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The Growth in Project Management Trust

The Growth in Project Management Trust

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D.
Senior Executive Director of Project Management, IIL 

There were numerous reasons why I decided to write a book entitled Project Management 2.0. While some people focus heavily on the skills, tools and techniques used by project managers, there is also a significant change taking place at the senior levels of the organization and how they view project managers.

In the early years of project management, project managers were seen as expediters. Projects were planned and approved without any involvement by the project managers. After project approval, project managers were assigned and were then handed a series of specifications, accompanied by budget and a schedule, and told “go execute the plan.”

Executives created the position of project sponsors to provide governance of the projects and to make sure that the project managers were not making inappropriate decisions. There was also the fear that some project managers may try to make decisions that were reserved for the senior levels of management.

Project management methodologies were created based upon rigid policies and procedures so that there would be standardization in the way that all projects were managed. The rigidity of the methodologies was also to quell the fears that executives had about project managers that wanted to “do their own thing” to get the work accomplished.

Some companies did have a level of trust. But, regardless of what most people believed at that time, there was significant mistrust about project management at the executive levels of the companies.

With project management 1.0, there was often a disconnection between project management and the senior levels of management. Project managers were allowed to make some technical decisions but almost of the business decisions related to the project were made by the sponsors. This resulted in the project manager, the sponsor, and even the customer working toward different definitions of project success. This compounded the mistrust environment.

Mistrust between the project manager and the executive levels was often the result of the poor status reporting system. Most methodologies for project management report primarily metric information on just time and cost performance. Time and cost alone cannot clearly depict the true health of a project.

As a result, executives were often required to make seat-of-the-pants decisions rather than informed decisions. There was an inherent fear at the top of the company that things may not be going well but that the executives were being kept in the dark. Having partial information for decision-making and the disconnect between the project manager and senior management led to the continuation of mistrust.

The significant difference between PM 1.0 and PM 2.0 is the distributed collaboration of meaningful information. In the last five years, there has been a growth in the number of metrics used to determine the true health of a project. Combining this with the growth in the use and acceptance of dashboard reporting systems, Executives are now getting meaningful information about project status.

The growth in meaningful status information, which is a characteristic of PM 2.0, has now led to a more trusting relationship between the executive levels of management and the project managers.

This new relationship has resulted in:

  • Executives believing that they now have a much clearer picture as to the true health of the project
  • Executives now believe that they have enough information to make “informed” decisions rather than seat-of-the-pants decisions
  • The additional metric information has allowed executives to replace the rigid project management methodologies (previously based upon policies and procedures) with flexible methodologies based upon guidelines, forms, templates and checklists.
  • Executives are allowing the project managers some degree of freedom on how to apply the forms, guidelines, templates and checklists to satisfy a particular client’s needs. Methodologies are being replaced with frameworks because of the new levels of trust.

It is important to recognize that this trusting relationship will not exist everywhere. When a project has just one person acting as a sponsor, and that sponsor has some knowledge about project management and the role of the project manager, a trusting relationship can develop. But as the size and complexity of our projects grow, project governance will rest in the hands of a governance committee rather than in the hands of a single individual. As such, there may be members of the governance committee that have very little knowledge about project management and some mistrust may still exist. Finding solutions for partial governance mistrust is probably a topic for another blog. But with PM 2.0, we do expect a much great level of trust on projects.

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