By Robert Hughes MBA, PMP, Pinnacle Project Strategist
My great-grandfather, around 1920, was a successful cattle rancher and wheat farmer. He frequently had enough money to buy new equipment. Perhaps another horse or a bigger and better plow to pull behind it. Instead, he decided to buy an automobile as his new piece of equipment. What was that? He didn’t exactly know what it was, but ordered one anyway. When it arrived at the hardware store, the clerk told him he had no idea how to drive one of those contraptions, but there was a little instruction booklet my great-grandfather could read that might help. This little booklet provided brief descriptions of how to operate it. Even though my great-grandfather couldn’t read, he got the basic idea of how to operate it from looking at the pictures. Besides, how hard could operating his new contraption be? He had operated manual machinery on his cattle and wheat ranch for many years.
When he arrived at his ranch several hours later, he decided to park his new car in the barn. The entire ranch staff and many of his friends watched as he proudly drove his brand new automobile into the barn.
Unfortunately, things did not go as smoothly as he thought they would. When he tried to slow down, he accidentally stepped on the gas pedal. Ooopps!! As the car sped up he panicked and frantically tried to remember where the break was. He forgot that his car didn’t have any breaks. In sheer desperation, he pulled back on the steering wheel and yelled “WHOOOOOOOOOO”. That didn’t help either. Instead of stopping, his car sped up and crashed through the back wall of the barn and ended up in the middle of the wheat field behind it. His only accomplishment was that he had managed to simultaneously destroy his car, wreck his barn, and humiliate himself in front of all his family and friends.
Project management has a similar history but not as well developed. When I first started in project management back in the 1980s, the only qualifications for being a project manager were that you had to have nothing else to do and no seemingly valuable skills in any other area. I mean really; how hard could it be?? Not nearly as hard as operating a Model T with no instructions.
Then people started to realize that project management might be more complicated than previously thought. Some education might be necessary so they invented “requirements documents and functional specifications”. The idea was that each requirement identified a goal to be accomplished by the project and each functional specification was the part of the plan that would accomplish that particular goal. Sound good? It was a much need improvement.
Then the business schools decided to start teaching the basic theory behind project management. Thus, we came up with the standard waterfall methodology of planning everything in extreme detail no matter how many centuries it took and how many millions of dollars were wasted.
Next, people started to realize that project management was more of a science than previously thought and should be treated as such. So, business schools started teaching this in their business school courses. But only just a bit. Next, it was realized that project management needed its own emphasis as part of an MBA program so you could also get a good foundation in project management theory. That is the degree I have. It is a good foundation of the theory of project management but after graduating with my MBA, I still felt a bit like my great-grandfather driving his new automobile away from the small town hardware store with only his little booklet to rely on for guidance.
Even though my MBA with a PM focus was a big jump from the chaotic mess I experienced before, the PMP education and credentials I received next were another giant leap forward in organizational theory. Now I was starting to really understand more about how projects should be organized and managed.
My PMP training contained many extra parts of project management that were not included in my MBA program. Mainly all of the documentations of how all the parts fit together like a Design Document, A Communications plan, Requirments Traceability Matrix, Risk Register, Stakeholder Register, how to make a budget, how to develop a schedule starting with good requirements, etc. This went far beyond my MBA program which just taught basic concepts like the Work Breakdown Structure, Network Diagram, and the Gantt Chart.
Even though I have made the leap from the basic MBA concepts to the more advanced PMP concepts, I still felt there must be more to come. There is still a huge leap between PMP certification and the harsh reality of actually trying to competently manage a large project. All this training and education and I still had no understanding of how to accurately make a budget or schedule that I knew would work and monitoring, with everything I’d learned, still was a joke.
It is not enough to just have an MBA and pass the PMP exam. We need to be able to successfully manage a project on schedule, under budget with high quality while pleasing our customers by triumphing over all of the potential pitfalls associated with the execution of that project. All of a sudden, driving a Model T with no instruction is beginning to sound a bit simpler.
In my never-ending effort to improve myself and become one of the best, I read this book, Stop Strategic Planning into the Abyss and became the first person to take and pass the certification examination described in the book. The exam is not at all easy as it’s essay and requires an 80 percent to pass. Now all the confusion and frustration has evaporated. I now know precisely how to create that realistic schedule and budget and to monitor it precisely! I’ve also learned much more about contracting and many other techniques to be the best project manager I can be. Yet, it’s MUCH less expensive and more condensed than I could have expected.
Now, project management has transformed, to use the automobile example, from that little instruction booklet to a fully automated car that drives itself!