I am not a good project manager. There, I said it! Even 5 years in IBM could not drill the organised thought processes required to manage a big project into me. I’m just not wired for that. That being said however, I don’t believe that all projects (I won’t go so far to say no projects) lend themselves to being managed with structured, deterministic so-called “Waterfall” methodologies that are so popular in most IT companies. Agile methodologies like SCRUM are much better at catering for the inherent complexities one encounters in a project environment.
In a recent blog entry, Matthew E. May writes about the “7 laws of project management and how to break them”, it really is worth a read. Among other things he writes:
“Projects—even small ones—are complex and challenging. Interests often compete and conflict. Individual performance varies widely. Continual shifts in direction and frequent stalls that slow momentum demand constant planning, adjustment, and improvisation—skills that only come with battle scars.”
He also relates some of the actions that led to the success of NASA‘s Mars Pathfinder mission. One I particularly like is:
“The team designed in speed and flexibility. There was no way to fully prepare for the challenges of operating a rover on the Mars surface, so they employed a “gremlin” to come in at night, while the rest of the team slept, and deliberately monkey with something. When the time came to land on Mars, the team was prepared for just about anything.”
Most project teams I know would not be comfortable with introducing this level of complexity or dissent to their projects on purpose. Modern business science teaches us to rather do “scenario planning” or something similar upfront to attempt to predict all the potential issues and then design the solutions accordingly. I want to venture an opinion that had this NASA team followed that approach, they would have most probably failed dismally. It’s time for us to think outside of our MBA boxes and realise that not all things can be planned in advance, that we operate in an inherently unpredictable, complex world and that we need to start doing things differently.