Do We Need Structure?

Posted by Brad Egeland

Project Management seems to be all about structure.  After all, the role of the Project Manager can really be filled by someone who isn’t technically a Project Manager – especially on smaller projects.  Stretching someone too thin though on larger projects by having them fill multiple roles can be a recipe for disaster, as we’ve already discussed.

Is it Necessary?

But do we really need that structure?  As a PM, I consider myself a pretty organized individual.  The regular status meetings, team calls, status reports and project schedules help to keep me, my team and the customer’s team focused on the current tasks and the end goal. 

I have to admit, in my personal life, I’m not very organized person, but my wife is and I drive her crazy sometimes with my lack of organization.  Sometimes she’ll say, “Really, you’re a Project Manager and you’re this disorganized?”  Without her organization at home, I know our household would be a mess since we have a fairly large family. 

I look at my oldest son – who is now 22.  He always functioned well if you gave him a list of the things he was assigned – he thrived with a checklist and still does.  Left to his own devices, though, he failed miserably due to distractions, etc.

PM is Common Sense

It’s the same way with your project, your project team members, and your customer.  A project left to it’s own devices is headed toward failure.  It will survive and thrive only on luck – and we can’t leave million dollar implementations and our livelihoods to luck.  A recent comment on one of my articles asked, isn’t Project Management really just common sense?  The answer is “Yes!”  PM and PM practices are really just common sense.  The average person would say that doing all those things to ensure success are really just common sense – like reports, meetings, good communication, solid project planning, documenting issues and working on ways to resolve them.  It just makes sense. 

However, when we’re all working hard at what we’re doing and we’re certain that we are heading down the right path and being single-minded in the process, can we really be certain that we’re acting in the best interest of the overall team and project? 

A data specialist may feel that the most important thing he can do right now is a test load of the customer data because he’s concerned about how long it will take and if it’s in the proper format.  Without a proper, detailed project plan in place, then he won’t realize that there are tasks leading up to a test load that should be performed first and what the test load is dependent upon – like data cleansing, a meeting to review the data layout, etc.  Without proper planning there are potentials for extensive re-work that most project timelines and budgets can’t afford to take the hit on.

Summary

So again with the question…Do We Need Structure?  We may all think we know our jobs and that we know what is expected of us at any given time, but that is not the case.  Not in terms of how it fits into the larger project and who and what is dependent on what we’re doing now for what they are doing next.  Yes, we need the structure and stand a much higher likelihood of success if we incorporate and embrace that structure that Project Management brings us.

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4 Comments to “Do We Need Structure?”

  • As much as this is lucid article, i would like to add here that quite often PMs get so obsessed with the “structure” part of the project that it takes away the very essence of it! Yes, structure is required to a certain extent. However, i strongly feel a clear-cut understanding of the project alongwith the flexibility to work in your area brings about far better results.

  • Brad, great points, you’re exactly right! Project Manaagement isn’t about knowing every possible tool, documentation package, and methodology and then using them on every project…though more knowledge is generally a good thing. PM nirvana is knowing exactly the right kind of tool, package, or methodology — the right structure — to apply on a given project.

    Large corporations have a need to implement rigorous PM processes that the business users (internal customers) tend to believe are overkill. What they often don’t realize is the complexity of the organization and its infrastructure requires a certain amount of PM process and documentation — even for smaller projects — that you might not find in a smaller organization. Smaller, less complex, organizations might not need the same rigor but still need some form of project management structure to make sure the right things get done at the right time in the right way. (No, it doesn’t have to be led by someone with the job title “project manager.”)

    Yes, we need structure. The need to have someone organize work into logical steps and then oversee/manage that work to a successful conclusion is universal across projects and organizations of any size.

  • Yes, a project needs structure but not too much. There’s a current trend towards an over reliance on metrics and process, in an attempt to predict costs and manage behaviour. However, the very definition of a project is that it is a unique piece of work and therefore cannot be treated like a BAU operational process. I think the answer is to tailor the structure to the work, whether that’s cherry picking the appropriate elements of Prince2 or other methodologies. If you do this exercise with your core team then their involvement should encourage their commitment. However you choose to structure your project and project team, it is time well spent. There is always a tendency to ‘just get on with it’, but if you create an agreed project framework, clear reporting lines and roles and reponsibilities, then when the issues occur you’ll have a solid foundation to manage them and your team won’t unravel.

  • PM nirvana is knowing exactly the right kind of tool, package, or methodology — the right structure — to apply on a given project.

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