Project Management Development
PMWT: In your opinion, what are the two or three most important developments in the world of project management over the last twenty years?
Max: "The last 20 years" takes us back to 1987 or thereabouts and I take it that "most important" implies a higher frequency of success. If that is so, I find it difficult to pin point "important developments" since then because I am not convinced that there have been any unique developments in project management that would qualify. The 1980s was a decade of significant documentation of management that was uniquely devoted to the management of projects. That in itself could be described as an important development although the content that was document in various versions of "Bodies of Knowledge", or BoKs, was hardly unique. Most of the content was established decades, if not centuries, earlier.
Since then there have been various attempts to produce versions of the BoKs that are "new and improved". However, in my opinion these have simply led to more complex explanations of a management system that, while multi-faceted, should in fact be quite simple and straightforward. Much of this added complexity seems to stem from two causes: First, a failure to understand that managing the project, i.e. project management, and managing the technology of the project's deliverable, i.e. technology management, are two quite different things and must be documented and handled differently.
By the same token, it must also be recognized that project success, i.e. successful project management, and product success, i.e. the successful generation of benefits from the product, are also two quite different things. Still, both "managements" must proceed in lockstep for a project to be successful overall. Nevertheless, of the two successes, product success is by far the most important because the success of the project is transitory, while product success endures for the whole life of the product.
Second, there are the various attempts to appropriate and redraft standard people management practices into some sort of project management terminology-laden techniques. In this connection, the rapid spread of project management to the development of "new" technologies is indeed an important development. I am thinking here of the information technology area of project management application as one example in particular. This arena is generally fraught with a much higher level of complexity (e.g. more stakeholders to be satisfied) and is the result of more brain work (rather than brawn work). Also, the logical progression of the work is less evident. Finally, brainworkers respond better to a different style of management and hence the interest in "new" approaches to project people management.
One could point to project portfolio management as an important development in the world of project management. But this can be misleading since project management is a subset of project portfolio management and not the other way round. That is, project portfolio management takes place, or should take place, at a higher level in the management hierarchy. Indeed, project portfolio management is really a different discipline, responding to different criteria, and conducted for a different purpose. That purpose is to optimize the resulting benefits to the organization rather than the narrower project management objective of producing a deliverable on time and within budget.
The bottom line is that, in my view, it is difficult to identify any development in project management in the last twenty years that has shown a significant improvement in the achievement of success in projects.