Project Management Blues

“What are you thinking?”, asked Sangita.

It was the 3rd time that she caught me looking into oblivion and thinking. I wanted to lie but couldn’t. I said, very reluctantly as I did the earlier 2 times – “I am thinking about my project”. I kinda felt ashamed that I was using our quality time together in worrying about my project. I have had a shocking truth revealed to me once I joined my new job here in India.

Project Management is a skill which is acquired.”

All projects start by getting mis-managed” (It’s sort of Catholic view of projects – All projects are basically mis-managed, it’s by praying in the church of ‘Clarity’ we set them straight)

I have seen this consistently. And in all my 8 years of experience, I have had the opportunity of working with a great project manager only once. Only once was I part of a team which witnessed “Project Nirvana”. (The person is Harjit Sabharwal) and all the rest of time, it was chaos. Irrespective of whether it was US, Singapore, Malaysia, or Hong Kong it was project management chaos everywhere. Now I am witnessing the same behavior again here in India. I think it’s epidemic.

People are very good at disciplining themselves. They can silo their skills into one direction and achieve great success but when it comes to project management they get stuck. It’s something which has bothered me a lot than my pesky little code bug. Why is it so hard to do Project Management? Why is it so hard to manage anyone other than ‘I, me and myself‘? How come only very few excel at this skill set? Here are some of my observations.

(Disclaimer: I am not a Project Manager, I don’t intend to be one yet. I love programming and love creating solutions to problems. But project management hasn’t lured me yet. I just find it fascinating that it’s been only cracked by very few so far. My wife is an Organizational trainer, so we end up talking about this kind of stuff almost everyday. What makes people tick, why are some inspired? Why do projects suck? How can one be a good leader? So, these are just my observations, my opinion)

1. It’s not about you: Every guy I have met who is managing a project has this huge ego which is actually bigger than the project. This project manager thinks that it’s all about him, it’s all about ‘his’ execution. Not once does it occur to him – it’s about the project. He is just a cog in the wheel to deliver the respective project on time. May be a shiny cog in the wheel as he is the project manager.

2. It’s not ALL about the project: Now once any successful project manager crosses the hurdle #1, he is obviously going to get stuck with the second one. Because most of us tend to think about the world in black and white. But the reality is far from there. It’s not all about the project. To finish a project you need people. You need a team. A team which will work WITH you (NOT under you – change your thinking immediately if you still think that being a project manager means you are above the team. It’s just means that you have more responsibility in the team). So, you basically have this dedicated team and this project target. The project manager’s job is to inspire the team to achieve the target and deliver it to the client. So, it’s not just all about the project.

3. The answer doesn’t lie in the processes: So people who cross the hurdles #1 & #2 are definitely going to get stuck in this one. So, a lot of project managers think that if they implement a set of successful processes then everything will be taken care of. NOPE. Processes are just tools to ease your way with the shit load of information you need to handle once you become a project manager. It’s just a tool. So, the answer doesn’t lie in processes, but what the processes give out : effective communication. The key is “effective communication”. If you achieve it, then there is no looking back. A lot of project managers I work with are very busy people and when they talk about their project – they sounds so trite and negative. A part of effective communication is also treating challenges as opportunities rather than roadblocks. If the project manager sounds enthusiastic about the project the team would too.

4. Man day Vs Calendar day: Repeat after me, there is no connection between man day and calendar day. Please repeat after me. Because a lot of project managers think so. It’s not true, if you do think so – please pull your head out of your ass. There is a great book written on it – called “The Mythical Man Month” (See below). Please go buy it and read it cover to cover. Study it. If not let me know your birthday, I would present my copy to you any day. A lot of project managers think that adding people will get the project to finish in time. It works only when you add 1 person to a team of 2. In all other cases it fails. But this logic gets applied to all the projects. Even they boast to client that – we added 3 more developers to the project to finish your shiny new application before Christmas!

5. No, you can’t reduce QA time: A lot of thinking here is usually the project manager was probably a programmer in his past life and the only thing he/she thinks important is – any guesses? ‘Progamming’! So, when hit with crunch time and when adding more people does not solve the problem all they do is to cut off the QA time for the project. It is such a sin to do so. I am always surprised how lowly they treat QA. May be it’s because they forgot that there is “Quality” in QA. May be next time we should promote our QA manager as project manager then we will have 10 days development and 50 days QA.

6. Estimation, Estimation, Estimation:Hindsight is 20/20. Everyone can ponder on the past, but it’s an uphill task for anyone to take a guess about how much time would a certain thing take to finish in future. I always find that most of the project managers have trouble with project estimation. Like how project management is a skill – I think project estimation is even a bigger skill for a Project Manager to have. I have seen a lot of people rattling off the number of days (of course man days!) just by speaking to a client. Then they backtrack once the requirements come into picture. This skill should be taught in every school and college because time estimation not only makes one a better Project Manager but also better person

7. You can say NO: A lot of Project Managers are shit scared to say no to a client. In the process of impressing the other side and getting on their good side, usually Project Managers agree to all the whims and fancies of the client and get themselves, their team and also the client in trouble. It’s not a win-win situation to agree to everything the client says. Imagine a situation where a doctor has never learned to say no. If the patient asks for more sedative drugs (for the un-informed google ‘vicodin’ or ‘sudafed’) and the doctor keeps giving it to the patient, it’s either going to kill the patient soon or the doctor is going to lose his job. Like we have prescriptions in medical world, we too should have “requirement prescriptions” in project management world. That way, for people who have not yet learned to say ‘No’, they can blame it on the prescribed requirements.

8. Release date is a requirement, not a feature: A lot of project managers I work with keep saying that in the last moment, the release date may get postponed. They blame it on the Client saying that they are asking for too many requirements so it’s ok to delay the project. Well if they keep on adding requirements and we keep on adding man days – well then it’s just not project management. Often, developers and team members hear the project manager talking out like this and they assume that they can relax and get the work done in the last stages of project (‘the urgency addiction’ – well it’s another blog post) . So this kills the spirit of the project and I have been a victim of this a lot many times.

So there, that’s what I think of Project Management. Having said that, I also think that there are couple of books which needs to be on every Project Manager’s book shelf. Again, if you see – most of these books are not at all related to projects, but humans! Are you surprised?

. First Things FirstMythical Man MonthPeoplewareLeadership and Self-DeceptionFive dysfunctions of a teamDeath by meeting

One thought on “Project Management Blues

  1. Nicely summed up Akbar. Having been thrust upon the task of a project manager (from a nice and happy programmer profile) I’ve made some of the mistakes above. Biggest being estimation. Estimations are to be based on the weakest link in the chain not the strongest (the best developer).
    I will definitely read the “Mythical Man Month” soon. 🙂
    Cheers,
    Sumit.
    (www.sumitmaitra.com – It’s just another wordpress blog 😀 ).

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