Almost every seasoned professional has a story to tell about a project during their career. Some were heroic successes, many were epic battles and others were tragedies from the start. From these stories, many myths have emerged. Here we examine five of the biggest misconceptions about project management and disprove the myths:
1. Being a ‘project manager’ is as easy as adding it to your LinkedIn profile.
The next time you receive a LinkedIn update that says, “Your contact has added a skill: Project Management,” remember that all it took for your contact to proclaim themselves a ‘skilled project manager’ was a few clicks on their profile page. More often than not, this self-designation is based on the misconception that project management is a simple combination of time management, task delivery and leadership. Hold on; it’s not that easy. A real project manager is much more than this.
A project manager is a professional with experience in using a generally accepted body of knowledge, principles and processes to drive important initiatives. They are distinctive by their unique mix of technical knowledge, interpersonal skills, agility, proactive behavior, professional skepticism and judgment. Only a subset of those who claim project management skills truly demonstrate the full suite of capabilities.
2. Project management and software development life cycle delivery are the same.
Information technology is an important part of most areas of business and, consequently, a critical part of many projects. But successful execution of a project is not as simple as navigating a software development life cycle (SDLC). PwC’s third global survey on the current state of project management, published in 2012, found many consistent themes linked to projects’ underperformance. None of the top 10 factors contributing to poor project performance were part of a typical SDLC.
Project management that focuses only on IT and ignores other disciplines — such as stakeholder management, organizational change management or benefits management — is at risk of adding to project failure statistics. Great project managers know that these “soft skills” can be the foundation for project success.
3. Project management is unnecessary overhead.
Budget-conscious leaders often challenge the need for project management: “Isn’t it just unnecessary overhead?” The same people also ask, “Why do we need to spend so much time planning? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just get on with it?”
Sadly, the value of good project managers is most obvious in their absence. The Project Management Institute’s 2012 Pulse of the Profession study found that organizations that reported high project management maturity levels outperform low-maturity organizations by 28 percentage points for on-time project delivery, 24 percentage points for on-budget delivery, and 20 percentage points for meeting the original goals and business intent of projects.
4. Project managers are just experts in producing project documents.
Project plans, resource schedules, monthly status reports, weekly meeting minutes… it’s easy for a project manager to find themselves perpetually requesting status updates and populating templates.
But that should not be the extent of a project manager’s role. In fact, the skill of a great project manager is most often demonstrated without a keyboard or tablet. A project manager must have an active and influential role in meetings, negotiations, workshops, hallway conversations and independent thought. At times a facilitator, mentor, driver, devil’s advocate and counselor — a great project manager is much more than a documenter.
5. Uncertainty is a flaw.
Projects, almost by definition, are uncertain things. Their tasks typically fall outside of an organization’s core operations, are frequently being tackled without a precedent to exactly repeat, and involve an end solution that can be unknown at the project’s inception. And yet timelines and budgets are typically expressed as fixed, exact quantities. It’s no wonder that projects rarely meet these estimates.
Uncertainty is not a symptom of flawed planning. The opposite is true. Identifying a broad set of relevant risks, documenting all assumptions, and adding sizeable contingencies for early estimates creates more realistic expectations for a project. Even if longer timelines or larger cost estimates might be seen initially as bad news, the good news is that the business has the opportunity to bring likely outcomes, costs and timelines back within their tolerances.
Acknowledging uncertainty improves accuracy, transparency and trust. That much, at least, is certain.
Project management is challenging enough without the myths. Great projects cut through false assumptions and confusion, allowing their teams to make smart decisions based on reality.
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Dave Tilk is the Cleveland-based lead partner for PwC’s Project Assurance practice where he is the National Project Risk and Project Governance practice leader. As part of Dave’s responsibility, he leads the maintenance of the Firm’s System Development and Implementation Assurance tool kit (methods, tools, training), maintaining close alignment with industry standards such as ISO, IEEE, Cobit, CMMI, D and PMI.
Dave helps organizations successfully deliver large-scale business, operational and IT projects on-time, within budget, and to specification, with the achievement of business benefits and organizational acceptance. Dave’s expertise in the areas of project risk management and enterprise project management have resulted in improved project success rates and reduced overall costs for both business process and technology projects. Dave’s professional experience spans over 20 years in project portfolio management, project assurance, systems implementation management, information technology management, and external and internal audit with clients in the automotive, industrial products, chemicals and consumer products industries.
Dave possesses an MBA in Management Information Systems from Cleveland State University. He is a Certified Information Systems Auditor (“CISA”) and was certified a Project Management Professional (“PMP”). He is also a member of ISACA, the American Society for Quality (“ASQ”), and the Project Management Institute (“PMI”).
Dave resides in Cleveland, Ohio where is on the Board of Directors of the Western Reserve Historical Society.