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Balancing Project Management Process With Project Delivery

Can you be a lazy and successful project manager?

~ By Juanita M Woods

Project manager relaxing with his feet up on a pile of folders

Ok, so I have been reviewing corporate and government processes for managing projects this week, and the first thing that came to my mind is "OH my! There is no way I could get all these steps, documents, gates, checkpoints, etc. accomplished and still manage the project!" In some cases you would need a bevy of administrators just to make sure all the project management stuff got done!

That got me thinking: how much project management do you really need? For all you diehard project management process fanatics, that would translate to "how much project management rigour do you really need to apply to a project in order to successfully deliver the project objectives?"

Let's find out…

Don't get me wrong, project management processes are great, I am a certified project management professional for a reason. Project management processes provide organisation and guidance on the steps to follow during the life of your project, but they can be a roadblock if the process becomes more important than the work being done.

What is needed is a determination early on in the project life to determine how much project management to apply. The industry calls this determination of project management rigour.

For example, the United States Centre for Disease Control has developed a very clear process for determining the amount of project management rigour to apply to their projects, and can be found at their Unified Process website. The CDC bases their determination on risk and complexity of the projects undertaken. The higher the risk and/or complexity, the more rigorous is the adherence to project management processes.

For smaller projects that are clearly understood and are less risky, you can afford to minimise the level of project management documentation, gates, checkpoints to use. But if your project is large, or contains many unknown and risky factors, then using the gates and checkpoints, and clearly documenting the project will help manage the risk and increase the probability of a successful project completion.

For example, suppose you have been asked to manage a project to deliver a new product to your industry. As this is a new product, there are quite a few unknown factors that need to be researched. During the research you may find some risks that you didn't think about or know about at the beginning of your effort, so it will pay hugely to make sure you carefully work through the steps, documentation and checkpoints to make sure your project doesn't blow the budget or fall short of the final expectations.

On the other side of the coin, suppose you are asked to plan this year's user conference. This will be the 12th year of the conference, and the prior project managers are still around and available for guidance. The risk on this project is probably low, as there are fewer unknowns. There are also likely to be existing documentation from the prior years to guide you in the current project. It is a waste of time to recreate the wheel, and probably not as necessary to create the full complement of project management process documentation as it would have been the first time the user conference was planned.

So what can you take away from this? Basically, it is critical early on in the project (preferably during the initiating phase) to determine the level of rigour to apply to the project at hand. Based on your company culture and standards, this analysis can be based on any number of factors, like risk, cost, legal exposure, etc. The evaluation can be as simple as "large, small" budget versus "high, low" risk, or as complex as applying several rating factors to a project and calculating a value to be compared to a chart of values that indicate the level of rigour to apply. I have found several useful (and free) evaluative tools at Gantthead.com. George Jugan, PMP, has contributed an excellent analysis tool, which can be downloaded through his article, Complexity Matters.

So, the question on whether it is possible to be both a lazy and successful project manager really depends on how you plan to be lazy. If you have done your homework, and understand the type of project you are undertaking, then you can make an informed decision of what you need to do versus what would be nice to do from a project management perspective. Of course, this always includes a disclaimer: just because you decide at the beginning of a project that certain steps may not be necessary, it is never too late to change your mind as the project progresses, and realise that maybe you should have done that one thing you thought you could skip.


Juanita Woods has polished her project management skills in the financial services industry, and currently is employed as a manager for a major financial software solutions provider. When she is not spending time with her wonderful family, Juanita works with other project managers in providing educational and networking opportunities for project management professionals in the area.


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