19th Feb 2018

Project Management: Some Lessons Learnt

“Whatever it is you are doing, a project needs a plan, and needs to be managed in line with that plan.”

But what is a project? According to our old friend Dr Google – whom I have no cause to disbelieve – it’s “an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.” So a bit like a blog, it should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

In effect it’s a one-off thing. Project management is different from operational management. You need to start with the end in mind (tech companies that have pivoted – and there are a lot of you – please forgive some old-fashioned thinking here).

Of course, there are many different project management methods (not methodologies please, the pedant in me points out that methodology is the study and analysis of methods), from Agile (which actually isn’t even really a method) to PRINCE. The key thing is to understand what outcomes you want, to identify what resources you need to deliver those outcomes, to understand, as best you can, the risks, and to mitigate those the best you can. Then to measure. That way you can understand if you’re on track or not.

“BUT you can go too far the other way.”

I remember back in the dim and distant past working for a blue chip as team leader of a rapid application group. In an organisation that took years to deliver anything strategic, we were the tactical team, entitled to crash through windows and smash something out in a few weeks at low cost. Prototyping was the way forward under DSDM, an Agile development method fairly new on the blocks back in the late 90’s (I know, I know, many of you were running around a school playground then).

It was cool. It worked in our world. Life was good. However, after initial screaming successes, the organisation made the fatal mistake of deciding to overlay PRINCE on top. I’m talking the structured, unforgiving original PRINCE here, not the comparatively flexible, sensible PRINCE2. PRINCE. PRINCE for goodness sake, on a roll-your-sleeves-up and prototype development method.

This led a senior member of my team to say ‘this is the first project I’ve worked on with one developer and thirteen ****ing managers”. I emphasised with his frustrations. They were mine. The project took three times longer, and cost three times more, than it could have been under a more sensible management structure.

“It was crap management.”

Project management is about planning and achieving outcomes, but REAL project management needs a good healthy dose of common sense, and a REAL project manager has the nous and the authority to be a little light-footed in their handling of the project, in particular it’s scarcest, most fragile resources – the project team. A project board, if there is such a thing, must be supportive of the project and its objectives.

Challenging, yes. Obstructive, no.

Now let me get back to the Blu Sky board to explain why this blog is 4 weeks overdue….