The Wizard’s World View

Projects are easy

The Fantasy World

Projects Are Easy

Managing a project is easy – get the charter signed (or not), draft (or copy) your project plan, meet your team, host some meetings (don’t forget your meeting minutes), develop an awesome, immutable schedule, ensure a quality focus, and send out some reports indicating how well the schedule is being adhered to and that your budget, as predicted, is right on target. That is how the PMBOK educated me, it’s what the book says, and we all know to be true – within reason.

If that is not the case we can always be more agile: we self-organize our teams into well-caffeinated tribes; we hold more frequent meetings (standups); we eschew our schedule and report on arcane portents such as ideal burndown which is based on mystic structures known as story points; and we ensure quality by doing more of it, or assigning it to robots.

Projects Are Successful

These modern developments make the project manager a dispensable entity which we keep on because we need someone to attend meetings with executives to tell them how great things are going, occasionally write meeting minutes and host demos (that developers run anyway). This arose because projects are generally very predictable and work items, tasks, and user stories are attacked with conviction and completed with a single-minded tenacity that would make military legends of old smile down from project heaven.

PM Archetypes

You may have met the people who manage these projects, and they are, by all accounts, wonderful people who do a good job, reply to Christmas cards, kiss their mothers, and coach their daughter’s softball team.

  • The Agilist – can cite project velocities for their teams back to ’02 and may have actually been in attendance when the Agile methodology was first mooted. Convinced that Waterfall is the 8th deadly sin.
  • The Scheduler (aka, the MS Project Guru) can WBS a project towards success; and once it’s in stone (or, binary file format anyway) it will definitely happen that way. She takes great pains to keep that file up-to-date, even lecturing her team on what their line-items mean for their task-work.
  • The Ice-breaker – he has never met a team-building exercise that they didn’t like or would not implement to help bring the team together. Meetings, no matter the agenda, always start or end with one of these events which, to be frank, make people more uncomfortable than most are willing to admit.
  • The Budgeter (aka, Keeper of the CPI) keeps the budget accurate to the penny and, by association the project schedule benefits by always keeping pace.

Project Management vs Project Nourishment

Projects, as we know, require more than just a good schedule, an accurate budget and an agile sprint plan.  Projects require nourishment, not because they are difficult but because people are involved and people are well, imperfect.

Imperfect but Interesting

The Wizard’s approach to projects recognizes that humans are imperfect but always evolving and quite frequently, enjoyable to be around. To that end, rather than manage by fiat (schedule, budget, etc.) she focuses on managing factors that can be controlled such as: stakeholders, procurement, risk, communication, and integration. This helps to provide the broader view and helps clarify the relationship between project phases, projects, and programs.

Informed and Involved

Continuing the theme, the wizard manages constraints that may be atypical but provide a more urgent and informed perspective: market speed, stakeholder dysfunction, and limited communication channels. This approach requires frequent stakeholder nurturing, a broader view of relationships, and project selection that goes beyond the numbers.

Pragmatic and Principled

The Project Wizard is also agile and his manifesto reflects similar values: building relationships, collaborating across all manner of boundaries, and adapting at every turn. The wizard’s principles follow the same pattern by expanding on the values and focusing on his key strengths: stakeholder management, communication, long-term goal-setting.

The Wizard’s Closeout

Lessons for real world project management: managing projects doesn’t start or end with the project – you never know when a well-treated friend will come in handy later – and good project selection yields more than ROI. Our project constraints are very real and lazy analysis inhibits delivery of value. Finally, be in the moment but do not be overwhelmed by it.
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” –Gandalf; J.R.R. Tolkien, The Last Debate, The Return of the King