Monday, February 18, 2013

Project Control During Rapid Change - Output Control

Traditional project management attempts to control a project using a project plan. Adherence to the plan is monitored, and deviations corrected. This works reasonably well in predictable environments, but its effectiveness is dependent on “task programmability”. In dynamic environments, assuming a realistic detailed plan can even be created, it can prevent adaptation, be too costly to update, offend workers, reduce morale, and stifle creativity. How do you write a plan to invent a game changing new product, produce a blockbuster movie, or create ground breaking research? How did IBM come up with the PC?
There are alternatives, like output control. In output or outcome control goals are set to provide direction and discretion for staff. Rewards are developed to reinforce achievement of the targets. Where a plan may be difficult to define in detail, or expensive to monitor in detail, output control can be included as a control mechanism. This approach is one way we control sales people for instance, because there is no way to define a process that guarantees a sale. The same applies to scientific research, art, and increasingly projects conducted in dynamic environments. One danger with output control is that mistakes may not be detected and corrected until the output is produced and measured, so other control approaches need to be included in the mix. There are many more control approaches. More on those another time.

Simon Collyer

Collyer, S., Warren, C., Hemsley, B., & Stevens, C. (2010). Aim Fire Aim - Project Planning Styles in Dynamic Environments, Project Management Journal, 41(4), 108-121.
Collyer, S., & Warren, C. M. J. (2009). Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments, International Journal of Project Management, 27(4), 355-364