At its heart, project management is about getting things done.
For as long as people have lived in groups, they have needed to work together to get things done. People have probably been convinced that other people are doing it all wrong for just about as long, so perhaps it is not surprising that we now have so many competing methods for project management. Do you need to do a critical path analysis? How about an earned value analysis? Should you use Agile methodologies instead?
The situation is not helped by the fact that each methodology has a cadre of true believers, who loudly proclaim that their method is The One True Way, and if only everyone would implement it properly, all their problems would be solved.
The truth is less clear cut. Each methodology was developed in response to specific issues faced in a specific environment. While I believe that each methodology has strengths and valuable insights to offer, they all have weaknesses, too. I have yet to come across a universally applicable methodology. There are plenty of people who make this same argument, either by advocating for flexibility in the application of a given process or by advocating for choosing the process that best fits your project’s needs. But the certainty and clear direction of the true believers is more reassuring than the messy reality offered by the rest of us, and so this message of flexibility often gets lost, leaving companies with rigid project management processes that at best pay lip service to flexibility.
It is no wonder, then, that many people have such a negative reaction to the idea of project management. Too often, it has been presented to them as a rigid process that they must follow exactly. When presented in this way, project management doesn’t look like a tool to help you get your project done. It looks like a set of rules and procedures that will impede your progress.
If someone is interested in learning about project management despite all of this, they are confronted with an array of training options that focus primarily on a single process. Even after completing this training, they may be unprepared for the messy work of making the process work for their team, particularly if some members of the team are not interested in adopting the new process.
This is a great shame. Anyone who needs to work with a group of people to achieve something can benefit from thinking about the fundamental questions of project management. How can the work be best broken into manageable pieces? How do those pieces depend on each other? What are the risks the project faces and how can they be mitigated? Should they be mitigated? How can the team best communicate with itself and with other people? How should it respond to change?
Throughout my career, I’ve watched people who are convinced that project management just means useless process struggle with these issues. I’ve watched their teams suffer from crunch times that could have been avoided, and I’ve watched schedules slip and budgets overrun. Even people who work alone can often benefit from thinking about project management, particularly if their projects are complex. When people ask me about my tricks for getting a lot done without working really long hours, the tips I offer are more often than not things I’ve adapted from project management techniques.
Project management is not a panacea for the problems people face when trying to get things done, but it does offer a set of tools to help keep projects on track. It can do this without prescribing a specific process. In fact, it can provide a framework within which to build your own process, one that makes sense for the specific project you are tackling and the specific environment in which you work. Sometimes, this process will look a lot like one of the well known ones. Sometimes, it won’t. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that it helps you get things done.
If this sounds good to you, I encourage you to dig in and learn more about project management. I provide links to some blogs, books, and articles I’ve found useful in my resources tab.
I also offer a Get More Done course that discusses the fundamentals of project management, thereby improving your ability to evaluate which processes and tools will best help you get things done. The course is not training on any specific process, but it will introduce some of the processes and tools that I think are most likely to be helpful.
An online session of the Get More Done course is open for registration now. The course will be held on June 10 and June 17, from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. PDT. Register by May 12 for an early bird discount.
Whether you take the course or not, though, I encourage you to learn about the fundamentals of project management. Doing so will help you get things done.