PROJECT MANAGEMENT: THEORY VS. REALITY
I have been working within the PMO profession for the last 5 years and have been a part of different PMO teams in the public and private healthcare setting. I have had the fortunate opportunity to work across different programmes and projects, all of which were at varying levels of maturity. However, throughout my career, I have witnessed a variety of scenarios whereby fundamental Project Management theory as I know it, came under scrutiny for simply being too rigid to support vastly complex programmes, in even more complex organisations. I learnt that it is not feasible to lift and overlay the basic principles of Project Management theory into most real working practise within such environments due to the fast-paced nature in which they operate. From this, I have learnt how to adapt the theory to fit the practice, and formulate a plan best based on what is going on in the current organisational climate, as opposed to trying to force the organisation to conform to what theory recommends.
For this blog, I am going to explore 4 key areas of Project Management theory which I believe to be the biggest constraints in the profession:
The APM BOK (2012) defines planning as ’the practice to determine what is to be delivered, the costs associated with the scheme and how this will be delivered’. Although there are some that boast that prior planning is the only way to ensure a project will be successful, there is a varied argument that planning offers no benefits, and instead is more of a hindrance to a project. Commonly accepted professional standards such as APM & PMI do heavily emphasis the need to invest in educating project management teams in processes and procedures which support planning. The assumption is that planning removes a level of uncertainty and eventually increases the level of success. The AMPBOK (2012) advises that, although success is never guaranteed through planning, a lack of planning will almost always guarantee a failure.
In terms of applying this theory in practice, the experience I gained during my time in various roles would concur that planning should be adapted to the specific industry, and not rigidly applied as a ‘one size fits all’ approach, given that some industries are governed by external and political processes that can alter a projects course, and therefore the expected outcomes will most likely change at short notice. It could be argued that less initial planning is better, and by adopting a more evolutionary approach, you are more likely to succeed in the fast-paced modern PM world. There is a suggestion that planning can limit creativity and therefore shield other opportunities; plans are only ever good if they are flexible and adaptable. A plan is useful to act as a guide, excessive detail and inflexibility can often be problematic and misrepresentative in such dynamic environments. In several industries, it is becoming more common to invest less time in the initial planning phases, and more time doing the work.
- Budgeting & Cost Control:
In environments where funding is often governed by external schemes (Government, Investors etc.), and budgets are segmented to different functions or services within an organisation with the expectation that individual project funding comes from within this allowance, it can be difficult to implement new plans in the first place as funding is typically allocated to day-to-day operational management as opposed to separate project schemes. There is also the issue of having to overcome the historical themes in such organisations which suggest that managing budgets, underestimated contingency/risk costs and significant overspend are not properly controlled and therefore the struggle to secure funding for larger programmes is greater.
There are numerous barriers to effective communication, including language, physical location and multiple hierarchical levels. I have witnessed first-hand the impact that poor communication can have on a project. When having to report to a vast range of stakeholders, all with conflicting views, it is important to have a well defined communication stream whereby all involved will received the right message at the right time. I have found this often does not go the way you intend and messages can often be misinterpreted and information can be shared out of context, which brings its own set of problems. In environments whereby the majority of information is distributed via email or telephone, it can be difficult to control or document where changes have been made or agreed.
- Human Resources Management:
From experience, I found this to be the most difficult area to manage in any of the projects I have previously been involved with. Stemming from issues due to overall lack of resource and with recruitment in general, both of which had an impact on the feasibility of several of the on-going projects, there was also the issue with managing the behaviours and cultural differences of long served staff members. There is often a resistance to change and because there is limited influence or authority of the PM in these situations, it is difficult to gain buy-in from many of the key influencing members, and therefore progress and productivity is significantly reduced from a strategic perspective.