Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
Project Management: A risk to Product Delivery
Most of us are aware of the old saw “the operation was successful, but the patient died!” which has been around since 1829 and used to describe medical, as well as military and business failures. There are many reasons for failure but is ‘over-management’ one of them? Can too much ‘project management’ be applied to the point that the aim of the project, i.e. the product, is compromised?
Throwing the proverbial book at a project and utilising every single technique and process will cover all bases and guarantee that no stone is unturned. However, will such a ‘total project management’ application be of value or will the administrative work that it creates outweigh the benefits that project management should provide?
The purpose of the project, the aim, or the mission must be defined. If ‘successful project management’ is part of that definition then the project management function, rather than being ‘the means to the end’ may well become ‘the end in itself’. This results in a self-fulfilling, self-fuelling spiral of work for works sake; this detracts from creating value.
Such a view may be seen as heresy and a challenge to project management norms but the view that more project management is inherently better, is wrong. Over managing and over documentation promotes micromanagement and encourages bureaucracy which may meet the self-satisficing aims of some PM proponents where more is better. However it will alienate the advocates of ‘management by experience’ and also decry ‘optimum project management’ where ‘less can be more’.
Optimum Project Management is the application of a good balance between theory and practice based on the judgement of the Project Manager and Project Team. This combination, essentially knowledge, is tailored and tempered to the project in hand. The project in hand may also not require all of the team’s collective knowledge to crack the proverbial ‘nut’.
Projects, by definition, have an element of uniqueness be it in terms of technology, pace, complexity, or innovativeness. However, such uniqueness also applies to location, people and stakeholders, contracts, and, not least, culture. Consequently, the blind application of all techniques or processes from a previous ‘successful’ project (or a swathe of processes from the project manager’s last job) will result in a risk to the application of the right amount of Project Management.
Blind application of standard processes to a ‘unique’ situation may enable the project team to deliver various management plans in the first few weeks of a project and satisfy some contractual deliverable. It will also show your client that you have a full project management toolbox and give the impression of effectiveness, rather than efficiency However it can stultify the planning of the project and the selection of the optimal project management tools.
So, is project management a risk? Given that risk is associated with uncertainty then the answer is, of course, yes. Too much is not efficient and makes for making the project fit the management (forcing the round peg to fit the square hole) rather than understanding the project and applying the best tools for the job (placing the round peg in the round hole).
MBA, MSc DIC, BSc; Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist, PMP
Over thirty years’ experience on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro systems, airports, roads, marine works and reclamation, hydropower, tunnels and underground excavations.
Project management; design & construction management; and contract administrative in all project phases from feasibility, planning & design, procurement, implementation, execution and completion on Engineer’s Design and Design & Build schemes.