When I first started writing this column back in 1998, “project management ” didn’t have the hype and sexy caché that it has today. There weren’t any groupies chasing project managers (okay, project managers do attract a different kind of groupie than rock stars) or headhunters knocking on your door at 3:00 a.m. with pen in hand wanting you to sign a six-figure contract with an unnamed client if you’ll just pull up stakes in the next 24 hours and relocate.
Project management had been around as long as projects themselves, but the general public truly didn’t know or care about it and every other profession hadn’t bother to hijack it as a term for anything loosely related to any other aspect of management.
It’s truly sad, sad to say, to see the term so misused now, such as a trade publication headline, “How to project manage getting well-made beds” from the current issue of Hotel Housekeeper Today or a tabloid headline such as “Presidential candidate hires a project manager to run his campaign.”
When respected publications and media outlets stretch the definition of project management past its logical breaking point into absurdity, it’s time to yank the reins hard and bring it back from what it is not to what it is.
Project management is not rocketscience or even economic-science.While we might use some tools of current technology to get the job done, such as laptops, cellphones and digital cameras, project management is first and foremost an inexact art, not a science. Every project is a non-repeatable, unique proposition, of and for itself only. While certain phases and activities of most projects might be repeatable to a point on future projects, even those will have to be tweaked to fit the peculiar circumstances of the job.
You can break down every potential action and inaction on a job to measurable performance and execution metrics, but the truth is that no one would care if you still ended up losing money on the job. There are a million potential influencers of project performance, but when you boil it all down, there are just three things that you need to take care of: people, resources and decisions.
If you don’t have the horses to pull the loads, if you don’t have the people who are motivated and qualified to do their work on the project, then you’re not going have a successful project, simple as that.
And the definition of “people” also includes others on the job over which you don’t have direct control, such as other “stakeholders,” or your bosses or anyone else outside of the job who could have some impact on your job’s success or failure, such as union officials or politicians or the snack truck guy who shows up on time everyday and sells your crew morale boosters to help keep the job happy for the rest of the day.
While my personal project management style has always been based on mutual respect and action, in the end it really doesn’t matter if your personal style is that of a third-grade bully or a milquetoast or an artiste who project manages for a hobby.
If you have a good crew for your project but they don’t have the resources to do their jobs, then the project itself can be never be done, simple as that. It doesn’t matter if they need walkietalkies to save miles of walking each day, a backhoe next Saturday or an reliable weather forecast for the next three weeks, if they don’t have the tools to do the job, the job can’t be done.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. You make a hundred a day, most on autopilot without thinking about them. Most of the time that’s okay because at least you actually made a decision instead of not making one. In the military, it’s a law of war that the worst commander isn’t the one who makes the worst decisions but one who hesitates or doesn’t make any decisions at all. There’s no right or wrong way to make decisions. In the end, the only wrong decisions are ones that don’t produce results or produce lasting negative results. The possibility of that happening, however, can’t freeze you with fear into over-analyzing the situation and then not giving orders to have your decisions carried out in a timely fashion.
You make decisions to allocate the best people you have available to do the tasks needed to be done at the moment using the best tools you have at the time. That, good folks, is the essence of project management, nothing more, nothing less.
Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating, and plumbing. He may be reached by calling 919-291-0878, or via email at hkcraig@gmail. com. His Web site is http://hkentcraig.com