Sunday, October 4, 2020

About compartments

It's how we all get along, especially in the close quarters of a project team -- even if virtual:
"A well-ordered life has compartments. People that have secrets know that other people have secrets. That's how we all get along
Dialogue from "The Paladin" by David Ignatius


Of course, in the pristine description of project methodologies in the PMBOK® and elsewhere, projects are an open book. The project pyramid is transparent from top to bottom; information is readily available.

Real projects are compartmented
I should say that a well-ordered project is strategically transparent but tactically compartmented. Everyone should know and internalize the major mission elements, but tactically, there is value in limitations. 

Effective communication emulates life in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is to compartment information. Immediately, the N-squared number of communication channels between N sources is reduced exponentially.  From that one action, communication quality goes up:

  • Fewer rumors, more authoritative information
  • Less noise, greater signal

And, compartmentation is helpful when you need to put space between big egos; separate clashing personalities, and limit people interactions. It's how we all get along.

But also, compartmentation is a tool for limiting information according to sensitivity, proprietary protections, and utility according to function. Sometimes, it's just better to know less, at least with respect to tactical detail.

And, compartments reduce risk.
How so?
In the sailboat business, we speak of "rip stops" in sails. Sails are never one large sheet; they are always compartmented by seams. If a problem arises in one part of the sail, the "rip stop" seam contains the problem, prevents its spread, and usually leaves a lot of the sail useful for powering the boat.

The same goes for a project: compartments are "rip stops". A problem in one aspect of the project is contained, but the rest of the project goes forward.

And, I might add: In system engineering, we build with subsystems linked by carefully constructed interfaces. The interface provides "loose coupling" that helps contain and compartmentalize any issue in one subsystem.

The architecture of project methods
When developing the architecture of your project methodologies, think of what it takes to have a well-ordered project

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