Saturday, June 15, 2013

PM in the library

I slipped up to Dubbo in central NSW this week, care of REX airline, and during some down time from work, I dropped into the local library and relaxed browsing through its project management collection.
The books I grabbed off the shelves were:
  • Project Management in Easy Steps by John Carroll;
  • Project Management: a Competency-Based Approach, by Stephen Hartley;
  • The Project Management Workbook by Nancy Cobb;
  • The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management by Eric Verzuh and
  • Manage Projects by Ken Langdon
The catalog also had Fundamentals of Project Management by James Lewis, but it was not on the shelves.

All not to bad, as far as books go, but, again as far as books go, rather reductionistic, making project management a rigid, lock-step series of phase-bound actions hanging on a formulaic approach captured in templates, and, of course, relying on a scheduling package.

But, while this might be a good underpinning framework; in practice, it has to be both looser, and more disciplined. Some of the disciplines were there, of course: preparation of a work breakdown structure, a light touch on configuration management, etc. and even the ritualistic mention of the iron triangle.

I don't think any of them talked about how the iron triangle has to flex through the project, and how trade-off parameters have to be found as circumstances evolve and risks come and go.

The risk management approach was almost uniformly naive and unhelpful, ending up with a matrix populated from the mathematically nonsensical product of risk likelihood and effect, but almost no discussion of cost-effectiveness in management of risks delineated in terms of project out-turn value.

What was fundamentally missing, and this is probably inevitable in book-land, is the daily cut and thrust of moving a project along: constant meetings, e-mails and phone calls to marshall stakeholders, get suppliers in line, achieve delivery by the team and keep on top of the torrent of information that flows in and needs to be captured in documents that flow out; all the while applying your understanding of the mission to project actions.

Then, there is the 'continuo' of project work: acting when you need to act, to efficiently effect the project: acting neither too late nor too early, tracking lead times for your actions and for production to be achieved, and dealing with issues and planned action to keep the tempo right; all the while preparing monthly reports to the executive in charge and defending those reports in a meeting.

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