Doing Less

I wish I could find the exact quote. Back in the early 90s, when I was using Prince 2 on several projects, there used to be a slim “Introduction to Prince 2” volume that explained you don’t have to do everything on every occasion. It said something like “the Project Manager needs to distinguish the essential from the merely important.”

At the time, I was really looking forward to the occasion when my Project Owner would ask me to do something, and I would be able to reply: “No, I’m not going to bother with that; it’s merely important.”

Alas, my Project Owner was far to sensible to request anything other than essential, but the phrase has stayed with me to this day.

The real sentiment behind the statement is that the PM should not be following the methodology blindly and by-the-book, but should be thinking about why the various activities are needed — what value they add — and adjusting them accordingly. Take reporting, for example. In many organisations, project reports are issued weekly. In some, they are issued fortnightly. In the former case, does the report add twice as much value compared to the second? If not, why spend double the amount of overhead on producing it?

It isn’t just the frequency of reporting that is an overhead; it is also the volume. I have known a few senior stakeholders who are genuinely able to absorb and respond to a multi-page report each and every week. Many more, however, only have enough time and attention to pick up on a few bullet-pointed highlights. So if that is your typical stakeholder, why write any more?

As Project Managers, we are an overhead. We may work hard in terms of hours and effort, but it is the team that does the real work. So the less time that is spent on project management, the better. Agile Scrum recognises this in the use of self-organising teams. There is no project manager, and no project management overhead. Project Managers are an endangered species in the Agile world.

Actually I don’t think the wider profession of project management is threatened by Agile, as there will always be essential (that word again!) activities that sit outside the Scrum team: portfolio and programme management, long-term planning, corporate governance, executive reporting. These are the domain of PPPM (Portfolio, Programme & Project Management) and the PMO (Project — or Programme, or Portfolio — Management Office). Our employment prospects are safe, even if we don’t retrain as ScrumMasters or Product Owners.

It is a sign of maturity and experience as a Project Manager that we prioritise our own time more effectively. Comprehensive methodologies such as those documented in Prince 2, PMI’s PMBOK, APM’s BOK, and others, are more likely to be followed as a “paint by numbers” exercise by those early in their project management careers. And a good thing too, as they contain a great deal of insight and best practice that provides a solid framework. Over time, we learn which things to leave out, and which to focus on – and that varies from project to project. The ability to distinguish the essential from the merely important comes with experience.


By |2015-08-19T10:54:44+00:00January 2nd, 2015|Agile, Project Management|1 Comment

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  1. […] Russell Whitworth urges us to distinguish between the essential and the merely important. […]

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