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8 April 2008

If project management never existed

By Andrew Clifford

If project management never existed, we would have to invent it. For the same reasons, we have to invent system quality management.

Imagine a world without project management. What would it be like? What difficulties would we face?

It would be impossible to make coherent changes. Different people would have a different idea of what was needed. However well-meaning, dedicated and capable the individuals were, their disjointed efforts would be wasted.

Without a project manager there would be nobody in charge, nobody to control the work, nobody to solve the problems. Nobody could define joined-up processes to deliver a coherent solution.

There would be no connection between the work and the broader business. To get buy-in and budget, random business managers would be subjected to random out-of-context questions like "Do you want a web application or a PC application?" or budget requests like "new servers". Business contact would be confusing and disjointed, and it would be impossible to drive out meaningful requirements and business case.

Thank goodness, then, for project management.

Project management lets us structure and organise the work. We can build up a body of information - plans, resources, estimates, actuals - and use this to guide decisions and as a basis for effective control.

Project management defines responsibilities. We know who is in charge. We can define processes, solve problems and control the work.

Project management lets us discuss the project meaningfully across the broader business. We can set objectives, define requirements and build a business case.

IT suffers from a problem as big as if project management never existed.

This problem is the long-term management of systems, and the long-term maintenance of their qualities, like system structure, resilience, documentation, technical viability, compliance, performance, usability, security, duplication, longevity, and so on. These qualities are the most important factor in the risks and cost of running, changing and replacing IT, which accounts for 80% of the typical IT budget. They have a massive impact on our ability to respond effectively to business change.

How do we manage these? Just like we would manage projects without project management.

We have no coherent approach to managing these qualities. It is left the the disjointed best efforts of individuals and unconnected teams, whose dedication is inevitably wasted without meaningful co-ordination.

Although there are pockets of narrow responsibility, overall there is no process. Overall, nobody is in charge, nobody controls the work, nobody solves the problems.

There is no business meaning. When we need to change things, we make random out-of-context budget requests to "improve documentation" or "upgrade servers", without connecting this to anything of meaning and value to the broader business.

We need system quality management like we need project management. We need coherent objectives. We need a body of information about systems and their qualities so we can make effective decisions and control the work. We need processes and responsibilities. We need to present system qualities in a way that is meaningful across the broader business, so that we understand business needs and can build the business case for the required work.

In most organisations, meaningful system quality management does not exist. We have to invent it.

Next: Stop being so demanding!

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