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11 August 2009

Ban project management!

By Andrew Clifford

Make a great leap forward in the management of change by banning projects and project management.

Project management is an obvious way of managing change: it allows you to set objectives, define responsibilities, organise and control the work. If project management never existed, we would have to invent it.

What if project management did not exist, but we were not allowed to invent it? What if projects and project management were banned?

This is not a serious proposition, but it is very thought-provoking.

If projects were banned, everyone would be less enthusiastic for change. You would have to take good care of the systems and infrastructure that you already have, making sure that they were always in good condition, and continued to meet evolving business needs.

Sometimes you would need more than just incremental change. You would have to do this as additional work within existing teams. You would have to put a lot of effort into explaining and discussing the benefits of the change, and into persuading different groups to work in the same direction.

You would not be able to publish a project plan, so you would just have to keep talking to everyone. You would need to understand what each team does, and what new things they would need to do to support a new business direction. If they did not agree then you would just have to negotiate or find another way.

Even if other teams did support your change, fresh priorities would come along and throw them off course. You would need to keep talking to them, and continually remind them of the benefits of your changes. Sometimes you would have to postpone your changes because other more important work takes over.

Resourcing would be a real pain. You could not just assign skills from a resource pool. You would have to find the individuals who were going to do the work. You would have to explain to each one of them what the change was about, and exactly how you wanted them to contribute. You would need to get their individual commitment for when the work could be delivered, and encourage them to be as realistic about this as possible. You would have to work out with them how they could balance the competing priorities of their current work and the additional work.

If you needed to modify your changes, then it would be chaos. You would have to go around and talk to everyone again, and understand all the impacts, and gain new commitments for when things could be delivered. Moving a few bars on a Gantt chart would be so much easier!

I am not seriously suggesting that we should ban project management. However, we often forget that project management has to boil down to practical realities. We hide behind the formalities of plans, budgets, sign-off, resourcing and change control. But these are only as good as they can be made to work for real. Imagining a world in which project management is banned shows us more clearly the behaviours we need to manage projects successfully.

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