Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What is Project Management?

What is Project Management? I've been performing Information Technology Project Management since 1984. I'm really surprised how confusing this concept is for some people.

I've worked with a number of different tools over the years... Microsoft Project, TimeLine, Project.Net, Visio, Google Docs, WordPress Tools, Microsoft Office, and many others.

Project Management techniques are NOT tool specific. As a good example, I put together a project plan for a mid size company for a new product launch, and we started the project plan on post-it notes. The project plan included manufacturing, inventory, purchasing, costing, tooling, engineering, information technology, sales, marketing literature, product service, and web site design. Yes... I did say post-it notes, you read this correctly.

This was my first experience managing a project which went outside of the information technology realm. Their CEO was extremely frustrated because this manufacturing company never completed their product launch on time. As the new IT Manager, he ask me to get involved to see if there was something they could learn from my background working with other manufacturers.

My most surprising observations...
  1. Most people know very little about project management.
  2. People like to work within their bubble and don't like to be become the basis for someone else's success or failure... they are also uncomfortable relying on someone else for their success.
  3. Time is an abstract concept for most people. If something takes a week, and doesn't need to be completed for a year, then it most likely won't be started until week 52. If one persons task needs completed before someone else's can start, then.. the first person wants a full year to complete their task too... because the person with the final task has a year too!
  4. If time is an abstract concept, critical paths are alien.
  5. There are often people on the team that would prefer to undermine the project rather than step forward and be accountable. Let's call these the underminers... hold them accountable, and short-circuit their ability to undermine the project.

Why use post it notes? To humanize the effort. People often use the excuse... they don't understand technology. Project Management is NOT technology management. It's defining and managing the progress of a plan and does NOT require technology. Technology is a tool that makes the process easier... but only if you're comfortable with technology. Don't try to explain technology and the project management process together, or your customers and peers will see them as one-in-the-same. They aren't, and you'd be doing a disservice to communicate this... and continuing to contribute to the lie.