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Behind the Facade of Project Management

by Hal on November 1, 2002

in PM practice, PMBoK, theory

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Lauri Koskela and Greg Howell (K&H) do a marvelous job of capturing the experience of projects on page 11 of The Underlying Theory of Project Management is Obsolete:

"The deficiencies of the theory of the project and of the theory of management reinforce each other and their detrimental effects propagate through the life cycle of a project. Typically, customer requirements are poorly investigated at the outset, and the process of requirement clarification and change leads disruption in the progress of the project. The actual progress starts to drift from the plan, the updating of which is too cumbersome to be done regularly. Without an up-to-date plan, the work authorization system transforms to an approach of informal management. Increasingly, tasks are commenced without all inputs and prerequisites at hand, leading to low efficiency or task interruption and increased variability downstream. Correspondingly, controlling by means of a performance baseline that is not based on the actual status becomes ineffective or simply counterproductive. All in all, systematic project management is transformed to a facade, behind which the job actually gets done, even if with reduced efficiency and lessened value to the customer."

The first step in reform is talking about theory. What is a project?

Most projects do eventually complete. We can thank project participants for their "in spite of it all" approach. We see project participants acting contrary to the stated practices and standards of the organization and in so doing they deal with the problems of the project.

K&H show us the problems are not:

  • incompetent management (and we could use more competence)
  • low productivity from unmotivated workers (and interest in improving would help)
  • customers who can't or won't make up their minds (and knowledgeable customers are easier to work with)
  • poor practices of project scheduling (and it's not a computer issue)
  • poor practices maintaining schedules (and we could use more staying in touch with what is happening)
  • risk management (does anyone know what I'm even talking about?)
  • scope creep (and we certainly can help our customers better understand what they could be asking for)
  • add your favorite reason here (or two or three)

The problem with projects is the insufficiency or obsolescence of the underlying theory. There's plenty of work for us all to do to reform project theory and practice. The first step in doing that is talking about theory. What better place to start than at the beginning…what is a project?

Let's bring down the facade and the misery and waste that go along with it. Thank you Lauri and thank you Greg for getting us talking.

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