I finally completed reading Nassim Taleb‘s book Skin in the Game which I had written about in a recent article.
In that piece I had applied his principles when comparing the benefits of a product-centric orientation to the project-centric model which is still found in many organizations. But after finishing the book, I realized that there is a much more compelling example of the challenges experienced with risk asymmetry in many large organizations, namely with those staff who are responsible for developing the policies, standards and methods used by teams for delivering projects or products.
In small companies, how a product gets developed and delivered is usually defined by a “Big Brain” (e.g. a solution owner or similar role) or developed collaboratively by those actually building the solution. But as the size of the organization increases and stakes get higher, control partners emerge to influence not only what but how production occurs.
Where things get difficult is when these control partners do not experience first-hand the downside of their decisions.
For example, in some companies, project management standards are set by a centralized department such as a PMO. While some delivery roles such as program or project managers might report in to the same PMO, there are staff whose sole focus will be to define and maintain standards. As those staff are not in a project delivery role, even if they possess years of practical experience, as they won’t themselves have to use the templates and tools which they have developed, they don’t have true skin in the game. Delivery staff may complain to control partners about how onerous or non-value add specific practices are, but there is little direct impact to them.
There are a couple of ways to rectify this situation:
- Serving in such control functions could be a rotational responsibility. After someone has spent a reasonable amount of time in a control role, they should be required to spend an equal amount of time in a delivery role. This will also help them better identify patterns and anti-patterns specific to a given context.
- Introduce performance measures and incentives for control staff which are tied to the impacts created by their work as opposed to just the completion of this work. For example, quantifying the cost of control or conducting regular satisfaction surveys with delivery staff are two methods in which we could bring back skin in the game.
Method makers and framework formulators – practice what you preach!