Do we need a command and control approach to deal with this issue?

It had been a good day, a long day but a very successful day. I had just completed one of two pilot project management courses for a client and after a meal and rest I decided to watch a few episodes of the West Wing. (Shown on TV 1999- 2006)

In one of the episodes, the President of the USA asks to meet an expert on India- Pakistan affairs. The episode, called ‘Lord John Marbury’,introduced a British diplomat who talked about one of the countries not having a ‘clear command and control structure.’ For some reason I momentarily left the visual images of the West Wing and drifted off into the afternoon session of the project management event.

During the afternoon, I had asked a question:

‘What is monitoring and control like in your part of the business?’

The response was ‘somewhat muted.’

It struck me watching this episode that there was little understanding from the group of neither the responsibility nor accountability needed when it came to monitoring of projects. Now I want to stress I am no advocate of command and control management – there are many articles on the web about this and do not have the space to write about it here, indeed, from my undergraduate days I could see its limitations. However…I can also see some advantages when it comes to monitoring and control of projects with project managers and executives (including project boards) knowing what their responsibilities are and acting on them.

How effective is monitoring & control?

How effective is monitoring & control?


In the next one day session I was able to link monitoring and control to the benefits of command and control. I also explained the need for engagement between the sponsor and project manager in order to determine who does what and yes, the Lord John Marbury got a mention (the favourite episode of 2 people on the course.)

My concern is that companies spend much time and money trying to deliver their strategic agenda which is undermined by poor, and in some cases non-existent, monitoring of projects. That means companies are relinquishing  control of their own destiny.  Some of you reading this will say well, that’s certainly not the case where I work. Great; if only it were so across all companies. My evidence shows it is not, nor is this one off; I have seen this many times.

The West Wing certainly set me thinking about the monitoring and control of projects. The interesting thing is that it seems to me it is sensible where someone has a project that involves money and resources they should be monitored. After all, historically, the delivery of projects is not done all that well but if you do not monitor then an organisation does not know this!


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3 Responses to Do we need a command and control approach to deal with this issue?

  1. Tom Hussey says:

    Yes! Couldn’t agree more. From my experience, there’s often been confusion between the project working group (which should be making decisions) and the project steering group (which should be monitoring) with the same people sitting on both, the project working group not making decisions, the steering group making decisions and not doing any governing, etc …

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      In reply to Tom Hussey.
      Thanks Tom for your comments.

      Confusion is sadly a word that seems to be within many projects:

      what’s the scope?
      who is doing what?
      what are the real risks?
      will our plan really deliver?

      These are only a few areas where there is confusion…

      I think I need to understand the difference (my confusion) between project working group and steering committee. My normal expectation is to see the project team monitor the project feeding this into the sponsor/steering group. Can you clarify please Tom what you mean?

      Many thanks Ron

  2. Tom Hussey says:

    Thanks for the reply Ron, I think your confusion reflects my confusion and the confusion seen in the projects I’ve worked on …

    Perhaps another way to explain it is thinking about levels of detail:
    Level 3: As a business analyst I work with subject matters experts to clarification on details – we can do this in individual meetings
    Level 2: Sometimes we need to make decisions about requirement priorities, solution options and risk mitigation strategies. This requires business managers and senior SMEs and the technical project team – this is for the project working group
    Level 1: This is the senior stakeholder group that is responsible for important high level decisions and governance – monitoring the overall status of the project, budget, risk profile, etc.

    So, I think I was saying that there’s a lot of confusion between level 1 and level 2. Maybe level 2 needs to be collaborative and level 1 needs to have much more command and control

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