Is one size fits all for project management? (3/6 PM challenges)

This is the third, of six, articles on project management challenges. Article 1 discussed is project management simple and article 2 focused on is project management bureaucratic.

In today’s article we discuss a challenge that we observe in working with individuals and organizations in our region and we also observe from numerous online discussions. We think that, because of over simplification of project management, some practitioners believe that one standard works everywhere, in different industries, different functions, and different size projects and that one approach is all we need.

An example is perhaps the best way to explain this.

Project management is the same across domains

A colleague, who was the manager of projects in a utility distribution company, shared this story with us.

A so-called project management consultant came to sell this client his services. The consultant had experience limited to a single domain, Information Technology (IT). In the course of discussing the consultant’s project management service offerings and  how they apply in helping to manage their projects in the utility industry, the client asked the consultant “how can someone with IT expertise offer us help on how to manage major engineering and construction projects?” The consultant said, “There is no difference – project management in IT is the same as in Construction”! The consultant did not get the job.

While it is true that there are common project management principles across industry sectors, businesses, and types of projects, stating they apply universally is a fatal error as the IT consultant discovered. The differences are large in term of the amount of capital investment, project size, logistical requirements, complexity, safety, and number of people involved. Not understanding these differences hampers practitioners’ ability to offer effective solutions and deliver successful projects.

Common debate

In line with the above, there is a common debate in project management online communities on whether a project manager can cross industries. This is a complicated and hotly debated matter; we leave it out of this work since it deserves its own post.

One standard

Another issue is mostly driven by the popularity of the PMP certification and the PMBOK® Guide. Some, who learn project management through the eyes of PMI and PMBOK, often treat this guide as THE BODY OF KNOWLEDGE and a holy book although PMI itself insist on including “A Guide …” in the name since it is not the body of knowledge.

Two or three months back, we wrote a few articles on the PMBOK Guide and we refer the reader to them. The main theme is that the PMBOK Guide is not enough to manage project effectively, especially across all domains … the PMBOK Guide cannot be a one size fits all.

Also refer to the next challenge – next post where we address a similar challenge.

What do we need for project management

In this article, and the related articles in this series, we are focusing on the challenges. Once we cover the six challenges we will discuss five opportunities for project management. However, in order to push the whole answer to later – let us just say the following:

There are many principles, processes, and project management topics that are applicable across projects’ domains. These are highly valuable for projects in engineering, media, healthcare, and other domains. However, there are many principles and practices that are unique to an industry or group of industries. Such as the special situations of capital investment projects, or technology projects, or media …

In simple terms:

Do you agree with what present here? What did we miss? Why do not you agree with? Let us here from you.

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