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Project Management Is not a Process, but a Promise
By Toby Elwin

A project introduces something new. New requires change from what was to a promise of what will. The project deliverable, or promise, undertaken without process is a leap in the dark. No sane person will take a leap in the dark without some promise or rational premise of:

  • what will be,
  • what it will cost to get there, and
  • how long it might take to get

Process reduces risk. Project management process reduces project risk and reduced risk increases a project’s success rate. The project goal enables the firm goal. The project promise enables the firm promise.

A project launched to a promise to deliver on time, on budget, and within scope relies on a team of people to manage project process, but does not hold project process above the promise.

Process as Hope

Project management is a reliable, repeatable process to deliver on time, on budget, and within scope. We look at the process, or project life cycle, and try to guide sponsors and stakeholders along a charted path of prior project process standards:

  • Initiate – processes performed to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project by obtaining authorization to start the project or phase;
  • Plan – processes required to establish the scope of the project, refine the objectives, and define the course of action required to attain the objectives that the project was undertaken to achieve;

  • Execute – processes performed to complete the work defined in the project management plan to satisfy the project specifications;

  • Monitor and Control – processes required to track, review, and regulate the progress and performance of the project; identify any areas in which changes to the plan are required; and initiate the corresponding changes; and

  • Close – processes performed to finalize all activities across all process groups to formally close the project of phase

A perfect project plan includes each of above and their related tools, templates, and procedures.

Variation as Promise

A project life cycle rigid to process, process tools, and process templates [templates and formulas have no emotion] without account for variables and unknowns [emotions] is a project short of rationale. Since people, not machines, run projects expect rational to always get trumped by emotional.

  • Project management processes: rational
  • People: emotional

Process provides skeptics a map. Unfortunately, processes do not like variables. Variables are risk and risk threatens projects. People and time are the absolute variables risks that affect a project.

  • People layer their agenda, their bias, their culture, or their values above any team. A team does not have a shared value stronger than an individual’s value. Their individual and collective emotions effect each other.
  • Time obscures variables. Variables increase as the time horizon increases. The further the time horizon the higher the variables that assault the process and no process accounts for all variables.

Project management is not about the process, but delivering a promise. Obedience to process without context of how people and time provide critical variance, is a sure way to miss project deliverables, if not derail project promise entirely.

People need to manage the project process fluidly to deliver the promise; not in spite of the promise, but because of the promise. Process underpins the promise. Between process and promise, it is more important that process is flexible and the promise remains set.

Keeping people emotionally involved means looking at what motivates and drives people. The power of promise is that it creates an emotional connection that people commitment to. Whether a project is delivered or fails, what is remembered was if the promise was delivered, not that the process was correct.

No process promises 100% success. A perfect project plan is less important than a project plan perfect for the people involved.

Toby Elwin works on projects draw upon strategic planning, change management, marketing, and project management to plan, design, communicate, and deliver a range of options for some of the most challenging organizations and some of the most challenging opportunities. You can read more from Toby on his blog.

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