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Project Management Philosophy – Method Or Madness?
By John R Wade

Project Management.

It’s an art; it’s a science; it’s a pain – and it’s bound to go wrong!

Two views can get in the way of good project management…this one…

A humorous view of Project Management

A humorous view of Project Management

…and this one…which sadly is more common:

Six steps to Project Management:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Find the guilty
  5. Punish the innocent
  6. Reward non participants

Except it could be so much better with some simple rules – and as we shall see in another article, so much harder if you ignore the simple stuff…

The first thing is to understand when something should become a project: for me and many others, it is:

“a temporary activity separate from but affecting the ‘normal’ state, with a defined starting date, specific and measurable goals and conditions, defined responsibilities, a budget, a timetable, a fixed end date and often several different parties involved”

It’s not ‘everyday’ work, and the management methods are different. Fundamentally so…

Essentially, there are four steps to Project Management, and even the best methodologies stick to them:

  1. Defining the thing: What will the project will deliver
  2. Initiating the thing: How it will be delivered
  3. Doing the thing: Making it happen, (frequently splitting the timetable into smaller stages)
  4. Ending the thing: Finishing it, including the debrief to learn lessons.

One critical step for me is to make sure that Project Management (“PM”) covers all the stages, to ensure control and a rationale record of what was agreed, when, by whom and with what authority.

Which brings me on to:

Roles

  • Project Sponsor: the individual who represents the project to the governing committee, whether it’s called the Board or whatever. Theirs is the relationship with the principal stakeholders, and they have the job of removing roadblocks and ensuring progress. They may or may not be the:
  • Project Manager: the individual whose job it is to make sure the project is delivered. They manage timescales, record and ensure progress, negotiate with their team (more below), and manage the quality of delivery, the timescales and budgets – referring as needed to the Project Sponsor. They manage the:

  • Project Team: the individuals who often are SME (Subject Matter Experts) and on whom the project delivery depends. The PM has to manage their individual and focused effort to ensure the overall project timetable is adhered to.

So, how do these roles manage when there is conflict?

Governance

This makes sure that the project is effectively managed, and is often the reason why they fail. Too many people fail to plan properly, and effectively are planning to fail. Witness the numerous UK government projects that fail to deliver, and/or run over budget. The Child Support Agency tried to change their processes and culture, and failed. The UK National Health Service have for years tried to amalgamate patient records to give those requiring treatment their choice of medical practitioner, and failed. The HMRC project to amalgamate tax collection and benefit payments through tax credits failed. The UK Ministry of Defence Nimrod project failed.

Each of these projects, which have failed miserably at huge cost because the contract negotiations and penalty clauses were ineffectively negotiated, failed often because governance was not get managed effectively, meaning objectives got muddled, designs got changed without full assessment on the end game, and politics got in the way as did egos and personalities.

It happens in the private sector, too – as many of us Project Managers can testify…

So the secret to mitigating this inevitable risk is to ensure so far as possible, that the right people make the decisions in full knowledge of the facts.

This is where Project Management methodologies come into their own, because their paper trail and decision-making processes and records ensure improved performance and enhanced management information and knowledge – and so better and more appropriate decision-making.

It helps when you have good…

Communication

It’s part of the DNA of a successful project, and the following needs to be communicated on a regular basis:

  • Status and progress to the sponsor and stakeholders
  • Requirements to the project team
  • Progress from the project team
  • Timescales for delivery of project outputs
  • Risk and issues and their planned mitigation
  • Changes to the project and their implications

Some of this is upward management (the governance mentioned earlier), some of it to the team. Without it, all kinds of issues can arise, and coordination becomes hugely difficult. Which is why you need the SME people and a coordinator, to ensure the most appropriate thinking (doing it right) is coupled the the most appropriate delivery (doing the right thing).

It’s why the Project Definition Document (PDD) is so important, and relates back to the earlier comment that good PM starts at the very beginning. With project definition…

John Wade ( Oakview Consulting Ltd) is an experienced business leader with particular expertise in Project Management, with a portfolio of successfully run projects from a range of industries. He has a strong background in professional and financial services, and the Not for Profit sector. He has a particular interest in Change Management, figuring that people will make or break a project depending on their reaction, involvement, engagement, and desire.

As a fully qualified Project Manager, John has led projects, approved and assessed projects, and acted as Project Assurance on many occasions. He has also trained Project Managers, coaching and mentoring them through difficulties. His background includes rescuing projects, too.

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