A common problem in our development of the Program Management Office is getting so caught up in putting out fires. This is Covey's “addiction of the urgent.” In this process we lose the big-picture perspective. This note is about the big-picture view of the project management process as it pertains to our collection of projects. These are very rudimentary principles, but they are important to keep in mind.
5 Basic Principles
1. Be conscious of what you're doing, don’t be an accidental manager. Learn PM theory and practice. Realize you don't often have direct control. Focus on being a professional and the PM's mantra:
"I am a project professional. I work on projects. Projects are undertakings that are goal-oriented, complex, finite, and unique. They pass through a life cycle, which begins with project selection and ends with project termination."
2. Invest in front-end work; get it right the first time. We often leap before we look due to an over–focus on results-oriented processes, simple and many times simple-minded platitudes about project management and the technical processes and ignore basic steps. Trailblazers often achieve breakthroughs, but projects need forethought. Projects are complex, and the planning, structure, and time spent with stakeholders are required for success. Doing things right takes time and effort, but this time and effort is much cheaper than rework.
3. Anticipate the problems that will inevitably arise. Most problems are predictable. Well-known examples are:
- Little direct control over staff, little staff commitment to the project.
- Staff workers are not precisely what we want or need.
- Functional managers have different goals, and these will suboptimize the project.
- Variances to schedule and budget will occur, and customer needs will shift.
- Project requirements will be misinterpreted.
- Overplanning and overcontrol are as bad as underplanning and weak control.
- There are hidden agendas, and these are probably more important than the stated one.
4. Go beneath surface illusions; dig deep to find the real situation. Don't accept things at face value. Don't treat the symptom, treat the root cause, and the symptoms will be corrected. Our customers usually understands their own needs, but further probing will bring out new needs. Robert Block suggests a series of steps:
- Identify all the players, in particular those who can impact project outcome.
- Determine the goals of each player and organization, focusing on hidden goals.
- Assess your own situation and start to define the problems.
5. Be as flexible as possible; don’t get sucked into unnecessary rigidity and formality. Project Management is the reverse of Fermi's 2nd law: we're trying to create order out of chaos. But in this effort:
- More formal structure & bureaucracy doesn't necessarily reduce chaos.
- We need flexibility to bend but not break to deal with surprises, especially with intangibles our information-technology projects.
- The goal is to have both order and flexibility at the same time.
- Heavy formality is appropriate on large budget or low-risk projects with lots of communication expense and few surprises. Information-age projects have a low need for this because they deal more with information and intangibles, and have a high degree of uncertainly.