Frustration about project management methods

Last month there was quite a  discussion on a networking site about the frustration over the added value of using a project management method. The originator of the discussion stated that a method was of no use at all and consequently a waste of time and money. He never met a (experienced) project manager that had a positive judgement about a pm method.

I was curious where what the reaction of other readers would be and how they would react on the authors strong opinion. So I followed the discussion for a while, with some interesting turns. There was really not even one reaction that supported the initial case. I’m not surprised since there have been published a whole bunch of pm methods in the last decennia. And most professional organizations use at least a structured way of working (a self developed method) or a standard methodology regarding project management. So there has to be a common understanding for the positive effect of using a method.

Why is this author so frustrated about pm methods?

Of course, a well known complaint about methods, a lot of times about Prince2, is the bureaucracy and the administrative burden. Is this unique for the Prince2 methodology and what is this all about?

Bureaucracy and administrative burden

First time I heard the complaint about the bureaucracy of Prince2 I was working with the method for some years. I didn’t understand where the method was bureaucratic because I never experienced it as such. I was aware that every method is fundamentally bureaucratic in itself, but it never bothered me in my work.

When I was looking into the complaint I discovered that the main problem they experienced was the agreements between the delivery side and the business side of the project. They had a black-and-white approach towards their service-level-agreements and according projects. There was a lack of trust between parties resulting in thick project plans. Some years later I came across a company where young IT project managers where trained in Prince2. They where fresh out of university and used of describing everything in detail. This also resulted in bulky plans and a de-motivation for project management in the business.

And also in other situation I never found the method to be bureaucratic, it was the application of the method that made it heavy and slow. Since then I use the slogan: ‘Bureaucracy is a choice!’.

I think in a lot of cases the main reason for methods not working out is the lack of knowledge of the method and experience with the work. Also I found that a method-free way of working has its advantages if you don’t want to take responsibility and won’t let others plan and control your work. The use of a method can help the organization to manage the work more efficiently.

Management by Experience

The other point in the discussion was if experienced project managers don’t use or need a pm method. I think this is completely true!

Really experienced project managers don’t talk about the method they use, they just use it by heart. It’s integrated in their way of thinking and working. And why not, is a method the holy water? Is it the key factor by which all projects can be successful…no of course not. The method is just a piece of equipment the project manager is using to deliver his results. But they all started by using a structured way of working that helped them to do their job.

Tailoring the method

One of the characteristics of a project is that the change is unique, or in any case unique enough not to be managed as a project. This means that, in principle, no project is the same as another. Just think of the different sizes of projects, the varying organizations, and the differences in respect of the types of product. Put alongside this the fact that no Project Manager, Executive or project environment is the same and the basis is established for tailoring.

Tailoring a Prince2 project is all about making the application of Prince2 fit a particular project, so that the correct means of planning, controlling, directing and the use of processes and themes can be adopted.

In a next article I will further go into tailoring Prince2 projects, just to make it easier and give some practical advise what to do. If you can’t wait, it is also described in my book.

If you have any question please contact me at gabor.visvanheemst@intrprimus.nl or leave a comment. If you want to know more about our project management services please look at www.intrprimus.nl

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