I recently heard someone saying, “Project management is just science.” “Do I agree?” I asked myself.
Here is what I think: Project management is both science and art, but it is the art of project management that makes great project managers. It is science because there are essential processes and elements that make up project management (e.g. scope, time, cost, quality etc.) How to create a project plan, manage risks, track project, report status is all defined out there and a project manager has to be clear on those fundamentals. That’s the science part of it, and probably the easier one. It represents “explicit knowledge” about project management and a lot of people out there know these fundamentals.
But simply knowing these fundamentals does not make a good project manager and that’s where the “art” part comes into the play. After you have learned the concepts of project management, it is all about working with people – customers, internal stakeholders and team members. If a lot of your success as a project manager is dependent on how you deal with these people, understanding basic human needs and psychology is absolutely essential.
Second is adaptability and situational understanding. While most methodologies deal with a standard definition of a “project”, every project in reality has a unique context and need attached to it. Understanding this context and adapting the core project management concepts to this context is crucial for project success. If you have a clear under understanding of the “why?” part of the project, aligning standard methods to the purpose is all about common sense.
Third important aspect is putting these concepts in the right perspective. For example, creating a project schedule (as a deliverable) is not as important as the process of creating a schedule, thinking through each task, generating buy-in from team members and keeping them involved. Generating metrics is not as important as finding out what they really tell us about project. These are simple things, but very critical to success.
Fourth is to keep a constant eye on results. How much is achieved? What is pending and how much time do we have? There are formal ways to keep track of status but the simplest of them is to have a continuous feedback loop within the team by formal/informal meetings, stand-ups and retrospectives. But doing it regularly is again common sense.
Understanding the science of project management is the “least common denominator” for anyone to get into project management. It is the art of understanding the context, dealing with people/situations and putting things in right perspective that make great project managers.
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Join in the conversation: Do you agree that project management is just science? What goes into making great project managers? What have you observed around you?
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