On the weekend I gave a master class in project management to a group of highly experienced PMI certified project managers.  Everything went according to plan until the end of the lecture when someone said “sorry Mr. Lovegrove but I don’t agree”.  I couldn’t for the life of me work out what my student could not agree with.

My premise was that it is a sad fact of life that many projects simply do not deliver much benefit to the customer in the long run because most of the time they only try and tackle the symptoms of a problem and not its root causes. 

“It is not the job of the project manager to challenge the project charter by asking ‘why are we doing this project, what problem are we solving and how will we know when it is solved?  As a project manager (usually working for a subcontractor) I just have to deliver what I am given and not to cause problems” said my student.

He was not a beginner, and my point had been clear, when you look at the PMI methodology it is brilliant on how to run a project but the real problem ‘why’?  is not really covered sufficiently.   If it is not the project manager’s job to challenge the objective of the project charter, then who’s is it?

Even if the project sponsor is a gifted communicator it does not mean that they have necessarily fully considered the serious question of what is the root problem or problems that the project needs to solve?  And even if they have, it might not be so clear.  Perhaps the goals in the charter are not all measurable, perhaps they do not measure if the underlying problem will be solved at all?

So when our PMI project manager delivers his project, on time, on budget and to scope but then a year later his client has to accept that the problem still remains but maybe in another form, then the PM will simply say “Don’t look at me it’s not my fault, I am just the project delivery manager!”

For example:  Your car not starting in the morning maybe down to the fact that the battery is flat.  But just replacing the battery, nine times out of ten, only solves the problem for a short while.  I believe that it is the role of the mechanic to look deeper, to ask the questions “why is it flat? Why is it not charging properly?  What could be the root causes (fan belt, fault in electrical system, engine not tuned, driving style (only driving at night with all the equipment on) or a combination of all of these things?  The problem of the battery could be simply down to age, but more often than not a number of other factors cause a flat car battery and if you ignore them, then you do not solve the root problem and all your efforts  will be a waste of time.

For me there is no doubt.  The moment that a project manager takes the charter and sets out to deliver it, then he or she is responsible for ensuring the project delivers what it set out to do in the first place, and if they are not sure what that is, then they shouldn’t begin to waste their client’s time and money until they do. 

If the structure within which my student works does not allow for this, then perhaps he is not entirely to blame but something is seriously wrong and needs fixing.

Have a good week,