Project Management – Form over Substance Part 2

In part 1, I put forward my contention that Project Management is now horribly over-engineered, and as a result many projects fail to deliver results, either not at all, or at best over budget and over-time.

This time I’ll examine how the landscape has changed, and how Project Management has failed to meet the new challenges.

What is different between now and when I started out in the mid 1970’s?  The pace of change for one thing.

Then it might have been alright to take two years to carry out an applications systems upgrade – identify needs, research applicable solutions, select the best one  and implement it.   Not now.  By the time you are half-way through the identification stage of the project, the business rationale for undertaking the project in the first place has changed completely. 

Secondly, the complexity of projects has changed dramatically.  Where identifying the need and an applicable solution was once relatively simple – not now.    The technology linkages are now increasingly complex, the business needs, particularly if social networking is involved, are radically different, as are the business, legislative and financial environments in which organisations operate. 

It used to be implementing a data base and it’s front-end.  Now the cloud, web interfaces, security and authentication considerations, third party interfaces  and legislative and reporting requirements loom large.   No wonder projects fail.  No single mind can grasp the entire landscape in one bite.  To do all this rapidly and within budget is increasingly difficult.

There is a truism that looking back one can always say “Times were simpler then”.  In project management that is demonstrably not the case.  Building a mediaeval cathedral or the Titanic was a complex project, particularly when one considers the tools available at the time.

Part of it, I believe is the elevation of standards to the level of the 10 Commandments.

Undeniably standards are a good thing.  Electricity comes out of the wall with uniform and known characteristics, usually 110 or 220 Volts, 13 or 15 amps and 50Hz. Makes life a lot easier when designing electrical equipment.  Also makes things a lot cheaper to manufacture.

The downside of standards is the loss of what the marketeers call the “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP,  the reason why the buyer chooses your product rather than someone else’s.   If everyone uses the same standards, then the products can be pretty much the same.  That leaves cost as the USP.   Perhaps also the look of the thing.

There is a way round this.  Extend the  standards.  In software, The marketing gurus create “extensions” to the standards to ensure that their version  is better than everyone else’s, and to tie in customers. So, by all means evangelise about standards, but make sure you retain your USP.

The situation is the same for PM standards.

Looking at PM software,  I recall that Coopers had DSS, E&Y had Navigator, Groupe Bull had Mosic, Deloitte and KPMG had their own flavours, the names of which I forget.  So did Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, each claiming to implement Prince or PMBoK standards, all with proprietary extensions, and in some cases with an associated software application.  The consultants then tell every actual and potential client that they must use this version or see their projects fail. 

So why do consultancies evangelise about standards?  To make a bigger profit of course.   If they can develop a tick-the-boxes, preferably on-line method of project management, then they can use cheaper less-skilled staff.  They can also use them in a wide range of different environments.

And that brings me to another point, the current fad for saying that Project Management is a pure Science and that you do not need specific industry skills or experience.  Absolute nonsense.  If I were investing money in building my own house, would I be happy knowing that the project manager is a guy whose previous experience was in supply chain management in the fast-food industry?

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