Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Calendar iconNot recorded
Adobe PDF icon

The Project Management Problem

~ By David Allen

Senior lecturer in front of his class

A vast majority of professionals think they have a problem these days, project management. Problem is, that's not the problem. Well, it is, but not the way they usually think it is. Let me be a little more vague.

I am often asked by line managers and training people if I have a good project management seminar for their people. My first response is, What exactly do you mean by project management? Very few have an immediately good answer. They've often just heard it as a need from their reports or their constituents. I then ask, Do you have people who need to know how to lay out a Gantt chart or detailed critical path for complex projects like constructing a building or implementing a new corporate information system? Or do you have people who feel like they're overwhelmed with the load of things to do, many of which can't be finished in one simple action step? Usually it's some combination of the two, but mostly it's the latter.

I call anything a "project" that is likely to not be finished with one action step, or in one sitting. A trip coming up? That's a project (finalise convention trip). Need clarification on your new job responsibilities? That's a project (clarify new job description with boss). Need to look into consultants for the website you think you need? That's a project (R&D Web consultants). My experience with thousands of people over the years indicates that most people have 20-50 of those kinds of projects at any one time.

Problem #1: I've never seen any two of those projects that needed the same amount of planning or detailing of steps to get them under control. It ranges from three bullet points on the back of an envelope in a coffee shop (usually your most productive thinking), to days of intensive planning with a group of a dozen people, with pages of outlined steps, critical path, etc. So most single project planning or project management models would under or over-plan most of our projects.

Problem #2: How do we integrate "horizontal" vs. "vertical" control? Vertical thinking is about how we detail out a single project, theme, or topic. If that's all we ever had to think about, we could feel pretty comfortable with a model that helped us think through the steps of anything. The second day of my Getting Things Done seminar gives a great Natural Planning Model for what questions to answer, in what order, that most efficiently makes things happen. Horizontal thinking, however, has to look across all the hundreds of parts of dozens of things we need to keep tabs on during the course of any 24-hour period. It often requires that we be extremely flexible in recalibrating when to do what actions on multiple things we have going at one time. The horizontal usually blows the hell out of our vertical!

The only way to really get all this together is a holographic approach to all of it. It requires that we know how to think rapidly through a project, problem, or topic as required (vertical, natural planning); capture the results of that thinking and plug it in appropriately to the whole mix of action reminders and information we might need to access; and scan the complete horizon regularly enough to trust our intuition about what we need to do and by when.

It's possible, but not an easy task. We need to think and capture as much as we need to do, to get things off our mind; and fly by the seat of our pants amidst the results.


The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organisation, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance. You can find out more about David Allen and GTD at Getting Things Done


Comments

Be the first to comment on this article.

Add a comment



(never displayed)



 
2000
Enter the last letter of the word running.
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls

Foot about to tread on a banana skin

Common pitfalls that projects experience and some tips to help make a project more successful and avoid the potential for chaos.

Project Planning Essentials

Tablet computer with project manager app and documents with Gantt and financial charts

Planning a project requires putting a series of tasks in order and determining dependencies between them. In practice it's never so straightforward.

Is Project Management Certification Worth It?

University students in a classroom watching a presentation

Do recognised professional credentials increase your worth in the jobs market? Will the effort of studying to pass the exam improve your career prospects?

Estimating Project Costs

Money and a calculator

Tips and advice for estimating project costs, including three point estimating and Monte Carlo Simulation in MS Excel.

PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

WE ARE CONNECTED ~ Follow us on social media to get regular updates and opinion on what's happening in the world of project management.


Latest Comments

Peter Earnshaw commented on…
Pareto Analysis Step by Step
- Tue 4 February 2:03am

Lesiba Matlou commented on…
Writing a Funding Proposal
- Sun 26 January 5:18am

Tim Rumbaugh commented on…
10 Golden Rules of Project Risk Management
- Sat 28 December 6:48pm

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Re: Best Project Management Software? https://t.co/HyQCVlHo1Y about 11 hours ago

General Project Management • APM Full Membership https://t.co/O5GdicubRr about 2 days ago

General Project Management • Best Project Management Software? https://t.co/9W9Cc3DEDP about 18 days ago