Project Management

So do we really need standards?

From the Project Management For Real Blog
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Since 2001, the column "Project Management in Practice" has been read by thousands of visitors to gantthead.com. Mark Mullaly has offered his insights, perspectives and observations about what really happens in organizations on a (mostly) monthly basis. The column confronts head-on the challenges that project managers confront on a regular basis, and strives to make sense of what happens when projects and organizations collide. This blog takes a closer look at what happens when we try to manage projects “for real”. What really works, and what really doesn’t.

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I've had some really interesting conversations in the last couple of weeks about methodologies, standards and the concrete, practical needs of real project managers.

One of the larer questions that emerges in many of these conversations is the value that a standard actually has. If the process requirements will vary by organization - depending upon the structure, culture and types of projects being managed -- then does a standard really delivery value? And what value specifically does it provide?

The theoretical value of standards is that they provide a common process, common terminology and common way of thinking about projects. Taken to its logical conclusion, we should be all be able to manage projects in a consistent fashion. The reality, however, is that we don't. Few organizations have a consistent approach applied by everyone. Most projects are managed based upon the preferences, skills, experiences and biases of their individual project managers.  While many of us may become PMPs, that doesn't mean that the PMBOK defines how we manage. While some might adhere strongly to a PMBOK framework, such practices are often seen as rigid, uncompromising and irrelevant.

Arguably, standards define what we should do, rather than how we should do it. There seems to be a little bit of a 'chicken-and-egg' conundrum, however. Does the standard define the process, or do we justify our processes base upon our standards?

I don't pretend to have answers yet, but I feel that the question is a worthwhile one. There is a huge amount of effort, money and emotional commitment wrapped up in the definition and promotion of standards. Are the returns worth it?

Cheers,
Mark
Posted on: April 19, 2007 01:04 AM | Permalink

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