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Is it art or science?

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As project and programme managers, we are expected to work to recognised processes and we are measured against them. Perfect adherence to process, however, does not guarantee a perfect outcome; it only provides a perfect audit trail.

Much science has been applied into the creation of processes such as PRINCE 2, Risk and EVM. They are inanimate and are of no value unless intelligent use is made of them.

So, what can cause a project with perfect process adherence to fail? The answer is simple; it is the human component.

Equally, what can make a project with poor process adherence succeed? The answer is just as simple; it is the human component.

Why do we, as a group of professionals, therefore, spend so much time and effort immersing ourselves in processes, defining and refining them, and, promote ourselves by having qualifications in them?

Surely, we should be spending more time in learning how to make better decisions and to get the best out of ourselves and the people we work with. This is where science gives way to art because people are intelligent and unpredictable beings whereas processes are stupid and predictable robots.


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  1. Anil Bansal
    Anil Bansal 12 June 2012, 10:15 AM

    This is great to see few individual heros who are trying to prove others (process driver) wrong by proving the fact that projects have been successful because of their human management skills. But for large setup and mission/revenue critical projects, we have to define framework, policies, processes, adherence so that there is consistency in how projects are delivered. It can cost company millions if technology is not properly used. We can not ignore basic project management competence even when we have highly capable people to deliver projects.

  2. Stuart Howie
    Stuart Howie 25 May 2012, 12:27 PM

    Ive decided to have a rant! The reason Ive picked this Blog to do it is because Sion is gently hinting at what I strongly believe which is that, as an Association, we are being diverted away from the important things in Project Management.I was at an A.G.M earlier this week and, uncharacteristically, opened my mouth. Asked the aims and objectives of a PM, I replied I give the punter what they want, when they want it, at a price they are willing to pay. I wont let anyone stop me, not even the punter.  A few eyes blinked; most stayed completely blank! Then I got an acknowledgement that I was right! Ive not actually read the BoK since 1998 when I was asked to translate it into French, but the consensus of those sufficiently experienced to be able to judge, was that I had given an accurate prcis of it!What we seem to have lost sight of is that the most important quality a successful Project Manager must develop is mind set I will make it happen!  All methodology, including the BoK, is no more than a tool to help us check our progress and to take corrective action. And why bother with it anyway? We have a brain and we use MS Project, PowerProject and Primavera.Now, assuming we have used our brains, or a methodology, and come up with a sensible programme, what we have produced is a map. If we check our map frequently and it shows we are off the intended route, we look for ways to get back on track. So how do we do that?The hierarchy of management is operational to project to senior management. The most important qualities required by senior management are intuition and leadership its Academia that says that, not me, and they also admit that they dont do those. On that basis I believe it is of vital importance that our Members are aware of, and try to begin to develop, these subtle senior management skills as they move from Operational to Project Management.  Or, I suppose I have to add, if they come straight into Project Management from education.Now as to qualities: the ones from construction, which made it the paradigm for the Learning Organisation, are Flexibility, Adaptability and Speed of Response. That takes us straight back to our map we are off the route. How do we get back on it and how quickly can we do it?How can we manage that? There are only two ways usually open to us the exercise of Power and Influence. Okay, fair enough! Often it is only Influence so we have to get even better at that!On those grounds, I argue that to allow Methodology to be seen as important to Project Management, as it seems to have become, is to surrender to bureaucracy and vested interest. It also helps towards project failure. Project management is not a new thing. Since time began, the one constant thing we have seen is Change. As a species we are good at handling it! Ask a woman who has organised a wedding! She has handled the complexity, uniqueness and uncertainty of that without the use of methodology!The Olympic Project a success? It was originally to cost 2 billion; that somehow crept up to 12 billion! That makes it a failed project under our criteria for success, not a paradigm to be exported globally! Is that any more than a bureaucratic and political white-wash that is being converted into vested interest?Yes,  people are the most important ingredient in any project, so lets get back to finding out how we can bring out the best in our younger, less experienced Members, so that they can bring out the best in their teams, so that All Projects Succeed!So there you go, Sion. Youve teased a ranting nutter into the open! Hope you catch lots more of us!

  3. Sion Jones
    Sion Jones 20 April 2012, 09:11 AM

    I worded this blog with a slight edginess to it so as to tease out views and opinions on a topic/issue which I believe is definitely out there and one that needs airing and smart debate.So far three comments from Ed, Pat and Richard. Each of them clearly engaged and expressing germane points - keep them coming please!Thanks

  4. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 20 April 2012, 08:36 AM

    Hello Sion,From a personal perspective in answer to your question I think PM is a young profession relative to a mature profession like Engineering or Medicine. The evidence being reflected in the emerging number of educational courses on a global basis during recent years. The trend I suggest is upward to attain increased knowledge about PM reflected in the rise of members of PM professional associations. As a reflection of the balance between experience and knowledge I suggest it's heavily skewed toward experience relative to knowledge and attaining levels of PM competence can be measured.A popular and in my opinion very hepful document to aid PM's are PM Competence Frameworks with: technical competence frameworks, behavioural competence domains and contextual competence domains. It would be expected I suggest that in the early part of the career of a PM that there is heavy emphasis on the technical competence domain and later I suggest that individuals shall develop their skiills and experience in the behavioural domains:- communications- teamwork- leadership- conflict management- negotiation- human resource management- behavioural characteristics - learning and development - professionalism and ethics. Now reverting to your question and reflecting upon the above;PM Technical Competence, I suggest you could consider science and PM managementPM Behavioural Competence, I suggest you could consider leadership and managementPM Contextual Competence, I suggest you could consider PM management.From my perspective I consider PM as a profession for the management of projects and programmes rather than is it a science.Similarly, I consider PM as a profession for the management of projects, programmes and portfolios for mega developments rather than as an art.Now using the below quote to bring out your good point in respect of decision making.At its most fundamental, project management is about people getting things done, Dr Martin Barnes, APM President.What is a project?Project management is the way of managing change. Everything from the Olympics to organising a wedding can be considered a project. It describes the activities that meet specific objectives and can be used to introduce or improve new or existing products and services.The APM definition of a project identifies two of the key features:UniquenessProjects are separate to business-as-usual activities, requiring people to come together temporarily to focus on specific project objectives. As a result, effective teamwork is central to successful projects.TransienceA project has a specific start and end point and is set up to meet specific objectives, to create a specified result, product or service.Scope - time, cost and qualityProjects need to be controlled to meet their objectives and deliver benefits. Objectives are defined in terms of expectations of time, cost and quality.Time, cost and quality are called objectives or constraints. For example:The project must be completed by January 2013 (time).The project must not spend more than 500,000 (cost).The project should create a searchable and informative website (quality).All the work that has to be done to achieve the time, cost and quality objectives defines the project scope. The scope can change over time, and it is the project managers responsibility to ensure the project will still deliver its defined benefits.A project manager must maintain focus on the relative priorities of time, cost and quality.What is project management?Project management focuses on controlling the introduction of the desired change. This involves:Understanding the needs of stakeholders.Planning what needs to be done, when, by whom, and to what standards.Building and motivating the team.Coordinating the work of different people.Monitoring work being done.Managing any changes to the plan.Delivering successful results.I hope this is of help.Kind regards RichardKnowledge Economic City, MadinahSaudi Arabia   

  5. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 20 April 2012, 07:35 AM

    Great art has always been supported by science.  Pigmentation, stickability and durability of paint all require scientific formulation before Da Vinci or Van Gogh could paint something that survives to modern times. Metallurgy is central to casting bronze statues and structural engineering underpins most monument and stone sculptures. Where project management came unstuck was the emergence of the belief that the data generated by PM processes solved problems rather than realising the processes used wisely can provide information for people to solve problems. This was the focus of my paper Project Controls in the C21 What works / Whats fiction see:

  6. Ed Burney-Cumming
    Ed Burney-Cumming 18 April 2012, 11:48 AM

    Sion, I agree that people are at the core of successful project management. We do however need the science in order that we have strong foundations to work from. If you look at music as an example there is a universally recognised way to record and write music a common language and many common science based elements around sound and production of it, however the music that is made has huge variety and its success or failure is about peoples co-ordinating the right elements to come up with a sound that works. This has a huge range however by recording it within the framework of music enables others to also successfully reproduce what has been created. The other anology I often use in relation to this discussion is around cooking. A recipe allows you to re-create a dish which is where many project processes currently sit, however it is only a chef who can take than knowledge and apply it to make dishes appropriate to the situation required based on the ingredients which he or she has. The fact we are having this discussion about the role of art and science to me demonstrates how Project management is maturing and that there is finally recognition of the role that the person plays. I am sure this will be a discussion that runs for a while and it will be interesting to see what others think.