September 02, 2008, 12:01 PM — IT project management practices are stuck in the mud, and they're hindering IT departments' ability to deliver projects successfully. That's the conclusion of a recent Forrester report, "Stretching Your Project Management Muscles," which was published in July.
Mary Gerush, author of the report (and a former IT project manager herself), notes that the project management discipline has not kept up with the pace of change in business or in IT.
Gerush writes that while IT departments have adopted service oriented architecture (SOA) and Agile software development practices to become more responsive to business needs, the project management discipline has remained largely focused on methodology. And traditional project management methodologies are proving to be too rigid, cumbersome and bureaucratic for today's mercurial and competitive business environment. In fact, Gerush notes, these methodologies can work against IT departments.
"Traditional project management practices, which are designed to improve the likelihood of project success, often have the opposite effect in a dynamic, rapidly changing environment," writes Gerush in her report.
The reason traditional project management methodologies can backfire on IT departments is because they require so much rigor. For example, says Gerush, project managers have to follow scores of pre-defined processes and steps, and they have to deliver reams of documentation at each phase of the project-all of which dramatically and often unnecessarily protracts projects.
"There's so much rigor and normally so much documentation and so many processes you have to go through to follow a methodology that it weighs you down and that you can't move as quickly as the business needs you to move or as quickly as technology enables you to move," she says.
The Remedy: Flexible Project Management
To keep pace with the business and with the rest of IT, project management offices need to make their project management practices more flexible. Gerush offers five measures project management teams can employ to improve their responsiveness.
1. Adopt a framework. A framework is a collection of various pieces of project management "functionality," says Gerush. When projects come in, the project management office can choose which pieces of the framework to use to provide just the right amount of oversight necessary for the project, as opposed to following every step of a methodology.
2. Figure out which deliverables you really need."For projects of short duration, an informal e-mail status report may be more appropriate than a formal document, and formally documented use cases and design specifications may be overkill for some projects," writes Gerush. That's why she advises project managers to customize project deliverables according to each project's needs.
3. Incent project managers differently. Project managers are usually rewarded for delivering projects on time and on budget, and of course, they rely on their methodologies to accomplish those goals. But if you want project managers to become more flexible, you have to encourage that behavior, writes Gerush. So reward them when they adapt easily and quickly to changing business needs, even if their maneuvers impact timelines and budgets ever so slightly.
4. Train project managers to be leaders rather than control freaks. Left-brained project managers can over-rely on their analytical skills to complete projects on time and on budget. "But flexible project management is not a left-brain, black-and-white endeavor," writes Gerush. "It requires the full brain and touches on all shades of gray, requiring understanding and exercise of adaptive leadership versus command and control."
5. Keep improving your project management practices. Your approach to project management should evolve alongside the business and IT. Solicit project stakeholders and business partners for their ideas on how you can make your project management practices more responsive.