Initiation: Your Introduction to Project Management Theory

Technology is simple. People are complicated.

This is a project management blog but it’s not intended as a replacement for the PMBOK or any other similar resource. Neither is it particularly suitable as training material. If you’re looking for insight into obtaining a qualification then you’ll find other places more useful. Here we’ll take a slightly different perspective. Rather than discussing the mechanics of projects I want to focus on our most important resource – the people that deliver the projects. In particular, effective management of those people. Translating good management practices into project management terms.

To get the most out of the blog you’ll need a comfortable familiarity with project management concepts and at least a couple of years experience under your belt. If you have that already then you’ll probably have discovered some of the real-world challenges to project delivery and realised they’re often not technical or procedural. You’ll also have an idea of the limitations of the corporate environment you’re in, many of which you can’t change.

Different companies will have variations on the theme of project management. They may have their own methodologies adapted from PRINCE2, for example. They’ll certainly have their own corporate culture, organisational structure and other factors that, in combination, deviate from the textbook representation of project management.

A weak matrix management organisation can be a significant problem. The PM will have the responsibility for delivering the project but not the direct management of the team or control over who’s on it. The people working on your project will be accountable to the functional manager within their department or technical discipline, not you. Those departmental managers are typically focussed in running their own area, not delivering projects. After all, that’s the Project Manager’s problem!
With little empowerment, a PM faces an uphill struggle to get the best from the team. This adds risk to the project, something we’re trying to avoid. I’ve seen many PMs ignore this problem of accountability (or lack thereof). They underestimate the benefits of leading a team, not just administrating it. Often the results are delays, additional cost and stress. If your team isn’t accountable to you then they’re not your team, unless you find a way to provide effective leadership and get them on-side.

So what’s the disadvantaged PM to do? With no direct influence over those working on their project, soft skills become crucial tools. Leadership skills can make the difference between a successful project and one that strays over time and over budget. Respect is earned, and you need it.

A few years ago I came across the Manager Tools podcast. This long-running, weekly show is packed with sound advice from Mike Auzenne and Mike Horstman, two highly experienced managers dedicated to the cause of effective management. Their podcast is focussed on managing people, not projects. Even so, many of these management skills and techniques can be applied or adapted by the humble PM. We are still managers and dealing with people effectively is arguably our most vital capability.
I’ve plundered the Manager Tools and other resources, filtered them through the lens of my own project management experience, and defined the concepts here in a new context.

And speaking of context, my own training and qualification comes from the PMI. I’m a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and I’ve been putting it into practice since 2006. Because of my familiarity with the PMI, my references will often relate to that organisation’s description of project management. That’s not to say there’s any less value in PRINCE2 or even just hard-earned experience, it’s just what I’m most familiar with.