The Essence of Successful Project Management


Successful projects are dependent upon an integration of two natural components: objective tools and subjective experience - they are inseparable. As Rita Mulcahy questioned in her book, PM Crash Course, "Do you know that project management is a science and an art?"

Understandably, most project managers focus significant attention on a project's objective components, which are extremely important, yet in most scenarios the subjective component is also critical to ensure the objective is completed accurately and on time.  

Every company's owner has unique strategic drivers of various importance, those inherent feelings you have to fulfill your dream of taking an idea, via a product or service, to the market. Growing a company is a challenging project and, as your company expands, smaller projects with a definite start-and-end timeline are necessary to support its evolving needs. You might be introducing a new product line, expanding your office or manufacturing space, implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP), or upgrading the accounting software.  These changes affect your personnel, customers, suppliers, and even your competition. The success of a project requires a steady focus of attention on many variables, a difficult thing to provide when your personnel are working at their maximum. 

Interestingly, the most critical variables to fail tend to be of a subjective nature, and frequently not apparent until after the fact. Typically, once a company is one or two years out of the start-up phase, owners/managers may have conflicting perspectives on the companies needs and how to allocate the available resources. These conflicting perspectives can easily create an underlying "tug-of-war" between the initial vision and the project's goal.  Often this will illuminate unforeseen/unexpected issues that show up in the midst of the project. Critical issues are apparent when the project has not hit the project milestones or the deliverables are not completed on time. 

The question is: "Why didn't we perceive these issues?" It generally comes back to a lack of subjective experience or perhaps an unwillingness to accept the importance of subjectivity.  We use objective knowledge via our fantastic Excel and project management software to quantify and schedule the daily tasks. Yet, most vitally, we supplement this with intuitive perceptions....those hunches we have that are richly informed by a variety of experiences and by being a part of many project teams in various industries.  

The Project Management Institute describes an effective project manager: "… as one who possesses a balance of ethical, interpersonal, and conceptual skills to help them analyze situations and respond appropriately..."   and summarizes these skills as:

Leadership & Team Building, Motivation, Communication & Influencing, Decision Making, Political & Cultural Awareness, Negotiation, Trust Building, Conflict Management, and Coaching.  

Each of these skills has a strong subjective component, which is acquired over time. 

I want to share highlights of my project management experience with you in the selected industries of: Manufacturing, Health Care, Technology, Retail, Finance,  and Coaching.