Project Management

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

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by Dave Wakeman

Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?

It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.

I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.

But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.

Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.

So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”

Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.

Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.

During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.

No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.

This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.

In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.

What do you think? 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at [email protected]

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 30, 2015 09:49 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Manas De Amin Director| Computer Technology Group Kolkata Kolkata, West Bengal, India
A good article which really reminds us of the primary goal of project management instead by getting carried away by fancy ideas.
Whatever be the field, the basics remain the basic.

Elizabeth Harrin Director| London, England, United Kingdom
What is "digital" project management? That has to be the first question. And I'm sure everyone will define it slightly differently. I agree with your three points though, any successful project needs those as a solid starting point.

David Wakeman Principal| Wakeman Consulting Group Washington, Dc, USA
Thank you both for you comments.

I think both of you hit the gist of the challenge and that is that no matter what industry you are a PM in, the process of being a good project manager is very much the same.

I think that I may not have clearly defined the problem enough, but too often when we find ourselves using terms like "digital," it is an unnecessary filler that is often used to cloud the real challenge or to mask the real issue in a cloud of irrelevant language.

Bibhu Panda Senior Project Manager| Arisglobal pvt ltd Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Some things which are very specific to a particular profession never change.These are known as principles which not only guide but give a framework within which if you work, you become successful. Project Management as such has some basic principles like
1-Clear objective ( Which defines the scope) - What
2-Great team( Which covers communication)- Who,when,where, whom
3-Clear process( Which covers the documentation and reporting part) - How
Thanks for sharing the perspective.

John Herman . Us, Aa, USA
I think you can bring that number down to 2 aspects: backing and scope. The project must be backed by money and people, including the project team and the resources they will need to work with to achieve results. The project scope must specify what's in scope and what's out of scope. Not everything that's in scope needs to be done immediately - it can be deferred to the backlog. Scope can be revised as constrained by the backers.

Adam Hauter Project Manager| Poland
I couldn’t possibly agree more on your point about every project needing a clear objective, Dave. While it is so painfully obvious, a lot of teams seem to ignore it, and try to develop a jack of all trades.
When the objective is crystal clear, not only is the project more focused but every member of the team knows exactly what they are aiming to achieve.

John Mwaka Project Manager| Aurelec PME Ltd Tanzania, Tanzania, United Republic Of
I agree with the author. You do not need to be a guru (in everything about the project) to manage the project to success. Those three (3) things are the essential pillars where others converge and will always make you succeed in your project. Strong communication skills will pull you through numerous obstacles that you never thought you could tackle in the first place. In a way the Project Manager should start to gracefully surrender the old (Newtonian) mindset and adapt,

Francisco José Almena Cercas Consultant| Computer Interpro, SL Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Dear David.

Thank you for sharing this excellent article. En effect, sticking to the basics will never fail.
These 3 esential pillars are the best and the clearest for all the stakeholders for the project at hand.


David Wakeman Principal| Wakeman Consulting Group Washington, Dc, USA
Thank you for all of the comments! I think many of you have nailed it pretty well...we all have to be careful about spending too much time trying to label each and everything we do with a specific and needless label.

The truth is that all of our roles can be improved by first targeting the basics of our duties.

As project leaders, that includes planning, communication, and change management.

The specifics of any project are likely found through a combination of our team members and our ability to facilitate an environment where they can be successful.

Julia Shumulinsky Senior Project/Program Manager - PMP| American Greetings Lakewood, Oh, USA
I appreciate the distinction between a goal and a full scope - so often, those get combined and it is a disservice to both. Clear communication can and will keep the team aligned and working together.

Great call out, and a terrific reminder when you're bogged down in the minutiae of the project.... step back, and find the direction that takes you (and the project team) towards the goal.

PARAG KANDEKAR VP Operations| SoftNice Inc Allentown, Pa, USA
I believe we should not shy away to ask "W" questions till the time all stakeholders are on common understanding. This helps to avoid wrong assumptions and have complete communication.
Great Article David

Marius Oprea Bucharest, Romania, Romania
nice, great article.

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