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Get your Project Dynamics in order

Posted by Ammar Mango on December 28, 2013

tempballs“Managing projects is about managing the competing demands.” is a statement to be expected in any project management course.  Unfortunately this statement is not completely accurate and can be greatly misleading.

Competing demands are defined as: Time, Cost, Scope, Quality, and Human resources.  They represent most of what we call the “Project Management Knowledge Areas” as defined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).  The PMBOK is the defacto standard for project management published by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Managing projects is no longer about Time, Scope, and Budget.  Neither is it about the competing demands or any of the PMBOK knowledge areas.  It is more about using these tools to create and preserve the right “Project Dynamics” to ensure a successful project.

“Project Dynamics” is a term that you will not find in theory books, and used here for the lack of any other term.  Project Dynamics is a group of forces affecting a project.  So, they vary from one project to the other.  While most projects share similar project dynamics, their effect, importance, and extent vary widely by project.  Project Dynamics in sync result in project success.

Project Dynamics are: Sought value, history, driving forces, circumstances, and emotions.  All of them are perceived through human eye.  So, human perception is the key for project success.  It is through perception that we judge success after all.  This perception is affected greatly by these dynamics, and more importantly their interactions.

Let us look at some of these dynamics and what they mean:

Sought Value is the answer to the question: “Why are we doing this project?” Remember that the true answer to this question will vary from one stakeholder to the other.  So we need to know and understand the answer from all the key stakedholers.  We need to also know that the first answer we get from the stakeholders is the wrong one.  For example: “We want to upgrade our financial system.” This is not a real value of the project.  The real value is the answer to the question “Why do we want to upgrade?”

Driving Forces is another of the project dynamics.  Driving Forces are the fuel that make the project move, so to speak.  This includes people who want this project to happen, it includes a strategic theme, any legal requirements, cash, resources, technology.  It includes anything that is pushing (like resources and cash) or pulling (like strategic goals) the project forward)

Circumstances include the company, culture, market situation, and the surrounding effects that can hinder or support the project along its way.  For example, I know a friend who created a great business solution about three years before the market demanded it.  His company went bankrupt.  Not because what he sold was not value, but because it was not there at the right time.  In this case it was there too early.

Another important Project Dynamic is Emotions.  Emotions are a big driving force for us humans, and since projects are about people, you can be assured that the emotions of the stakeholders involved in the project play a big part in meeting its objectives.  A team that lost its morale, or does not have faith will fail even the best ideas.  Also, if the project does not arise an emotion in stakeholders, it will be hard to push them to pay for it, or spend time on it, or support it.

There are other project dynamics but I tried to mention here some of the common ones.

Now, let us see how project dynamics, not competing demands (time, scope, budget, etc) affect project success:

So, to say Cost is a key determinant of project success would be a bit unrealistic.  In reality, it is the perception that the value received is well worth the cost paid, and that the perception that the cost paid was justified.  So, even if project cost goes over budget, stakeholders will deem the project successful if the value is well worth the cost paid, and if stakeholders believe that the overrun in cost was justified.  It is Project Dynamics that deemed the project successful.

Same thing applies to scope.  So what if you do not perform the scope defined in the original plan? The plan keeps getting modified anyways.  And we know that after starting the project, we might find that what we really need is totally different than what we originally scoped.  Again, Project Dynamics determine how the story of the project will go; is it a success or a failure.   In this case, if stakeholders see they are getting more of the value they seek from the new scope, and that the change in scope is justified, and the Driving Forces (another dynamic) behind the project (like capital, sponsorship, strategic direction, etc) allow such change, then the project can and probably will succeed.

Most practitioners with a a healthy dose of real project management have already figured this much out, that the project dynamics, and understanding how they interact, trumps the old and generic “time- cost- scope” triangle of competing demands, any day and any time, as determinants of project success.

So what is the role of Project Management processes in this complex project environment? The Project Management Processes are a tool to help us manage these project dynamics.  They are not a goal in themselves.  So, creating a project schedule is not a goal of the project.  It might be a requirement from the PMO, but only because experience shows that having a  schedule baseline improve our chances of finishing on time.  Not because we must have a schedule as an output of the project.  We need to have a schedule, to help us succeed in our project.

Consider the project management processes as tools in the warrior’s (Project Manager’s) armor.  Which tool to use, when and in what combination can only be effective after understanding the dynamics of the project, and accordingly manage.

Many companies are building their own Project Management Methodologies based on international standards.  These companies should understand the project dynamics around their projects and organization, and accordingly build their methodology around these dynamics, not around generic processes.  This is a true measure of organizational project management maturity, more than any generic processes or methodologies.

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