For most project portfolio professionals, the term robotic project management conjures discussion of the rise of cloud solutions, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 5G mobile internet and voice-driven software that will of course indelibly change and improve project management delivery through the use of predictive and data-driven project portfolio management tools.
However, hardly anyone ever talks about the dark side of robotic project management. That is, when project management becomes template-driven, documentation heavy and cumbersome rather than focused on the minimum information and evidence required by the commissioning organisation and the accountable officer of the project business case to make continued informed decisions. Sure project management templates have their place to enable consistency across an organisation but project information must always suit the needs of the project based on its unique characteristics in terms of its size, risk, complexity and the organisational environment in which it is being governed, managed and reported.
Templates over information
What’s often forgotten is that there is no global industry best practice project management methodology that tells Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project managers alike that project management, governance and boundary products are documents or templates. But rather advises that these products are in fact information sets that can take form in different “formats and presentations”. This enables the business, supplier and user interest roles to use that information to take action and/or make the necessary decisions, particularly where stage or project tolerances for time, cost, scope, risks, benefits and quality (criteria) are likely to exceed.
A common element of all the well-known project management methodologies, for example, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) or the community driven Praxis Framework is the use of product descriptions that are used to describe the purpose and composition of the project, specialist and technical products. Simply, a product description is a specification for an output that creates the capabilities that transitions to an outcome that enable benefit realisation. This value chain collectively delivers the organisational (including strategic investment) objectives that underpin capital investment. It also enables people to understand the detailed nature, purpose, function, appearance and acceptance criteria of the product (i.e. output). As such, it should contain sufficient information to identify including any logistical or logical dependencies with other products or projects, particularly what activities and how much money will be needed to develop, test and approve the product; the resources needed to develop it and where further information may be found.
A pre-defined template, on the other hand, simply enables project managers to repeatedly draft a project management document without necessarily thinking about the information and evidence required to provide confidence to the commissioning organisation and the accountable officer. This approach neither supports gateway assurance reviews that focuses on the information (rather than the documentation), effective capital investment decision making or improve the likelihood of project success. So care must be taken to ensure the services offered by a PMO does not become process and template driven but rather focused on reviewing and challenging the content of the project documentation.
Repeat after me!
Documentation is important but information and evidence is critical! For new or less experienced project managers, the prospect of preparing numerous templates can be daunting, without proper and timely PMO support and guidance, particularly if the information is not tailored to align with organisational policies and standards. As such, appropriate support and advice should always be given to project managers when information and data quality is lacking to ensure continued project viability (risks), desirability (benefits) and affordability (costs). What often occurs when there is an unbridled focus on templates is the unnecessary duplication of the same project information that can lead to rework when changes occur, particularly where information provenance through a single source of truth is not maintained.
Given that failed projects with significant sunk costs are still a ubiquitous worldwide phenomenon, why do organisations still continue to focus on template-driven project management when the focus should be on the required information and evidence. Effective project management becomes hindered when organisational governance processes and practices leads to excessive documentation. Pragmatic project management is about thinking how to apply the methodology and then using it with a lightness of touch. Whilst template driven project management, on the other hand, exists where every process activity is followed and every management product is produced without question.
Like Obi-Wan Kenobi once said ... It takes strength to resist the dark side. Only the weak embrace it. It is more powerful than you know. And those who oppose it are more powerful than you'll ever be!
Exclusive pmmagazine.net 💬
OGC Gateway Assurance Expert | Author | Agile, Project, Programme & Portfolio Management and Better Business Cases Specialist