Friday, June 20, 2008

Reading :: The Rise of the Project Workforce

The Rise of the Project Workforce
By Rudolf Melik

I've begun trying to push past traditional project management literature to look at what is typically called "agile project management": project management for less hierarchical, flatter, typically smaller structures. In particular, I want to see what's out there for networked organizations that are distributed geospatially and temporally as well as organized in networks rather than silos or hierarchies.

Rudolf Melik's The Rise of the Project Workforce is in some ways a good place to start. Although the book is a bit too focused on a particular methodology for my purposes, its opening chapters frame the issue well and provide some good concepts and thoughts on the distinction.

Malik is deeply influenced by Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat (which I haven't read). Based on Friedman's description of a hierarchically "flat world," Melik says, "Today's business systems are simply not designed to plan, schedule, manage, audit, and optimize work that gets done in a flat world. ... More modern versions of business optimization tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and project management software want to impose a certain rigidity within business processes, and fail to address the dynamic interplay and constantly shifting relationship between projects and people, which occurs naturally in the flat world that characterizes today's businesses" (p.5). Malik's book attempts to move toward a project management footing that addresses these characteristics.

This footing is called "project workforce management," a solution that combines human capital management, project management, business process management, and cost/revenue accounting (p.9). Such a system aims to integrate components such as time and expense tracking, cost and revenue accounting, workforce planning, project planning, project process management, and analytics (p.13). The idea is to produce a system that provides "a common vantage point for all decision makers"; "real-time views of projects, resource groups, actual progress, and issues"; and "more accurate decision-making" (p.14).

The rest of the book describes such a system in nuts-and-bolts terms. Melik has obviously given these parts a lot of thought, and I don't have the expertise to evaluate them, but the described system is fairly intricate and appears to be aimed at larger organizations with cross-functional projects. That is, Melik appears to be supporting project management for global enterprises which are going through "flattening"; I'm more interested in smaller, more agile organizations.

Nevertheless, the book was helpful for me to conceptualize some of the issues I've been investigating, and should provide a good blueprint for those working in larger organizations.

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