Project Management. Just the sound of those two words can cause some people to roll their eyes and listen no further. As a discipline, Project Management has a reputation of, well, being boring; as interesting, say, as tax law or the finer elements of the double-entry accounting system. The point is, we don’t want project management to BE exciting, because in this context “boring” means the fecal material has struck the proverbial oscillating air screw.
EVERYTHING is a project, according to Scott Berkun (2008). He goes on to point out that society doesn't view “cool” professions like rockstars, brain surgeons, astronauts or movie directors as Project Managers, despite the fact that much of their time is sent being exactly that. Take an astronaut for example, that one hour, high profile spacewalk took thousands of hours of planning and practicing. Berkun speculates that the view of project management is partly derived from a perception that Project Managers only care about process and not the output (Berkun, 2008).
Do project management well and it generally goes unnoticed, do it poorly and suddenly the Project Manager is the center of attention. Yet, in many projects there is much to keep the fraught Project Manager up at night. The more complex a project is, the greater the level of uncertainty, the more moving parts, more stakeholders the greater the risk that something will go wrong. Author Terrance Mckenna is quoted as saying: “everything is in the process of changing into something else”. Change in a project is inevitable, yet we do not want our project changing into something else before its done.
While some may dread the idea of change rearing its ugly head in their project, not only is change inevitable, it is necessary. If folks didn't want change, why undertake the project in the first place? Initiating a project IS, by its very nature, a commitment to change. Change can be a slow dissolution and slide into decay, but it can also be the driver of growth and great improvement. It all comes down to how the change is managed and, to quote Shakespeare, “ay, there’s the rub”.
As part of the initial planning period, the Project Team needs to establish monitoring criteria. Such criteria may include key milestones, quality and budget (Russell, 2015). Furthermore, it is possible to characterize deviations from accepted norms on these dimensions which, in turn, trigger strategies for mitigation, previously developed during the planning phase. When change does occur, the process for managing change is as follows:
This sounds good, in theory, but the reality is that managing change is not quite so simple. Maybe it’s these banal propositions which also feed the perception about Project Management being boring. In medicine, how someone contracts an illness is called a “vector”. For example one vector for the common cold is touching a contaminated doorknob. Likewise, change can be seen as having a vector. Some change vectors include new stakeholders and a loss of a resource, among uncountable others. The excitement stems from the fact that the Project Manager doesn't actually have control over these things, only influence.
Several years ago, I went white water rafting with a group of friends. The river was a series of rapids with calm stretches of water in between. We would hit a rapid and paddle like mad. Despite this we still found ourselves thrown about and quickly soaking wet. Rapid after rapid went like this and soon, we were exhausted. At the next set of rapids, we were too tired to paddle, rather, we just concentrated on minor course corrections. Much to our surprise we found that the our ride was much smoother; we got less wet and were heaved about less. We could not control the river and attempting to do so wasn't only fruitless, it made things worse. Instead, small, carefully focused movements were all that what was effective.
I think the video above poignantly illustrates the challenge for Project Managers, undertaking important projects in the face of incalculable risk while balancing a variety of competing forces and requirements, armed only with their influence, a good plan and their skill. Really, what could be more exciting than that?
Burken, S. (2008, July 7). Why project managers get no respect. [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://scottberkun.com/2008/why-project-managers-get-no-respect/
Russell, L. (2015). Project Management for Trainers. Alexandria, VA: Association For Talent Development.
Harrin, E (2016, October 14). Managing changes on projects. [web log comment]. Retrieved from: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/managing-changes-on-projects-4041353