Overdue Update and Designing the Pontiac Aztek
November 25, 2013
I have had a busy autumn and it has been too long since I posted here. I did some consulting in Europe and attended the PMI Global Congress in New Orleans to present on “21st Century Risk Management” with Dennis Stevens.
More recently our local PMI Chapter won the “Chapter of the Year” award and held their excellent Professional Development Conference that I gave a couple of presentations at. The first on “PMO Evolution: Frameworks for Integrating Lean, Agile and Traditional Projects” and one on “Surviving Agile Projects” aimed at traditional project managers transitioning to manage their first agile project.
The consulting and conference interactions led to a number of ideas for application on agile projects that I will be sharing here in upcoming posts. At our local PMI conference in Calgary last week Bob Lutz, Retired Vice Chairman of General Motors Corporation gave a great talk on design and project management.
He was discussing the importance of defined, repeatable process for efficient, high quality production. Strict compliance and rigorous process controls certainly help improve the manufacturing process. What was interesting was his cautions about applying defined, repeatable processes to design work. He said it flat out does not work and can lead to terrible products.
Bob recounted how upon rejoining General Motors in 2001 he asked “Who the hell designed the Pontiac Aztek?” (which appears on many Top 10 worst car design lists and is generally slammed from a design perspective – although liked by some loyal owners.) The Pontiac engineers were very defensive claiming that in fact the design of the Aztek was one of the best executed vehicle design projects that had run, hitting each of its targets and assessment milestones during the process. Lutz went on to say while some processes need rigour, design processes need collaboration, feedback and frequent verification to ensure we are on the right track.
As we execute our projects I think there is great value in determining if we are designing something or manufacturing something. The creation of software solutions is like car design, we are trying to understand the problem space and create candidate prototypes for evaluation and evolution towards the best available solution. This requires collaboration, feedback and frequent verification.
Other projects like upgrading servers and training 500 people are more defined, repeatable activities that can benefit from well defined process and strict controls. Most projects I have worked on have elements of both work types mixed together. An important skill for project managers is to know when to employ strict process and when to encourage less structured collaboration where designs evolve based on build-feedback cycles.
I really enjoyed Bob’s talk; he is an engaging speaker who tells things as he sees them and I look forward to reading his latest book “Icons and Idiots”. Over the coming weeks and months I intend to post here more frequently and continue the dialog on the smart application of process and pragmatism.