I have been lucky enough to spend some time with Roger Martin. Roger is, according to Thinkers50, the world's leading management thinker. A former dean of the Rotman School of Management in Canada, someone who has worked closely with the leaders of Procter & Gamble and LEGO, and a best-selling author, Roger is impressive and worth listening to. He argues that one of the problems today is that careers and jobs are structured as if they are flat rather than spiky. In reality, they are filled with the peaks and troughs of projects.
"At least 80% and perhaps as high as 95% of jobs are an amalgam of projects. But instead of thinking, 'My life is projects,' the average person in an office building thinks that their life is some sort of regular job and that the projects get in the way of their regular job. And so projects are put off and mismanaged. In fact, in organizations the entire decision factory should be thought of as nothing but projects. Managers should organize their lives around projects. They should look more like professional service firms."
These thoughts are echoed throughout the corporate world. Projects are routinely marginalized. Regularly, when I start exploring why companies have so many projects and why they often fail in delivering them or achieving any tangible benefits, to the point that a senior executive told me once: "If you want to make sure that something is not done, make it a project."
Over the years, I have found that the word "project" is extensively used yet largely misunderstood in today's private and public sectors. This phenomenon generates two issues that have an impact on the success rate of project delivery.
The first issue is one of definition: Many activities that were traditionally performed in normal day-to-day time are now labeled projects. This exponentially increases the number of projects and project managers in an organization.
Not long ago, I did some work for a leading biotech company. It had 80 staff and 7 executives who had a list of more than 400 projects on top of their day-to-day activities. It was, of course, unmanageable and total chaos. And this disease affects almost every organization today, creating several kinds of collateral damage, one of them around prioritization, a topic that I address in my book.
The second issue is increased bureaucracy and cost: If you apply all recommended project management techniques to all of your projects, you will be increasing complexity, growing costs and creating extra governance committees for some undertakings that don't need it. Project management is not "for free". On average, you should add 7% to 11% extra cost to an initiative to cover the dedicated management, monitoring, reporting and extra governance.
1. From personal communication.