Forget the Cookie-Cutter Approach to Project Management

Why doesn't the cookie-cutter approach work as a guarantee of project management success?

Lifecycle & Methodology | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes

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Are you looking for an instant approach to project management that guarantees success? All you need to do is roll out this cookie-cutter approach, and hey presto, project success. Sadly, no out of the box approach alone will guarantee your success.

Project management theory and reality are quite different. No one method or approach guarantees success. Each project must be set up and managed on a case-by-case basis. The basic project management framework and process steps hold, starting with project initiation, then planning, monitoring, controlling and ending with closure. How do you deal with each of these phases? What you do during each phase needs careful consideration for every project.

Many organisations invest heavily in adopting methodologies – such as PRINCE2 – and although this does not guarantee success, it ensures that everyone in the organisation is working from a standard approach. There is nothing wrong with this; however, I still meet managers who believe this route alone will result in sustained project success.

These managers often end up frustrated. They are missing the vital experience that comes from years of managing projects. For this reason, the Project Management Institute (PMI) requires 36 months of leading projects as one of the entry requirements to their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

Here is the project management paradox, new and aspiring project managers cannot get a PM job because they lack experience. Still, they cannot gain experience without being given a job.

So, how do organisations improve their chances of project success?

The major problem with adopting a methodology is that organisations soon become dependent on it – slaves to the methodology instead of exercising their judgement and experience. The methodology is there as a framework, not as a total solution.

Organisations need a sustainable approach to project management, so when people move on, the new people are familiar with the organisations' approach to project management. The following is the best way to accomplish this:

  • Employ a mix of senior and junior project managers. Use the senior project managers to coach the junior project managers. New entrants to an organisation are enthusiastic and keen to learn, so they quickly absorb knowledge from their more experienced colleagues.
  • Pick a methodology such as Six Sigma, PRINCE2 or SCRUM as the basis of your organisational project management approach. If you choose a public method, plenty of cost-effective training courses are available. Adapt the method to suit your corporate needs. Above all, remember to use your judgement and experience to avoid becoming a slave to the methodology.
  • Develop a toolkit that allows project managers to control projects. The toolkit should contain the project management process, templates, sample project plans, example status reports, and other helpful material to project managers. Provide training in its use. This way, you will have a standard, consistent approach to project management within your organisation.

Forget the cookie-cutter approach to project management, and don't listen to anyone who says there's a simple off-the-shelf solution to project management success. There are no instant formulas or silver bullets that guarantee consistent project success. Instead, develop an approach that suits your organisation, with a mix of senior and junior project managers, coaching, organisational toolkit, and high-quality project management training. This approach is the route to long-lasting, sustainable project success.

Recommended read: 7 Project Management Types and When to Use Them by Meredith Wood.


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