The Project Management Dilemma: The more a company needs it, the less they should be pursuing it
It is probably heresy to say such a thing (especially given that I’m a promoter of project management and provide services and training to help organizations better improve their PM practices) but the fact of the matter is that in my experience, the more a company needs better PM tools, techniques and practices the less it should be pursing them. There is nothing illogical about this assertion, because project management as it is know in the community is about using a structured, rational and process oriented approach to executing and completing projects.
To admit that you really need this is to admit that you have none of this in place. As anyone with a modicum of scientific knowledge would know, that there’s this idea of entropy related to the 2nd law of thermodynamics in which things have a tendency towards disorder rather than order, where the former is a guaranteed outcome and the latter is not, An example could be if I were to throw a handful of coins in different denominations (pennies, nickles, dimes, etc.) in the air, they would fall scattered and randomly on the floor, rather than in a nice uniform line from the lowest denomination to the highest. Another example is that scrambling an egg takes seconds, whereas reassembling a scrambled egg back to its original state is pretty much an impossibility.
With this said, the dilemma or paradox is that the more messy and disorganized your organization is with respect to managing projects, the more you need structured project management. Yet this also entails that the likelihood you will get to that state is minimal to near impossible depending on how bad your processes are. The root case of these problems are usually due to deep cultural dysfunctions in your organization and as anyone who has tried to address such dysfunctions will have witnessed firsthand, the laws of entropy and the state of disorder this entails! But the dilemma doesn’t end here, for if your working in an organization that is very structured in disciplined in the way they execute all their operations as well as projects, then this is the place where PM tools, techniques and practices will thrive. Ironically, this environment least needs them as adding anything more becomes redundant.
Does this mean then that one just gives up? No, but rather that you temper your expectations as well as the expectation of your stakeholders so that they know what their up against and realistic with respect to the outcomes. The most common pitfall is that the desire and approach is to go from bad to great, rather than through baby steps in which you move from worse, to bad, to mediocre and if both persistent and lucky, to a state of good and maybe even great. You better especially keep this in mind if you’re setting up a PMO, because a PMO sets up an added layer of bureaucracy that not only makes matter worse, but drowns your people in a sea of policies, procedures and paper work that adds to the bloat of entropy.
Keep in mind that there’s a well known productivity failure paradox in the economic discipline, where providing less guidance and structure in an organization, actually increases learning and productivity due to more failures and adaptations that have to occur to adjust back to a state of success. It’s boils down to the basic idea of allowing people fall on their faces, pick themselves up, learn from it and improve. Practically everyone who has achieved great success knows exactly what this means.