use for them. In fact, my company, Papercut, is founded on my belief that organizations aren’t using them effectively. I help companies implement affordable tools that make sense for the job they’re meant to do, and provide coaching and guidance through a project to make sure that a) projects continue to have appropriate governance, b) leadership is making suitable decisions, and c) in-house management learns the value of good project management practices.
Garbage In / Garbage Out
Some of the tools themselves, however, are deserving of support. My good friend @cybertactix reminded me of a Marshal McLuhan quote, “Our Age of Anxiety is, in great measure, the result of trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.” I believe that.

However, in my years working with repositories and data farms in project contexts, I have seen GIGO countless times. Garbage in-garbage out. If the tools are allowed to be filled with poo, don’t be surprised if nobody wants to go near them.

But it appears that’s not “the popular” message.

Shim Marom was kind enough in his comment to my Friday post to link an article he wrote in September 2009 entitled “Project Management 2.0 – A fool with a tool is still a fool”. In it he cited 2007 article by Chris Lynch. I’m glad he did because it gave me a better perspective on all the hype.

Chris’ article, while well-written, makes a few leaps of logic that don’t compute for me.

1) He writes, “PMPs…view PM as a way to control and manage a project using task lists and Gantt charts”. Whoaaaaa there. PMPs view PM as a way to control and manage a project. Full stop, thank you. What’s important is that the project is controlled and managed. Not that task lists or Gantt charts are involved. The tool is irrelevant to the need.

2) He writes, “the need for shared insight and the ability to look across the board and see things holistically is at the forefront of PM2.0”. I agree with that. All projects require a holistic view, or the solution falls in jeopardy. However Chris goes on to state that “insight and collaboration drive a project”. That I disagree with. Insight and collaboration do not result in decisions. They result in possibilities. Possibilities inform decisions, but someone has to recognize what decisions need to be made, and then make them. Decisions drive a project.

3) He writes, “most projects in the workplace today are run by business people who have never heard of Critical Path analysis”. That may be true, but Chris neglects to correlate those projects with success or failure (to be fair to Chris, so does the PMI). From my perspective, just because a business person is ignorant of project management practices is not an excuse to suggest those practices are unnecessary.
Um, that's not going to work.
Here are my big issues with all of the above:

1. Tools don’t manage. People manage. New tools are available, and personally I embrace them when they’re appropriate, and eschew them when they’re not. But I don’t have any illusions that a tool is anything other than an inanimate thing waiting to be put to use by someone who knows how to use it. I would be quite horrified if I thought people actually believed a tool to be anything more than that.

2. Hiring managers and financial control are as desperate as ever to find ways to save money. It’s easy to want to cut project managers because they’re expensive. But that’s an incredibly myopic view. The money saved in the long term should more than make up for the cost of the PM. I find it irresponsible for anyone who knows better to suggest that replacing PMs with software tools will save money and make projects go just as smoothly. That goes for hiring organizations as well as vendors.

3. Collaboration is worthless without a framework. If you don’t have a framework, what exactly are you collaborating on? A document? A piece of software? A requirement? How are you supposed to know what problem to solve? How do you make sure everyone is asking the right questions? How do you know who needs to approve completed work? How do you even know what your objectives are? Frameworks are not one-size-fits-all. They are unique to each project. Software is not going to define your framework for you.

4. Projects require decision makers. If history has shown us anything, it’s that groups of people are never 100% united in a common goal. There are always other factors, which will ultimately derail a project if not appraised, addressed and resolved by a decisive leader who knows what they’re doing.

So I think there’s two things going on in this PM2.0 debate, and they should be separated for clarity. Regarding the new tools that are on the market for use in a project capacity, I say, “so what”. If they’re appropriate, use them; if they’re not, don’t. That’s not hard.

Regarding this very naive notion that software can somehow replace leadership, experience and knowledge, and that team members will play nicely together by default, collectively united towards a common goal? To that I say, “nonsense”.

Shim taught me in his comment that the notion of PM2.0 is loaded with a lot of silliness. From my point of view PM2.0 is a term that’s out there now, and means different things to people for as long as they’ve been exposed to the term. Angry that PM2.0 has such traction?Perhaps Shim’s right; perhaps the term does need to go away. The only way I see that’s going to happen is if more people start talking about it, and take the air out of its tires.

Ultimately, companies may choose to believe the hype that PM2.0 is the next big thing. If they do, their projects will struggle and suffer. And they’ll realize they’d been snookered, not unlike companies who bought outsourcing contracts.

But that’s another article.

I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Good article mate.

    Seems like you managed to encapsulate the essence of my concerns and I don't really have anything (of any substance to add). In all honesty, I haven’t seen much coming out of the ‘hard-core-project-management-blogging-world’ in terms of seriously tackling this issue head-on. From my perspective, and I’ve been watching this space very closely, the only project management blog that took the trouble to seriously discuss and tackle this issue was the one run by Glen Alleman from http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/. Not there hasn’t been others (including myself), but his was the only main stream Project Management blog that analysed the content and the intent behind the PM 2.0 banner. Glen is a no BS, no nonsense type writer and generally his comments and articles need to be taken seriously.

    Another interesting observation, on a completely unrelated topic, came to me as I was looking at the list of current comments on this post. At the time of writing my comment, all other comments are Twitter auto-generated ones. Some might call it a cheap shot, but this represents to me the PM 2.0 and by extension, the social media mantra. In a nutshell, and this can be developed into a whole essay, social networking seems to be primarily driven by the need to be seen in the social circle (in our case, having a present on Twitter, and more importantly, on the #pmot) without any substance to back it up. I’ve done some research lately (which due to lack of proper tools took me a considerable amount of time) and have concluded that most re-twitting in the #pmot world, where readers were re-twitting other readers’ link promoting twits, did so without backing up their support of the link by a visible action – i.e. actually getting in and leaving a proper comment. I find it disturbing that many blogs, including mine, have more auto generated Twitter comments, rather than proper comments, dealing with the core issues of project management.

    But, as you conclude this post, this is a topic for another article 🙂

    Cheers, Shim Marom
    http://www.quantmleap.com

  • Thanks heaps, Shim! 🙂

    I think the big problem with PM2.0 is its definition. Looking at it from the material you sent me, and what I've since been able to find, PM2.0 combines two separate things. There are the tools, and there is the notion that the tools can manage. That's a hugely ridiculous stretch. Glen Alleman asked on my previous post, “why PM2.0 and not PM Tools 2.0”. Likely that's because nobody coined the term “PM Tools 2.0”. So the two ideas remain intertwined within one term. Perhaps “PM Tools 2.0” needs to become “a term” so that “PM2.0” can go away, and take the silly notion that a tool is more than just a tool with it.

    I've reviewed Herding Cats, and have looked at Glen's writing on the PM2.0 matter. I find him a little dismissive of the PM2.0 concepts, possibly because he's not separating the two ideas. The problem with dismissing the concept is, with it you dismiss the tools and I don't think that's fair. One does not invalidate the other.

    Interesting comments regarding Twitter and the lack of substance to retweets. I'll think about that more. From my perspective (at 4 in the morning without having slept), I find Twitter to be more of a barometer than anything of especial depth. But it's still useful, and I find it does get small results.

    Whew. Okay, bedtime. LOL Thanks again, Shim! 🙂

  • galleman

    You've got this one right. “actionable information for the decision maker,” many times is missing from the project management processes. Tools and processes can help there. But the process is the starting point.

    Decisions drive projects – but the decisions are informed and made by the participants – as you suggest. The tools to inform those decisions are just tools.

    Why does those making those conjecture call is PM 2.0, when in fact the decision making processes are 1,000's pf years olds – “how much will this cost? When will we be done? What does done look like? What are the impediments along the way to done?”

    Marketing hype drives PM 2.0, good practices drive success projects.

  • The fundamental problem as I see it is that two things are intertwined within one term. PM2.0 contains “new tools” (full stop) and it contains the notion that “these new tools are more than what they are”.

    The tools should not be dismissed; the other notion should. Dismissing PM2.0 because one half of the concept is patently ridiculous invalidates the other half. It sends the message, “don't try using these new tools because they're worthless.” They're not worthless; in fact I think they should be explored to see what new possibilities lie within them.

    Of course the basic principles of project management won't change. Of course people will always be required to lead, manage and make decisions. And of course the people who make the software are going to pitch their products as more than what they are.

    When people forget those points, their projects will run into trouble. But as long as they remember, I think exploration should be encouraged.

  • galleman

    Geoff,

    Setting the tools aside for the moment, what actually the definition of PM 2.0.
    What does PM 2.0 do that PM 1.0 did not provide?
    It is critical to the discussion to not confuse “doing PM 1.0 poorly” from “PM 1.0 does not provide a process.”

    One example would be that Agile Software Development brought a wholly new concept – micro deliverables of partially complete, but fully functional features – 100% working software (but missing features) at the end of every iteration.

    What does PM 2.0 have along this line.

  • Unfortunately, because of it's origin (assuming Chris Lynch's 2007 article is the first mention), you can't separate the tools from the concept. PM2.0 has been lauded with both tools and concepts linked together. I think it's a good question “what is the definition of PM2.0”. From what I've been able to piece together, the definition appears to be something along the lines of:

    “PM2.0 is a new way of working that enables project teams to achieve project objectives through collective intelligence. Collective intelligence is made possible by social media tools that bring project members together as a 'hive mind' reminiscent of ants, bees, algae or the Borg. This renders traditional management obsolete.”

    I'm sure nobody's deliberately tried to phrase it like that, but to me that's what it comes down to. The concept suggests that the tools beget the method. They don't. Tools don't have that kind of power.

    However, give me another word that is in current popular use that describes the set of social media tools that people are trying to adapt to projects?

    It's a name thing. Take the name away and you are left with the ridiculous concept above, and you are also left with new tools that have potential in a project context. An apple, and an orange. I am fully in support of changing the name PM2.0 to something else, or keeping the name PM2.0 and sloughing it of associations with “algae management”.

  • D’oh I can’t access the link.

    But thank you, yes, you understand me. I mentioned in the comments of Friday’s post that I wasn’t informed about the history of the term PM2.0 and Shim enlightened me. After spending the weekend digging around it became pretty clear to me that there was a problem, which is what spawned the above post.

    And yes, the four bullets are pretty standard and ordinary, but that doesn’t invalidate them.

    I think you have a point that software devs thought they were on to something new and exciting, without a firm grasp on what project managers do. The implication from the 2007 article was almost like “project managers make pretty Gantt charts and do fingerpaints”. I don’t want to detract from their excitement…it’s good for people to challenge things. If people didn’t, there’d never be any innovation. However, in this case, the hype needs to be dosed with a sharp bite of reality.

    As for calling it PM2.0, I’m in full support of changing the name to something else. It appears necessary as the name has created a false connection to what people are calling PM1.0. And I think even the name PM1.0 is a mistake, because it implies that project management is somehow obsolete.

    As with the PMP, uninformed hiring managers and executives look for measuring sticks with a lot of public support to make their decisions easier. “That person has a PMP so I don’t have to ask hard questions to see if they’re any good.” Likewise I can see uninformed hiring managers saying “PM2.0 says we don’t need to hire a project manager because people will play nice if we put this software in.”

    And that’s where my post above came from.

  • Update: I'm trying to make myself clear and have no idea if I'm being successful or not. To your question, “what does PM2.0 do that PM1.0 does not”…change “PM2.0” to “Facebook” for example. “What does Facebook do that PM1.0 does not”. Worded like that, the question doesn't make any sense. It's like asking, “what does a stethoscope do that the medical profession doesn't”. Is a stethoscope important in a medical context? Absolutely it is. Facebook may prove to be important to project managers. We don't know yet, but I think it's important to try and find out.

    But because of the bad ideas the PM2.0 term is infused with, it's tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • steelray

    Hi Geoff – great post. You're totally right that no matter what tool you use, how well it works hinges in part on how well it's used. If it doesn't work well to begin with, though, even a PM genius would have trouble with it. But there is no software out there that could make someone with no project management experience or knowledge an excellent PM!

  • *BIG CHEER* Thanks so much Laura! I couldn't have said it better! 🙂

  • steelray

    you're totally welcome. you've articulated my recent thoughts better than I could. thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Looks like your blog comment SW clipped the link. This is the source
    http://www.rpmteam.com/RPM_Downloads.htm

  • galleman

    Geoff,

    I believe it's called Project Management 2.0. That would seem to imply it is the next version of Project Management 1.0.

    Help me with the Face Book and PM comparison.

    The question is still unanswered, even by those coining the word. What is the difference between PM 2.0 and PM 1.0 that can be recognized and a new contribution to the practice of project management?

  • Anonymous

    Here’s my take on most of this stuff.

    – don’t look at the example of “bad behavior,” there’s lots of that stuff flying around
    – look at how projects are managed successfully and model behavior after that. Large construction, successful ERP development, PayPal’s Scrum (a poster child), software intensive domains.
    – don’t let confuse “communication channel” improvements in PM with the immutable PM processes, they are not interchangeable.
    – and never ever let developers get excited enough to speak about replacing anything if they aren’t currently considered experts in the current practices.

  • So I think you're still not getting me, which is okay.

    I'll try it again.

    I'm going to assume that by PM1.0 (a term which did not exist before PM2.0 was coined), you are referring to presently accepted project management techniques. Your five principles. Whatever.

    In my opinion, what I have attempted to say through these articles is that the ideas behind PM2.0 are not, in any way, comparable or related or even remotely smelling like PM1.0 as defined above. They are not degrees of the same thing. One is not an improvement over the other. Therefore, there is no measurable difference between the two.

    My point about the Facebook and Project Management is, you can't compare them. They are not synonyms. Facebook may have use in a project management capacity, the same way a stethoscope has use in a medical capacity. Or a piece of chalk has in a teaching capacity. etc., etc.

    That the concept has been dubbed PM2.0 is irrelevant. Call it anything you want. But because it's been called PM2.0 by the person who coined it, and picked up by the general public as a buzzword, people are inevitably assuming PM1.0 and PM2.0 have anything to do with one another. They don't. At least I don't believe they do.

    What I believe people want PM2.0 to be, and what it is are also two different things. People seem to want PM2.0 to replace project control with something nebulous and ineffective. I think I've said multiple times now I believe that's foolish.

    As to what value comes from PM2.0, it is the intrinsic value of the tools the concept champions. That has value. In fact, for this discussion, let's stop calling it PM2.0, and call it Project Communications 2.0. There we go. Old project communications involved paper and pens, e-mails and the telephone. New project communications involves Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else. Now we can start a whole different discussion on what value they contribute.

    * they help us work better across borders
    * they find new efficiencies to communication and collaboration
    * they change the way we communicate thereby changing the way we execute tasks
    * yadda yadda yadda

    Nothing in the above points touches PM1.0 as defined above. They're not related. Since it's clear the name is the thing causing such a problem, the name needs to be changed.

  • galleman

    Geoff,

    I hear your point.

    The four bullets you list are already embedded in every single program we work around the world using full blown formal PM methods in defense, space, large construction, petrochem, electic utilities, pulp and paper, yadda yadda yadda.

    Firms like Lockheed Martin, CH2M Hill, Fluor E&C, Merck Pharma, Intel, our local teleco (QWest) etc. all have PM 1.0 process that implement those and dozens of other “collaborative” process. To not have those in place would mean their products and services would not get out the door.

    My sense is having talked with one of the originators of the term PM 2.0 is they are software developers “thinking” they have something new and exciting to place on top of Web 2.0 (where they work) but actually are missing the understanding of what global firms do wen they are managing projects.

    So I simply don't get it, why call it PM 2.0 if it has nothing to do with improving PM practices of today.

    I fact PM 1.0 (your olde way) is NOT based on pencil and paper and hasn't been for 30 years. That is fiction. Starting in the late 70's defense and space used EDI, mini-computers, PC's when they came, ARPA Net, then the internet, distributed procurement (they had too because the real estate in southern California wasn't big enough to build missiles and aircraft on the limited land), distributed performance management.

    See if this informs the conversation at all.

    http://www.rpmteam.com/Download%20Files/Present

    Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayna

    PM 2.0 is a hype word looking for a problem to solve, without any understanding of how these problems are already solved.

    All those things people (not you, but you are repeating) are saying have been done.

    Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayna

  • Thanks for joining in Glen, felt a bit lonely here. As mentioned in my earlier comment, not many blogging PM’s are ready to ignore the hype and seriously address this issue, so thanks for being here.

    Cheers,

    Shim.

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  • Thanks for joining in Glen. I felt a bit lonely here given that most project management bloggers tend to shy away from a serious discussion of what PM 2.0 really is and more the point what it is not.

    Cheers, Shim.

  • mindfulpm

    Hi Geoff, great article. With PM 2.0 as well as with Agile, I see this tendency towards wishy-washy language that evokes a panacea that will solve all of our problems. Collaboration is great. Communication is great. Sharing information is great. It is all great. They all can increase our chances of having a successful project. But – to mangle Marshal McLuhan's most famous quote – the medium cannot be allowed to become the project. How we manage our projects is not as important as actually managing our projects. What works on one project may not work on another, and it is only through vigilance that we can sort out what's what.

  • Bang on, Rob: fabulous points all!

  • tykiisel

    Geoff, I couldn't agree more. If organizations are expecting to find a silver bullet in the next PM2.0 software solution out there, they will be disappointed. Successful project management is about people. How they interact, how they are managed, and how efficiently they can get work done. Project Management software is merely a tool to facilitate that. In fact, I've observed that if an organization doesn't have a handle on what they want to do with “the tool,” they will not be successful—regardless of the software they choose. The right software will automate some processes and formalize others so project managers can do what will really make a difference—facilitate a healthy and collaborative environment for project teams, remove impediments to getting work done, and manage people. Software can't do that.

  • Absolutely, Ty, thanks so much for your comment! That's exactly the spirit of my article. As long as effective project management structures are in place, the PM software that's available now contains some wonderful potential. Personally, I love working with new software, and enjoy pushing its boundaries to see how far I can take it. But it's the people that get the work done. It's people who set objectives and define their risk tolerance. It's always people. Keeping it all in healthy perspective, there are some terrific possibilities for new software as tools to further communications and change workflow. But they're still just tools.

  • Thanks for that, Glen. I've been down with the flu the last couple days but I will read your downloads and consider them possibly for a future blog post. ATM I need orange juice and sleep. Thanks for the great debate, by the way. 🙂

  • galleman

    Hope you're feeling better. The “crude” has been going around Colorado as well.

  • PM 2.0 tools are not about project management, really. They are about project collaboration.
    Or more strictly, online collaboration.

    The “project” part of the name is a convenient way to group discussions, documents and to-dos into one folder. But, it bears little resemblance to the formal definition of a project.

    These tools are there to solve the problem of companies that just need a place to keep track of everything that is going on. These companies aren't so much interested in creating a definition or framework to what they are doing, as they are in finding a single place to keep all their stuff.

    What is appealing about them is that since they aren't trying to give too much shape or context to information, they can be pretty undemanding on the user. Put in what you want. It can be relevant to the project and help move the project forward. Or, it can just as easily be irrelevant. The information doesn't have a framework so the input doesn't have to be specific.

    Because of the popularity of applications like this, and the seemingly easily profits for their makers, many developers have jumped onto this bandwagon.

    I'm with Geoff. It is plain naive (or opportunistic) to believe that conversation and collaboration alone will prove more effective at generating real gains than properly managing a project and a team.

    In fact, I would say that the more people use collaboration, the more valuable project management, in the formal sense, becomes. With all these collaboration platforms the noise on projects increases, making it harder to find and create useful information.

    The tools that are valuable are those give form and structure to information, those that make it easier and faster to create and keep track of relevant and useful project data.

    To those who ideologically reject this approach as a thing of the past, I would remind them that project management is not an ideology. It is a set of prescriptions and practices based on empirical observation. It is continually evolving by applying tried-and-true principals, like those described by Ty, to ever changing facts on the ground.

  • Thanks Mark, that's a fantastic and detailed response! I fully agree with, and endorse the need for collaboration on projects. The need has always been there, and now these new tools make it easier. But you've absolutely nailed it when you say that the tools are “undemanding on the user”. If controls aren't placed on it, the data becomes worthless. For PM2.0 to have traction, there needs to be a set of protocols or rules that are placed on the systems in question, such that the content continues to have meaning. I think that's where software vendors could provide some real value. A good project manager will be able to do that, but if the vendor provides a support contract that includes separate rules on how to use the software, with procedural checks and balances, now the tool becomes gains some real intelligence that ensures the initial intent.

    And it's more money for the vendor (cough support contract cough), so how is that not a win for everybody? 😀

  • Thanks, Glen! Yah kinda took the wind out of my sails for a couple days. Starting to come around though. 🙂

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