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Jeffrey Anthony Synaptic CTO and Technology Practice Leader Sat Down With Training Practice Leader Mary Ann Havran to Talk About the Foundations of Risk Modulated Project Management℠ (RMPM℠).
Mary Ann Havran Synaptic Consulting
Training Practice Leader:
Most Project Managers report coming up to speed on RMPM℠ pretty quickly, because it comes from places they know and are comfortable with -- Waterfall, Lean Project Management, Agile, Scrum, etc.

Jeffrey Anthony Synaptic

Consulting
Chief Technology Officer and Technology Practice Leader:
Right, Mary Ann.

In my years as a Global Engineering VP and my in my teaching at the University level, I tried all the major Project Management methodologies, and, in fairness, found all of them to be useful in some cases at some times.

But none was the right methodology for every project. Moreover, it was rare that any one of the methodologies was right even for all aspects of a single project in its entirety. Picking one always felt more like choosing a lesser evil rather than picking the methodology best for the project.

So, about 10 years ago, I started think about how I might combine the best of a number of methodologies that I had found to be effective -- or at least effective in part -- to form a more genralized and flexible methodology suitable for a wide range of projects types executed by very widely varying team compositions.

MAH
So some mix-and-match?
Though it wasn't as simple as that sounds, yes.

You know how the military jokes that planes are thousands of spare parts flying in close formation?

That’s sort of the way I started to look at projects about 10 years ago when I was pulling together my first thoughts around RMPM℠: hundreds or thousands of tasks comprising a project that may or may not have something directly to do with each other, but are all linked together because they are part of the project -- just like all the parts in the plane.

Moreover, looking at it from that perspective, it became apparent to me that individual tasks or a group of similar tasks might be better managed under a Waterfall or PMBOK®-like regimen, while another grouping of tasks might be better managed under an Agile-like approach. That led to the simple idea of expressing a project in terms of one or more sub projects.

MAH
So how do you decide, Jeffrey?
JMA
Well, that was the tough part at first.

A big part of my corporate life was as Global VP of Engineering for an M+M Mars unit called (at the time) MEI. We had a very broad multi-discipline capability (Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Embedded Software Engineering, Application Software Engineering, etc. etc.) To complicate things, though, we were geographically dispersed across China, Japan, Mexico, numerous locations in the U.S., the U.K., and Switzerland.

So, I learned from that experience that part of the way to segment a project is obviously through geography. And, from experience both before and after that, it was obvious that dividing a project by engineering discipline often makes sense. Segmenting a project by difficulty -- putting the "old hands" on the tough stuff -- is usually a good idea. But when those considerations -- and many more like them -- intersect, things start to get considerably more complicated.

That's why, as RMPM℠ evolved, I developed metrics and procedures to simplify decision making as to defining sub-projects.
MAH
So where did that lead?
JMA
A few years later at Synaptic, we had a client where things got really got interesting.

The first time I really started applying these rigor vs. risk ideas on a project properly segmented into sub-projects, Synaptic was running the client's Project Office on a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) basis for a project that...

...encompassed all the Engineering disciplines and capabilities in the client organization

...and was spread out across all their global Engineering facilities (in six countries!)

...and demanded at least 80% of their Engineering and Engineering Support capacity

...and employed numerous technologies new to them (and a few new to Synaptic!)

...and had suppliers collaborating as design partners

...and was developing a product for a market segment the client had never chased before

If there was a complicating factor to be had, by golly we had it!

I had been talking about this new idea for Project Management for some time (though long before I started calling it RMPM℠). With a project like that, it was time to put up or shut up. So we gave it a try.
MAH
So what did you do?
JMA
Well, I gave it a good try, and it succeeded quite well for a first outing, but it wasn’t the final form of the RMPM℠ concept by any means.

What I did first was sit down with all the Synaptic associates involved in the project -- and all the client's project's team leaders -- and said, “Here are my thoughts around managing this project. Let’s consider them along with your thoughts. Then, let’s design a Project Management methodology (as opposed to a project plan -- we’ll get to that) that we believe is the best possible way to manage this project, get it out to every member of the project team for review, clean it up, and publish it as the Project Management methodology for the management of this project.”

After we put it in place, we built the specific project plan according to its tenets…

...and it worked great! We delivered on-time and on-budget! And, as we found down the road, hit our quality goals! Hats in the air!!!

Alas, though, “on-time” is a relative term. If you measured “on-time” from project start, then, yeah, we did it. If, on the other hand, you included the enormous number of person/hours we spent designing the Project Management methodology in the first place before Project Start… well, then, not so much.

MAH
Won a battle but not the war?
JMA
Exactly!

We were all glad we did it that way, and we learned a great many invaluable lessons, but I realized that you can’t expend that sort of enormous effort just to figure out how you’re going to run each project, because the time it takes to do it winds-up being a very significant percentage of the overall project duration.

I knew I had to formulate some sort of modular approach that would greatly reduce pre-Project Start efforts.

So the very first thing I did was identify all of the risk categories I could possibly think of. These spanned things like:
  • Technology Risk
  • Architecture Risk
  • Team Risk
  • Project Risk
  • Subproject Risk
  • Task Risk
  • User-defined Risks
So these categories (and many more like them) expressed what we had to worry about and, to some extent, informed how we should package tasks into sub projects. Then, ultimately, risk assessment informed the degree of rigor necessary in the Project Management methodology assigned to each subproject.
MAH
Sounds like a lot of balls to juggle?
JMA
Well, yeah. After I put together a straightforward way to do the Risk Modulation (as I had started calling the mapping of mehtodology rigor level to sub-project risk level at that point), the problem remained that, in a larger project, there were a lot of sub-projects going on at once, with many different Project Management methodologies running them.

While I didn’t want RMPM℠ to get as heavy as the PMBOK®, I knew I had to add some sort of syncronization Stage Gate layer for a few reasons:
  • Any given sub-project may require deliverables from one or more other sub-projects
  • Management may want to make go/no-go decisions at certain timeline, sunk cost, or assessment points
  • Management Teams tend to like more frequent, variably detailed briefings than pure Agile-like methodologies afford
  • To provide a project “heartbeat” timeline to which events and actions of all kinds can be attached
MAH
So where did all this bring us to today?
JMA
RMPM℠ is a mature system for helping Project Managers quickly develop a unique multi-methodology Project Management system uniquely and specifically tailored to the project about to be undertaken.

In longitudinal studies of our clients' Project Management efforts, Synaptic has found that RMPM℠ provides quantitative improvements such as
  • Slashing Time-to-Market on the order of 15%
  • Improving estimation accuracy of both product cost and project schedule by 20% to 30%
  • Reducing annual field failure rates by more than 20% on average
...as well as qualitative improvements such as:
  • Building a durable culture of delivery across the enterprise
  • Breaking down “silos” to put all players from all business functions -- both within their organization AND their customers’ -- truly “on the same team”
  • Bringing their business in closer communication and tighter, more productive collaboration with customers than ever before
MAH
Where can Synaptic’s clients and potential clients learn more about RMPM℠?
JMA
We’ve prepared a number of introductory and tutorial materials. This interview with you is probably the best very quick introduction.

Here is a brief RMPM℠ cut sheet that’s a great discussion starter among teams thinking of adopting our methodology. A web version is here, and a printable PDF version is here.

Many people find Pecha Kuchas (20 slides at 20 seconds each) to be a great way to assimilate a lot of knowledge in a short time, so we’ve got one here.
Mary Ann Havran Synaptic Consulting
Training Practice Leader:
And don’t forget that Synaptic can custom tailor training sessions to the specific needs of clients -- from one day introductions to five day intensive sessions.

Jeffrey Anthony Synaptic

Consulting
Chief Technology Officer:
Absolutely. RMPM℠ can be delivered in training sessions as you mention, Mary Ann, as consulting services, and as Business Process Outsourcing where Synaptic runs a clients Project Management Office on an outsourced basis.

In the later case, many clients find great benefit in our objective view, detached from the day-to-day operations and politics of their organization. As we like to put it:

“At Synaptic Consulting, we have an outsider’s dispassionate view of the challenges facing your business, with an insider’s passionate commitment to your success.”
This publication contains general information only and is based on the experience and research of Synaptic Consulting practitioners. It is not a substitute for professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any action that may affect your business. Synaptic Consulting and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss by any person who relies on this publication.

About Synaptic Consulting
Synaptic Consulting offers Consulting, Training, and Business Process Outsourcing services throughout The Americas and the E.U. though its Finance and Technology practices. For more service portfolio information, see www.synapticconsulting.info

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