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Project Management Is Really Work Management
By Ty Kiisel

The lines between what we call work and what we call projects is starting to blur. Last spring I attended the Gartner PPM summit where Audrey Apfel suggested in the next few years 30 percent of what we traditionally call “projects” will not be considered projects anymore. “The work isn’t going away,” she suggested, “but how we categorize it is going to change.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone leading teams these days. Dealing with Ad Hoc work is part of the challenge project leaders face every day as they struggle to wrap their heads around capacity and resource management. If a project manager doesn’t have visibility into all the work on the table, how is he or she ever going to accurately plan for the resource needs of any project.

I was involved with a focus group of several project leaders (a little over a year ago) who initially suggested that they don’t manage any ad hoc or unstructured work with their team. “We do projects. Period,” they asserted. However, after a deeper dive they all admitted that ad hoc requests were an issue they were all struggling with as people from outside the team made relatively small one-off work requests that on the surface probably felt like fairly benign interruptions, but cumulatively had a negative impact on team productivity.

Interestingly last fall Forrester’s Tim Harmon, shared an interesting statistic. Tim suggested that on average over 50 percent of the work done by project teams was non-project, ad hoc work. For some teams the percentage could be higher and for some lower (if you’re percentage is lower, consider yourself lucky). If half of the time a project team spends at work each day isn’t related to the project plan, I think it’s safe to say that project resource plans that don’t take that into account are doomed from the start.

Whether we like it or not, we need to start looking at how we manage projects differently. I’ve always been an advocate of a methodology-neutral approach to how we manage projects—throw ad hoc work into the mix, and we really need to take a different view. Here are a few suggestions:

  • In-bounding work is more critical than ever before: Ad hoc doesn’t mean unimportant. Although some very important work might not need a project plan (a “to-do” list might be all that’s required), evaluating and prioritizing simple work requests are every bit as important as it is for projects. I liken it to putting a fence around the team so the team’s focus is on prioritized work and not the personal agenda of a particularly squeaky wheel. This is a lot easier for organizations where work requests (projects and otherwise) are filtered through a formalized request process. This gives them more visibility into all the work and helps them better allocate resources to accomplish those initiatives that provide the most value to the organization.
  • We need to look a everything (including projects) in the context of work: I think the idea of project teams working exclusively on projects is a pipe dream. We need to implement systems and tools that give project leaders visibility into all the work being undertaken by the team. Without it, they’ll never be able to accurately plan for those initiatives that ultimately become projects, capacity planning will be impossible and project plans will be crippled from the start. Let’s face it, project management really is work management.

A one size fits all approach to managing projects and other work just doesn’t work. Just as some projects are more suited to an Agile methodology as opposed to a more traditional approach, all work won’t fit neatly into a project plan—however, we still need visibility into what’s going on. Visibility into all work makes it possible for project leaders and decision makers to understand the real story behind what’s happening within their teams and allows them to get out of theoretical capacity planning and really manage their human capital.

Are you seeing this within your teams? What are you doing about it?

About Ty Kiisel

Writing about project management for @task gives Ty the opportunity to share his personal experiences as an “accidental” project manager along with the lessons learned from conversations with customers, hopefully demonstrating that it really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the rewards of successfully executing project-based work are universal.

About @task

@task helps organizations focus on being more effective, innovative, and more competitive with a rich project and portfolio management solution that enables decision-makers to maximize their resources by implementing those initiatives that provide the greatest business value. @task helps align the strategic goals of objectives with the implementation and execution goals of project teams.

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