Bill Clinton’s speech writer wrote him three reminders during the election campaign in 1992 to help him focus on the big issues; “The economy, stupid!” is the one we all remember.
It’s a pretty useful idea in project management that we also need to remind ourselves of, one key thing: projects are delivered by people. They are not delivered by systems or processes or committees, they are delivered by project managers and their teams.
I am sure that clients get sick of me saying that a well trained and experienced project manager should be able to run a complex project even where no systems or processes exist. They will have the experience and skills to ensure they create the systems that they need to support the key roles of project management, which are:
- Create an effective team and get the job done; and
- Manage risks effectively while you do it.
Of course systems and governance are particularly useful. They help us to align projects to business needs, make less mistakes, minimise the impacts of risks, effectively manage a team, report, have documentation for handover, et cetera.
Just don’t forget, without an effective project team you are stuffed.
The key investments needed in project management are therefore (in order of priority):
1. Prepare the people with training, mentoring, clear job descriptions and clear messages about project benefits so that they are in a position to do the best job possible.
2. Provide effective systems that are established to support people, not to prop them up. If you think your people need propping up, train them, mentor them or get someone in to lead the team, someone who doesn’t need propping up. Systems that are designed to ensure that people can’t make stupid mistakes also stop them from getting the job done.
3. Develop effective teams. Give the project manager time to prepare effectively by starting with a project plan, getting the right people to undertake the roles and help the team to become effective (or even better, high performing) by investing in team building or development. This can be as simple as team briefings and introductions or can involve deliberate, formal team development.
Remember: The people, mate.