Often project management is criticized for adding overhead to a project (and when executed poorly, it does). Words like documentation and methodology make leadership think of productivity loss and non-value added activity. Project management is rooted in some very good principles, but much like anything else, in its extreme forms it is dangerous.
The positive principles I am speaking of are planning out your activities, providing accurate budgets, reaching your goal when you said you would, steering around roadblocks before you hit them, etc. Because of this, project management is growing in popularity every day. So why are some people opposed to it? I am going to explain why leadership doesn’t like project management and show you how to NOT live up to the stereotype.
Leadership doesn’t like project management because time spent planning or working on documentation is time not spent working on deliverables. They have trouble connecting the idea that hours of planning and pages of documentation help you achieve the goal faster and cheaper. They simply want the project done faster, cheaper, and leaner. The irony is that project management can do all of this if executed properly.
Managers have a hard time seeing the value in project planning and documentation because project teams are becoming way too proficient at it. This is where you can help. Stop creating huge project documents. Save a tree, save a resource, save your project. Only create what is necessary to document the scope of the project and direct and track its workload. We all know that most of our project team members attended terrific universities where they happened to develop excellent creative writing skills. But put down the pen, Hemingway. Now is not the time to author your manifesto. Cut down on words, not content. I am not telling you to leave out valuable information – just concentrate it. Simple, to the point, direct. In other words, get to the “so what.”
I know, I know… many managers who are unhappy with project management are the same managers who expect a lot of wordy documentation. If your project leadership expects documentation that spans beyond what a normal household staple can penetrate, challenge it. Plan for that separately and tell them that additional two weeks in your plan are due to superfluous paperwork. Please phrase this idea in a more sensitive way, but don’t lose the message (I don’t want anyone to lose their job).
In the spirit of this blog, I will cut down my word count and be direct (otherwise Mike will probably publicly chastise me). Here’s some food for thought:
If you use Microsoft Word, 80% of your document should be bullets. Bullets force directness.
If your documentation takes longer than 20 minutes to read and understand, it won’t be read. Remember that is 20 minutes for a person that knows nothing about your project, not your core team. Anyone above a Director level has the attention span of a three year old – understand that they have a lot of projects like yours (That is not a slam on execs. Okay, maybe it’s a tiny slam on execs…).
If your separate project documents contain the same information, combine them. Why do you need four different documents that describe scope, risks, issues, and your timeline? Create one document.
If you’re copying and pasting a lot, ask yourself “Why does this message need to be constructed in 10 different forms?”. I am a big fan of copy & paste, but not here.
Create one document and point people to it. I know this one will piss off PMI, but documentation should be stopped when it is no longer beneficial in bringing clarity to the core project team and leadership.
Make your documents visible and available to all parties. You spent brain time constructing your ideas, so share them. This is simple, but I still had to say it. Many project teams create a scope document and file it in a drawer until the end of the project.
Manage with your project plan. Many project plans are created to give the Big Cheese a date and then they’re placed in File 13. This is planning, but not project management. Use the plan… you put a lot of time into it.
Update your actual project plan during meetings. I see a lot of people taking notes, translating them into an email and then updating their plan so they can give a status update to El Jefe. You are working too hard.
Don’t fall into the trap of becoming UCO (Useless Corporate Overhead) on your project. Streamline. Simplify. Show the Big Kahuna that their investment in your time and salary produces real results, not just real paperwork. Project management is a tool. Don’t let it be a 5-pound sledgehammer that weighs you down.