The Tao of Project Management: Part 2

In our continuing quest to redefine, simplify and streamline project management to meet the needs of the 21st century, let’s see what we can glean from what I like to refer to as ‘ninja class’ projects; those that lurk beyond the shadows of the project portfolio, silently moving unseen through organizations everywhere. Suddenly and without warning, they strike! To the innocent, it seems as if deliverables simply appear from nowhere, without benefit of nary a dashboard or report that might call attention to their nefarious presence.

As a practical case in point, we just finished up a very satisfying annual international sales meeting a few weeks ago. This event was most assuredly a project. Even though we do this meeting every year, each one has its own unique goals and challenges by virtue of our continued growth – in size, number of products, and our markets. Planning began several months in advance. There were myriad details to work through, from agenda content to venue selection. This project represents a substantial investment in every respect, whether measured in terms of money, effort or the future success of the company.

What is interesting is that the whole endeavor followed no discernible defined project methodology, nor was it orchestrated by a formally trained and titled project manager (despite ample quantities of both on hand). Some will be quick to say, “Well Terry, that’s just indicative of your internal PM maturity level; applying a more formal approach would have likely yielded improved results.” Perhaps, but I doubt it.

I think it is equally likely that such initiatives tend to succeed because those who manage them inherently have the essential skills in place without the need for ‘formal’ project management; they are organized, understand the objectives and tasks, are able to effectively manage and communicate, manage a budget, etc.

Quite frankly, most organizations neglect to recognize such initiatives like our example as a project, and as a result fail to treat them as accordingly. Maybe that’s a good thing. Look around, and you will probably see successful ‘projects’ happening all over the place, without the benefit of heavy handed accouterments or reams of guidance. From marketing campaigns to large events, these projects are complex, costly and serious investments.

Of course, there are always examples of colossal disasters as well (just ask the 400 Super Bowl ticket holders who didn’t have seats). But, it seems the vast majority of these projects are successful, despite the fact that they are routinely planned and managed by people who have never even heard of all the intense frameworks, guidance and methodology that we hold so dear. Like Bruce Lee, they are able to transcend the prescriptive approaches of defined PM disciplines and achieve effective results using simple, direct and adaptable techniques.

I suspect that for much of what we do day-to-day, somewhere between these two extremes lies the future reality of project management. Let’s call it Common Sense Methodology (CSM). It is not about abandoning what is good about the current state of the practice, but rather learning from it and then getting past it; PM Jeet Kune Do, if you will – a methodology without a methodology.

Don’t misunderstand me; everyone can benefit from exposure to a variety of basic project management principles, and there should always be some overarching governance in place for what is being done, and why. Overall, capacities and costs still need to be coordinated and managed. Good collaborative tools and basic guidance like checklists are also helpful.

But, we also need to appreciate that the managers and seasoned practitioners in today’s professional workforce are quite capable of undertaking a temporary endeavor to create unique products, services or results just fine, without having all of their organic aptitude indoctrinated out of them by a plethora of over-engineered and needlessly inflexible rules, standards and certification schemes.

Article source: Planview Enterprise Navigator

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