Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Role of Project Management Communities in Organizations

In life, there is rarely a "single version of the truth". I think the same can be said in the context of project management.

Yes, there are tools, templates, methodologies, "best practices", often promoted by broad PM communities, vendors with a product to sell, and often by consulting organizations brought in to salvage run away projects. They come in, "quick fix" and leave once the contract objectives are met. Often their expertise is never really leveraged for the longer term benefit of the organization.

But where the more significant challenges occur is investigating, deciding on, and applying these practices in complex organizations and shifting contexts / unanticipated organizational change, bringing multiple perspectives to bear on complex issues, and acting on lessons learned from previous successes and "not so successes".
I think this is where a strong community of internal project / initiative managers can be of tremendous benefit.

An internal PM community can play a large, effective role in evolving practices that work in the the organization's complex environment, and ensuring the transfer of important context, information, and knowledge across succeeding generations.

I suspect that one of the important challenges many internal PM communities face is that they are very appealing vehicle for beginning to intermediate project managers, but fail to attract more senior / experienced / seasoned project managers. I've heard of situations where they are actually discouraged from participating by their supervisors in favour of "real work".

And it would appear that experienced PMs are also good at surveying the landscape and building their own small personal networks in order to get their job done. That's fine for achieving personal effectiveness, but what about the "greater good" of the organization and of their fellow PMs? How can this expertise be diffused / broadly shared for the benefit of the organization as a whole?

Imagine an organization where senior project managers were expected ... or should I say required .. through their performance (or contract) agreements, to play a leadership role in the project management community in developing and stewarding the community's PM knowledge development activities, and building capability among more junior project managers.

Imagine these senior project managers bringing their techniques, approaches, mental models, expertise in the organization's context to the community to be reviewed, synthesized, evolved, and yes, even critiqued, by the more junior members who are perhaps less experienced in PM, but no less adept at analytical and critical thinking. They may even have their own related experiences about the nuances of the organization to contribute.

A PM community of practice can be a part of "the solution" of sustainable project success over the longer term. If the community is infused with the learning and expertise of all the organization's senior project managers, and even external experts who come in on major initiatives, the organization will be better off for it.

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