Better PM


One of the least visible aftermaths of WWII was the managerial capability developed by America. Many of those wise ways to solve problems and a lot of determination were at the base of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. As a spin-off of the Space Program, two prestigious project organizations were created: the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in Europe, 1967; and the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the U.S., 1969, thus fostering and being supported by a subculture of the growing military industrial complex. The PM traditional vision has millions of members, tens of thousands of books, thousands of software products, and countless blogs and white papers.

Those lessons learned formed the baseline for the traditional PM approach that was consolidated around big-money contracts between large corporations and the U.S. government, mostly in the aerospace and the defense industries ... as well as some computers and computing projects. The value of projects was negotiated up front by top brass, set down in formal clauses, and surveyed by legions of lawyers. In the past, PMs were hired to keep control of this planned value and, in the U.S., to be closely watched by Congress. Nowadays, the environment and the market are remarkably different. Berlin’s wall fell, and many commercial barriers did too. The marketplace is incredibly dynamic, competitive and increasingly complex. Lawyers are still active, but consumers apply sanctions more efficiently than judges, without appeal possibility.

Just to cite an interesting aspect, nowadays a regular smartphone has similar processing power to the NASA computer center at the time. Not considering technology, there are, at least, three tangled perspectives to approach the challenges of present-days projects.

First, no plan is good enough. Customer needs evolve quickly, and some sound change management procedure should be in place, not to dump change, but to evolve wisely. Second, corporate demands are daunting. Profits must be high to satisfy investors, but they must comply with all sorts of legislation and regulations. Third, market changes become moving targets, with a velocity that makes it impossible keep a plan stable.

Despite all those facts, the brand-new international standard – ISO 25.000:2012 – in its first page, assures that traditional PM tenets are applied to all projects, in all industries. This standard preserves the PM traditional view. The evidence that we are collecting does not support this standard application for software projects that are creative, innovative, and social development projects. Many projects do not deliver a product or service as designed up front, they cost more than anticipated, and they may be late –  yet they become very successful endeavors. Yes! All of us know projects like this. It is equally true that projects exist that adhere to the “iron triangle” (on time, on budget, on target), and we celebrate them as successes – yet they led the project’s organization to failure and, in some cases, bankruptcy.

Now, PMs are being commissioned to create value. New ways to manage projects must be designed, tested and continually improved. Even project definition seems to need a better clarification. We are at the dawn of a new PM approach, and we need to improve old methods that are no longer relevant and are holding us back. Do we have the guts to go beyond tradition, or will somebody else teach us to innovate in this ground that we have created?

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Subject Matter

Project Management Expertise

About the Author:


Lou Vianna

Dr. Lou Vianna is the South American Research Director for The Standish Group. Lou is a project management professional and educator. He has trained more than seven thousand project managers through his affiliation with Fundação Getulio Vargas and other educational outlets. His background includes work at the Naval Research Institute in Brazil and service in the Brazilian Navy. Lou received his masters in project management from George Washington University, his masters in engineering from McGill and Ph.D in complexity from Fluminense Federal University.

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