Project Management Ideas: What really works now?
A manager’s job is to organize work. That often means assigning people tasks; but it also means deciding when tasks should be done.
But most people don’t pay much attention to deadlines. They worry about getting work done, not about getting it finished. When things are urgent, they push the deadline back, and when it is far away, they ignore it. They don’t think about the deadlines, they just react to them.
The problem is, deadlines are deadlines. You can’t shift them later or they’ll still be there. And there’s no point working long hours if you know the deadline will be met. Deadlines are fundamental to organizing work. They decide who will work on what, and when. For example, if a project has a team, everyone involved needs to know the deadlines set by the rest of the team. If one person is way behind, it affects everyone. Deadlines also inform planning. If a deadline is going to be met, the plan has to change, so the team can finish on time. Deadlines are important, but they aren’t the most important thing. The most important part is deciding what work needs to be done.
If you want to know how to do something, ask an expert. If an expert can’t help you, ask an expert. If an expert can’t help you, ask an expert. That approach works about as well as you might expect. For many of the things I want to know, I can ask an expert. But for many I frankly can’t, and I don’t have a good alternative. And I don’t have a good alternative because a lot of people are trying to figure it out, and the best information is usually out of date by the time they publish it. So instead I spend a lot of time on my own. I waste time, I make mistakes, I waste a lot of time. But overall I get better information than if I trusted other people. So my strategy is to get better at asking questions. And the best way to get better at asking questions is by writing them down, making marginal notes, and trying them out in practice.
Resolve the paradox of project management
There is a paradox in project management: the best project managers are the ones you don’t hear about. After all, if you hear how a project is going, it is going badly. That’s why project managers usually work in the shadows, not the limelight. But project management is one of those fields where having good people is not enough. You need good techniques. The paradox is that good techniques don’t help at all unless the people using the techniques know what they’re doing. And the techniques don’t help unless people know how to use them.
The paradox is that nobody in the project management profession seems interested in helping. The techniques they teach are merely exercises in doing a project wrong. The techniques that are successful are the ones most practitioners ignore. They are the techniques you read about in the Harvard Business Review, the Project Management Institute’s manual for project managers, and books written by successful project managers.
The most successful techniques are the simplest: just do the things you would expect a good manager to do. And the simplest techniques are the ones most practitioners ignore. In fields like project management, simplicity has many advantages. Simplicity is at the root of the project management paradox. The best project managers are usually not the ones on the business pages. But good project managers do get noticed, because good projects make headlines. So people who succeed at project management get noticed, and their reputations help bring in more good projects. But those of us who are project managers, or who aspire to be, don’t get the publicity. We don’t make headlines. But we do get noticed. And our projects do get noticed. So as project managers, we get noticed, and our projects get noticed, and our reputations help bring in more good projects.
Manage social issue in your team?
The last time I monitored a project using project management system, its project plan looked like a moving target, it had no estimates, and it had no clear deliverables. It was not a good plan. Projects are complex, and people who manage them tend to want to simplify things, which leads to problems. People who run projects tend to think of project management as managing the project, not the project plan. But the project plan is a critically important piece of the project. If managers are going to manage projects at all, they are going to have to learn something about project planning, and that begins with understanding the problem. Project planning is the process of creating the project plan. There are two main kinds of problems: there are the technical problems, and there are the social ones. The technical problems are how to get the work done. This is usually relatively easy. You just need people, computers, and raw materials. The social problems are more difficult. And the social ones are what cause most of the trouble.
Social problems have to do with how to achieve consensus, how to make sure that everyone understands the project, how to make sure that everyone does what they agree to do, how to make sure that everyone has the same priorities, and so on. The job of project managers is to solve social problems. Project planning is very hard. It is much easier to see a problem than to solve it, and most people don’t have a good sense of what the problems really are.
Most projects fail for social reasons. They fail because the social problem was not solved properly, or because no one understood it, or because no one was willing to work on it. For a project to succeed, the people who are working on the project have to be willing to do the planning. And the project leaders have to be willing to do the planning.