ROWE and Formal Project Management

Reading Michelle Symonds’ article “Why Project Management and ROWE Don’t Mix” and Jody Thompson’s response, “OMG. WTF? Pt.4” left me with one conclusion.

Symonds is more focused on solution whereas Thompson is more focused on selling ROWE.

They both make valid points and I’ve used – even relied on – aspects of product and personnel management they both describe. The single distinguishing factor for determining which to use is knowing the personality traits and characteristics of the individuals that compose the project team. While neither article directly addresses differences among the people who make up their respective work forces, Symonds does conclude with:

Of course, all projects are different and there may be some project environments in which ROWE would work. Since it is a relatively new approach to management (first implemented in 2003 at Best Buy) and a brave one, it is an approach best suited to small departments within an organisation and then only to those where the focus is creative thinking. Its cost-effectiveness and success have yet to be proven in a complex project environment.

Tailoring the management methodology to the project and the people is at least implied in her conclusion.

I’ve managed individuals who have thrived in both environments as well as individuals who have suffered by being managed with an incompatible methodology. I’ve also specifically sought out and hired talent compatible with one or the other types of management environments. A competent manager knows how to strategically place their resources based on personality and capability, not just task need, and manage accordingly. Otherwise, whatever the methodology used for project management, it is just another example of an unskilled manger grabbing their favorite wrench in order to pound on the most obvious screw.

To a lesser extent, and as suggested by Symonds, a manager’s approach  also depends on project complexity. Thompson, when attempting to make the point that distributed asynchronous collaboration is just as effective as face-to-face collaboration, offers this example:

My kids can make things happen in a few minutes by ‘collaborating’ using all forms of communication technology. They do not drive to a specific location to meet to bounce ideas off of each other. What a waste of time!

That’s a fine and elegant solution when the ideas involve Justin Bieber’s fashion sense. But if I’m a project manager tasked with developing a just-in-time predictive inventory module that needs to integrate with three separate ERP systems across a global enterprise – that team is going to meet face-to-face. Frequently. Working through complex problems is exponentially faster, more efficient, and cleaner when the principle players are in the same room. When exceptions begin to appear, it is among VERY experienced teammates who have been working together for a very long time. Until that time, the communication channels championed by ROWE (phone, IM, email, Facebook (really?), etc.) reveal their limitations at every turn and twist in the project.