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Lessons Learned From Slow Economic GrowthThe expansion’s modest pace has kept inflation down, allowing the Fed to hold its target for short-term interest rates near zero since 2008. Moderate growth also means that the U.S. has avoided debt-driven excesses that can bring an upswing to an abrupt halt, as happened when the housing boom went bust. “The curse of the economic cycle to date, which has been its sluggishness, is now turning into a blessing, resulting in greater longevity,” says Carl Riccadonna, chief U.S. economist for Bloomberg Intelligence.” The Slowest Steadiest Recovery, July 6, 2015.

I often advocate using past performance to predict future performance when managing projects. It never seems intuitive to most folks as the refrain is almost always “but every project is different!” My practiced response is that the project performance is based upon the people plus the project plus the tools minus the bad habits (people+projects+tools-bad habits). Hence the majority driver of project performance is usually the organization and not the project parameters (e.g., requirements). This is why we continue to perform well or continually under-perform regardless of the nature of the project.

For more see Is Your Project Schedule Really Driven By Your Requirements?

Yet I have seen a few places where once we got the numbers, based upon past performance, then those numbers became gospel. They could never change and if anyone questioned them it was considered everything from simple incompetence to utter heresy.

While that is the danger of digging up information, such as past performance, it is still always worth it. As to the issues surrounding the U.S. economy, I always thought it was strange that many experts insisted that we needed more inflation, for example. They also said we needed faster growth, to get back to where we were before. Not being an economist (at least not a professional one) it always struck me as strange that we were in a hurry for such events.

I realize that much of this insistence upon “getting back to normal quickly” is based upon historical trends and economic models. Yet in a business and project sense I’ve often reminded people that what we do always has to make sense. We don’t blindly, for example, insist that the team slows down when they are delivering software features faster than they’ve averaged in the past. Something good might be going on and we instead need to use the historical trends to highlight areas we need to look into. It might be they are going too fast and generating more defects than normal (and I’ve seen and had to deal with this) where slowing down might actually speed up the overall project progress. The notion however is we need to look into it, understand it, and decide if what we are seeing is good or is instead something we need to act upon.

It’s been decades since Mexico has posted growth rates worthy of an emerging market tiger. Its performance during the commodities boom was middling compared with the rest of Latin America and trailed Brazil and Argentina. Yet Mexico is the standout now that its flashier peers are stumbling. “Maybe it’s not as good as expected,” said Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto … “but it’s better than other nations.” Stimulus-averse Mexico Is An Investor Darling, Bloomberg Businessweek, Jul 6, 2015.

With the U.S. economy it looks like slower growth than in the past might actually be a good thing. I also like to remind people that the “economy” is nothing more than people interacting with people and that “economics” is an attempt to model (i.e. predict, understand) that interaction. While the math and theory can be arcane what we are trying to do is straightforward — understand and react appropriately (e.g., do something or do nothing). The same applies to projects and organizations. We need to ensure that we understand what is going on (e.g., track it, model it) with an emphasis on understanding and not just reacting to the numbers based upon past history.

For more on understanding see Ya Gotta Know What Is Normal

What is your project tracking data telling you and does it really justify taking the actions you are planning to take?

Thank you for sharing!