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Practical PM for Everyone

Project management is a process that, when done well, enables optimal performance. Why wouldn’t everyone want to know how to manage projects?


Everyone Has Projects

A project is an effort to create a result in a finite time. According to PMI, “a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.”

Everyone is part of projects. Some projects are long, large, and complex, like a lunar expedition or the implementation of a new system in an organization. Others are moderate and more personal – planning a party, buying a car, moving, painting your house. Others are quite simple, for example getting up and out of the house, packing for a vacation, grocery shopping, doing the dishes, cooking a meal. Even the individual activities of regular operations like answering emails or working to close a sale fit the definition of projects. we can consider them as mini-projects.


Therefore, everyone would do well to know the basic principles of project management and adapt them to the size and complexity of the projects at hand.

Professional PMs would add value by promoting wide-spread appreciation and knowledge of project management for all.


Agile Adaptability

Applying a complex project management process with forms, protocols, and reports to manage your at home cooking dinner project or a small project that is repeated many times is not skillful.

You might like to be formal and explicit because it makes you feel good but if there are others involved you might drive them crazy and waste lots of time and effort.


At the same time, doing any project without a plan, without writing things down (for example a shopping list), with ambiguous or inadequate communication, and without looking back to learn from the experience is equally unskillful. It is likely to lead to extra trips to the store to get missing ingredients, too much or too little food, misunderstandings of who will do what, and when.

Planning, performing, monitoring, controlling, and closing happen in every project, the way we do them varies widely depending on the situation. It was the intention of the earlier founders of the agile approach to point this out and promote the idea that the project team does best to adapt practices to the needs of their project, stakeholders, and setting, while being aware of the need for a degree of structure and discipline.


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The Agile Manifesto:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions     over     processes and tools

Working software                     over     comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration            over     contract negotiation

Responding to change              over     following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”


Communication and Collaboration

To enable an adaptive and agile approach make sure that all stakeholders have a sense of  the basic principles of project management.

The basics are what everyone should know about managing a project, even if they are not managing one. Knowing the process and principles stakeholders can assess how well the project is being managed. They will be able to connect a sense of the project’s health  accomplishment and progress.


The basics are:

  1. Plan, to create a clear sense of what is to be accomplished, how, where, by when, by whom, and for how much it will cost. Remember that plans are always subject to change. Planning is not over until the project is over.
  2. Let go into execution, the performance. It’s like dance or a play. You learn the steps and your role and surrender into performing them.
  3. Mindfully monitor and control to assess progress against the plan and to adjust. Make it part of the performance so it doesn’t get in the way.
  4. Close. Take a step back to assess performance. Tie up loose ends. Learn from the experience. Turn over the results.

So simple, if there is understanding, adaptability, effective communication and collaboration.

Without these the project management process becomes a burden. With them the probability of project success goes way up.


What gets in the Way?

You’d think that everyone would be eager to apply the basics and to understand, adapt, communicate, and collaborate. But it is not the case.  The principle things that get in the way are:

  • Lack of process thinking – Thinking all that is needed is to put heads down and do the work instead of recognizing that objectives are met by skillfully applying effort to perform a set of definable steps or tasks.
  • Too much process thinking – over formalizing project management, creating unnecessary bureaucracy and overhead.
  • Not recognizing the value – thinking that the effort to manage the project is not worthwhile.
  • Thinking that it is too hard to engage others in the work required – believing that changing stakeholder mindsets about project management is impossible.
  • Personality traits – for example, closed-mindedness, impatience, fear of being criticized and controlled, and over confidence block attempts to implement some degree of planning and control.


What to Do About It

Removing the obstacles to implementing the right kind of project management (PM) requires a learning process in which PM champions convince stakeholders that PM is a practical process that adds value by upgrading performance and promoting project success.

Breaking through resistance to PM requires mindset change and changing people’s minds is no easy task.


It is not just about getting people to take a PM course, though an appropriate one, with a skilled facilitator, is a good place to start. It is committing to a dialog that addresses resistance to applying PM principles coupled with a commitment to the agility to adapt the principles to fit the projects being performed and the people who manage and perform them.

It takes time and patience with an understanding that much of the resistance is reasonable given experience with dysfunctional PM and rigid project management professionals who don’t adapt the process to the situation at hand.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.