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Is Project management an art or a science?

It is natural for change program sponsors to aspire for a bullet proof version of a plan that is devoid of surprises. In a perfect world, that is possible – where dependencies and decision rights are within the same matrix structure. This is rarely the case with most organizations, given size of such entities, and the presence of Finance amidst a broader eco-system. Further, given an active regulatory environment such organizations operate in, external factors tend to play a role in impacting pace of on-going projects, as well as decisions on where organizational resources get deployed.

The instinct that triggers in response to limited control over a change agenda fall under 4 distinct paths..

  1. Transparent but forceful: Sponsors who adopt this path tend to plough through the hurdles leveraging organizational influence to protect the planned progress milestones with limited regard to trade-offs outside the function.
  2. Siloed and self-sufficient: Sponsors tend to consciously reduce reliance on the broader organization to contribute to planned milestones by creating resources within the unit who can help take small steps in areas where the core function carries limited technical expertise.
  3. Contemplative and calibrated: Sponsors frequently take stock of priorities, restack, ideate and compromise to ensure a close-knit organization-wide alignment, demonstrating comfort to sacrifice their own agenda in the interest of the wider organization.
  4. Practical and opportunistic: Such sponsors follow a hybrid approach leveraging the best from the 3 categories above. Essentially, they secure acceptable level of trade-offs and yet ensure a few home runs. The actions on this path would always err on the side of ensuring limited long-term friction with other enabling teams, while not volunteering to stand at the end of the prioritization queue.

While standard tools and artefacts that follow waterfall or agile principles are great to drive project progress, they do not directly lend themselves to deal with headwinds and roadblocks that derail large scale multi-year change programs. In most cases, it is the approach adopted by sponsors to influence such roadblocks that impacts the shape, sequence and pace of such programs.

Consequently, the foundational element of project management resides more in decisions pertaining to strategic dilemma, than in the nuts and bolts of micro milestones and MVPs which are usually well covered by adopting waterfall or agile disciplines.