Good vs. Great Project Management

It takes guts for someone to say “No” to something. But a great project manager isn’t afraid to kill a project that does not fit with the bigger picture.

I recently read an interesting article by David Cotgreave at the CIO website titled What does good look like in IT project management?  Project management can be found across industries, and in some places it has been around longer than others (think manufacturing). But in the IT and Tech worlds, project management is a bit of a different beast, and at times a relative newcomer compared to manufacturing and such. So the title of the article intrigued me.  In PM, success is often measured as deliverables produced (AKA projects successfully completed), and yet in something like IT the failure rate is often very high. Even with phenomenal project teams and an excellent project manager, if the deliverable you are trying to produce is unusable, un-marketable and essentially un-sellable, how is success measured?

In the article, David answered the title question with the response “Probably failure.” Provocative and sardonic to be sure, but he then went on to enumerate his reasoning, which seemed fairly solid. To be a good project manager is not enough, he argued. You should strive to be a great project manager. What’s the difference? According to Cotgreave, the three factors that distinguish a good PM from a great PM are:

  1. Do What You Say You Are Going to Do
  2. Always, Always Try to Do the Right Thing
  3. Communicate the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I must admit I found the article a bit pedantic, but in his discussion of his second point something intrigued me. He talks about how many projects fail despite consistently hitting their deliverables on time and on budget. David pointed out that a project manager will be considered good if he/she accomplishes their tasks on time, on budget and despite anything standing in their way. But that does not necessarily mean the overall project will be a success. A great PM, David maintains, keeps a holistic view. If a particular project doesn’t fit in with the big picture, a great PM isn’t afraid to kill it.

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Is this your project committee?

Working in the software industry, I have seen a lot of trends come and go. Lots of little projects get started and get finished. But when I stand back and look at all of them, it is often clear that the projects are direction-less; they lack an over-arching structure, and as such look like something that was designed by a committee who are easily distracted by shiny objects. For everyone else, what this leads to is a confused mess that is difficult to understand or explain to anyone without resorting to the “That’s just the way they did it” line which only serves as an admission of defeat to the person asking the question.

So great Project Management is not only required to keep projects moving along, it is also highly influential on the success of the entire business venture. It takes guts for someone to say “No” to something, especially if the person asking you is higher than you on the totem pole. When I was the Executive Director at the museum, there were many a projects I had to turn down because it would either strain our resources or because it didn’t fit within the larger goals the Board and myself had set for the museum. It’s not easy to tell a town VIP, a frequent museum donor with very deep pockets, that their pet project will not be considered. But that is what differentiates the good from the great…not losing sight of the forest because of the trees.



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