A colleague dropped by my office for a visit the other day. I happened to be in the final stages of planning and locking down the baseline for a new project, so I didn’t really pay him much attention while he chatted [Yeah Right! – like you always give others your undivided attention!]. When I finally paused and explained to him what I was doing, he replied;
“What’s the use of planning! As soon as the plan is published it’s a work of fiction, totally unrelated to real life!”
Now there’s nothing quite like a statement of that nature to rub a project manager the wrong way. After all, at it’s core, it calls into disrepute the entire profession. Or does it? As with everything in life, there are many interpretations and perspectives. If you think about it, core to this perception is possibly the lack of a clear understanding of what a project manager actually does. Or at least what the good project managers are doing that is different to the mainstream.
At its core, project management may possibly best be described as “Getting things done” or better still “Coordinating team efforts and making sure things get done properly”. [There are obviously many more correct theoretical and institutional definitions that describe the full content of project management, but for the purposes of this discussion lets just say our definition here is sufficient]
“So what”, I hear you cry. “There are plenty of people in life who get things done by just climbing in and doing!” And this is true. You don’t have to be a certificated project manager to get things done. However, and I think this is key, many people don’t really have a handle on what a good project manager actually does in order to “Get things Done”.
Many people can climb in and achieve in a chaotic environment. The true game changers are those that take a bigger picture view and achieve in the chaos, all the while making improvements to process and tools so that next time the chaos is a little less and the quality of product and life is a little better, and the next better, and the next better …… ! This lessening of the chaos makes life better for the entire project team, improves quality of life, improves deliverables. The lone ranger is often seen as the hero, able to step into the chaos and fix [organisations with projects in trouble love them] but what are they doing to make life better for others? The real innovator, the real hero is the PM who can not only rescue the effort from the chaos, but is the one that improves life for the entire team the next time around as well.
Sure, there are the plans, the checklists, the Gantt charts, the reports, the processes. These are vital if the business of running projects is to succeed in it’s goals of sustainable profits, quality products and services and repeat business from satisfied clients. The average PM fills these out religiously and rests on his laurels, adding “Project Manager” to his resume. The good PM realises that these are a very small part of his daily life. They help guide the action. They help to reduce the daily chaos that could be the project. They help to standardise reporting and future-proof the organisation against “Chaos Heroes”. The good PM constantly acts, communicates, questions, taking a wider focus on innovation and improvement, making sure that the environment in which his project runs is being analysed and improved upon and pushing the limits of client satisfaction.
There is a hint of truth in the sentiment that life is too unpredictable for planning, but I can’t agree with it as an absolute. Yes, the plan may not ultimately be achieved in every minute detail, but without a plan, a roadmap if you will, there is no measure of whether effort expended is going in the right direction. A good PM will spend time on putting a realistic plan in place. Then he will use that plan as a guide, not as the absolute truth, adjusting course and re-planning if necessary to achieve an outcome acceptable to the key stakeholders involved in the project.
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