Project Management

Project management 101--the case for project management

The biggest argument against project management processes is that they are somehow "overhead" and not directly related to the success of the project. Here's why that argument holds no water.

Convincing people of the value of project management is not always an easy task. It's easier if you have dedicated project managers running one or more projects. These "professional" project managers generally understand the value of project management processes. The people that are harder to convince are the technicians who are managing projects but are also assigned as a project resource. In many cases, these people actually like the project-related work (analysis, design, construct, etc.) more than the project management side. They tend to minimize the time spent on managing the project and instead focus more on just "doing the work."

Project management processes and techniques are used to coordinate resources to achieve predictable results. It should be understood that project management is not a guarantee of success. Since projects involve people, there is always complexity and uncertainty that cannot be absolutely controlled.

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Project management is an art and a science. It's a science in that it relies on proven and repeatable processes and techniques to achieve project success.

It's also an art because it requires the project manager to apply intuitive skills in situations that are totally unique for each project. Understanding and dealing with people is the biggest reason to consider it an art. The same techniques that work with one person may not work with another and so this aspect of project management can never be boiled down into a scientific algorithm.

The biggest argument that I hear against project management processes is that they are somehow "overhead" and not directly related to the success of the project. People who complain that project management is overhead forget that the processes help you be in control of a project. Those people need to ask themselves these questions:

  • Your project is going to face issues. Do you want to proactively resolve them or figure them out as you go?
  • Your project will face potential risks. Do you want to try to resolve them before they happen or wait until the problems arise?
  • Are you going to communicate proactively or deal with conflict and uncertainty caused by a lack of project information?
  • Are you going to manage scope or deal with cost and deadline overruns caused by doing more work than your budget covers?
  • Are you going to build quality into your process or fix problems later when they will be more costly to resolve?

If you're not using good project management processes, the chances are that you're not managing risks, not managing issues, not managing a schedule, not communicating proactively, etc. This makes it all the more likely that your project won't deliver within expectations.

The characteristics of the project are not going to change whether you use a formal project management process or not. What changes is how the events are dealt with when the project is in progress. Are they dealt with haphazardly and reactively or proactively with a smoothly running process?

To me, this logical argument gets to the essence of the need for project management—to be in proactive control of the project and not let the project run you.

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