My current LIMS project has been using the phrase “chain of command” quite a bit and I’d been trying to work out a new analogy to go along with it.

My First Attempt
The Project Manager is like the General, giving us the overall guidance and orders. The Business Analysts are like the Lieutenants, enacting the General’s orders by gathering requirements and preparing the rest of the project. The Developers are like the Drill Sargeant, whipping the system into shape for battle. Developers (Drill Sargeants) shouldn’t expect the General to come and hand them their equipment or detailed information.

The Point
The point behind the “chain of command” phrase is that each of us has our role. If one role is a point of contact for some task, people in other roles shouldn’t try to take over that work to the point that anyone might think the point of contact is different from what it is.

This Analogy Needs a Lot of Work
I’ll tell you that I know this analogy needs a lot of work. I’ve just started it. Beyond the fact that it falls down in that a project team isn’t like a military chain-of-command in that the Project Manager usually has no real authority and that no-one actual outranks anyone else on the project team, it still doesn’t read well to me. Hey, I’m working on it, though, and just wanted to put it out there in case any else already has a better one developed. If you do, please share it as a comment so that everyone can see what it is.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

2 Thoughts to “The Project Chain of Command”

  1. John

    I have been in the military for over 20 years and I am used to the concept of “chain of command” (of course I would be! I’m in the military!). I do agree that the term does not fit the civilian businesses for the very reasons you mention. There is another way to look at the organizational “chain of command” for the civilian businesses. I base the idea off of the military’s Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) Support Channel. The NCO Support Channel parallels the chain of command but it is run by NCOs (enlisted) who are in leadership roles as an adviser to the commissioned officers in the chain of command. It is still a rank oriented structure but it is getting closer to the civilian version of a hierarchical structure of reporting. How does this help, you ask? Instead of using the term “chain of command” in a business environment you could call it an Organizational Support Channel of Responsibility (OSCR). The OSCR can be used to define who is in charge of what and how reporting will flow from the entry level employee to the manager, branch chief, division portfolio chief, etc. and back down. It is just a fancy way of saying communications plan and the OSCR has no link back to the more rigid terms that the military uses. What it can do is take your organizational chart and add a dimension of responsibility tracking to it. The OSCR could be used to clarify the roles and responsibilities between the various positions on existing organizational charts. The limits are only what your imagination can produce.

    Hope this helps.

    1. This is a much better analogy and thank you for detailing it.

      Of course, you do lead us toward a key problem with this, which is that projects need a communications plan. Few projects in our industry do this. Of course, considering how many of our projects have obvious and acknowledged communication problems, one might think that that would be the “hot new thing” that all projects would be trying to do. Unfortunately, the “hot new thing” is seldom anything particularly practical.

      Still, for those who are looking for a way to improve their project communications, they should sit up and pay some attention to this.

Comments are closed.