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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Devil in Project Management

           Project . . . Process . . . Problem

     How did you learn Project Management?
     More properly, how did you “learn” Project Management?
     Or look at it this way: How have you learned whatever you’ve learned so far about Project Management?
     I’m working on my own grasp of this immense and fascinating field, but it’s only been 31 years. I make no claim to  knowing it all.
     I’ve listened to people who provide very useful knowledge about specific skill sets or defined processes within Project Management – risk management, estimating, Agile. I’m appreciative of their expertise. I use it with good results.
     I’ve heard others who seem to believe – maybe even say – that they have the one true view or system. They do not.

     Our entry into Project Management influences how and what we learn from our experiences and associations in managing projects and working with other project managers.
     If you became a project manager after working as a software developer, your basic outlook will differ in significant ways from that of someone who came in through academia or, as I did, from journalism management.
     Working productively with the various viewpoints is a major communication demand. Indeed, it is the primary challenge in many project situations, because good projects require trust and close collaboration.
     One overriding factor is universal, though: the very human need for assurance. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty, sometimes extremely so. And Project Management is loaded with it.
      Overcoming our own discomfort without compromising our managerial ability is the core personal challenge for project managers.
     Whatever our specialty has been, our competence in it came from learning how things are done, and carefully practicing the methods of the field.
     Those ways are processes, sometimes quite complex ones. Processes are made up of sequentially dependent steps, each of which must be done correctly and at the right point in the sequence. The more accurately the steps are completed and the sequence followed, the more quickly a quality outcome is produced.
     So a process is learned and improved by repetition, with careful attention to identifying and eliminating variances.
     A typical project has many processes, and is rewarded by proper implementation of them.
     But then Project Management also includes unique activities. The project manager must address issues and situations he/she has never seen before. That’s why it’s a project. It’s unique. It’s an innovation.

     So the project manager must invent and employ new ways while simultaneously tending to the details of more conventional processes. The two project characteristics require entirely different strengths and skills.
     Projects often suffer from the human need to address complexity through familiar frameworks. We tend, if we’re not careful, to slip into avoidance of the real issues, to simplify situations into formats we know how to deal with. Projects can lose a lot of their value when that happens.
     And the project manager carries an additional burden: Leadership of a team of people who have that need to default to what they know how to do – rather than engaging actual situations of the unknown.
     All in all, a devilishly difficult problem.

     To succeed at this, the project manager has to lead with both rigor and creativity – another challenge for many of us. If we’re stronger on discipline or better with ideas, we now must strengthen our lesser side.
     Recognizing this, good managers often work closely with partners or assistants who have strengths different from their own. That requires, of course, open minds and leashed egos.
     The rigor is in making sure the project structure is sound. The foundational information and agreements among the stakeholders of the project must be thorough. Everybody must know what we’re into, must agree with the course we’re taking, and must be truly committed to doing his/her part..
     Active communication is an absolute must, so the structures and vehicles for it have to be fully developed and consistently followed. No variance can be allowed to go uncorrected, even briefly.
     The creativity engages the unknowns, the gaps where research, piloting and guided chance-taking are actively pursued. You come up with trial efforts, monitor them closely, stop short of damage and restart with greater knowledge and confidence.

     Edison did it. Musk does it. We all can do it. It’s the best way to learn, and any good project manager never stops learning. If you’ve learned that, it’s all you need to know – for now.

A Question: What’s your opinion on this contrast between “project” and “process?”

Projects, Processes & Professionalism

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