Next to programming , Project management is the role that gave me the most satisfaction in my career. So after Rethinking IOT and AI for future , and Future Of Technology Consulting – I spent some time organizing my thoughts on where project management is today and where it is headed .
This picture is an old one – where I was leading a consulting team as the PM at my client, and we were codeveloping a product with SAP. There was no way to distinguish who worked for which company in this team. It was a highly stressful time – but also the most fun and productive time of my life
In general I think project management as a profession has lost its stature and for all the wrong reasons . I also think that it will regain its lost glory, and then some, starting almost immediately !
Utterly stupid is how I would describe the move to commoditize project management over the last few years . The PC version would be penny smart, pound foolish !
Several factors played a part – and I think the wrong use of PMP certification is one big reason. I am personally not a big fan of certifications in general. I (and others) have successfully managed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects successfully without a PMP a . When I was a full time PM (also when i was a developer) , none of my clients ever asked me if I was certified . In my view PMP and tech certifications are a definite plus for the job – but should not be a mandatory requirement .
PMP gives a false sense of security and accelerates the path to “if everyone has a PMP , they must be roughly equal in skills – so let’s choose the cheapest one for the job” . When I convinced my old boss many years ago that I don’t need a PMP – my defense was that we commonly knew at least ten people in their early twenties – who have never even been a team lead – pass PMP exam with flying colors, and neither one of us were confident enough to let them run a team !
To be perfectly clear : PMP itself is not to blame . I have studied the “body of knowledge” closely and it’s pretty good . I encourage all PMs and aspiring PMs to study it . I am just strongly opposed to treating it as a way to falsely equate everyone who has it to be of same project management ability .
Becoming a PM is best done in an apprenticeship model . Project plan , documentation , chasing down tasks etc are good things, and you can learn it from books – but successful projects are mostly about making people successful , not tasks successfully completed ! There is a big difference and a full appreciation of that only comes from watching and learning from folks who do it consistently well . However smart you are – you can’t learn it by studying a book or taking a multiple choice exam .
Sadly – and probably due to the mandate to commoditize all parts of IT projects , task management – which was a means to an end in the past – seems to have become all of project management today !
Consistency and repeatability and scalability are all good for efficiency . So dumbing down of some project management aspects have that aspect going for it . But what is missed out today is effectiveness – efficiency without effectiveness leads to failed projects . And effectiveness is all about people !
People have only so much intellectual and emotional capacity and not all of it is spent on work . Example – the best programmer in my team in Bangalore spent 4 hours every day on commute . Even then he was twice as good as the next programmer . I let him work Mondays and Fridays from home and he became three times as good at what he did . I knew that issue because I went to Bangalore and lived there for a month to see the team and work with them and become one of them . I couldn’t get the same result by asking him to document more or sit in more status calls . I also remember a situation where we had an unreasonable client who made constant demands of our time to meet time lines that were not realistic . After two weekends back to back at work – my team had no energy left . My solution was to stop working weekends and instead we all went out bowling for a whole day on Monday and followed by a potluck on Tuesday . Even the client could not believe we hit the deadline with room to spare !
Motivating and getting the best out of your team is one aspect – equally important is making your client successful . By that I don’t mean the client company – I mean the human beings from the client team who work with you and sponsor the project . This means you need to get to know them , what makes them tick and what success means to them. No certification teaches you empathy !
To make clients successful – you need to know their business and their industry cold , or know others whom you can tap into for that knowledge . You also need the ability to make short term vs long term trade offs . I once had a finance director of a company as my client – and she was stressed out that there wasn’t enough time left to build 150 reports that were scoped for the project . I worked with her and told her similar projects in past only needed 50 or so reports for similar functionality and the two of us spent a day looking through the specs and quickly brought it down to 40 reports . My employer had a short term revenue loss because of reduction in scope – but this lady was publicly recognized by the CFO of the company for getting the project done on time and under budget . And she got a larger portfolio and I got a lot more business from her , which in turn helped my own career progression .
Project managers need the respect of their team to succeed. PMs who manage a project where they don’t know any aspect of what is being done generally find it harder to get the team’s respect. It can be done – but it is an uphill task and you need superior skills and patience. This is another reason why commoditizing PM skills is a terrible idea – people who grew into PM after being developers, consultants, team leads etc can empathize and add quality to their team’s work much better than someone who can only manage tasks.
Why do I think this will change quickly, and for the better ? Its because the complexity of projects and client expectations have both risen to a level where commodity skills and elementary automation cannot keep up. Fear of failure is very high today thanks to a lot of failed projects in past – and at the speed at which technology is progressing, there are very few “apples to apples” references to say “this will work”. Good solid project management is the need of the day to help realize the value of technology innovation happening around us. I think employers and clients are both ready – or very close to being ready – in treating PM again as a critical role in making projects successful .
Those of you who manage development teams as PMs might enjoy this post this post I wrote in 2010 🙂
PS : Might as well add a shameless plug – If you have experience as a PM in big data, analytics, IOT etc – I am hiring in North America. Ping me !