by Jim Vaughan

Project Managers Need to Keep It Simple

May 10, 2010
IT Leadership

Are sophisticated tools becoming our demise?

The basic premise of project management is that you must have a project plan to have a successful project. This is the basis for any project management process, guideline, model or framework. Simply stated I say that project management is, “Planning the work and then working the plan.” So why is it that so many projects that have a project plan are failing?

The problem has to do with how the plan was developed in the first place. There are many problems that can occur during the development of a project plan. The most fundamental problem is how the plan is developed from the very start. Open a fully functional project management tool and the first thing you see is a task list.  (At least this is true for the tools I have seen. If you know of a tool that does this differently please let me know.) So once the PM opens this tool they immediately start to enter tasks. This is really bottom up development.

Successful project planning requires top down development. In PMI terminology that is the Work Breakdown Structure or WBS. Now PMs will argue that as they enter the tasks in the project management tool that they are creating the WBS and I will say, yes this is true. However, they are not designing the WBS from the top down. At best it is being designed from the inside out.

The solution to this problem is not the tool but rather the methodology that the PM chooses to use for the development the project plan. The best way that I have found to do this is to gather the technical experts together in a large room with a blank wall. Together, under the leadership of the project manager, using sticky notes, create the WBS from the top down on the blank wall. From there the data can be entered into the tool of choice. This methodology will produce a much more effective plan.

Much of project management success has to do with the fundamentals. Often these fundamentals are forgotten in our slick and sophisticated tools. Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) and you will often find great success.