By George Pitagorsky | Follow on Twitter!
It is widely thought that transparency is a good thing. One recent study* shows that transparency goes beyond making people feel better to helping them work better.
That study addresses transparency regarding definition of roles, organization structure, objectives, values, etc. Transparency in project and performance management is about those factors as well as the performance of the project, product or process. Transparency extends into exposing the process and information used to make decisions as well as the status of cost, schedule and earned value compared to expectations.
Even though many experts agree and evidence supports that transparency is 'good' there are many instances of opaqueness and translucency. Some for practical and justifiable reasons and others not.
Let's explore how the use of project management and collaboration tools promotes transparency while ensuring that key stakeholders are making conscious and clever decisions regarding what information to provide to whom and in what form. While they are very important, we will not explore the ethical issues that arise when organizations are not transparent about, for example, the decision to dump poisons into a stream or the reality of lead leeching into a community's drinking water.
[RELATED ARTICLE] Transparency is a key to performance
How transparent? About what? How? Within what business and social circles?
What is transparency and Why Not Be Transparent?
Transparency is about access to information. It is about how honest and open a person, team or organization is regarding his/her/its project or process.
Sharing information becomes difficult when the information is uncomfortable, confronts opposing ideas, or puts light on perceived deficiencies. Transparency is curtailed when information-holders think that the information may be misconstrued or used against them, as in performers being blamed and berated for being late or over budget. It is also hindered to protect proprietary property (e.g., secret development projects, etc.) and information that may be harmful, for example the names and addresses of students in a school district or customer credit card numbers.
Some people avoid transparency to protect their "personal" knowledge for job security, out of ignorance of others' needs to know or to avoid complicating issues by informing people who might then have something to say about plans, designs or decisions.
Causes for a lack of transparency are complex and there are no simple answers. The degree of transparency is driven by the needs of each situation. Be mindful of the way the information you choose to "publish" will be received, interpreted and used, and be mindful of your reasons for sharing or not sharing information.
Transparency and Project and Portfolio Management
For example, in a large complex program, what is the danger of exposing to executive sponsors and clients contention about a design solution? It can lead them to think there is something wrong. Technologists know that conflict is a good thing when it comes to design - it is what shakes out the negative and results in an optimal solution. However, from the executive suite and in the minds of clients, if the information is not qualified and expectations not well managed, transparency can cause unnecessary alarm. If the project plan considers design decision conflict as normal, senior stakeholders can be apprised of the state of the project at an appropriate level of detail. The PM would make a judgment call about whether and when to escalate information about the design conflict, should it be excessive or likely to cause delay in the overall project or threaten quality.
In another example, transparency plays a role in portfolio management. An analyst reporting directly to the CIO initiates a project with an external group to process some data in a complex model. The analyst fails to inform the project office or the IT and BI organizations.
When the CIO is informed by the CFO he requests that the analyst share such information, the analyst says:
"If this had anything to do with IT, then of course I would inform you, but it doesn’t: I’ll be sure to ask the CFO why she might have been under the misapprehension that it did. If, in the future, this matter - or any other - requires the involvement of IT, I will so apprise you."
The CIO responded:
"The BI group is working on how best to provide data analytics on an enterprise level. They could benefit by and offer insight about analytics and data sources by being apprised of projects such as this.
"Since the cost to you of keeping me in the loop regarding issues that involve data and it's transformation into information seems very low, please do inform me. The cost of not doing so may be high since early awareness can avoid duplication of effort and/or rework. Then, there is also the perception and reinforcement of a silo mentality and its lack of transparency and cooperation. It’s not the best thing for morale and collaboration.
“Let me be the judge, or at least a judge, of what is or is not relevant to IT and BI."
What to do? Tools and Process
Of course, this issue of informing IT about new projects would have never come up if the organization had a comprehensive, tool supported, portfolio management process. Even the CEO and his staff would be expected to post proposals to a portfolio management system, making them available to a trusted team of decision makers who would determine the relevance to their domains and the priority for the project.
Portfolio decision makers must have complete transparency regarding all proposed and active work taking place in the organization. A tool that enables posting and notifying key people of newly proposed projects and the comments and documents regarding them supports managed transparency.
A project management tool that enables access to the plans, issues, budgets, documents and reports of individual projects and groups of projects also supports managed transparency. The tool must permit access based on policies and practices for sharing information in a secure, sensitive and effective way. The tool and management process must enable a top down view of information that is comprehensive and provides an accurate sense of what is going on. It must enable drill down into the details on an as needed basis, enabling security.
Criteria for Transparency
At the same time, we want to promote security, we don't want to go to an extreme. Consciously assess the criteria for transparency - e.g., the need for secrecy and security, how wide the circle of informed players, etc. Eliminate bias and ego based criteria.
Give weights to the criteria, assessing the downside risk. For example, stakeholders finding out later that you did not share or decision makers not having an input that could change their perspectives. In the end, the biggest secrets will be revealed. Will you be able to justify why the people who have been in the dark were not informed?
The bottom line is that you and your organization need to consciously address transparency and establish practical policies, procedures and tools to enable that the right information gets to the right people at the right time, in the right way, and that it is used wisely.
1 New Study Shows Transparency Isn't Just Good Ethics - It's Good Business
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: George Pitagorsky, PMP, integrates core disciplines and applies mindfulness meditation and people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. George authored Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success, The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict in Projects and PM Foundation. He is a senior teacher at the NY Insight Meditation Center.