Project Management For Real

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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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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?

Will the real project managers please stand up?

If ever there was proof needed that project management is a misunderstood role, you only have to look as far as prime time TV. In the last year or so, 'project manager' has entered the vernacular... but hardly in a positive way.

Opening Soon is a show on Home and Garden TV in Canada that chronicles the launching and/or major renovation of several restaurants. Predictably, tempers flare, desgns change, budgets get blown out of the water and schedules are pushed to the bitter end. Inevitably the final afternoon before opening is a massive installation, clean up and rush to get prep completed or the grand opening in 2 hours. 

More commonly known to most of us is The Apprentice, which gave us the immortal line "You're fired!" So what does it take to be a project manager? According to this show, you need to be arrogant, over-confident, look good in a suit and be prepared to stab your colleagues in the back. In public. On prime time TV. No actual project management happens -- and whoever lands the project management role on an episode seems to lose whatever few leadership qualities that thye might have once had.

For both shows, the viewing is pretty entertaining. Is it project management, though? Heck no. At least, not as I'd want to see it being described. But that's just me.

Cheers,
Mark
Posted on: June 04, 2007 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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

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.

Cheers,
Mark

Posted on: April 19, 2007 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

So do we really need standards?

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 | Comments (0)

Does the world need another standard?

We have the PMBOK. We have IPMA. There's Prince2 (sort of).  All represent 'standards' (of a flavour) of project management. So how many standards does the world really need? Hang on, because we're about to find out.

A small community of standards organizations, project management firms, industry and academia have been working over the past year to develop a 'global standard' for project management. This has included a review and effort to synthesize a number of other standards from around the world. 

What is interesting about the resulting standards is that they are focussed on performance or competency, not just knowledge or 'attributes'. In other words, what should someone be doing when they are managing projects, and to what extent is that visible?

I'll be exploring the work more in upcoming columns, but in the meantime check out the web site of the Global Alliance for Project Management Standards at: http://www.globalpmstandards.org.
Posted on: January 30, 2007 07:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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