Can Anyone Manage Projects?

Can Anyone Manage Projects?

The title of this article, Can Anyone Manage Projects, has two meanings.

When I said it to a colleague about two years ago, we got our wires crossed for a minute because of the dual meanings.

I asked, in effect - and rhetorically -"Do you have to be some sort of certified project manager to manage a project successfully?" He answered along the lines of, "Management of complex 'soft' projects is a no-win game; no one is successful." We were talking about teaching-leadership projects, but it applies to software projects, legal projects, and other we-don't-know-what-we-don't-know areas.

The question has stuck with me, and not just cause of the laugh we had once we finally got our meanings untangled.

Because both meanings, both questions, are legitimate ones.

Certifiably Certified

I think the answer is clear to the question I asked. Do you have to be a trained or certified project manager to manage, say, a legal project? As I've tried to make clear here, in my book Legal Project Management, at speaking engagements, and elsewhere, I believe the answer is No. I think you have to be informed. I think you have to be aware, conscious of what you're doing and the impact you're having. I think you have to know your limitations, your team's limitations, and the limitations inherent in the project. But certification or formal PMI-style training is neither a guarantee nor even an indicator of success.

Does certification help? Well, if you get too caught up in reading your own reviews, so to speak, it'll work against you. But by and large, it's a nonfactor. There are plenty of certified PMs who are quite good at managing projects. On the other hand, two of the absolutely most useless, value-subtracting PMs with whom I've ever had the misfortune to work were PMI certified - and one had a six sigma belt too.

Note that I said "formal PMI-style training" above. I believe there are other training methodologies that significantly increase the likelihood of project management success in the legal world. Good training - the right training - can spell the difference between project success and failure. But the wrong training is problematic at best, whether it's training in methods that don't apply to the problems at hand or training by people who cannot communicate the necessary skills and methods.

The Project From Heck

What about the question my colleague thought I asked, the one he answered?

I believe there are some projects that cannot succeed. They are misbegotten from the getgo. One effective project management approach is to kill them before they suck up too much time and money. However, project managers - even when they can spot inevitable failure - are rarely in a position to stop the project. These kinds of projects cannot be managed - specifically, they cannot be managed to project success.

Another approach, one which has a higher political chance of happening, is to simplify sufficiently to be able to locate and deliver at least some value. Here's where effective, informed project management really earns its keep, reining in a potential mess and turning it into positive value. Guiding this turnaround is very, very hard. But it can be done, by at least some people in some environments on some projects.

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