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People (not Tools) Define (or Derail) Success


I've been a project manager in some form or another for a couple of decades now, and I've seen a lot of new PM methodologies come into (and out of) vogue. Along with those methodologies, there's usually a handful (or a truckload) of tools to support them. We'll get white papers, templates, boot-camps, certifications, ... all promising to take us to the Project Management Promised Land.

And yet, we (as a species, not just my teams) still struggle to complete projects on time, on budget, and within scope. Incredible, eh?

Not really. We forget that no matter how well-designed the tool, no matter how novel the methodology, no matter how slick the packaging, people are still doing the work those systems are tracking. People are interesting and complicated, and their behaviour is not as controllable as any of these tools, etc. would suggest. (It's also less messy and more comfortable to blame the tools! Darn hammer!!)

Weekly check-in's not getting the job done? Try daily stand-ups! Your current change management tool not working? Switch to a (not really materially) different spreadsheet! Never mind that John is habitually late for all the meetings, and Sally doesn't log her hours, and wow, the governance team meeting has been rescheduled three times and hasn't approved that change yet....

There are some fundamental differences between the various methodologies, but at their core, they all try to ensure that people are doing their work as efficiently (time/money) as possible and according to plan (scope). If you're not actually holding people accountable, if you don't have strong, well-crafted business processes to drive the appropriate behaviours (good estimating, robust risk awareness and monitoring, etc.), if you don't recognize that the tools are not a substitute for actually managing your teams, you're going to struggle.

Of course it's helpful to have some standard tools. And, in all fairness, lots of the tools help us manage an incredible amount of work in a more manageable framework. We just can't substitute "Tips, Tricks and Templates" for actual management. That's a fundamental part of our job. It's even in the name!

We have to walk the talk and stop looking for crutches (no matter how shiny they are) if we want to see real progress.

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