Project Management – Are we riding a dead horse?

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

Almost a decade ago I was wondering whether I am riding a dead horse. Not that project management was or even now is dead. There was just no major development and in almost every project management course I conducted I got similar problems, complaints, and even (possible) solutions.

It was then about that time when I formed a theory or opinion: Just like the daily tools we use on our computers – Spreadsheet, Word-processing, Presentation tools, Email & Calendar – project management is becoming an everyday part of our lives. As such companies expect the educated, recently graduated, university student to know how to schedule, budget, or create a communications plan.

Most course participants will have an easy day in the classroom if a trainer covers the ”basics of project management”. Do not get me wrong here, I am not saying that we need to skip this part at all. There may be people out there who have no idea about these basics, e.g. an art major or a kindergarten teacher looking for new opportunities.

Project management is more than only balancing the what, the when, and the how much. PMI (Project Management Institute) called it the triple constraint – Scope, Time, and Cost. In recent years PMI recognized that there is more to projects than these hard measures.

I believe the most famous example of ”there is more to project management” is the Sydney Opera House. Hopelessly over budget (approx. 14x), delivered years late, and countless changes to the scope. Today – or actually not too long time after completing the project – it is considered a success. Worth the extra money, worth the waiting, worth the changes.

Sources – Sydney Opera House:

Why Sydney’s Opera House was the world’s biggest planning disaster
Evaluating the Sydney Opera House Building Construction Project (A MSc academic essay) MSc)

So, could proper project management have avoided the project failure? (I consider the project as failed compared to the original plan. However, compared to the result it was a success.)

Or, was the outcome a success because of project management? The second question raises even more questions and one of them should definitely be: What else is there to project management?

More than a decade ago I always included the following sentence in my project trainings: ”Surprise, surprise, there are always people involved in a project.” The story continued along the line … only if you are the only one in the project – no customer, no team, no other stakeholders – the project is fairly easy and straight forward.
That was when I focused more on communication in projects.

Later I spread the word about risks in projects and I still see a lot of projects today without any risk identified and evaluated. Let alone any responsive actions.

I made the experience that people as less questions about the HOW when it comes to basic project management skills. They ask HOW for more exotic topics like earned value or a Monte Carlo analysis. HOW gets very often asked regarding soft skills. Soft skills depend so much on people and people do change constantly. What they always ask me is WHY. Why project management? Why scheduling? Why budgeting? Why analyze the stakeholders?

Valid questions and quite frequently I struggle to give a response. On the other side I very much welcome such questions because it drives me to improve my skills set and plan & deliver better projects.

Is project management dead? No, not at all. Are we riding dead horses? Some projects are dead and it is better to get out. Others may only be in a coma and they are worth saving. It needs a lot of different skills to bring them to success.
Project Management is alive and kicking – more than ever. We just need to focus our attention on new essentials. Projects do not succeed because of a beautiful and perfect schedule, but because how we communicate it and how people react on/to it.

MIF offers facilitation in project management fundamentals. Daily, new people enter the exiting world of project management and they need to get the basics right. We also offer facilitation in communication, personal effectiveness and team effectiveness. For established projects and teams we offer change management – personal and team resilience – and financial consulting.

If you want to dive into the world of successful project management, I can recommend for instance the following Tieturi trainings:

Projektin suunnittelu ja läpivienti

IPMA C -sertifiointivalmennus

PRINCE2 ® Foundation

Taitavan projektipäällikön leadership-taidot – asiantuntijoiden johtaminen

Project Leadership

PRINCE2 ® Practitioner

PMP Certification – Preparation Training (in English)

Bernhard Korjonen

MIF Expert

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