Eliminate Project Chaos


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I have spoken to and trained thousands of project managers. Most of them work in an environment filled with chaos. Project management is a profession in which you must always be able to deal with change, because there is usually some degree of underlying change (e.g., technology and people) you cannot eliminate. However, this type of change is not what I mean by chaos. The chaos I am talking about results from a lack of knowledge, accountability, and discipline. Not only do a number of project managers work in environments that don’t support their project management efforts, those environments can work against them.

In organizations that lack knowledge, accountability, and discipline at higher levels, often organizational leadership wants to have its cake and eat it too, and this is a significant contributor to project failure. Project managers in these kinds of environments are usually unnecessarily overworked and have little chance for success. A major advantage of processes for project management is that they drive accountability into the system at all levels.

Chaotic Project Management Culture

The characteristics of a chaotic project management culture include the following:
• Having too many projects in progress, exceeding organizational capacity
• Lacking a process to allow the creation and acceptance of new projects
• Having too many restrictive processes that prohibit the effective accomplishment of work
• Not having clearly defined or communicated goals, purpose, and/or mission
• Having priorities that are always changing or incorrect or having no priorities
• Lacking process follow-through or having no processes at all
• Working amid unresolved resource conflicts
• Having unstable project and work schedules
• Having too many meetings
• Not having enough metrics to make good decisions, having too many metrics, or having no valid cost data
• Involving leadership in too many details
• Experiencing high turnover of personnel
• Having a small subset of project managers achieving most of the positive outcomes
• Encountering dissatisfied customers and stakeholders
• Following fads and always chasing the latest management trend as the panacea for all their current problems without sticking to any of them

The characteristics of a chaotic project management culture often render a project manager ineffective. Therefore, program managers must apply leadership and strategy not only to make the program team accountable but also to make external stakeholders and organizational leaders accountable and establish a culture that facilitates the accomplishment of projects.

Unfortunately, through ignorance or a lack of commitment, a lot of program managers neglect this responsibility, and this often leads to a shortsighted view that is focused on near-term problems and deliverables. Establishing a positive culture for project management requires a strategic plan and the discipline to stick to it. Poor or nonexistent program management is a primary cause of failed projects.

A culture without an accepted and consistent method for delivering projects is simply not conducive to allowing project managers to be successful. The increasing popularity of project offices is in part an acknowledgment that the culture project managers work in determines their success as well as the project’s success. Therefore, program managers need to continually create, manage, and improve the optimum culture. The establishment of a project management office is one way to try to achieve this culture.

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“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.