Project management is not something new. Projects have been in existence and have been managed for as long as people have sought to achieve things. During the yester years they were not identified as projects. instead they were looked upon as a collection of activities that needed to be completed; activities that had time, resource and financial constraints. Work was completed in most instances successfully but no distinctive management process was used, and still less no decision was made to determine the processes that needed to be used.
One can trace artifacts that relate to projects nearly 5000 years ago. Perhaps the oldest is the one that speaks about the construction of The Great Pyramid of Giza near Cairo, Egypt. Since then, project management has been practiced in a wide variety of industries, occupations and situations. These encompass projects to build buildings, power plants and industrial complexes, transport and communications systems; projects in the ship-building, aerospace, defense and the entertainment industry. Projects have helped conduct research, develop new products, launch new businesses, close down operations and even conduct political campaigns. In other words thousands and thousands of endeavors stretching over several millenniums have been completed successfully to meet the ever increasing demands of society.
Though time management was lackadaisical, control of scope and cost elements occurred even prior to the 18th century. Contemporary project management was born only in the last thirty to forty years. It became recognized as a science which could be defined, learnt and widely applied. During this time period, theories and concepts used in project management as we know them today were developed. The development of the Critical Path Method around the middle of the 20th Century brought to light the importance of balancing the triangle of time, cost and scope. 1972 saw the development of network analysis and, for some years afterwards, effort was focused on bolting on more and more functionality and doing it better. Planning tools emerged to help address dynamic planning requirements and risk tools were invented to help determine project success or failure probability. A plethora of project management related books, articles and research papers were written and organizations like PMI® and IPMA were born. These helped to describe and promote project management standards and practices, policies and code of conduct. Project management education programs were started in several colleges and universities along with innumerable training programs. At the same time the need to manage a group of projects grew, leading to the development of program and portfolio management as off-shoots of project management. Thus the science developed rather quickly over the past few decades occupying some of the finest minds in academia and industry. Despite this phenomenal growth, things are not standing still. Project management continues not only to change swiftly but is also developing fast and is expected to continue to do so. The focus until recently has been on hard techniques like common standards, mathematical planning algorithms, risk assessments and the corresponding software. While these are extremely important for good project management, we have reached a stage where we have countless software tools that produce these results with a high degree of precision. It is time to turn to developing best practices that can be applied across the board and to 'soft' techniques.
A few decades ago clients were not expected to change their minds about what they wanted and so the waterfall method of software development was pursued. Project organizations altered very little and project stages moved in a sequential manner. The traditional compartmentalization of phases forced stakeholders to wait until the end to see the results. So changes in scope had a dramatic impact on deliverables and tended to drag out timelines. As project management tools matured, it was assumed projects could be carried out in accordance with the original plan if there was good planning. In reality, a project plan is nothing but a series of forecasts based at a particular point of time. So things often go wrong; some that do not matter, others that have a major impact. The good news is the situation has changed over the years. Now the emphasis is on iterations with very short turn around time, as little as 2-3 days in some instances. Milestones focus on achieving incremental progress and on risk mitigation. Freezes in requirements and design are becoming less frequent as shorter cycles promote agility in planning and improve predictability and quality. Greater project success is ensured as customers give instant feedback. Project teams are motivated as they can see the value of their work quicker. Thus project managers are able to accommodate a greater degree of modifications as long as the project is not in jeopardy. There is a slow acceptance of the unpredictable nature of projects by all stakeholders. Every project will have its fair share of unexpected problems and so risks and issues will have to be managed effectively. Instability is for real and here to stay; change is part of a project life cycle.
In spite of where project management stands today too many projects do not meet their goals and do not get delivered on time and within budget. Why? We have tools that help us plan in great detail and take corrective action along the way but we are still learning when it comes to managing the people on projects. Team cohesiveness is often lacking and team members continue to function as discrete entities. Holistic thinking and leadership skills in project managers are deficient. Unfortunately these traits cannot be developed by attending classroom training or passing an examination. These abilities develop with practice and experience. But in this era of instant delivery, only a half-hearted effort has been put forth to fully harness this potential fully, which results in a waste of resources through failed projects. Management has to understand that it is people who deliver successful projects. Tools can take us only so far. Project managers and teams have to be given time to mature. Time and money spent in their improvement is not a waste. So what does the future hold? A two pronged development plan that includes the growth of best practices with a broad range of application coupled with the nurturing of the human element in the coming years.
© 2011 allPM.com