Project Management

If we need standards, why aren't we using them?

From the Project Management For Real Blog
Since 2001, the column "Project Management in Practice" has been read by thousands of visitors to 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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Will the real project managers please stand up?

If we need standards, why aren't we using them?

So do we really need standards?

Does the world need another standard?

Yesterday, I raised the question of what precise role standards play in the day-to-day reality of project managers. My observation was based upon the fact that most projects have their own approach, process, templates and discipline of how they manage projects. Organizational expectations and actual standards appear to play less of a role than experience and personal preference.

Where standards aren't being applied or aren't being relevant, my observations to date suggest there are one of four reasons:
- the standards aren't viewed as relevant for the projects being managed
- the standards are seen as being insufficient for the projects being managed
- the standards are seen as excessive, bureaucratic or unwieldy for the projects being managed
- there isn't an awareness that the standards exist

Whichever the reason, these factors raise important questions about current standards and what would be required in a standard that was relevant, was adopted and was adhered to.


Posted on: April 19, 2007 10:04 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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A good question! If I may add, if standards are not being used, why are standards bodies/organizations proliferating (PMI, ec.)? And why are companies putting emphasis in hiring individuals with certifications from these standards bodies? Of course, we have an idea why. But why is there a great disconnect between the two?

A project, by definition, results in a unique product that did not exist before. That makes project management a creative act. Creativity and standardization are natural enemies. I think that is why there si so much resistance to standards among working PM's. As long as I'm on a soapbox, I also think that is why simpler PM approaches, like Agile and all its flavors, so quickly gain adherents.

One last thought: If PM is a creative act, then standards cannot possibly encompass all of the needs or circumstances of every project. How can you have "standards" if every project adapts the methods or approach? At my current employer CMMI has been treated as the standardized approach for almost 3 years. Recently a formal process for waiving portions of the CMMI requirements was introduced. Something seems oxymoronic about a formal standard for waiving formal standards, but there we have it.

We have standards in my organization and for the most part these standards are used across all projects. In order to deviate, there is a waiver process that must be followed. If one determines that a different methodology is needed, they can propose it to our Operational Excellence team and it can be entered as a standard to be used for that type of project.

Having these standards in place allows the PM to focus on the project and not develop the methodology each time they start a new project. It also makes performing QA much easier as the templates are built into the QA process and the person performing the assessment knows the same process to follow regardless of the project.

Mark, excellent observation and topic. I agree with the above replies and would only add two things. First, organizations need standards and they "are" using them. And second, many people advocate viewing a standard as a reference point. When the standard is followed, the outcome is more predictable as per the construct of the standard. When one deviates from the standard, the outcome is less predictable in terms of the construct of the standard. Hence, sometimes deviation is ill-advised; other times it is recommended or even compelled. Perhaps as an example, one can look at education. As schools deviate from standards, the outcomes are less predictable. In some schools, the deviation produces better outcomes. In most schools, the deviation produces lesser outcomes. Or perhaps, we can look at heavy equipment maintenance such as aircraft engines. Deviation from the standard of maintenance produces inconsistent results. Positive deviation is welcomed; negative deviation can result in loss of life. Hence, in a project management context, standards are reference points. They are not Commandments and they are not a substitute for judgment and reasoned decision making.

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