Big intimidating methodologies
Regrettably, our most widely used methods for managing projects are specifically designed for large projects. The main culprits are PRINCE2 (Projects IN Confined Environments) and PMBOK (PM Book of Knowledge) Guide that are both much too unwieldy and frightening for smallish projects and for use by us ordinary mortals, and despite their authors’ claims, these methodologies strenuously defy tailoring to match smallish project needs. The PMBOK Guide is an encyclopedic source of knowledge with 47 processes, and PRINCE2 is a huge descriptive methodology and is certainly not user-friendly, even in its “PRINCE2 for Dummies” version. The PRINCE2 methodology is so top-heavy that it generates its own gravitational field, which together with the corporate immune system can kill innovation and neutralise anything that differs from the status quo. Britain has invented some great stuff, such as rugby and television, but PRINCE2 is most definitely not up there.
Yet, organisations must “innovate or die” and while PRINCE2 and its even more terrifying relation MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) seem to be favoured by NZ central government, these methodologies have been likened to bureaucratic black holes that suck up all our energy. And it’s no coincidence that when this mammoth PRINCE2 method is rigorously applied, even the faithful feel imprisoned in its many inflexible processes and sub-processes, and some users doubtlessly lose the will to live. This time-consuming method of managing projects represents an enormous overhead, and is simply impracticable for smaller projects. PRINCE2 may be somewhat useful if we’re looking to manage a large-scale project where there are many people involved and many complex stages, although it failed for Novopay, and the recent Auckland City Council IT project is now some $100 million overspent and 12 months late. Surely IRD is apprehensive about applying PRINCE2 to their planned $1.5 billion computer upgrade, recognising that the project risks and effort involved increases exponentially as complexity increases. But if we’re looking for a straightforward framework to satisfy smaller project management needs then PRINCE2 is just not appropriate.
Furthermore, PRINCE2 training is mostly about higher-level project control and governance. It does not address PM fundamentals such as how to lead and motivate our project team, communicate with a diversity of stakeholders, or any other people skills essential for PM success. Also, it doesn’t tell us how to apply basic scheduling, estimating, budgeting and control tools and techniques, and what to do to keep our project on track.
However, not all of PRINCE2 is entirely unsuitable for small projects. In particular, I like its business case and benefits focus, whereby projects remain strictly aligned with business objectives. But, we don’t need PRINCE2 and its bestial bureaucracy and re-invented terminology to have sound justification for a project or to reap the resultant benefits.
Thus, for the majority of our projects, PRINCE2 and PMBOK are overkills – they are costly, unwieldy, overly bureaucratic, time-consuming and generate too much useless paperwork. They add little value and despite their owners’ claims, these process-heavy monoliths defy scaling. And they are labyrinthine and confusing, which I suspect is in part because the academics who develop and keep “refining” them believe that simplicity would undermine their worth, or perhaps because consensus by committee is incapable of embracing simplicity, since consensus usually means trying to placate everyone. Mmmm…sounds like NZQA. Those who can do, those can’t teach, and those who can neither do nor teach join NZQA to write unintelligible “standards”, one of which is about project management, but that’s another story.
So, watch out for my new book “Managing Smallish Projects” that hopefully will be out within the next few months.