Current practice when tackling a long form piece of writing, such as this one you have kindly invested some time to begin reading, is to consult ChatGPT, the Large Language Model (LLM) served up by Open AI (www.openai.com) and fast becoming synonymous with Artificial Intelligence, whatever that means.
Following is the text I was served up by ChatGPT this afternoon in response to my request – “Please give me 1000 words on real world project management”. My intention is to highlight some quite important reality-checks to the script served up by the AI model, albeit the model does a good job of representing the “textbook” on Project Management.
Chat GPT Output
Real-world project management is a dynamic discipline that involves planning, organizing, and controlling resources to achieve specific objectives within a set timeframe. It is a crucial aspect of various industries, including construction, software development, event planning, and many more. In this essay, we will explore the key concepts, challenges, and best practices associated with real-world project management.
One of the fundamental aspects of project management is project planning. This involves defining project goals, identifying tasks and activities, estimating resource requirements, and creating a schedule. A well-structured project plan serves as a roadmap for the entire project, enabling teams to align their efforts and work towards a common objective. It also helps in identifying potential risks and developing strategies to mitigate them.
Once the project plan is in place, the next step is organizing and allocating resources. This includes forming project teams, assigning roles and responsibilities, and ensuring that the necessary tools and equipment are available. Effective resource management ensures that tasks are completed efficiently, and team members are empowered to deliver their best performance. Regular communication and collaboration among team members are essential to keep everyone on track and informed about the project's progress.
In real-world project management, challenges are inevitable. Some common challenges include scope creep, resource constraints, budget limitations, and stakeholder expectations. Scope creep refers to the tendency for project requirements to expand beyond the initially defined scope, leading to delays and cost overruns. Effective scope management involves clear communication with stakeholders and a change control process to evaluate and prioritize requested changes.
Resource constraints, such as limited availability of skilled personnel or budgetary restrictions, can pose significant challenges. Project managers must optimize resource allocation and make informed decisions to maximize productivity within the given limitations. This requires a keen understanding of resource capabilities, efficient task scheduling, and effective risk management.
Another critical aspect of project management is risk management. Every project faces uncertainties and potential risks that can impact its success. Identifying, assessing, and managing these risks is crucial to minimize their impact. A risk management plan should be developed, outlining strategies to mitigate and respond to potential risks. Regular monitoring and evaluation of risks throughout the project's lifecycle enable timely interventions and adjustments as needed.
Communication plays a vital role in successful project management. Effective communication ensures that project stakeholders, including team members, clients, and external partners, are well-informed about project progress, changes, and expectations. Regular status updates, meetings, and reports facilitate transparency and collaboration. Communication channels should be established and maintained to enable quick and efficient exchange of information.
Real-world project management also emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement. Lessons learned from previous projects should be documented and shared to enhance future project outcomes. Project managers should be open to feedback, both from team members and stakeholders, and be willing to make necessary adjustments to improve project performance. This iterative approach allows for adaptive project management and encourages innovation and growth.
Best practices in real-world project management include utilizing project management methodologies such as Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall, depending on the project's nature and requirements. These methodologies provide structured frameworks for managing projects and promote collaboration, flexibility, and adaptability. Project management software tools, such as Gantt charts and task management systems, can also greatly aid in planning, organizing, and tracking project progress.
In conclusion, real-world project management is a complex and multifaceted discipline that requires careful planning, efficient resource management, effective communication, risk mitigation, and continuous improvement. Successful project management involves aligning teams towards a common goal, navigating challenges, and delivering high-quality results within the defined constraints. By implementing best practices and leveraging appropriate methodologies and tools, project managers can enhance their ability to execute projects successfully in the ever-evolving real-world environment.
Real world Project Management – Practitioner’s Perspective
First things first, the AI model generated 617 words, rather than the 1000 words I had requested. Not an excellent start.
Moving quickly on to the substance of the matter, how well does this AI service capture the essence of project management in the real world? From my perspective, based on 30+ years of practising project management, it does not capture the essence of the discipline at all. There is a glaring technical misstep and a complete absence of treatment of the required personality to perform effectively as a project manager.
Chat GPT “asserts” that the project plan be drafted ahead of project team recruitment. I do not know of any circumstances where this is a good approach. The norm, at least in my experience, is well captured in the following simple diagram.
The only early-stage tasks that need to be completed independently by the project manager are to sit with the project sponsor, most likely multiple times, to gather sufficient requirements information to draft a project charter that is subsequently approved by the sponsor. That drafting process likely evolves over several iterations and critically attempts to clarify in-scope areas/operations and not-in-scope areas/operations. The language used in a project charter is important to pay attention to. For example, deliverables are entities of substance – often, these are documents signed off by specific role holders.
Once the charter has been drafted and approved, the next step is to recruit project team members. There are a number of protocols for project team recruitment, variously emphasising the blend and balance of team members and required technical and social competencies. My experience of project team recruitment suggests that the better approach of all available strategies is to outline the project in terms of deliverables to be served up and the expected workload in terms of time commitment to the full population of candidates and ask for volunteers. Any one person who wishes to contribute to a cause will be valuable and will no doubt contribute. Failing that, the successful recruitment of specific subject matter experts to contribute to the team is a skill that can be learned.
The first piece of business to be faced by the project team is to construct a project plan as best it can. There are some basic pointers I use when facing this task, as follows:
The most important milestone in a project plan is the final one. This milestone, as with all milestones, should be expressed as a deliverable. For example – “Present Results of Deviations Process Improvement Project to Steering Committee”. This final milestone, being the key deliverable, will have a deadline.
Bearing in mind that the key deliverable of the project is the final one, work backwards from the end of the project to the key contributing milestones to be delivered to enable the final milestone to be delivered successfully, on time and in full. Working backwards from the end point of the project through the dependent deliverables brings valuable clarity and honesty to the plan. Remember, milestones are best expressed as deliverables, which are expressed as nouns – documents, events, substantial things.
Once we have, as a team, mapped out the dependent milestones across the timeline of the project, we turn to the tasks we must perform so that milestones are delivered on time. The key point to remember with project tasks is that they should always begin with a verb. Some examples – “Design Visual Review & Approval Process”; “Document Queue Management System”; “Review Deviations/Investigations Process”.
Drafting a project plan can certainly be done by the project manager as an individual. Be mindful that this approach denies the opportunity for the project team to begin to bond by working together on one of the few tasks that can be performed collectively, productively, and to a higher standard than any one team member can do individually.
In future pieces, we will delve into good practice for at least some of the other technical aspects of project management. Some closing thoughts are merited, I think, on the required personality for an effective project manager. Feel free to disagree, obviously, these are personal opinions formed on the basis of 30+ years practising the discipline and having made almost all of the possible missteps that can be made over the course of that period.
Project management is not an endeavour that requires perfection. Far from it. For any given project, and I cannot think of any exceptions to this heuristic, there are a huge number of potential and available routes to success in the delivery of the ultimate deliverable of the project. This means that, to a large extent, missteps, errors, poor estimates, and adverse resourcing emergencies can be registered as issues or risks, understood, and quickly absorbed without affecting the chances of successful project delivery. What is key is to remain positive, upbeat, realistic, proactive, and creative and to maintain the focus of all contributors on the ultimate deliverable.
Let’s tee up a silly example only to illustrate the point. Let us imagine that the ultimate deliverable of a project is to hand deliver a highly sensitive information package to the president of France, Mr Emmanuel Macron, at his office in the Elysee Palace in Paris, France. Our start point is Dáil Éireann, Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland. We have 72 hours to make the delivery. Clearly, there are many ways to make that trip – variously involving planes, trains, automobiles, boats etc. All of the normal rules of project management apply, which means we will decide upon a route, a schedule, and intermediate milestones on our journey to Mr. Macron in Paris. What is key to the endeavour is clearly that failure, for whatever reason – a puncture, train delay, cancelled flight – of any one part of our plan should not in any way deter us from adapting to the numerous ways in which we can get back on track and get the project completed on time and in full.
Effective project managers are stoic – they expect to be derailed from the project plan, and they expect that life will bring its own will to bear on the best-laid plans. They remain unemotional about adverse events, welcome beneficial events, and focus on the ultimate deliverable. Any treatment of the personality traits of effective project managers would be welcome in the ChatGPT output. There is none. In project management, how we manage projects is at least as important as what we do in terms of the architecture of a project.