Project management is a disciplined approach

Like the last article, this one is also a chapter (partial) from our eBook: Project Management for the Accidental Project Manager. It is important to note that we wrote the book as story – hence the dialogue in the chapter below.

Project Management is a Disciplined Approach

“Okay, guys, lesson one,” Qudss begins.

“Actually, this is lesson two. We had lesson one when we met,” Ahmad says.

“You’re right, Ahmad. Actually that’s where I wanted to start. Remember our discussion on project management? It’s about taking a disciplined approach. I have to be clear with you from the start: my intention in these coaching sessions is not to make you expert project managers, but to give you the common-sense foundation you need in order to understand how to apply project management in a real-life situation.”

What is project management?“One of the myths about project management is the perception that it’s too much control and a bureaucratic process. We disagree. But if project management is ‘laissez faire,’ then its value is lost and there’s no real effectiveness. So neither of those scenarios is what we want. What we advocate is that project management must take a disciplined approach, and that’s possible, even though the approach should also be flexible. A disciplined approach is one where there are control points and a sequential process.”

“It’s like when we were in school: Behave yourself or you’ll be disciplined,” George says.

“George, keep in mind that the control points are not to discipline people if they do something wrong, but to help people avoid mistakes and costly oversights. Control points are there to ensure

  • Alignment of the project to the organization’s strategic objectives
  • Alignment among the client, executive management, line management, and project management
  • Alignment among the various team members and stakeholders
  • A proper plan for implementation

“With your project, you don’t have an existing organization, you’ll be creating a new one. The focus for the community center project is the alignment of the various stakeholders to the vision of its founders. If the stakeholders don’t have alignment, then how do we know that we’re moving in the right direction?”

Explaining the Approach

“What are these control points, and what sequential steps or process do we mean? The steps make up what we call the Project life Span[1] or PLS, which consists of phases and stages, also called time periods. Each stage has one or more objectives that must be accomplished,” Qudss says.

“Along the PLS are the control points. Think of them as gates or hurdles situated between the stages.”

“How many stages or gates are there?” Ahmad asks.

“It depends,” Furat responds.

“Let’s not get too technical here and worry about how many gates or stages there are. Let’s say for now it depends on what we need for this project,” Qudss replies.

“Well, if the gates are control points, don’t you think we should know how many we need?” says Ahmad, unconvinced.

“You’re right. Eventually we’ll know, but for now that’s irrelevant. In any case, common sense will help us determine what we need. Remember, what’s important is to have what we need to maintain the disciplined approach and to ensure continuity of the project on the right track. We’ll explain more in the future.”

“Okay, but it’s still not quite clear,” Ahmad replies.

“Listen, Ahmad, have you watched a baby learn to walk? When a baby is learning to walk and we want to encourage the little one, what do we do? We stand close by and invite the baby to walk toward us. How close do we stand? That’s a function of our common sense and what we know about the ability of the child. Think of where you stand as a gate the child has to reach before trying to go farther. As the baby gains more confidence, we might increase the distance. So if the baby needs to walk across a big room, we do it in stages. We stand nearby, allow the baby to reach us, then move back, allow the baby to reach us, and continue till the objective is achieved. In that case we could have three, four, or even ten gates.

“Now to go back to something George said. In project management, the gates aren’t set up to police; they’re there to ensure that the team reaches the initial objective without missing crucial elements. If we see the team going in the wrong direction, as a baby might, we can step in to correct the situation.”

“So the gates are to ensure that the team is going in the right direction?” Ahmad says.

“That makes sense,” George says. “But in general, what would be a reason, or a criterion, for a gate at a certain point in the project’s life?”

“We prefer to have a gate at every major step of the project. However, some gates are crucial and must be present in every project, while others might be optional or might not apply,” Qudss responds.

“Let me explain the importance of the gates. For example, would you allow someone to start building your center without ensuring that the design is what you want? Approving the design is a gate. Let’s go back a step. Are you going to let an architect design the center without working closely with you to define the size and other requirements? Agreeing to the requirements is another gate.”

Ahmad nods in understanding.

“Let me reiterate: How can the architect decide on the size of the center or what facilities it should have? How does she know whether to design a 200-square-meter center or a 2,000-square-meter center?” Qudss continues, emphasizing the point.

“I see your point.” Ahmad says.

“Anyway, AG, in a minute I’ll draw a sketch of the project life span for you and include phases, stages, and gates. I want you to think about it for a while. Next time we meet we can start to talk about stage one.”

“Sounds like a plan, but you have to allow me to pay next time,” George says.

“No need to George. Remember, you’re paying this time!”

“Funny. I’m starting not to like you anymore.”

[1] Other PM specialists use the term Project Life Cycle. We use span instead of cycle because projects follow a time span and normally do not cycle back.

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About Mounir Ajam

A Project Management thought leader, who believes that project management touches all people, in all aspects of life; personal and professional.Initiated and led the formation of SUKAD Corp to develop the Uruk PPM Platform.An advocate of real-world, practical and applied project management.Champion of adaptive project management, tailored methods, and organizational project management.Available anywhere in the world to advise executives and organizations on the strategic value of project management. Ready to help organizations build and sustain the Project Management Function and the capacity to lead projects successfully.