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How Much Project Management is Enough?

FEATURENOV23rdRecent resistance to implementing PM practices in an organization raises the questions, “How much pm is enough?”  “Do we need any of it at all?”

Does every project need a plan?  Yes!    

Does every project need to be controlled?  Again, yes. 

“How?” is another question. The nature of the plan, control reporting period, type of reports, etc. depend on a number of factors. 

Clearly, small projects performed by dedicated resources from the same organization unit who regularly work on projects together need a far less formal planning and control than larger projects being worked on by virtual teams from multiple organizations.

In addition, the prior success experience of the organization on projects should be considered to determine if past failures or successes are linked to project management.

When there is resistance to PM where it generally stems from fear of accountability and loss of autonomy and fear that there will be an administrative burden that will take time away from work on the project’s content. Scaling PM is a means for addressing this resistance.


Project management is all about accountability.  Fear of accountability is tough to address. Few will readily admit to being afraid of accountability. Fear of accountability is often based on the experience or belief that they will be held to schedules and budgets that are not within their power to control.

For example if my task is to complete on Thursday and I rely on an input that is provided by someone else, then I might have a late delivery I could not control effect my performance evaluation.

Of course well educated project managers might say that schedule performance metrics must be qualified by the reasons for shortfalls.

True. But, how many clients and managers have the skill, data and desire to take a look at causes when they have hard facts in front of them.  It is more often the case that they say “You were late and I don’t want any more excuses” as opposed to “I understand that you were late because your input was delivered to you late and the deadline we gave you was overly aggressive.”

So we need to educate and remind everyone that a rational approach is needed. But, we should not eliminate planning and control because people do not want to be held accountable for their commitments.

Administrative Burden – How much is enough?

As for administrative burden, it is undeniable.  Project planning and control take time and effort. The amounts of time and effort vary depending on the level of formality, the tools and techniques being used and the skill of the PM.

How much is enough? A project charter with a description of the project, clearly stated measurable objectives and identification of the stakeholders and their roles and responsibilities is a must.  It could be a page or two and even be in the form of an email.  What you call it and its media and format are secondary.

An agreement regarding how the stakeholders will communicate and control the project should be in place.  In an informal setting it can be tacit and unwritten.  However, if there are disagreements about how the project is being controlled, then a more formal plan or process definition is needed.

There should be a comprehensive structured list of activities and their deliverables (a work breakdown structure) with a level of granularity that makes sense for the situation.  One week to two week task durations are a guideline for short term (one – two months out) but an initial plan with monthly milestones may be enough.  Some attention to risk is necessary.  Maybe it is not in the form of a formal risk register, but there should be some written statement of risks and their potential impact and responses. 

Target dates for at least the major activities (say about a month long) are needed.  A budget may or may not be necessary.

Regular status meetings and a report of progress against the expected target dates with a projection to the end of the project is a bare minimum for control.

Finally, some post project review with a report of its findings and recommendations is needed, whether for a single project, phase of an large project or a group of small projects.

There is no definitive answer to “How much PM is enough?”  To decide on what is needed in your situation, evaluate whether the benefits are worth the cost and risk.  When PM is applied skillfully, in a situationally appropriate way, it generally improves the probability of project success and pays for itself. When we let fear and adherence to inappropriate rigid standards drive decision making, everyone loses.

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