The Many Faces of PM

When our professor asked if we had been project managers, my immediate reaction was “no”. Yet upon further thought, I realized that I have informally managed projects numerous times, typically from a volunteer position though. I have even directed some large fundraisers for non-profits before. I have seen projects soar to success and I have seen projects plummet in failure. Have I consciously participated in the hard science of strategized project management? No.

As an individual, I am hyper-organized by nature, so I understand the benefits of project management. There are so many details, people, and resources that must be constantly monitored in order to successfully implement a project. This to me, is the science of project management, the method you choose as a project manager. Kay Wais, a PMI certified professional with twenty-four years of project management experience, has devoted her time to preparing students for the PMP exams. She describes in brief the many methodologies of project management (who knew there were so many options!).

  • Waterfall: emphasizes the planning stages before implementation; very common in software development
  • Agile: constant communication and more flexible requirements in the planning stages allow for speedier project delivery
  • Six Sigma: more of an operations management methodology, but applicable in some PM instances; follows these six stages: define, measure, analyze, improve, control, synergize; can be helpful to identify defects and keep a project in line with certain standards

Other methods include SCRUM, RAD, NPI, PER, Kanban, and more. What do you think is the ideal method in project management? I believe that the ideal is project specific. However, there are some disadvantages with each method as well that are important to recognize before starting a new project.

For example, the waterfall method is very detailed in planning specific requirements, but this takes time. If the industry is one that prizes the best and the latest innovations, this is probably not the method to choose. On the other hand, let us consider the agile method. The flexibility in specifications and communication allows for a project to morph into a different shape mid-process but this leaves you with a less decisive end goal. As a result, projects completed with the agile method are often completed in installments or smaller pieces of the unclear end goal. If you are working on a large project, the waterfall method might serve better to establish solid foundational specifications and goals <em>before</em> you continue on to the “design” phase.

Now on to the art aspect of project management. In my informal experience, I have discovered that what makes project management an art is not just a matter of managing different personalities. It is also the art of managing different expectations, of managing the disappointment of setbacks, of managing the coordinated effort of people from diverse backgrounds and talents. These are the invisible elements of project management which cannot be taught. How do you think someone should approach learning more of the art of project management?

5 thoughts on “The Many Faces of PM

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights! Regarding the “science of project management” it is also important to consider the project management processes your firm requires (if any). I have seen projects run in two opposite ends of the spectrum. The first company I worked for had a very rigid project management process that adhered very closely to the PMBOK. Every step of the project was defined with a customized corporate process, deliverables and key metrics. In order to pass stage gates upper management demanded all relevant processes/documents to be completed. While this was convenient and methodical, it took much of “the art” away from the project manager (project management through reporting). At my current employer we have similar processes defined, however these are seldom implemented. What results is project management by meetings, actions lists/milestones tracking, and over-reliance on “the art”. I feel our projects could be run more successfully if we leveraged the processes/tools available. My takeaway is the “art” and “science” are equally important and interconnected. Both can be learned about in a classroom/textbook setting, but the true skills are developed in practice.

    1. Thanks for sharing Emily. It’s a good topic for us to rethink and talk about. I also agree with Daniel.
      Here are some really rigid rules for project management. Such as never lose sight of the three factors: time, budget and qualities. While today, flexible project management requires art skills, a balance of both the left and right brain, hard and soft skills. Soft skills conclude being a leader when you in charge of a project, not a control freaks; using new technology to meet the changing needs; using international skills to communicate with your team, client, and business partners. Especially like the real world, plans always change. The project process is constantly being driven towards updates, meetings, and follow-ups. So, follow the traditional project management is a foundation, be agile is the crucial weapon to winning today’s dynamic business environment.

  2. In my current company, I have seen our product teams use the waterfall and agile methodologies for releasing new products on our websites. I agree with your comments about the process and length of time for the waterfall and agile methods, due to their nature of framework and the length processes. When our product teams used the waterfall method, releases to new products were slow and not as innovative to our customer needs. Due to the nature of our business, our product has to be able to respond to our customer needs. So, our company switched to the agile method, and our releases were quicker and more responsive to customer requirements. Ultimately, project managers have to assess their business needs to choose the right methodology.

  3. Thanks Emily for this post. I agree with you that there’s a mixture of science and art to project management. The science methods that you mentioned is indeed project-specific. Different methods are best suited for different circumstances. I think this is true for many other aspects in our lives, where we have many options to choose from but we choose the best one. As for the art of project management, I also agree with what you said. There are so many invisible elements that all managers need to take into account. I think the most important one is having emotional intelligence (EI). Project managers need to learn how to deal with people, read situations, and bounce back from setbacks. Overall, great insight, Emily.

  4. This was so interesting to read! We are in a HRIS (Human Resource Information System) revamp project, and since it’s about new software implementation our project manager is definitely using the waterfall approach. We are converting all of our paper employee files (gasp!) to electronic. We’re very old in our ways when it comes to employee files, so it’s hard to get things moving. There is a lot of things to plan out, gather, and organize before we actually get started in implementation. Our PM has been great at keeping the morale up but our scope keeps changing around and we’ve got a lot of differentiating opinions. I did not realize there were so many methods to project management, this was very informative!

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