Science and Art of Project Management?

davinci.jpgI was recently showing this blog site to a friend. As he looked through it, he nodded and mumbled some (did it just seem to me a bit reluctant and slightly envious?) approvals. Then, he looked up and blurted, “Hey, what’s this art thing?” He was talking about the tag line: “The Art of Project Management”

For me, it is completely on-point. For him, it was misleading. Can we be looking at the same profession?

I thought I’d share part of our conversation related to project management (at least the parts that are printable).

F: Art? I’m not an artist! It’s not good enough to get the job done anymore? I’m just a hard-working guy with no pretensions – unlike some people I know. (he gave me a look that made me wonder if he meant me…. nah, couldn’t be, we both know some real prima donnas!)

A: Wait. Are you saying that you’re not creative? That you just paint by the numbers?

F: ‘Course not. I’m saying that there’s just way too much creativity going on out there. I mean c’mon, you got people re-inventing stuff that we figured out long ago – but they want to figure it out themselves. Why not just look it up, or take a class, or ask me, for Pete’s sake. (he is actually starting to breathe hard)

A: Whoa there – take a sip of your wine. (I decide he needs to kvetch – hey, what are friends for? I want to be supportive) You have some strong feelings about this. Why don’t you tell me more? (Kimberly Wiefling, our blog-master and leadership guru, taught me that one)

F: We don’t talk about the art of law – if you’ve got legal trouble you want someone who knows the law! My cousin is a decent lawyer – no one would mistake him for an artist.

A: But don’t you think that in the courtroom a lawyer is doing a kind of performance?

F: Oh, occasionally. It’s not like on TV. Most of time, you’re doing research and applying what’s been decided before — you know, stare decisis. If we want to be considered a profession, I think we need to get off that artist stuff.

A: So, you’re saying we need to concentrate on the “hard science” techniques – the resource utilizations, Critical Path, and Gantt charts?

F: Too right. That’s what I need to spend most of my time on. Not the occasional dog and pony show.

A: OK, OK, I know we would like to be able to do more analysis and planning – we’ve ranted before about how much better off we’d be by doing more risk planning. But in the world you live in right now, what do you do?

F: Well, I spend a lot of it trying to figure out how to recover from some glitch or another.

A; And how do you do that?

F: Usually gotta round people up and do some problem-solving.

A: And that involves a lot of hard science, right?

F: Absolutely…. hmmm. (he goes silent for awhile) Actually, I’m not directly doing much of that. Just getting people to do the right thing takes a lot of effort. I guess it’s more social science – you know, being able to think like the other guy. So, there you go. It’s still science, not art.

A: Ah. You take the all data and apply the appropriate tools from either the hard or social sciences and get the answer?

F: Well, no. It’s impossible, there’s no time. You have to develop a feel for what’s crucial – to have enough confidence to act without being dead sure.

A: A feel?

F: You know. A gestalt, a blink. (I stay silent) OK, maybe there is an artistic aspect to selecting the tool and applying it in just the right way to get things done.

A: So, it’s not inappropriate to talk about the art of PM?

F: Guess not. Still, it would be nice to be able to just do a Gantt and call it a day.

(I shut up and opened another bottle of wine. It’s good to have friends.)


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