Saturday, June 29, 2013

Transactional or relational?

Here I am again: flogging my book*, with this question of the day:

Transactional or Relational? Is a project only a business transaction -- exchange one set of assets on the balance sheet (cash) for another set (project deliverables, aka inventory)? Everyone get out their pocket protectors!

Or, can a project also be relational -- form a partnership with the business and deliver the best value as judged by business impact?

So, let's parse the question a bit:
Who among us would argue against partnership? Well, actually many would. You can only have partnership if you have shared reward for shared risk.

How is this sharing to be done with a project underway and chartered?  The very word "sharing" dilutes control -- if not power -- shifting a bit from the project charter back to the business. But, of course, the business has put up the money -- they've certainly got skin in the game -- so naturally the business believes they are owed the benefits of partnership.

The best value thing is usually ok as a planning objective -- like partnership, who would argue against getting the best value? But the devil is certainly in the doing: if the business mucks about in real time with the definition of best value then the whole thing can be a PM's nightmare with shifting and changing priorities and druthers.

And then we come to the fuzzy stuff: what's a relationship?
As a PM, my visceral reaction is: give me something I can measure so I can go to work and manage it-- no measures, no management! Transactions uber alles! Again: pocket protectors to the front, please!

But about relationships: we're talking about reciprocity and flows: reciprocal trust, respect, loyalty, and commitment to shared values and outcomes; flows of ideas back and forth; and flows of risks back and forth.

Are these qualities measurable? Are they manageable? (Are those even important questions to ask about the fuzzy stuff?) And, even if they are not, shouldn't we still care about them day to day in project life? I submit that each of us must arrive at answers in our own way in our own value system.

But, let's grant for the moment that we see the benefit of joining project transactions with business relationships. What do we get?

Among other things we get access to business thinking that may inform project decisions day to day. That's important because it's actionable and ultimately will be reflected in the transactional side (measurable, manageable).

And the business may get our attention on mitigating a business risk by making some decision, some choice, some investment that we might not otherwise. Relations can point to branding, qualitites of esteem, and other appeal attributes that would fall into the best value bucket and be beyond a simple business transaction.

Is this agile writ large?
Some might say I've just spent a page explaining the reason Agile is agile: the relationship with the business. In that respect, yes I agree. (And, here's a shock -- I wrote that book also!)

*If you've read the book (and liked it), please review it where other's can read about it.

Check out these books I've written in the library at Square Peg Consulting