Project Management Myths
Many of us carry around in our heads a set of beliefs about projects that when we step back and examine them, it's immediately obvious they just aren't true.
—By Paula Martin, CEO, International Matrix Management Institute
Unfortunately, many organizations don't pause to examine these commonly held beliefs, and the result is that they undermine the organization's capability to carry out projects successfully.
Let's debunk 4 common myths:
1. Planning is an unproductive, bureaucratic waste of time
It's more efficient to just get on with it. This myth has infected most of the organizations we work with, and because of this belief, the only thing that is considered "real work" is implementing or building something. Planning is just that up front stuff we don't have time to bother with.
The truth is that we may be able to get by without planning if we're working alone, but in a group situation, planning is the essential element that ensures we're all heading in the right direction, everyone knows what they're accountable to do and how they're going to make it to the goal line together. Implementing without a plan is just plain foolishness.
2. Estimating is an exact science
In fact the earlier the estimate, the more accurate it is. Somehow managers' brains work like an insect strip. The first numbers they hear get stuck in the memory chips and the initial estimate becomes the only number they're willing to hear. As a result, when teams are asked for a "rough estimate", they cower in fear because they know that whatever number they give will be the one they'll have to live with until the project is over. As we all know, the more experience we have, the more historical data we have and the shorter period of time we have to forecast into the future, the more accurate our estimate.
Sponsors need to ask for estimates as ranges so that the level of uncertainty of the estimate is clear. In this way, the team can progressively refine the estimate (and narrow the range) as information becomes available that allows them to more accurately project into the future.
3. Sponsors don't have time to write charters
Sponsors are busy people to be sure, but if there isn't time to write a page and half overview of what it is you want a project team of 3 to 100's of people to spend their time doing for week or months, then the project just isn't worth doing at all.
You can use this principle for helping to prioritize the portfolio of projects. First rate every project on the yes/no criterion, "Is this project worth investing the time to write an appropriate charter?" If the answer is no, strike it off the list.
4. Murphy doesn't visit here, so we don't need to add contingency in our schedules or budgets
A common complaint we hear from project leaders and teams is that their managers wipe out any contingency they may include in the schedule or budget. This baffles me. Do sponsors think Murphy only visits other organizations? Why else would they set up their project teams for sure failure? There is one thing we know for sure - we can't predict the future accurately. Even when team do a good job of risk assessment and estimating, the schedule and budget must have a pool of contingency to use when things go wrong, and most assuredly they will.
Contingency should be included to protect the final deadline date and any critical interim deadlines (not every milestone and not each activity). The team then manages to the schedule and uses the contingency pool when it's needed. This is the best way to ensure projects will be done on time or occasionally even finish early!
There are lots of other project management myths floating around. Maybe you can identify some of the ones infecting your organization. Once you find one, expose it to the light of day. They just can't withstand the light of rational thought.
Paula Martin is a Master Level Certified Matrix Management Consultant™ (CMMC™—MOL), and the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Matrix Management Institute. She is the developer of the MM 2.0™ Operating System, and the author of the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, the Matrix Management Reinvented book series, and more than 10 other books on topics related to Matrix Management and Managing Projects in a Matrix.