Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Project Management in Knowledge-Based Organizations

I recently facilitated a workshop created by our project management community of practice called "Intro to Project Management at ... " The intention of the workshop is basically to lay a simple, solid foundation of common language and process for "non-project managers" in the context of the organzation, and point them to further learning, develop and knowledge exchange opportunities, including the community itself.

Not "rocket science".

But in the context of facilitating the workshop, there was a universal identification, even among this group of "non-project managers", that projects never work out as planned and that there are continuous, very difficult challenges associated with keeping project teams focused and working together on outcomes and objectives - especially in the context of internal projects and resources. The "people side of project management" seems to be a regular topic of concern and conversation across project management disciplines and communities.

So in this workshop I found myself starting to talk about how knowledge-based organizations are complex, adaptive, and cause-effect relationships can't be predicted with any degree of certainty etc. (Obviously I'm being influenced by Dave Snowdon.. but it makes sense to me.)

And I found msyelf thinking that perhaps the traditional way of planning and managing projects, as mapped out in the PMI's Project Management Body of Knowledge for example, is too mechanistic. But then, in the chapters about the project management process, there is explicit mention of a foundation of "plan-do-check-act" (sounds like quality & learning to me) , and there are good descriptions of processes and deliverables about project change.

Then I thought, maybe the issue is more related to expectations on the part of clients, project managers and staff that "plan - good!, change - baaaad!". Maybe there is a traditional mind set that there is a real probability that the plan will be executed more or less as created, that people and resources can be effectively "managed and controlled" to the degree necessary, and that client needs / outcomes won't change.

Do we need to look at our traditional project planning and management practices and adapt them to the emerging view of organizations as complex adaptive systems rather than the traditional, mechanistic, predictive view?

How do we do that?

Do we need to treat project resources, in particular internal ones that are constantly balencing demands from a number of different fronts, as volunteers, with the project manager's role one of encouraging volunteerism?

How do we do THAT?