One True Way

The One True Way

Every now and then something comes along that sticks. Sometimes it’s a song which plays on repeat in my head, sometimes it’s an idea I can’t shake, or the slightest break in memory giving me a glimpse of something important, something I want to know again.

This happened to me a few weeks ago when I read the book ‘Project Management: It’s All Bollocks’. The authors, Susie and Peter, are both experienced and grounded and real.

I love the book and almost every day dip into it for another reminder of what matters in the world of projects and their delivery.

It got me thinking about project delivery more broadly. And unfortunately there’s no escaping it, a lot of what people learn as project management is really project administration. It’s important but not enough. Anyone employing a project or program…(insert title du jour) wants something done, something achieved, something delivered. Where and how and why have we lost sight of that?

Anyway, here are some of the thoughts I have which Peter and Susie might like to use in the follow-up book – for surely there must be one.

  • The belief it’s possible to administer for progress is, well, bollocks.
  • The PM is not responsible for the why of a project. But they need to be crystal clear about it. Otherwise decisions will be made on the what; and will most likely never deliver on the why. While I’m on this subject, if you have a PM who is arbitrarily making decisions on their project, decisions which may lead to a divergence from the why – you are not aligned. The project belongs to the person wanting it delivered. It is never ‘mine’ as the PM.
  • Any suggestion there is one way to manage all projects is truly bollocks. I will be targeted by those who believe (insert tool or method du jour) is the one and only way for every project in every organisation. Twas never thus. And as an aside, I wouldn’t trust any professional who only had one tool or method or approach. I want people who can look at my needs and use the best for me. The best drawn from a range of possibilities they have at their disposal.
  • This one may get my head taken off. But here goes. All EPMOs should be there to help people deliver and should never be punitive and controlling. EPMOs which insist on more and more details and reporting are negatively impacting the prospect of success. EPMOs and PMOs should be service organisations there to help, guide and support. Otherwise, save the money.
  • A bollocksy and terribly dangerous approach which has crept into the practice of PM is ‘the plan’. Don’t get me wrong, plans are good. But if you, as the person wanting a project, are presented with ‘the plan’ I can guarantee you not enough intellectual rigor has been applied. PMs should think through options and approaches and methods and provide you with options, with adequate explanations, so you can make an informed choice. A discussion around choices and options is only ever a good thing.
  • Let’s get the nomenclature right. I don’t care what we call projects, programs, portfolios and all the titles that people adopt with them. What I do care about is that no one knows for sure what any of them are. That just makes us all look silly
  • There is really no good reason projects and programs need their own accounting systems and staff. Make sure the same systems being used in every endeavor across the organisation work for projects too. 40% of budgets of most organisations now go to projects. That’s an awful lot for the CFO not to be monitoring alongside all other activities.
  • Project management accreditation is good but does not inform of a person’s ability to lead, organize people, to see the end game, advocate, inspire and deliver. We need an intern program at the very least where PMs work for experienced and successful PMs. I know terribly unpopular.
  • Susie and Peter mentioned this but I’d like them to go further and really call out the central and most important aspect to managing projects. People. When managing anything, you can focus on the people or the process and procedure. If you choose the people you can have the process and procedure adhered to, but if you choose the process and procedure, your project has already failed. It’s all about the people. To quote Peter and Susie, “people are literally everywhere. Why do most projects fail? People.”
  • And finally, before anyone can manage and deliver anything they have to know exactly what they are delivering and why. No list of success criteria – spare me the bollocks. No vague comments like ‘putting in a new system’. No, we’ll work that out as we go. If the person leading your project can’t answer why and what in one sentence (each if necessary) replace them. If the person wanting the project doesn’t use the exact same words and the PM, attack that disconnect with everything you’ve got. If the people working on the project aren’t using the exact same words, you are failing, if the people to whom the project will be handed don’t use the exact same words, your project will be perceived as a failure no matter how successful you claim the project to have been.

None of these are complicated. None of them are easy. But it’s essential we move away from the current bollocksy approaches and get back to the stuff that works.

End note. There have always been projects. It’s only in the last 30 years or so we turned failure into an expected outcome. Come on! That’s got to be Bollocks.