Point 2 – Deming in Project Management

Adopt a Philosophy of Cooperation Where Everyone Wins and Teach it to Everyone

Win WinOften, projects can become battlegrounds where the project manager and team are at odds with the sponsor and other stakeholders. These conflicts can arise when the project environment is not conducive to a win-win approach.

In project planning and initiation, clearly define the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) for everyone on the project. This includes the sponsor, stakeholders, project team, and project manager. When you keep all parties in mind when planning your project, it helps create a win-win strategy in which everyone benefits. The functional managers from which you are pulling resources need to understand the benefit of the project to their department and the organization as a whole. This is important, and should be clearly communicated to everyone early and often.

During execution, a win-win philosophy will help keep individual issues from turning into project-killing conflicts. It creates the ‘one big team’ environment where people are willing to be creative and take educated risks, because they know they are supported by their team from all angles. If someone makes a mistake, they should not fear retribution from other parties, and they should not want to cover it up. The win-win environment spearheaded by the project manager and sponsor should make everyone think about issues and conflicts in terms of what is the best method of dealing with it for the whole project and everyone involved.

In the case of two or more project managers with their own teams working on a single complex project, Deming’s point #2 is even more important. In this situation it is easy to start pointing fingers at the other groups, withholding information, and other counterproductive practices. An acquaintance who works for another company told me about their situation. Any software development as part of a project is sent to a separate group. The software development group doesn’t care about her project; they just get sub-projects that are prioritized based on pre-determined criteria. The communication is sub-par, and she never knows when she will get her deliverables. I envisioned a big question mark on her project schedule. This is not a win-win project environment, and you can imagine the finger-pointing that inevitably results.

Additionally during execution, a project manager should not hold so tightly to the original requirements and throw up artificial barriers to positive changes. As long as the formal change management system is in place and utilized properly, any request should increase value for the whole project, period. If more money or time is required to increase the scope, the net effect should still be win-win for the organization. Sponsors must realize that increasing the scope will do one or more of 3 things: increase cost, delay the project, or decrease quality. The team atmosphere created by a win-win philosophy helps everyone get on the same page about these considerations.

When the project is finished, everyone should be involved in the celebration together. In the ‘us versus them’ scenario, a project team is segregated from rest of the stakeholders, and they usually celebrate separately.

If you have ever had the pleasure of working for a project manager with a win-win attitude, you know exactly why that is the way to run a project.

(Back to Deming’s 14 Points)

References and Resources

Managing for Quality and Performance Excellence
Deming and Goldratt
Out of the Crisis
The Deming Management Method
The New Economics
Four Days with Dr. Deming
Deming Route to Quality and Productivity
Deming The Way We Knew Him

About the author

JoshNankivel Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude.  He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at pmstudent.com.


2 thoughts on “Point 2 – Deming in Project Management”

  1. User Avatar

    Extremely excellent comments Dave, thank you!

    I’d add to your first point, upgrading from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule. Instead of “treat others as you would wish to be treated”, the Platinum Rule would say “treat others as they want to be treated.” It’s a small change of words, but large change in meaning. The Platinum Rule forces you to step into their shoes, and understand their paradigm, needs, and expectations.

    On point #2, I recommend episode 64 of The PM Podcast. Meloni sums it up pretty well.

    Thanks again for commenting!

    Josh Nankivel
    Vice Chair of Special Projects, PMI SoPM SIG

  2. User Avatar

    I recently had the opportunity to take the UCSC Project Procurement class, I which we had the chance to look at ways to apply this “Adopt a philosophy of cooperation…” idea to a subcontractor. Below is an excerpt of some of the lessons learned:

    (1) Regardless of the size or involvement of the subcontractor’s team, the golden rule of “treat others as you would wish to be treated” is a good place to start.

    (2) There should be a formal communication plan in place that fully defines not only your expectations of the subcontractor, but also provides them with access to members of your organization that they feel will be necessary to fulfill their contract.

    (3) For smaller subcontract efforts, especially with service (versus product) contracts, provide office space within your facility for the subcontractor. And as much as possible, seat them near the people from your organization with whom they will be working.

    (4) In addition to the company’s Completion and Performance Incentives typical included in the subcontract, recognizing exceptional efforts of individuals in writing and/or with an award presentation is always an excellent way to make subcontractors feel that they have a personal stake in the outcome of the overall project.

    As an example of individual recognition, FedEx copied the Marine Corps’ Bravo Zulu award, where an individual can be recognized by peers or frontline management for outstanding performance. I always made it a point to include a personalized letter, detailing their contribution in writing. These letters were often proudly displayed by recipients on office or cubical walls. For support of customer implementations in Europe, my Bravo Zulu awards were often supplemented with Belgian chocolates or Dutch ceramic figurines.

    Best of Luck in fostering a Philosophy of Cooperation on your next project! Regards,

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