The Pragmatic PM(P) – Project “Defined”

Before I can start with any of our upcoming Project Management (PM) topics, I have to address the old “Us vs. Them” mentality within projects and PM.

The definitions of projects have changed over the years, and project teams and Project Managers must change accordingly. These changes have occurred in two ways:

The first view that changed is the general understanding of some that projects are executed primarily by Information Technology (IT). The reality is that projects are much more broad in nature and may or may not have a significant IT component. Regardless, each person brings unique skills and experiences to their role within the project. And, upon joining the team they must function as part of the whole with the same set of goals as the rest, no matter from which department they were assigned.

The second view that changed relates to the skills needed from each team member to be successful as an individual, as well as to enable the project team to succeed as a whole. In short, it is crucially important for team members (most importantly, the project manager) to exhibit highly effective soft / interpersonal management skills in addition to specific technical or business skills and knowledge.

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In contrast to the earliest definitions of a project, which focused primarily on time, budget and scope (related to the more technical requirements), more recent definitions include references to the human component. Chapman and Ward (2003) define a project as “an endeavor in which human, material and financial resources are organized in a novel way, to undertake a unique scope of work of given specification, within constraints of cost and time, so as to achieve unitary, beneficial change, through the delivery of quantified and qualitative objectives” (p. 5). DeCarlo (2004) defines an extreme project as “a complex, high-speed, self-correcting venture during which people interact in search of a desirable result under conditions of high uncertainty, high change, and high stress” (p. 7).

Both of these definitions differ from most others, insofar as they emphasize human interactions. For example, Wysocki and McGary (2003) define a project as “a sequence of unique, complex, and connected activities having one goal or purpose and that must be completed by a specific time, within budget, and according to specification”. The latter definition shows similarities to the often-used definition found in the PMI Guide (2008, p.442): “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”.

In summary, the pragmatic project manager epitomizes highly effective interpersonal management skills. This can be observed by the ease and finesse by which they interact with and engage the team during all phases of a project.

By addressing the human factor, the PM ensures the team becomes unified, with no divisions between members, and the entire team works together from the start to achieve project objectives.

The remaining topics in this series will cover all parts of the PM picture which are necessary to enable team members to work productively as one, towards a successful outcome, all under the leadership of The Pragmatic PM(P).

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP

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