Measure What Matters

by Geof Lory

Lately, it is almost impossible for me to have a conversation with a company or potential client without talking about a Project Office of some sort. Call it a PMO (Project Management Office) or PSO (Project Support Office) or even a Center of Excellence, everyone is looking for that organizational magic bullet that will assure projects are done well—whatever that means. This trend has picked up steam and become more mainstream over the past several years with more articles, books, training and software to enable these organizational units, the people in them and those affected by them.

I have also noticed a parallel growth in an associated pair of project management topics: leadership and teaming. Unfortunately, I rarely see these two areas of project management under the auspices of the aforementioned PMO. They are usually the purview of Human Resources or Training & Development. I find this disconnect odd.

This got me thinking and talking with colleagues about the underlying question: if leadership and teaming are essential for effectively managing projects, why do PMOs focus first and foremost on elements like schedule, budget, requirements, and risk? My conclusion, or at least a part of it, has to do with the interplay between transactions and relationships, our comfort level with each, and how we view their importance. Here's what I've been thinking.

When we interact, one-on-one or as a group, the goal of our interaction lies somewhere on a continuum from transaction to relationship. Meaning, the intention or desired outcome of our interaction is to complete a transaction (at one extreme), or foster a relationship (at the other extreme).

Just as the goal of the interaction may be weighted more heavily to one side or the other, the actual actions that constitute the interaction and how we perform those actions—our behaviors—fall somewhere on the transaction/relationship continuum.

When these two continuums are combined into a "magic matrix" (my favorite way to organize data, because a four quadrant matrix works for my simple mind), it creates the following diagram.

In the bottom left, Quadrant I, both the goal and the actions are transactional. There are many things we do in life that appropriately fit into this quadrant. Depersonalized purchases, proceduralized workflows, prescribed processes, and RACI Charts all fall into this quadrant. Interactions in this quadrant are considered IMPERSONAL and as such, in theory, neither foster nor require a relationship. Given how many interactions the average person has in a day, life would be overwhelming and chaotic if a substantial number of them were not in this quadrant.

Moving up the matrix to the top left, Quadrant II is the area where engagement in transactional behavior to get something done develops a relationship. While not the primary goal of the behavior, it is a side benefit. Referencing back to a previous article on trust (Be Credible to Build Trust) it is clear that successful completion of transactions that produce results, demonstrate accountability, or keep commitments will inherently develop trust in a relationship. If done consistently over time, a strong relationship that ultimately speeds the transaction will develop.

Conversely, in the bottom right, Quadrant III, the result is the same—a transaction-dependent relationship—but the behavior and goal are reversed. Here the relationship is necessary to successfully complete the transaction, so the actions that build the relationship have to precede the transaction or it will take more time and effort to complete. However, once the relationship is established and several transactions successfully executed, this quadrant and Quadrant II are essentially the same; they require a transaction (goal or behavior) or the relationship will have no reason to persist. These relationships can be called POSITIONAL in that as your position relative to the person you are interacting with changes, so too will the relationship.

The final quadrant, and for me the most interesting, is Quadrant IV. Here the execution of a transaction is not needed to maintain the relationship. The goal is to maintain the relationship without regard for the personal benefit or potential transactional outcome of the interaction. Likewise, the relationship is maintained without respect to POSITION and is more PERSONAL in nature. With these relationships, keeping a balance is less tenuous and is afforded a larger margin of discretion. However, moving from a Positional relationship to a Personal relationship takes deliberate and continuous effort. Since the transaction does not sustain the relationship, something else has to replace it. And what replaces it, a personal foundation, is usually not considered part of the business equation. It complicates the organizational order.

I see most PMOs—and project and program managers in general—concentrating more on Quadrant I: the transactions. However, teaming and leadership is more focused on relationships. As I think of this quadrant, I am reminded of the old TQM mantra attributed to Edward Deming: "You can't manage what you don't measure." I believe the managerial compulsion to focus on things that can be objectively measured drives many organizational interactions into this predominantly impersonal transaction oriented (goal and actions) way of behaving.

I don't want to imply that objective measurement is bad or shouldn't be done. It certainly has its place. My point is that transactional interactions and the associated objective measurements are not everything. And I believe a case could be made for it not even being the most important thing. My personal experience with software development teams, as well as managing administrative, operational, and sales staff, is that more time is spent on relationships—building, breaking, or repairing them—than on getting the real work done. However, rarely is any of this measured.

I believe our perceived inability to effectively measure relationships gets in the way of leveraging the exclusively Personal relationships in the upper right quadrant to affect the other Positional quadrants. Without measurement, we are challenged to understand the impact on results. However, I don't believe measurement of relationships is that difficult; it's just not something we are socially conditioned to do. After all, business is business, not personal, right?

I'd like to offer a slight modification to that old management adage and suggest, "You can't manage what you won't measure." It is not so much the ability as it is the willingness.

In the project management training and mentoring I do with clients, I encourage teams to be deliberate about measuring their relationships, especially those with business stakeholders and the PMO. Understanding their goals and actions relative to these transactions and relationships can bring a higher level of consciousness to those team behaviors that are not exclusively Quadrant I. Focusing on measuring the relationship itself will bring greater awareness of the subtle indicators and daily hints and clues of the status of our relationships. Then, with this understanding, we will be able to measure and respond with the same certainty as we would to other measures on the project scorecard. How about a relationship stoplight indicator for the team and stakeholders on the PMO Project Scorecard? I'm not kidding.

Understanding and measuring the state of your relationships isn't just for projects. I measure them in my personal relationships, especially those that have the most meaning—my wife and my daughters. The more the relationship matters, the greater the willingness to be conscious about where it stands. You measure what matters.

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