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?