The Self Destruct Switch of Project Management

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. In essence, a project operates outside of normal operations because normal operations cannot produce what the project will produce.

When projects and operations meet in the real world, a paradox develops.

One of the tenants of a project is that it produces something unique. What are Best Practices? These are techniques that have been identified as repeatedly producing positive results. So the implementation of Best Practices in a company for all projects is to do the same thing over and over to produce completely unique things.


But wait – then what is a Project Management Office (PMO)? It is a group within an organization that is responsible for executing projects. If it is part of the organization, with the associated hierarchical reporting lines and spans of control, is it not just another operational department?

Um? Er ….

Many thought the development of project management would lead to the projectization of organizations. Instead, what has happened is the bureaucratization of project management in many organizations. Projects are becoming part of normal operations and are losing the flexibility and nimbleness that projects should provide that normal operations cannot. It is not a surprise as organizations exercise control and measure performance through mechanisms best suited to day-to-day operations. Most importantly, rewards are given based on these measurements. Of course project management practitioners will conform because we all have to eat.

This is not to say Best Practices or PMOs should be abandoned. Like most human activity there is a spectrum. There are telltales if project practices have slid too far down the bureaucratization side of the spectrum:

  • Is the effort to manage a project exceeding the actual work to produce something?
  • Is their only one way to do a project?
  • Canceling a project is considered a failure (always a hot topic).
  • Are there dogmatic debates on how a project should be executed rather than on why it should be done and what is produced?
  • Are approvals to start projects measured in months?
Forsooth! That last line was over the top.

Gain back the advantages of project management. So cry havoc and let slip the project managers!


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