AdPM: Going Beyond the Recipes in the Project Management Cook Book

I’ve been trying to codify in my own head something I am describing as “adaptive project management.” Since every good term needs an acronym, ‘AdPM’ makes for expedient shorthand.

Some regular readers familiar with the ‘Tao of Project Management’ entries posted earlier in March will no doubt intuitively understand my interpretation of what AdPM means. Others will [un]consciously attach their own meanings and definitions to the phrase.

AdPM isn’t a new term; there was a paper published back in May, 2008 in PM World by Lev Verine titled Adaptive Project Management, although it was geared more towards continuous improvement. The venerable Robert Wysocki has a relatively new book out about the ‘Adaptive Project Framework’ that is closer to what I am thinking. However, it appears we are still seeding freshly turned ground here, so nothing has taken firm root as of yet.

Besides internal conversations, I’ve been recently connecting with a few other people to get their thoughts on the subject. Margo Visitacion inherently knows what I’m talking about and Mark Perry is absolutely onboard (as in thinking far ahead of me). Gartner had an interesting comment stream going on their PPM and IT Governance LinkedIn Group about applying agile principles to non-IT projects, so I tossed it in there; both Donna Fitzgerald and Matt Light immediately commented with their thoughts. Janice Griggs at the Performance Institute thinks it’s an intriguing conference topic. It will be my discussion subject at the Rochester PMI Chapter Professional Development Day in May.

One thing is becoming clear – every time the subject sparks, it takes off like a brush fire on a windy day, even though we probably all have different ideas of what ‘it’ is. Let me see if I can explain my interpretation of the concept by using a cooking analogy (Wysocki follows a similar theme in his book introduction with a story about his girlfriend substituting ingredients for a cheesecake).

Those new to the kitchen often start out using trial and error. They don’t know what they don’t know, so they guess about how to make the simplest of dishes with whatever basic ingredients they have on hand – no recipe, so no measuring. Many of us got our start in project management in a similar manner; the ever-popular ‘accidental project manager’ syndrome.

The typical order of progression from this humble beginning is to become a cook. A cook is functionally adept in most of the basic kitchen skills, but still relies heavily on the guidance offered by cookbooks and other recipe sources. Cooks can be hesitant to venture too far from specified ingredients, amounts, or methods. “Will onions work in place of leeks?” “When can I get away with using a blender instead of a food processor?” “How do I know when the dough has risen enough?”

Some project managers spend a good portion of their career as cooks, if not their whole profession. They are satisfied to faithfully reproduce dishes step-by-step, but never seem to get comfortable or inventive enough to create their own. That’s OK! The world needs good cooks who can feed the masses and follow the recipe. Sometimes, circumstances simply don’t offer the latitude to do otherwise.

But, then there are the chefs. A chef has enough experience, confidence, and consent to create their own culinary masterpieces. Recipes may provide a basis, idea or inspiration, but a chef is at their best when they improvise to fashion their own unique cuisine.

If you have ever watched a chef in action, then you know that they are experts of technique and very efficient. Two other things you will notice: they rarely measure anything and they constantly taste and adjust. Finally, the best results are often achieved with a few simple fresh ingredients put together in creative ways, and they are never overcooked. Ah, for a project manager to become a chef – that to me is what it means to practice adaptive project management. Bellissimo!

I should caution you to neither latch on to the term nor my interpretation too hastily – consider this part of tasting a flight of many emerging ideas. I am working on a white paper as a way of preparing a dish fit for public consumption, and I will let you know when it’s fully baked – provided of course, that it’s edible.

As a final note, thanks to our web services team for sprucing up my blog page. A few new graphical links, and I updated my blog roll on the right hand margin. In particular, please check out EMA-I; things are really starting to pop, with new members, volunteers and content.

Article source: Planview Enterprise Navigator

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