Project Management – Achieving Your Desired Results

April 25, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

What is Project Management?

There are two types of projects – cynical ones and genuine ones!

The cynic in me has seen projects that are nothing more than ways of deploying surplus staff – creating cult De sac ‘projects’ where they can do no damage – a direct result of cowardly performance management. I have also seen projects created for the glory of their creator – business as usual events that are magnified to create an impression of dynamism and as a way of empire building. Watch out for these and run a mile!

Cynicism aside, generally project management is used for managing a specific change which is outside the normal day to day activities with a fixed timetable. This is the approach defined in most methodologies. There is usually a specific budget to manage and a specific objective to deliver.

What It Is Not:

Despite all the sophisticated tools and techniques available, it is definitely not a black art. It is common sense and uses all good management techniques simply applied to one specific piece of work. However some potentially helpful tools have given rise to an industry.

Prince2 for example is a powerful project management methodology – it is not a guarantee of success and must be used appropriately for the size and complexity of the change being managed. A detailed Project Implementation Document does not guarantee success if it takes longer to create than the change itself. I have seen project documentation used to give the illusion of progress when the activity on the ground is almost non-existent.

A detailed and comprehensive project plan can become an end in itself and create the semblance of moving forward at the expense of real progress. Creating and editing the plan is not the same as managing the project itself, but it can provide hours of amusement for the naive project manager using it as a comfort blanket.

Some of the project management software packages provide a degree of sophistication that in a straightforward project can detract from the key deliverable or else push you into a degree of spurious detail.

The project office, or program office if it has two desks, can also create the reassuring sense of controlled change. But in many projects I have seen stakeholders spending more time filling out the colored RAG progress reports than they have doing their action points. Anarchy really sets in when they lie on these reports because they are just too complicated – can I be bovver? The PM spends more time chasing the usual suspects for updates rather than evaluating and communicating the true impact on any milestones.

What It Should Be:

The answer has to be ‘appropriate’ project management is all its aspects – appropriate and responsive to the scale of the change. The recent developments of ‘agile’ techniques are a reflection of this. Not all projects need to be defined and allocated to the nth degree and you do not always need a specific project manager. Often in reality the project owner is the line manager and the work is spread across the teams and people may assume responsibility for different pieces of work at different times. You do not always need specialized software. A spreadsheet can be enough or one of my favorites is a simple hand drawn bubble chart.

However, much of the best of project management comes down to behaviors and leadership. Managing stakeholders, their hopes, fears and politics is vital to success. Motivating the project team and investing in team time especially at the project launch will pay huge dividends. Having an environment where it is easy to update on progress, where communication is constantly buzzing and most importantly where it is safe to be open about project issues, removes so many obstacles.

As with most things in business it all comes down to relationships. This is true whether you call it Project management, Program management, Change management or whatever. What you need on top of this to provide structure and resources will depend upon the scale and nature of the transformation you are seeking.

Sorbus Sussex helps business leaders manage change in a positive atmosphere through executive coaching, team building and project management based on 25 years of hands on operational experience.

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