Getting things done vs theory

This forum is for members to share and gain knowledge of Project Management. Got a question about project management? Need help with a problem? Wish to offer tips and advice? Post here.
Post Reply
Senior Member
Senior Member
Posts: 34
Joined: Fri 09 Mar 2012 8:45 am

Hi All

A while back I studied PRINCE2 and left the course feeling highly motivated with lots of ideas and enthusiasm.

Lately, I feel that my role as PM is more about getting things done by hook or by crook and very little of the training is used. Senior management aren't really interested in the theory, they just want to see benefits delivered on time.

How do you all feel about this? Is this something you can relate to?

Do you feel a successful career in project management needs us to be able apply principles and project methodologies?

How many employees expect us to be able to do this?
User avatar
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 495
Joined: Sat 19 Dec 2009 4:39 pm
Location: London

Hi Nick,

One of our trainee project managers was talking to me about theory versus real world project management yesterday. He was observing that projects don't follow the theory, and there are many obstacles and processes you don't get told about in college.

I've always said to these guys that there is project management theory, and then there's real world project management. Senior management are interested in results, not how you got there. So is the theory useful? I'd say yes, not that I expect anyone to follow it to the letter.

You need to know how to plan, what a risk is, how to create a communication plan etc. You also need a lot of soft skills to deal with people and the politics surrounding projects.

In my experience, no project follows the theory you are taught on courses or in college. Knowing the theory means you know the techniques and skills needed as you follow the path to completion.

Recently, I heard of an inexperienced team looking at project risks. They didn't have a qualified and experienced project manager with them. Their risk log included; running out of budget, running out of time and workplace building failures for a software development project. No experienced project manager would have these in a risk log. As we know, focussing on the top three or four high impact, high probability risks is what you should do. So yes, you need some theory in this case.

Personally, I get things done and focus on driving towards the end goal. Of course, I can't do this on my own, so I need to take my team with me. Importantly, I know how to create a RAID log, project schedule, communication plan, manage a budget etc.

In my view, you need to understand the theory, but you also need to realise that it’s a guide and not a recipe for project success and certainly not a substitute for experience.

User avatar
Global Moderator
Global Moderator
Posts: 301
Joined: Thu 08 Dec 2011 1:34 pm


I can relate to this too.

I think the key is in tailoring the project processes to suit the projects size and complexity. This could mean leaving out certain aspects (i.e. no Heath and Safety plan). Project processes can be bureaucratic with large work overheads; so it is important to understand when common sense should prevail and project rules broken. For example, on a small project is the effort of calculating earned value worth the benefits? It's debatable.
Expert Member
Expert Member
Posts: 57
Joined: Thu 20 Sep 2012 10:19 am
Location: France


This is indeed what generally happens.

In my experience, you always need to use a bit of tact to convince your bosses who want to see things done, rather than hear the project management rhetoric or theory. However, you may choose to use PM theory to guide your actions, while informing others of what has been done in a format that is more suited to their jargon.

Post Reply