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In the Search For Successful Project Outcomes - Context is Key


I heard a pundit on the radio this week talking about different styles of football management. He was listing the names of football coaches who would obdurately stick to their pre-match game plan no matter what, they were intractable and enjoyed a degree of success and then he listed those managers who were able to read a game in the first twenty minutes, make bold decisions and necessary adjustments to win the match based on what was actually happening on the pitch.

It came as no surprise that the latter list was populated by some of the most successful names in football management.

The same is increasingly true of IT Project Management.

Sure, there are times when you have to stubbornly stick to the game plan indeed the art of good IT Project Management was founded on making good decisions and sticking to them.

Note – that’s good not great project management.

That often quoted statistic that 75% of IT projects fail may be hotly disputed within the industry, but rates of failure are high and depressingly year after year, survey after survey they remain roughly at the same level, suggesting something of a trend. Much has been written about why IT projects fail but, so far, attempts to improve outcomes have had little effect – mostly because they are treating the symptoms rather than causes of IT failure.

Masters of the art of great IT Project management (just like those great football managers) will have to be more flexible and able to identify and respond effectively to changing stimuli.

US computer scientist, Alan Kay said, "Context is worth 80 IQ points."1

In Project Management CONTEXT IS KEY.

Time, quality, resources and risk ... often knowing which is the most important depends on context and that can change day to day, even hour to hour during the life of a project.

Do methodologies help or hinder this contextual operation?

You probably have a template for most parts of the Project Management process and you probably roll these out for client after client and ... it works, right? You have a tried and tested template for pitching for and securing contracts, a template for initiating a project, a template for trouble shooting, a template for end of project lifecycle management and a template for invoicing. There certainly are times when a by-the-book approach is important. A stubborn, unwavering steady hand at the wheel... but in your heart of hearts you know that will only get you so far.

Sometimes you may have a client who is equally of a template mind-set and you’ll find that you have to adapt and flex to fit in with their approach.

A client who, in the first place, is less than clear about what it is they want from you will benefit greatly from you bringing your expertise, flair and creativity to the relationship.

How often does stepping out from the well-trodden path lead you and your client down a track to a solution that they would have never conceived at the start? Neither did you, probably, but your USP is that you stepped out of the comfort zone to deliver a solution that gives them a real commercial edge over their competitors.

Other times you may have to go “off course” with your thinking to keep your project “on course”. Your project is a breathing, living, responsive entity rather than the inflexible execution of a blueprint, shift your thinking towards a contextual approach and your outcomes will improve.

To return to the wisdom of Alan Kay, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Your IT project will be subject to many pressures and external influences, knowing which should kick off a paradigm shift is a skill that comes with experience but the bottom line is this;

A project manager who understands and reacts to changes in context, rather than just performing to a methodology or set of project guidelines will score greater and more frequent project wins.

To go back to that football analogy I started with, sticking to the game plan could result in a win, but revising that game plan to reflect the here and now challenges presented in the game, ones that managers often couldn’t predict can yield much more impressive results. If you were managing that football team and the goalkeeper was sent off you would respond, you would re-organise the resources that were available to you with a view of reaching the same end goal, a win. Why then in a project context do PM’s so often get the project initiation document or scope agreed and then try and stick to it no matter what.

Beyond the tangible benefits, those that can be plotted on a spreadsheet or predicted in a client presentation, you’ll find operating in this way is more enjoyable, it actually feels good – as if you’ve given your project space to breathe.

I’m reminded of the words of American clergyman, Gordon B. Hinckley who once said, "I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts to be in their proper context."

Don’t go mad – I mean know the boundaries, but in IT project management and consulting - where making solid decisions and plans and then executing them out is key – just a little appropriate, timely, contextual flexibility will make your clients love you.

And it’s that that will bring them back and make them recommend you – not your templates.

Contact us to learn more about how Stoneseed's Project Management as a Service can give you access to project management staff, resources and tools at a flexible and predictable cost via a fully structured managed service.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed


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