I’m still on vacation (and will be for another week). I won’t be in a position to post a re-run tomorrow, so I’m sending this one out early. I don’t think anything in it has become at all stale, so give it a read even though you might remember it from 10 years ago. – Bob

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Remember the rule from the KJR Manifestothat there’s no such thing as an IT project — they’re all business change projects that make use of information technology?

It’s just as true for the projects that result in so-called “shadow IT” — the information technology that happens without IT’s direct involvement. And because it’s shadow IT, the folks who ask for it know this. They’re looking for business improvement — that’s where their thought process starts. The linkage is automatic.

Last week’s column explained why IT should start supporting shadow IT. But that isn’t enough. We need to support shadow projects as well … the too-small-to-notice-but-too-important-to-let-fail projects business managers charter to make their shadow IT happen, and also to make all kinds of other stuff happen too.

Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that your company has established a PMO or EPMO ([enterprise] program management office). If it’s like most PMOs, the company’s project managers all report there, and one of the rules is that all company projects must be managed by its trained project managers. That way, the company doesn’t risk investing in projects that are managed poorly.

Sounds a lot like the arguments against shadow IT, doesn’t it? Like those arguments, the driving force is risk reduction, but the actual impact is mostly opportunity avoidance.

Limiting the number of projects a business can take on to the number of available project managers artificially limits the company’s capacity for change. And when it comes to change, any bottleneck other than the company’s ability to absorb it is inappropriately limiting — a decision to adapt and improve more slowly than necessary.

Which is why, in so many companies that have established an official PMO or EMPO, business managers charter lots of under-the-radar projects.

The shadow project situation sounds more and more like shadow IT, doesn’t it?

On the whole, shadow projects have less risk and yield higher returns than most of the official projects in the company’s portfolio, a natural consequence of their being small, short, tightly focused, and properly sponsored.

Yes, properly sponsored, something that’s more-often true of shadow projects than official ones, because shadow projects are started by business managers who personally want them to succeed. This makes them sponsors … real sponsors, by definition … and the importance of sponsorship in effective project management is well known.

Just in case: Real sponsors want their projects to succeed enough to stick their necks out and take risks when necessary to support their project-manager partners. That’s in contrast to assigned sponsors, who are thrown in front of official projects, just because the methodology says every project has to have one. Assigned sponsors don’t really care, because why would they?

So shadow projects have less risk than their formally chartered brethren. Except for one thing: They’re mostly led by employees who, while promising, have no project management training or previous experience. Their managers/sponsors, themselves usually unaware of what project management actually takes, tell them, “This will be a terrific development opportunity for you,” ManagementSpeak for “There’s a bus approaching at high speed!” followed by a shove.

The result is that right now, many shadow projects aren’t managed as projects at all, because the employees who are put in charge of them have never managed a project and have no idea where to start.

They need help.

So here’s a thought: Instead of trying to stamp out these shadow projects the way IT used to try to stamp out shadow IT, why not provide some support?

Like, for example, giving about-to-be-run-over-by-a-bus neophyte project managers some tools and training, instead of treating them like orphan stepchildren. The secret, and the challenge: Those best equipped to provide the tools and training know too much about the subject. They know, that is, the techniques needed to implement SAP, erect a skyscraper, or build a nuclear submarine.

What many of them don’t know is which of those techniques can be safely jettisoned when the task at hand is managing a team of three people for a few months — at a rough guess, 90% of their expertise. As is so often but so strangely the case, scaling something down can be harder than scaling it up.

Still, it can be done, and doing it is important. In the aggregate, shadow projects add up, even if no one of them is a big hairy deal.

If the PMO/EPMO reports inside IT, the CIO can make shadow project support part of its charter. If not, there’s no reason IT can’t provide it on its own.

Which is a nice irony: Where IT used to do its best to stamp out shadow activities, it has just become an active conspirator in them.

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization.

That was the disease. Disinformation about COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions on March 12, 2020, as assessed by yours truly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has entered a strange phase, in which the risk of contracting the virus, driven by ever more contagious variants, continues to oscillate in waves. At the same time the risk of hospitalization and mortality from the virus has plummeted, thanks to near-miraculous achievements on the part of the biomedical research community in the form of rapidly developed vaccinations and effective treatments.

The COVID-19 disinformation pandemic, in contrast, continues to induce inflammation. Its etiology: the production of “alternative facts” and spurious statistics designed to appeal to those who subscribe to a good-guys/bad-guys worldview.

Example: The perception that being vaccinated doesn’t reduce COVID risks continues to be popular among a certain class of opinionator, armed with persuasive-looking but flawed statistics and positioned for high visibility in the popular media.

Revealing the flaws in their statistical reasoning depends on opinionators whose highest-visibility platforms are publications such as Scientific American – not where most citizens flock to develop their opinions. See the graph that follows (spoiler alert):

Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Nonetheless, for several reasons it’s time for organizations to revisit their COVID-19 policy. First and foremost, as of this writing and as noted above, the combination of currently available vaccines and clinically valid treatments – and yes, I mean Paxlovid, not quack therapeutics like Ivermectin – have made the consequences of an employee violating your COVID-19 policy less dire than they were in the early stages of the pandemic.

Second, as compared to 2020, the power dimension of the employer/employee relationship has shifted significantly in employees’ favor. As a practical matter, terminating an employee for violating policy probably harms the employer as much or more than the employee.

And third, the logic of targeting a policy to a single specific malady is increasingly tenuous.

The original purpose was to help create and maintain a safe work environment. But even before COVID-19, contagiously ill employees who came in to the office endangered their colleagues – not as severely as COVID in the pandemic’s early days, but of severe enough discomfort and debilitation to matter regardless of the specific malady.

Shortly before the first COVID-19 vaccines were released (late July, 2021) I suggested this COVID-19 policy:

All employees who:

  • Enter our facilities …
  • Enter a client’s facilities …
  • Perform any of their responsibilities face-to-face with colleagues regardless of location …
  • Enter our facilities …
  • Enter a client’s facilities …
  • Perform any of their responsibilities face-to-face with colleagues regardless of location …

… must be fully vaccinated. Refusal to comply with this policy can result in termination or reassignment to a position all of whose duties can be performed remotely. If the result is reassignment the company reserves the right to adjust compensation to make it commensurate with the new position’s pay structure.

This policy applies to all employees and contractors, other than those who can perform all work remotely.

What should change?

Mandating vaccination made sense when vaccines were effective against the most prevalent variants, and when the consequences of failing to comply concerned employees more. But that ship has sailed and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.

Also, as mentioned, broadening policy beyond COVID and only COVID would mean requiring employees to be fully vaccinated against everything that’s contagious and for which we have effective vaccines. This just won’t fly, regardless of the wisdom of being fully vaccinated.

Bob’s last word: Encouraging employees to be fully vaccinated is a matter of helping them stay healthy. Our arsenal of safe and effective vaccines is one of the blessings of modern medicine.

But mandating them? For better or worse the time for that has come and gone.

The alternative: Instead of mandating vaccination, requiring all contagiously ill employees to stay home makes all kinds of sense.

It makes all kinds of sense, that is, if their employer makes PTO policies more generous, so that ill employees no longer have an incentive to show up for work at the office, giving the gift that keeps on giving – a disease.

Bob’s sales pitch: Need help thinking through a situation you or your organization is facing? That’s what I do, and if you read KJR on a regular basis you should have a pretty good sense of the perspectives I bring to such things.

And you can get my help in increments as small as an hour.

Just let me know what you need.

Now showing on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide:A CIO’s guide to guiding business change.” Because As CIOs re-think IT’s role in the enterprise, leading or facilitating business change is central to the conversation. Here’s one way IT can and should regain center stage.