BI Project Managers and Eyebrows

Posted on December 8, 2010

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Like eyebrows, you don’t really notice project managers when they are there but if you are rash enough to let them go you will end up looking startled and stupid.

I point this out because over a period of more than 10 years I have had the opportunity to observe many, many BI projects and one of the most surprising patterns is the scaling back of project management largely because the project is going well!

The openly declared reason is usually cost or some other misdirection but it is invariably preceded with pointed questions about what value the project manager has been adding to a project that is going so well. Perversely, the better the project is doing, the higher the risk that there will be murmurings about things like the overhead of project reporting and that project management activity will ultimately be reduced or even removed altogether. It has become as common and predictable as it is deeply and logically flawed.

Perhaps this is one of the phenomena that explains why the trend for project failure is not getting any better. According to the latest Standish Group report which is covered by Peter Taylor, author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, in his blog ‘Are your Project Managers working too hard to be successful?‘ instances of challenged (late, over budget or reduced deliverable) projects continues to rise.

As BI practitioners we often value technical skills, competency in the reporting tool and the deep musing of the data architect and yet have a blind spot when it comes to project management. This may be partly because early BI projects were often departmental in scale. It may also be because many of today’s BI Competency Centres originated as ‘skunk works’ initiatives and see project management as all methodology and meetings but we ignore it at our peril.

It is true that project management can be at its most obviously valuable when priorities need resetting, additional resources have to be secured or controlled management escalation is called for. However, we shouldn’t assume that if a Project Manager is not doing these things that they are not doing anything.

Planned projects with predictable timescales along with accurate project reporting are rewarded with confidence from our business sponsors. A considered set of risks based on real-life experience of BI projects will mitigate against them becoming time sucking issues and properly managed issues will prevent them becoming show-stoppers.

A good Project Manager may make it look easy but don’t take the lack of fire fighting and crisis meetings as an indication that nothing is being done. Look deeper for the benefits of order over chaos or be prepared to invest in an eyebrow pencil for a look that is decidedly a poor second best.

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