How Essential Are Project Frameworks in Project Management?
Are Project Management Frameworks More Than Simple Common Sense?
“Why do we need to have a project management method? It’s just common sense – isn’t it?”
I’ve heard this question a few times, so let’s have a look at why a project framework is essential for any business.
We probably all know someone who does things a specific way, citing ‘common sense’ as the basis of their reasoning. However, if we take a real look at these approaches, we will typically find that they are totally lacking in common sense. This is because what constitutes ‘common sense’ for one person will not necessarily be the same for another.
In a business that’s delivering projects on a regular basis, what may start out as one manager’s common-sense approach can quickly descend into chaos, as each person involved will apply their very own common sense method, each with its own documentation, responsibilities and processes. As you might expect, these will rarely be consistent with those used elsewhere.
For this reason, as an organization starts to grow, it will be only natural that those in charge will want to look at the feasibility of managing projects using a more structured and standardized framework.
But with so many frameworks out there, how can you tell which is the right one to use?
The answer will usually depend on what type of approach you require. Some frameworks have evolved from certain industries, and are thus highly specific in their approach. For example, you will find that methodologies like ITIL are very well suited to software development, while others like Six Sigma are better suited to manufacturing.
What makes many of these frameworks so specific is their use of techniques which explain how to undertake certain project activities. They also identify tools that should be used when carrying these activities out. While this style of guidance is great for projects in specific environments, it will not be universally applicable.
There are also more generic frameworks that can be applied to almost any type of project within virtually any industry, location or sector. These include APM, PMI and PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments).
Both APM and PMI operate around bodies of knowledge which define specific governance that must be applied and project areas which must be addressed, as well as some more general tools and techniques that can be used.
PRINCE2 is slightly different to PMI and APM, in that it has a high-level framework which identifies a set of generic processes to follow, along with a number of activities that define WHAT needs to be done and WHEN, but not necessarily HOW. It also specifies a number of generic themes that need to be addressed, along with generic documentation, terminology and roles that should be filled in every project. PRINCE2 does not, however, explain specialist aspects like Procurement, HR or Health and Safety. It also doesn’t cover any people management skills, suggesting that because every project is different, defining a generic people management approach is not feasible. Nor does it provide many tools or techniques, instead leaving users to decide which proven tools and techniques they want to use on a project-by-project basis.
So, why is it beneficial to have a project management framework in place in your organization?
The first reason is all to do with consistency. Having an embedded framework means all projects will utilize the same processes, documentation and language, while also having consistent roles and responsibilities.
This follows on to the advantage of reduced risks. Consistently using a standardized framework with tried and tested processes will allow users to recognize common pitfalls. This will improve the chances of achieving intended outcomes and benefits in future projects.
If project planning follows a correctly-structured approach, projects will also be justified before they begin and, therefore, the business in question will have an increased chance of achieving expected project benefits. Soon, stakeholders will become used to projects being successful. As a result, conflict and resistance will be reduced, and stakeholders will also become more motivated to aid and become involved in projects.
Having clear processes to follow can also provide opportunities to audit or review them for the sake of continual improvement. By encouraging users to constantly reassess these processes, adjustments can be made to ensure they are working as effectively as possible. This can be a crucial benefit in this ever-evolving Digital Age.
Standardized project frameworks also specify control points. These provide opportunities to take stock of achievements and look forward to what still needs to be done, as well as assess whether work should continue. This will reassure Project Board members that projects are not spiraling out of control, and that they remain viable and worthwhile.
Team members working on projects in controlled frameworks are also less likely to become stressed. Having clear roles and processes in place means that everyone will know what they should be doing and when, and even how they should be doing it. This level of control means that there will be far less firefighting and better planning and management, resulting in happier project teams.
So with these benefits in mind, do we still think a common sense approach is better? Hopefully not! A good robust framework is always more beneficial to an organization than leaving it to the common sense of the individuals involved.