Blinded by the light – when project management methodology matters more than project success
Many organisations believe (hope?) that strict adherence to a project management methodology guarantees project success. These unfortunates have been blinded by the dazzling (but false) promise of whatever methodology they choose to follow, and their projects suffer for it. My feelings on this are strong, but with good reason. I’ve seen too many projects go awry because of blind devotion to methodology.
The first step to fixing any problem is to recognise that it exists. So how can you tell if methodology has taken over your organisation? Well, here are a few warning signs:
- The focus is on following The Book rather than getting the job done: A classic sign of methodology madness is when things are done a certain way just because the process mandates it. This is sometimes seen in organisations with a strong project management office (PMO). To keep the powers that be happy, project managers often end up following the letter of the process but not the spirit, using other (informal) means to get the job done.
- There are templates for everything: The Book has a long appendix with templates for every conceivable action. You want to sneeze? Sorry, it has to be approved first. Please fill in form SN123, and we’ll pass on your request to the appropriate committee for review. Expect to hear from us in a week or so.
- Signatures / Approvals for everything: This is a particularly pathological variant of the well known, “Responsibility without authority” challenge that project managers face. Here, in addition to the lack of authority, you also can’t use informal channels to get things done because you need to have a paper trail to prove authorisation.
- Every action is over-deliberated: Is every project action re-visited and re-analysed ad-nauseum? If so, your project’s suffering from process sclerosis (a close cousin of analysis paralysis), wherein mindless application of process slows progress to a crawl.
- Everything is cast in stone: You want to do some things in a different way? Sorry, that’s not possible. The methodology has a prescription for every conceivable project action. No exceptions.
- Project management is a bureaucratic exercise: Project managers in methodology heavy organisations often end up becoming bureaucrats who spend most of their time fulfilling the requirements of the methodology. This leaves them with little time to actually manage their projects. Methodology has become an end in itself. Good luck getting anything done – you’ll need it.
Lest I leave you with the impression that I’m completely anti-methodology, let me assure you that I’m not. I’m a great fan of appropriate, well-considered use of project management processes. What do I mean by that? Well, many years ago a project management guru told me that every process employed in a project should be tailored to to that particular project’s needs and circumstances. Note his emphasis on the singular; each project is unique (by definition!) and must be treated so. Project management processes used in a project should be fit for purpose.
So I end with this thought: don’t let your organisation be blinded by methodology. Instead, insist that project management tools and techniques be used appropriately, in a manner that illuminates the way ahead on particular projects.