The Tao of Project Management: Part 1

(Caution: Heresy Alert)

The point of my last, Bruce Lee-inspired post was that a master craftsman is able to draw upon tools and techniques learned from many different sources, and has the confidence and flexibility to apply the most appropriate skills to address the task at hand, regardless of their origin or context.

This being a blog and all, I didn’t have the runway to extract all of the potential that line of thought offered in one sitting. I also received comments and emails that prompted additional thoughts, so let us continue.

Bruce Lee was a master at stripping away the superfluous aspects of techniques sourced from other disciplines. A trademark of his Jeet Kune Do style is its simplicity; moves exhibit a direct sense of purpose and physical economy.

I believe this idea has immense relevance to the rapidly changing landscape of project management. From my vantage point, many organizations are growing increasingly hungry for simpler, lighter project management approaches; perhaps a fundamental re-examination of the state of PM practices in order.

First, in contemporary terms, just what is a project? The 4th edition of the PMBOK continues to refine the basic definition as “…a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” I have always hastened to add on ‘of significance’ to the end of that definition to indicate that the endeavor should also be substantial enough to warrant applying a formalized project management approach. Otherwise, baking a cake could be argued as a project.

But, I’m rethinking all that. Perhaps more accurately, I am rethinking what constitutes a ‘formal project management approach.’ Most traditional project management methods, frameworks and techniques are generally structured around critical path methodology (CPM) and aimed towards traditional kinds of projects. These approaches unquestionably still have their place; I wouldn’t want to build a submarine, bridge or skyscraper without them.

But, we are also learning the hard way that you can also carry a good thing too far: such approaches are not as useful when it comes to managing non-linear, knowledge-driven work that is often highly collaborative, yet widely distributed. You can’t recalculate float or earned value often enough to keep pace with the dynamics of so many of today’s projects, nor the intuition, improvisation and opportunistic approaches that are used to manage them.

This is a big part of why Agile has enjoyed such a rapid rise in mainstream adoption, and why more adaptable approaches outside of software development will continue to emerge in the near future. I can’t recall the last time I was at an industry event where the agenda didn’t include something about this topic.

Next, we’ll explore what we might learn from a whole class of under-the-radar projects that surround us; the ones that are rarely included in the project portfolio and typically do not follow formal PM frameworks, yet have a high success rate.

Article source: Planview Enterprise Navigator

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