Project Management Success Requires Flexibility

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on December 10, 2009 in: Project Management, Tools & Resources

businessRecently, a friend of mine told me about an IT implementation he was part of. He was brought in as a contractor to assist in the internal promotion and communication of the new technology as it was being rolled out. In other words, he had to convince the internal users that it was worth learning and using.

He met with the project manager. He started working on the content. And then the implementation hit the proverbial fan. He says it was like watching a train wreck: It was a slow motion derailment of everything everyone had been working towards. It started with the deadlines. They were “drop dead” deadlines but upper management pushed them aside. And then there were budgetary issues in which the finance department clawed back a portion of the budget (although no one seemed to consider the cost that this would have). And then technological challenges that hadn’t been foreseen earlier reared their ugly heads. A year and a half later, the technology has yet to be installed. And all my friend could do was watch the debacle.

That led us to a discussion of the root causes of this all-too-common situation: A rigid project management system that is so rigid it didn’t allow for problems to crop up. In spite of the long history (that the entire world has!) with IT implementation challenges, this company blazed ahead hoping that things would be different.

A bit of relevant project management reading
Over at, there was a great article about this – Why Your Project Management Practices are Failing.  Yes, I know that you might not be thinking about IT implementation specifically, but the lessons in this article are true for any type of project management situation. In the article, Meredith Levinson talks about the need for project management flexibility and her ideas draw from concepts like Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), which is like the Lego® of IT.

She says that projects need to have a framework – just like all projects should – but that these frameworks need to be far more flexible than many project managers have traditionally allowed them to be. (Think of a series of project management tools like Lego® building blocks that are put together as needed instead of forced on every project).

She also talks about the deliverables in a far more realistic way when she says “figure out what deliverables you really need”. I actually think that this would have been a key solution in my friend’s project management disaster described above.

You can read the rest of her article but I’d like to highlight just one more point: She says to train project managers to be leaders rather than control freaks. That is brilliant and is a truth that should extend outside of the IT world to any and every project management scenario in any business! Leadership creates far more successful projects than absolute control.

If you have a project that needs managing, check out Levinson’s article and put some of these ideas in place before you start. And if you run a business and face a lot of projects (and you probably do because small business is ALLLL about projects and project management) then look at making these actions part of your core project management efforts.

Good Luck!

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