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The project management balancing act

Colin Ellis | Jan. 19, 2016
Project management is a delicate balancing act, and needs more than leadership to see it through.

The same is happening with Agile. I read a book recently that said that if you apply Agile principles to every project, you'll be successful every time. Which is just plain wrong and has no evidence to support it whatsoever.

To be fair to those that sell these methods, they go to great lengths to tell you that they don't work in isolation. After all, a fool with a tool is still a fool. Yet it goes unheeded time and again. In my many project leadership roles, I would frequently come across those project managers more interested in the structure of the templates rather than the personalities of the people.

The application of the methods, processes and techniques require the guiding hand of a good leader. One who understands how it should (and shouldn't) be applied to a project. One who understands the terminology to be used within the organisation’s culture. One who understands which technique or process to apply to which situation. One who understands when not to talk about it. And one who understands the need for brevity and simplicity.

Too much culture

As strange as it may seem to many (especially those working in environments that drain their creativity), too much culture can also be a bad thing. And in some instances, nothing brings a team together like a bad project manager.

The culture is formed through a shared disaffection or lack of respect for the very person who should be building the team. In these cases, the team starts working around the project manager rather than give them or their line manager feedback that they are not performing the role effectively.

In rare cases where a team has worked together before, there can also be too much familiarity, and that's a tough one for a project manager to handle. That camaraderie is a great foundation for project culture but what worked before doesn't always work again. It's wrong to assume that the team can re-use the same approaches regardless of the project and the person leading it.

Dom Price, Head of R&D Program Management at Australian software company Atlassian, said this speech, that 'if you remove the 'ure' from culture you have a cult'. In these instances, the team’s devotion will be towards the thing being built, which isn't always a good thing for deadlines or budgets.

Get the balance right

Many organisations, individuals and consultancies still think too simply about how to develop great project management, which is why practitioners like me find it hard to convince them that achieving it is more than just a week-long training course.


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