August 17, 2011 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Management Musings
The Lost Art of Project Management
By David Blumhorst
As both an IT-PMO Director and CIO, I’ve had occasion to hire and evaluate quite a number of project managers. During one of those stints a colleague of mine and I decided project managers generally fell into two camps – what we called task managers and project leaders.
The task managers had the “science” of project management down pat. They could put together great task plans, log issues and risks, and produce project status reports. They loved checking off tasks as complete, checking off requirements as done and completing projects on time, on budget, and on scope.
Problem was, they often missed the target. Say we started a project to enable customers to configure their product on the Web. We had one of these that was proceeding apace using the then-current technology. The PM dutifully checked off the tasks, kept the project in scope, and we were well on our way to having working screens and data. But as I looked at the result, it seemed to me to be difficult to use and required a lot of maintenance. One of the Web developers on my staff suggested a new technology that she claimed could be used to get a better result in half the development time – and she was right. I killed the project and we started a new one. I put the developer in charge of the new project (not a formal PM by training), and we ended up with a great interface that was easy to use and easy to maintain and modify.
What was the difference? The technical project manager did not understand the business target. Indeed, he was not trained in Web development and did not know the technologies. But he did know how to “manage” a project. The problem here is a project isn’t something to be managed – it as a process that is intended to achieve certain business outcomes. Without achieving those outcomes, the money and time are both wasted.
Project Leaders, on the other hand, have a good sense for business and understand the desired outcome. They then lead and motivate a team to accomplish that outcome. In one of my favorite projects – an ERP implementation – the project manager knew that managing users expectations as we migrated from one major system to another would be a big challenge. She worked with me on the internal political problems that inevitably arose, and made an ally of the biggest internal skeptic. I knew we were ready to go live when I talked to the skeptic and she said “I didn’t think we could do this, but you know what? We’re ready”. If the skeptic says you’re ready, you probably are, and we successfully went live that weekend. This project manager was also not shy about changing scope and requirements if needed to make sure the processes we were implementing turned out right in the new tool, and asked for a slight extension and budget increase. We were slightly over budget and time, with numerous scope changes but guess what – we had a successful ERP implementation in a global company. Not a small achievement by any means.
So what do I look for in project managers? People who understand that project management is as much art as science. People who have the soft skills to understand the business outcomes and lead a team to deliver those outcomes. They need to know the fundamentals of project management, but even more so they understand project management is a craft – and they are masters of that craft.
David Blumhorst is the VP of Professional Services at Daptiv.