Many people are entrusted with the title of “project manager” often regardless of whether they are interested in the role. There is an entire industry aimed at the project management profession with hundreds of thousands of certified project management professionals, yet projects get delivered every day with and without certified project managers.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m Project Management Professional (PMP) certified and actually enjoy a healthy discussion on proper project management processes. However, project management doesn’t have to be overly complex or intimidating as described in project management textbooks (it can be as simple as the process presented in a guide such as: The Six Step Guide to Practical Project Management).
You need the right tools and processes
One of the best executives I ever met prided himself on not having PMP certification, yet he was responsible for his organisation’s enterprise programs and projects. He acknowledged that project management processes, tools and techniques were important, but just as vital are communication and common sense.
He trusted his team to pick the right tool for the job and adjust the processes to meet the project needs. People don’t have time today for overly complex processes producing reams of documentation and checklists. They need to deliver projects not paperwork.
Simplicity grows in importance as work grows
Project managers are also expected to manage multiple projects at once. As more projects are added to a person’s workload, the need for simplified project management processes increases.
Project management office organisations try to improve project delivery by adding a common project portfolio management tool throughout the organisation. Although these tools provide top-down visibility into a project’s performance, these tools can add to the project manager’s administrative burden. When a complex project management tool is introduced, the project manager risks spending more time administering the tool than actually managing the project.
I’ve seen this first hand when running a project with more than 100 resources from many different resource pools. I spent more time ensuring resource needs were forecasted and conflicts resolved than helping to resolve project issues.
You need a flexible tool
If the project management tool you use isn’t flexible with scheduling, the project manager can spend hours if not days trying to tweak the schedule to fit the project management tool constraints.
For one project, I spent more time allocating project team resources to high-level tasks in a meaningless project schedule just so everyone could record time. I maintained a separate schedule for all the real projects tasks, but needed to do duplicate administration in a separate system.
Project management just doesn’t have to be this hard. It is really quite simple. Processes and tools are always added with good intentions but project managers need to pick the right tool and the right process for the job.
Simple steps for most projects
Complex projects will require more processes and tools. However, many projects can be delivered following a simple series of steps.
Every project needs to answer several key questions including:
- Why are we doing this project?
- What is the end goal?
- Who needs to be involved?
- What needs to be done to achieve the goal?
- When and how will it be done?
Depending on the project’s complexity, the answers to these questions could be a simple presentation or a 50-page project charter that few will ever read. I remember working on one project where the running joke was the project had launched yet the project charter was “almost ready to be signed”.
It consisted of a 45-page Word document that no one would ever read in great detail or even sign off. The project still delivered on time and was successful. This example begs the question – was all that process really needed?