What’s Old Is New – Except For Project Management


| Published: November 2018

I’m from the 20th century and old enough to remember a lot of things that have come around again as new. Take for example, the following.

In the 80’s I worked in Central Engineering for a large industrial company. A couple of us engineers were sent out to a facility we were shutting down. The facility had been built in the 1920’s and we went there to see if we could find anything useful before they destroyed it. So, we were poking around and went up a set of stairs into an old storage room and what did we find but a pattern shop. Back in the old days, they made wooden patterns of the machine components, like gears, pump housings, etc. What they did, was take the original drawings and have a Pattern Maker hand carve a pattern out of wood. Then, if a part broke, the machinists would go get the corresponding pattern, take it to a foundry, have a mould made of the part, and have a new part cast. These patterns were useless to us as technology had moved on. You have probably seen these patterns as wall decorations in restaurants.

I recently came across a video from Jay Leno’s Garage in which he uses modern technology to make a pattern of a part he needs. He scans the part, makes adjustments to it in the computer program, and then uses a 3D printer to make a plastic pattern for use in making a mould for casting in a foundry. The same basic principle of making a pattern, then a foundry mould, cast a part, and clean it up is still the same as it has been for eons. The only difference is using technology to make the pattern process easier, as well as being able to make a pattern without having a drawing.

Project Management

With all the changes in technology, the basic principles of project management have not changed. Technology helps collect and analyse the project data, but the basic processes used back when I started managing projects have not changed and will not change in the future. I have project procedure manuals going back to the 60’s and 70’s and the procedures used then are still in use today. Each industry has their own twist to suit their business, but the underlying basic principles are still the same.

And what is the basic principle of project management you may ask? The basic principle of project management is to get rid of uncertainty and to mitigate risk. As a project manager, that is what your job is. This is why we follow the project life cycle, do a work breakdown structure, schedules, etc. all in an effort to define clearly what the scope is. It doesn’t matter if we call it Agile Project Management or Prince 2, the ultimate outcome is to get rid of the uncertainty and mitigate the risk. If you take a high-level view of all the procedures and process you go through as a project manager you can see this is what you are doing.

If you want to control a project you need to get rid of the uncertainty and mitigate the risk. You do this by:

  1. Defining the scope
  2. Budget and plan the execution of the scope
  3. Execute the scope per the plan
  4. Control the scope
  5. Manage and budget the variance.

If you don’t know your real scope, there is going to be uncertainty and risks you can’t foresee. With poorly defined scope, the project will ultimately fail. On all projects management want to feel comfortable about what you are doing and that only comes from getting rid of the uncertainty and mitigating any risks you have found. As I mentioned above, changes in technology help you collect and analyse data but, does not get rid of the basic principle and will not in the future.