Project Management

The Choices They Won’t Tell You That You’ll Have to Make

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

I’d like you to think back to when you learned to drive a car. It might have been with an instructor, or a friend or--sorry about that--with a parent. In any event, it probably started in a very safe place, which for most of us was a large, empty parking lot. In the confines of that lot, we figured out how the car worked, how to control it and how to manage getting ourselves around.

Whatever confidence we might gain in a parking lot, though, it did little to prepare us for the real world, where we would have to engage with other cars, other people and other obstacles. However good we got at driving a car in isolation, actually negotiating traffic was a whole different challenge.

Project management is a lot like that. On paper, there is a compelling logic to it. Write a charter, gather requirements, define scope and think about risks. Define a WBS, develop activities, estimate them for effort, time and schedule, and pull it all together. Get it approved, deliver on the plan and make sure you do a lessons learned review at the end. Boom. A formal, logical, common-sense approach to continuing to evolve how you deliver projects.

Engage in a project in the real world, however, and what we encounter is a very different experience. We have to deal with sponsors, customers, stakeholders, team members, advisers, steering committee members and casual observers who …

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- Mark Twain