Is project management simple? (1/6 PM challenges)

We continue our series on Project Management Challenges and opportunities.The last two articles were general and discussed project management as a growing domain and the shift from traditional management to project management. This article covers the first out of six challenges. All of these articles are from an upcoming eBook.

Project Management ChallengesWe link the first challenge to the ‘Point to Ponder’ that we raised in the last post, which was why executives ask technical and functional professionals to assume the role of project managers without prior or proper education, training, or experience in project management. We think the reason this happens is the perception, not to say a myth, that some organizations’ professionals, managers, and executives perceive project management as simple.

If project management were simple, this would typically be fantastic news and would mean more practitioners embracing it. However, real life is a different story. When those professionals who underestimate and misunderstand project management try to use its principles, what happen is either they try to simplify it to the point it becomes ineffective and so no value is added, or they find out that it is more difficult than initially perceived, get discouraged, perform poorly and even drop it altogether. In either case, executive management is likely to discard project management as a useful practice.

What is ironic today is many who push for Agile uses argument like traditional project management failed this is why Agile is the answer … project management did not fail – people and organizations fail in practicing proper and professional project management so they blame the domain and follow the latest hot trend, only to possibly fail if they do not do it right!

Here is an illustration of why the view that is PM is simple leading to failure. Readers may have faced similar situations to what we share here:

  • We sometime get requests from clients that copy and paste the outline of a project management standard and put it in an email ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFP). In this email-RFP, they ask for one- or two-day training that covers all the topics on the list. Further, they want to include case studies that are applicable to their business. Refer to the sample REAL email below.
  • Another situation we often face is people telling us, “we know project management, I took it in college.” When we drill for clarification and ask, “What did you take”? The answer often comes back “I took one course” or the second most popular answer is “I took a scheduling course.” These individuals do not realize that scheduling is only one element in project management.
  • Another situation is about tools; see bottom of sample email. There is a belief that a tool, like a scheduling tool, is all that is needed to apply project management. Tools are beneficial for efficiency but not effectiveness. The reality is that a scheduling tool without proper project management planning and experience is nothing more than a to-do-list. The essential engines of project management are processes, people, and tools and one cannot depend only on one of these engines.

There are many other examples, but we trust these suffice for now.

What is project management?Sample – REAL – Email RFP

The text below is from a real email ‘request for proposal’, unedited by the author. The request was for 1-day training. When we tried to ask clarification questions, the client representative told our business development manager that we ask too many questions.

Project management training requirements for both employees and management.

Employees (Initiative Owners):

  • Team building activity
  • Time management
  • Identify project management processes
  • Understand project management terminology
  • Correctly identify the roles involved in project management
  • Describe project success criteria and success factors
  • Support and contribute to a successful project outcome
  • Prepare project documentation
  • Detailed Work Breakdown Structure
  • Resource planning
  • Construct a project budget and use it to control project costs
  • Report progress and identify deviations from plan
  • Follow up on activities
  • Risk identification & handling
  • Develop communication skills
  • Recognize different team roles and adapt behavior as necessary

It is important that application training is provided as well as the theoretical part. Software such as MS project, Primavera or similar applications would be useful so that the training would be hands on and targeted to fit our needs.

Conclusion

Such oversimplified views by executives and professionals alike are due to a lack of understanding of what project management is. Globally, governments and private organizations spend trillions of dollars on projects yet some still believe project management is something that can be learned in a single day or a few days of training, or under fire. Some also think that over-emphasized certifications will turn people into expert project managers. The net outcome: project management under these circumstances fails to solve the organization’s problems and as a result, is perceived as a failure or simply ineffective. Management is therefore inclined to avoid or drop it; opportunity lost!

Can you share your thoughts and experience?