Project Management in Practice

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5 different types of Project Managers

I am preparing to deliver part of a day long project management workshop at a conference. As I was thinking through the content I wanted to cover and reading some references, the BBC was covering the US Presidential election and relative chances of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Inevitably, the religious angle came up. Funnily enough, I was thinking about how dogmatic some of us in the project management field are about the way we work. Religion and project management has some ironic parallel. I can categorize project managers and religious followers in the same 5 high level baskets. A bit of creative generalization on my part, but hold this thought.


The Ideologue

The fervent believer. In religious context, holding extreme view … my way or the high way. Everyone else is wrong and the wrath shall fall upon them. In project management sense, these are the Project Managers that catch a specific methodology and way of working and stick to it come hell or high water. They are not one to be shy on telling everyone whey they are correct in their ways and everyone else is wrong. They are not particularly interested in hearing any conflicting ideas and have no appetite for discussions. They already know it, no-one else gets it. Just like fundamentalists, there is not much you can influence with this type of project manager. You can only pray that you get a team that fits to their style.

The Zealot

A slightly considerate version of the ideologue. A firm believer nonetheless, who is willing to acknowledge contrary views exist, but considers his views the most appropriate and sniggers at all others. In a religious context, I relate this group to the clergy. In a project management sense, these are the ones that adopt a particular methodology really strongly. While accepting other schools of thought exist, they give little credence to the usefulness of those and look down upon others that do not hold similar views. This is probably a redeemable quality. You may one day be able to get them to accept an alternate point of view. In my experience most project managers fall in this category.

The Practitioner

This is a group that is more concerned about the practicalities, rather than a particular belief. From a religious context, I equate this group to the general followers of a religion. They are not concerned about all methodologies going around. While they may specialize in a particular methodology, they are not shy in adjusting it to the situation and if necessary borrowing from other methodologies to make it work. This would be the ideal project manager in my view. However, project managers being of strong wills and of a mind to control most things, it is hard to get to this space.

The Secular

This is a group that is not particularly concerned about methodologies. They are happy to go along with any methodology and let others get on with whatever they choose. From a religious context, I equate this group to the believers of sort that kind of understand the basics, but is not particularly worried about the customs of the religion. They may go to the church or the mosque every so often, but not feel guilty if they have not. From a project management sense, these are people that are yet to develop an attachment to a particular methodology. Usually these people are new to the field and looking for the correct guidance. They are the group that can be converted to the practitioners easily.

The Non-believer

This is the group that feels little or no need for methodologies. From a religious context you can equate this group as atheists. From a project management perspective this is highly dangerous, and possibly do not see the value in investing in this discipline. The only thing you can guarantee with this approach is inconsistency. Making it up from the seat of your pants is not as exciting from a strategic view as it is sometimes from a technical view. Unfortunately, I have seen a few too many IT projects that fall into this category.

This was my attempt to parallel religion and project management. Have I been too generous or critical of any particular group here?

No offense to any religion is intended.

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The project management religion

I was talking to a fellow project manager today discussing how our projects are run. During the discussion it was apparent that I was speaking to someone that had very clear views on how projects should be run. So much so, that all things needed to run in a very prescribed manner.

I was intrigued at such a dogmatic nature of his management style. So I probed more about some of his reasons behind his approach. To start with, my intention was to understand if I was missing something by not following a methodology in such a strict manner. Suddenly the shutters went up and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was a discredit to my profession for having the temerity to ask questions of such nature.

The project manager I was following PRINCE2, something very close to my heart. I pointed out that one of the principles of the methodology is to tailor it to the project. That was indeed the last straw and the end of the discussion. This whole episode reminded me of people that preach religion. If you ask any questions, they look at you as if it is so obvious and you should be so grateful to receive the message. If you ask a legitimate question, they start getting defensive. If their particular argument has merit, they should be able to articulate that.

All the major religions in the world teach the same things – love for others, consideration for all, humanity, rights of people, taking care of the ill, poor and the less fortunate etc. Each have their own way of getting there. Similarly, project management practice has many methodologies. Mostly they provide similar guidance. Treat project management zealots in the same way you would treat the religious zealots. PRINCE2, PMI, agile … these are equally appropriate methodologies to meet your objectives.

Tailor the methodology to suit the project, don’t shoehorn the project to fit the methodology. That will be utter madness!

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