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Deceit in project management - are we deluding ourselves about what it is?

As evidenced by the taming of fire, invention of stone then metal tools, up through the Pyramids of Giza through to todays Burj Khalifa and plans to send men and women to Mars, project management has been an inherent part of mankinds evolution.

One could argue that the propensity to initiate, plan, execute, control and close projects is somehow hardwired into the human psyche that if we dont have projects to keep us occupied, we invent them.

Formalised project management, where project management has been recognised as a job title rather than a set of processes, has been around since around the end of World War Two. Prior to that, project management was considered to be an integral part of any profession or trade. So is there any evidence that in the past 50 or so years projects are being run any more successfully?

Wouldnt it seem reasonable that in 50 years time, and with literally hundreds of thousands of project management certifications globally, that if what these not-for-profit professional organisations were advocating was working we should be seeing some measurable improvement in the delivery of projects? Something is radically wrong, and if we look to the teachings of Drucker (1976) and more recently Mintzberg (2009) who are telling us that management is management is management, there is no difference between project management and any of the other applications or contexts of management.

Consider this: when you add together asset, portfolio, programme and project management, havent we come full circle back to general management, just as Drucker and Mintzberg told us?


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  1. Paul Giammalvo
    Paul Giammalvo 06 June 2014, 04:36 PM

    Hi Adrian,  exactly what "soft skills" would you propose or suggest which are in any way "unique" to project management that are also not equally applicable to functional or operational management? (Maybe the challlenges associated with Tuckman's "adjourning" phase is all I can think of)As for the "tools and techniques" I would also challenge you to compare any decent textbook on organizational or operations management against any credible texbook on project management and identify anything significant  on that end as well.For more "proof" look at the origin of the "core tenets" "philosophies" or "beliefs" underlying project management:WBS (along with many other project management fundamentals) was first documented by Henry Fayol, a French mining engineer. (I consider Fayol to be the Father of Modern Project Management)Scientific management comes to us from Frederick Taylor, who was an industrial engineer;Earned Value evolved on the factory floors of the 17th and 18th century factory floors and again was documented and validated by Tayor and the Gilbreath's all of whom were industrial engineers.To see a more complete list, go HERE and look at Table 5-2 on page 210.The only place where "project management as a delivery system" has CONSISTENTLY shown itself to be "successful" is for those who are CONTRACTORS. (Those individuals or organizations for whom a project is a PROFIT CENTER) For a contractor, if projects are not consistently successful (using our definition, not necessarily that of the client) we are quickly and unmerciifully driven out of business.  It is in the world of contracting where we find the "professional" (as opposed to accidental) project manager.  For contractors, "project management" is a legitimate and honorable career path objective- what we want to be when we grow up; a position that one retires from after 30 or 40 years "in the business". In this environment, "Business as Usual" is SYNONYMOUS with "Project Management".On the other hand, it is in "OWNER" organizations (those for whom a project is a cost or investment center) where we find the "accidental" project manager and where we find that management (appropriately so, IMPO) is focused not on the PROJECT (which is nothing more than the delivery system- a "means to an end") but on the PRODUCT (or service or change) that the project creates or produces. In this environment is where projects "fail" with alarming regularity. Why? Because in this world, the project can often run 100% over budget and even be late and it has little or no impact on the ultimate business case. Bottom line- I think if you step back and look at the realiities rather than listen/subscribe to the marketing hype of professional organizations like PMI, IPMA and APM, you will start to realize that outside of the world of IT and Telecommunications, project management is already a wel established set of processes which are embedded in all existing professions, the trades and into our day to day personal lives.BR,Dr. PDG, Boston, MA    

  2. Paul Giammalvo
    Paul Giammalvo 06 June 2014, 04:36 PM

    Hi Patrick,Yes, I am in near total agreement with you that most of the "problems" with project management are a failure of general management.  But doesn't that directly support the wisdon of Drucker and Mintzberg that "management is management is management"?  I mean if "management" is making unrealistic expectations and then a project manager is foolish (unethical?) enough to accept a project that he/she knows has no chance of being completed on time or within budget, then who is to blame?  "Senior Management" for being unrealistic or the project manager for taking on what he/she knows to be a "death march" project?The first step in this process is to recognize that you CANNOT separate "asset, portfolio, program and operations management" from "project management".  It simply does not work. And the ONLY professional organization which offers a fully integrated methodology is AACE with their poorly named "Total Cost Management Framework". is starting to understand this with their 5th Edition (the PMBOK Guide talks about portfolio and program but still misses the relevance and importance of integrating asset management) and PRINCE2 recognizes the relationship between program and project management but misses the importance of asset and portfolio.Bottom line- the ONLY way change is going to happen in the world of project management is if and when we fully integrate asset, portfolio, program, operations and project management into a single comprehensive "unified theory" AND when project managers are held legally and financially accountable for accepting death march projects and for the decisions they make when managing projects.   The recent actions by General Motors in firing 15 employees is a sign that MAYBE we have gotten to the point where people at ALL levels of an organization are and should be held legally and financially accountable for the decisions they make (or don't make).,Dr. PDG, Boston, MA

  3. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 30 May 2014, 04:28 PM

    Nice blog!To - fully - quote Alexander Pope: A little learning is a dangerous thing.Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,and drinking largely sobers us again.I say Yes as there is a little project management in so much that we do. From planning a holiday to sending a man to the moon (AND returning him safely to Earth).I also say no as in (at least) one major respect project management is NOT management is management. And that respect is the mindset.OK I am perhaps thinking about projects...and programmes...and portfolios...of Change. And I am not getting into the philosophical question of whether all projects change something to something else.Evidence for my contention? Two things:[a] "best practice" for at least 30 years has focussed on the mechanistic. Behavioural stuff has been seen as soft and greatly ignored. Hence project Yield is way too low. Organisations that have mature PM cultures - by design - that integrate Process, Tools and People amazingly tend to produce high project Yields. The so called soft stuff is in fact the hardest, which is one reason why so many do not try it much. QED.[b] And OK this is anecdotal, but SO MANY anedotes! Senior management tends to have Business As Usual experience, and therefore BAU mindsets. Change mindsets (i.e. that which underpins successful PMs) are different. Which is one major reason why so many Sponsors perform badly. You cannot create a Sponsor just by waving a wand declaring "now you are a project Sponsor, SHAZZAM!"Part of my intepretation of Drucker's HUGE oeuvre is that he did not see the separation of project management from BAU management. I.e. they should be integrated; they should be. Unfortunately, often they are not. In fact as I have recently blogged, projects, act like a virus in an organisational body. Either damaging it, or more often being rejected by it.Conclusions? hmmmmmmm, well maybe:i] project management should be core knowledge and skill for all managers, and developed throughout careers. So that senior managers and execs know about projects and what conditions they need to succeed. Oh and by the way, sending someone on a course alone does not cut itii] there is nothing wrong with management specialisation - nor is there anything wrong with management generalists.Horses for courses.iii] and probably most importantly, organisations need a management strategy, perhaps we might even call it a management culture strategy. I.e. a strategy for what management for the organisation needs to be like, and an integrated solution for meeting it (Process, Tools AND People). There is too much compartmentalism. Quality management over here, IIP over there, project management down there........and a bit of leadership thrown in for good measure.Its weird that companies with good products do not get them by accident. The Sky cycling has not become brilliant by accident. But with clear purpose, a structured approach for getting there....and lots of sustained effort. Why on earth should project success be any different!?

  4. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 30 May 2014, 11:07 AM

    "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice." Project management is a branch of management focused on solving a specific type of management challenge making something new that changes a bit of the world.  But most of the identified problems causing project failures are general management issues: If you dont plan you failIf you dont lead and motivate people you failIf you set unachievable deadlines and budgets you failIf you dont allow for risk you failIf you dont monitor and control progress you failIf you dont provide adequate resources you fail This is true of any management discipline project management cannot overcome these root causes of failure that have been defined for over 20 years when they are deliberately imposed by executives on most of the project that fail.   Its not a question of qualifications or training at the project level that is needed to reduce failure rates it is vastly improved knowledge and accountability at the executive levels of most organisations and this is a governance issue.