Project Management is Truly Part Art and Part Science

A fundamental premise of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is that the “application of knowledge, processes, skills, tools, and techniques can have a significant impact on project success.” While this statement is true, it is important to acknowledge that many projects still fail to meet their planned objectives. The Project Management Institute (PMI) reported that “only 74% of organizations understand and appreciate the value of project management.” Furthermore, fewer projects were completed within budget during 2016, with only 62% of projects successfully meeting the original goals and business intent of the project, and 16% deemed complete failures.” So what contributed to all these missed opportunities? The primary causes appear to all be human-related:

 Science of Project Management

Modern project management practices rely on proven science-based processes and procedures to plan, estimate, measure, and control the work of human resources. However, no methodology can predict, or compensate for the influence that humans at all levels of an organization can have on the outcome of a project. As evidenced by the high number of project failures due to human-related factors, project managers need to do a better job of mitigating human-related risk. It’s obviously important to identify and understand project risks, and establish strategies to remove, reduce, or minimize harm to the project. But, is risk management where the process is breaking down?

Predicting Other People’s Behavior

To be fair project managers are in the unenviable position of planning and managing projects based on predictions about other people’s behavior. Obviously people do not always act how we expect, so how do we keep our projects on track, especially since we cannot rely on other people’s predictability? This is where the application of science-based project management practices and the artful management of human resources intersect.

Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine. Chris Hatfield

Art of Project Management

The art of project management requires project managers to lead by example, empower, and motivate people; and make good decisions that value the contribution of employees. The PMBOK Guide acknowledges that “these soft skills are valuable assets when developing the project team. For example, the project management team can use emotional intelligence to reduce tension and increase cooperation by identifying, assessing, and controlling the sentiments of project team members, anticipating their actions, acknowledging their concerns, and following up on their issues.”

According to the Harvard Business Review, “business people are trained to dispense with human emotions in favor of rational analysis. They’re making decisions using logical devices such as decision trees and spreadsheets. But evolutionary psychology suggests that humans can never fully suppress their emotions. That is why, for instance, even the most sensible employees cannot seem to receive feedback in the constructive vein in which it is often given. Because of the primacy of emotions, people hear bad news first and loudest.”

Employee well-being involves having a sense of confidence, usefulness, and purpose. So project decisions that disregard employees, have a corresponding impact on organizational performance outcomes. While Human Resource policies, Health and Safety policies, Ethics policies, and Project Management policies address the basic requirements of our humanity; they certainly cannot address the dynamic of human psychology and relations. This is where the art of project management comes into play.

Successful project managers have one thing in common; they understand that the resources, which are most important to their project’s success, are human.

Organizations that simply view employees as a cost component, sacrifice the well-being of the company, employee, community, and stakeholders. Conversely, organizations that respect the contributions made by employees improve performance, contribute to revenue growth, and create value. But since labor is such a large operating expense, it’s become common for organizations to reduce headcount, just to artificially drive stock performance and increase profits. So, as long as project managers cannot rely on other people’s predictability, they will have to manage more human-related risk, plan for delays, and expect more project failures.



Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Larry Lucero

Larry Lucero

Contributing Author

Larry Lucero is a Technical Communications Specialist who works with engineers and other subject matter experts to explain highly specialized technical information to a diverse audience. In addition to his extensive writing and editing experience, Larry is a highly skilled Project Manager with over 20 years experience managing and delivering the toughest projects on time, with quality, and on budget.

After spending nearly several decades working in high-tech multi-million dollar corporations, Larry knows how to assimilate complex information quickly, and is very comfortable working with people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. He is also detail oriented, curious, persistent in solving problems, self-motivated, and able to understand complex material and explain any subject clearly.

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