The Evolution of Project Management

Importance of Project Management is an important topic because all organisations, be they small or large, at one time or other, are involved in implementing new undertakings. These undertakings may be diverse, such as, the development of a new product or service; the establishment of a new production line in a manufacturing enterprise; a public relations promotion campaign; or a major building programme. Whilst the 1980’s were about quality and the 1990’s were all about globalisation, the 2000’s are about velocity. That is, to keep ahead of their competitors, organisations are continually faced with the development of complex products, services and processes with very short time-to-market windows combined with the need for cross-functional expertise. In this scenario, project management becomes a very important and powerful tool in the hands of organisations that understand its use and have the competencies to apply it.

The development of project management capabilities in organisations, simultaneously with the application of information management systems, allow enterprise teams to work in partnership in defining plans and managing take-to-market projects by synchronising team-oriented tasks, schedules, and resource allocations. This allows cross-functional teams to create and share project information. However, this is not sufficient, information management systems have the potential to allow project management practices to take place in a real-time environment. As a consequence of this potential project management proficiency, locally, nationally or globally dispersed users are able to concurrently view and interact with the same updated project information immediately, including project schedules, threaded discussions, and other relevant documentation. In this scenario the term dispersed user takes on a wider meaning. It not only includes the cross-functional management teams but also experts drawn from the organisation’s supply chain, and business partners.

On a macro level organisations are motivated to implement project management techniques to ensure that their undertakings (small or major) are delivered on time, within the cost budget and to the stipulated quality. On a micro level, project management combined
with an appropriate information management system has the objectives of: (a) reducing project overhead costs; (b) customising the project workplace to fit the operational style of the project teams and respective team members; (c) proactively informing the executive management strata of the strategic projects on a real-time basis; (d) ensuring that project team members share accurate, meaningful and timely project documents; and (e) ensuring that critical task deadlines are met. Whilst the motivation and objectives to apply project management in organisations is commendable, they do not assure project success.

However, before discussing the meaning and achievement of project success it is appropriate at this stage to provide a brief history of project management.

Brief History of Project Management
Project management has been practiced for thousands of years dating back to the Egyptian epoch, but it was in the mid-1950’s that organisations commenced applying formal project management tools and techniques to complex projects. Modern project management methods had their origins in two parallel but different problems of planning and control in projects in the United States. The first case involved the U.S Navy which at that time was concerned with the control of contracts for its Polaris Missile project. These contracts consisted of research, development work and manufacturing of parts that were unique and had never been previously undertaken.

This particular project was characterised by high uncertainty, since neither cost nor time could be accurately estimated. Hence, completion times were based on probabilities. Time estimates were based on optimistic, pessimistic and most likely. These three time scenarios were mathematically assessed to determine the probable completion date. This procedure was called program evaluation review technique (PERT). Initially, the PERT technique did not take into consideration cost. However, the cost feature was later included using the same estimating approach as with time. Due to the three estimation scenarios, PERT was found (and still is) to be best suited for projects with a high degree of uncertainty reflecting their level of uniqueness. The second case, involved the private sector, namely, E.I du Pont de Nemours Company, which had undertaken to construct major chemical plants in U.S. Unlike the Navy Polaris project, these construction undertakings required accurate time and cost estimates. The methodology developed by this company was originally referred to as project planning and scheduling (PPS). PPS required realistic estimates of cost and time, and is thus a more definitive approach than PERT. The PPS technique was later developed into the critical path method (CPM) that became very popular with the construction industry. During the 1960s and 1970s, both PERT and CPM increased their popularity within the private and public sectors. Defence Departments of various countries, NASA, and large engineering and construction companies world wide applied project management principles and tools to manage large budget, schedule-driven projects. The popularity in the use of these project management tools during this period coincided with the development of computers and the associated packages that specialised in project management. However, initially these computer packages were very costly and were executed only on mainframe or mini computers. The use of project management techniques in the 1980s was facilitated with the advent of the personal computer and associated low cost project management software. Hence, during this period, the manufacturing and software development sectors commenced to adopt and implement sophisticated project management practices as well. By the 1990s, project management theories, tools, and techniques were widely received by different industries and organisations.

Four periods in the development of modern project management.

[1] Prior to 1958: Craft system to human relations. During this time, the evolution of technology, such as, automobiles and telecommunications shortened the project schedule. For instance, automobiles allowed effective resource allocation and mobility, whilst the telecommunication system increased the speed of communication. Furthermore, the job specification which later became the basis of developing the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) was widely used and Henry Gantt invented the Gantt chart. Examples of projects undertaken during this period as supported by documented evidence include: (a) Building the Pacific Railroad in 1850’s; (b) Construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931-1936, that employed approximately 5,200 workers and is still one of the highest gravity dams in the U.S. generating about four billion kilowatt hours a year; and (c) The Manhattan Project in 1942-1945 that was the pioneer research and development project for producing the atomic bomb, involving 125,000 workers and costing nearly $2 billion.

[2] 1958-1979: Application of Management Science. Significant technology advancement took place between 1958 and 1979, such as, the first automatic plain-paper copier by Xerox in 1959. Between 1956 and 1958 several core project management tools including CPM and PERT were introduced. However, this period was characterised by the rapid development of computer technology. The progression from the mainframe to the mini-computer in the 1970’s made computers affordable to medium size companies. In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. Furthermore, the evolution of computer technology facilitated the emergence of several project management software companies, including, Artemis (1977), Oracle (1977), and Scitor Corporation (1979). In the 1970’s other project management tools such as Material Requirements Planning (MRP) were also introduced.

Examples of projects undertaken during this period and which influenced the development of modem project management as we know it today include: (a)Polaris missile project initiated in 1956 that had the objective of delivering nuclear missiles carried by submarines, known as Fleet Ballistic Missile for the U.S Navy. The project successfully launched its first Polaris missile in 1961; (b) Apollo project initiated in 1960 with the objective of sending man to the moon; and (c) E.I du Pont de Nemours chemical plant project commencing in 1958, that had the objective of building major chemical production plants across the U.S.

[3] 1980-1994: Production Centre Human Resources. The 1980s and 1990’s are characterised by the revolutionary development in the information management sector with the introduction of the personal computer (PC) and associated computer communications networking facilities. This development resulted in having low cost multitasking PCs that had high efficiency in managing and controlling complex project schedules. During this period low cost project management software for PCs became widely available that made project management techniques more easily accessible.

Examples of major projects undertaken during this period that illustrate the application of high technology, and project management tools and practices include: (a) England France Channel project, 1989 to1991. This project was an international project that involved two governments, several financial institutions, engineering construction companies, and other various organisations from the two countries. The language, use of standard metrics, and other communication differences needed to be closely coordinated; (b) Space Shuttle Challenger project, 1983 to 1986. The disaster of the Challenger space shuttle focused attention on risk management, group dynamics, and quality management; and (c) xv Calgary Winter Olympic of 1988 which successfully applied project management practices to event management.

[4] 1995-Present: Creating a New Environment. This period is dominated by the developments related to the internet that changed dramatically business practices in the mid 1990’s. The internet has provided fast, interactive, and customised new medium that allows people to browse, purchase, and track products and services online instantly. This has resulted in making firms more productive, more efficient, and more client oriented. Furthermore, many of today’s project management software have an internet connectivity feature. This allows automatic uploading of data so that anyone around the globe with a standard browser can: (a) input the most recent status of their assigned tasks; (b) find out how the overall project is doing; (c) be informed of any delays or advances in the schedule; and (d) stay “in the loop” for their project role, while working independently at a remote site.

An example of a major project undertaken during this period is the Year 2000 (Y2K) project. The Y2K Project, known as the millennium bug referred to the problem that computers may not function correctly on January lst, 2000 at 12 AM. This was a global phenomenon and was highly problematic because resolving the problem at one’s organisation did not guarantee immunity, since a breakdown in the organisation’s supply chain could affect the organisation’s operating capability. Many organisations set up a project office to control and comply with their stakeholders regarding the Y2K issue. Furthermore, use of the Internet was common practice that led to the establishment of the virtual project office. The goal of this virtual project office was: (a) to deliver uninterrupted turn-of-the-century; (b) monitor Y2K project efforts; (c) provide coordination; (d) develop a risk management plan; and (e) communicate Y2K compliance efforts with various stakeholders. Thus, the virtual project office was a focal point for all the project works, and it increased the awareness and importance of risk management practices to numerous organisations.

Why Project Management?

There is no doubt that organisations today face more aggressive competition than in the past and the business environment they operate in is a highly turbulent one. This scenario has increased the need for organisational accountability for the private and public sectors, leading to a greater focus and demand for operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Effectiveness and efficiency may be facilitated through the introduction of best practices that are able to optimise the management of organisational resources. It has been shown that operations and projects are dissimilar with each requiring different management techniques. Hence, in a project environment, project management can: (a) support the achievement of project and organisational goals; and (b) provide a greater assurance to stakeholders that resources are being managed effectively.

Research by Roberts and Furlonger [2] in a study of information systems projects show that using a reasonably detailed project management methodology, as compared to a loose methodology, improves productivity by 20 to 30 percent. Furthermore, the use of a formalised project management structure to projects can facilitate: (a) the clarification of project scope; (b) agreement of objectives and goals; (c) identifying resources needed; (d) ensuring accountability for results and performance; (e) and encouraging the project team to focus on the final benefits to be achieved. Moreover, the research indicates that 85-90% of projects fail to deliver on time, on budget and to the quality of performance expected. The major causes identified for this situation include:

(a) Lack of a valid business case justifying the project;

(b) Objectives not properly defined and agreed;

(c) Lack of communication and stakeholder management;

(d) Outcomes and/or benefits not properly defined in measurable terms;

(e) Lack of quality control;

(f) Poor estimation of duration and cost;

(g) Inadequate definition and acceptance of roles (governance);

(h) Insufficient planning and coordination of resources.

It should be emphasised that the causes for the failure to deliver on time, on budget and to the quality of performance expected could be addressed by the application of project management practices. Furthermore, the failure to deliver on time, on budget and to the quality of performance expected does not necessarily mean that the project was itself a failure. At this stage what is being discussed is the effectiveness and efficiency of project execution and not whether a project is a success or failure.

Conclusion

Project management should be viewed as a tool that helps organisations to execute designated projects effectively and efficiently. The use of this tool does not automatically guarantee project success. (project success will be discussed in a subsequent issue). However, in preparation for the next issue, I would like you to think about the distinction between project success and project management success. This distinction will provide further insight to the questions: Why are some projects perceived as failures when they have met all the traditional standards of success, namely, completed on time, completed within budget, and meeting all the technical specifications? Why are some projects perceived to be successful when they have failed to meet two important criteria that are traditionally associated with success, namely, not completed on time and not completed within budget?

Distinguishing Features of Project Management in the 21st Century

The purpose of this article is to investigate the current hot topics of project management. In the 21st century, there is a clear swift from hard systems approach of project management to soft factors, a demand for strategic thinking in project management (Buttrick, 2000), new success factors (Atkinson, 1999) and project uncertainty management (Ward & Chapman, 2003). Broader project management theory and more intense research efforts are also a trend in the field (Winter & Smith, 2005).

Human beings have been executing projects from ancient times (Kwak, 2003). From relocating a tribe to constructing enormous buildings such as the pyramids, projects were a dominant element of history. Not long ago, those involved in projects understood that they needed methods and processes to help them manage these projects more efficiently. To meet this need, scientists and practitioners worked together to form a new concept which was called «project management». According to the PMBOK’s definition “project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements”. (A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge, 2004). There are many different views in the literature concerning the birth of project management. Maylor (2005) mentions that “project management in the way that we would understand it today did not exist until the 1950s” and Wideman (2001) tracks the first use of project management in the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers report on UK post war national development first published in 1944.

Since then, there have been a lot of changes. “The hard systems approach, which treated the project as a mechanical activity, has been shown to be flawed” (Maylor, 2005). The soft skills of project management are getting more attention because it is now clear that “the ability to apply these skills effectively throughout the life cycle of a project will enhance the success of a project exponentially” (Belzer). In spite of the perfect understanding of planning, scheduling and controlling, projects have still a high rate of failure. Belzer points out that “more often they fail because of a project manager’s inability to communicate effectively, work within the organization’s culture, motivate the project team, manage stakeholder expectations, understand the business objectives, solve problems effectively, and make clear and knowledgeable decisions”. To address these problems in the 21st century, a project team needs to develop a series of soft skills such as “communication, team building, flexibility and creativity, leadership and the ability to manage stress and conflict”. (Sukhoo et. al, 2005).

In addition, project management requires a stronger strategy orientation. “More than 80 per cent of all problems at the project level are caused by failures at a board level in firms to provide clear policy and priorities” (Maylor, 2001). The approach that Maylor suggests is very different from the traditional link between strategy and projects, as he proposes a “coherent, co-ordinated, focused, strategic competence in project management which eventually provides source of competitive advantage”. This two-way methodology that relates organisational and project strategy is illustrated in figure 1. To better understand the project’s strategy, there is also a need to analyse “the experiences from past activities, politics during the pre-project phases, parallel courses of events happening during project execution and ideas about the post-project future” (Mats Engwall, 2002).

Moreover, Maylor highlights a change in project’s success criteria, from conformance to performance. In 1960s project managers seek to comply only with the documented specifications of the project, while current projects require real performance. In other words, the success criteria of the 21st century as indicated by Maylor have changed to as short time as possible, as cheaply as possible and towards a maximum customer delight. Other academics imply nowadays a much simpler view of success criteria which is focused only in keeping the client happy (Ferguson, 2005) in contrast with the 90s view of just finishing the project on time and on budget.

Changes in risk management are also one of the hot topics of project management in the new century. Ward (2003) propose the term «uncertainty management» and recommends that a “focus on «uncertainty» rather than risk could enhance project risk management”. Adams has an interesting view of risk as he describes it as “a reflexive phenomenon – we respond to perceived probabilities and magnitudes, thereby altering them”, a definition that differs from the traditional quantitive analysis of risk. Green broads even more the scope of risk management and includes the clients. He thinks that “the process of risk management only becomes meaningful through the active participation of the client’s project stakeholders”. In his point of view there is a new way of assessing risk management that “depends less upon probabilistic forecasting and more upon the need to maintain a viable political consistency within the client organisation”.

The conventional theory of project management consists of a narrow focus on projects as unique and totally separated units of work. But current projects tend to be integrated smoothly in the general context of organizations in order to “develop the «management of project portfolios» and «programme management» which are more strategically orientated towards «doing the right projects»” (Winter & Smith, 2005).
It is common ground in the literature that the theory of project management needs more research. Koskela and Howell (2002) suggest that the theoretical base “has been implicit and it rests on a faulty understanding of the nature of work in projects, and deficient definitions of planning, execution and control”. From their point of view, enrichment of project management with new methods and techniques cannot be done with any stable theoretical background. As a result, there is a trend of putting more effort in research and rethinking the way which «bodies of knowledge» is written so that complex projects’ actions will be better documented.

As a conclusion, we could use the words of D.T. Jones (2005) who writes that “project management is no longer about managing the sequence of steps required to complete the project on time”. He adds that “it is about systematically incorporating the voice of the customer, creating a disciplined way of prioritising effort and resolving trade-offs, working concurrently on all aspects of the projects in multi-functional teams”.

References

1. A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge, 2004, 3rd Edition, Project Management Institute

2. Adams, Review for THES Risk Decision and Policy, Cambridge University Press, [Electronic]

3. Atkinson, 1999, Project management: cost, time and quality, two best guesses and a phenomenon, its time to accept other success criteria, International Journal of Project Management Vol. 17, No. 6, pp. 337±342, [Electronic]

4. Belzer, Project Management : Still More Art than Science, [Electronic]

5. Buttrick, 2000, The project workout, 2nd edition

6. Engwall, 2003, No project is an island: linking projects to history and context, Research Policy 32, pp. 789-808, [Electronic]

7. Ferguson, 2005, First Tutorial on Strategic Management, Full Time MSc in Project Management, Lancaster University

8. Green, Towards an integrated script for risk and value management, Department of Construction Management & Engineering, The University of Reading, UK

9. Jones, 2005, Foreward to Maylor’s book Project Management, FT Prentice Hall, UK

10. Koskela & Howell, 2002, The underlying theory of project management is obsolete, Project Management Institute, [Electronic]

11. Kwak, 2003, The Story of Managing Projects, Quorum Books, [Electronic]

12. Maylor, 2005, Project Management, FT Prentice Hall, UK

13. Maylor, 2001, Beyond the Gantt Chart:: Project Management Moving on, European Management Journal Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 92-100, 2001, UK, [Electronic]

14. Sukhoo, Barnard, Eloff, Van der Poll Accommodating Soft Skills in Software Project Management, Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, [Electronic]

15. Ward, 2003, Transforming project risk management into project uncertainty management, International Journal of Project Management vol.21, pp. 97-105, [Electronic]

16. Wideman, 2001, Criteria for a Project Management body of knowledge, [Electronic]

17. Winter & Smith, 2005, ‘Rethinking Project Management, Making Sense So Far: Emerging Directions and Future Research’, Rethinking Project Management (EPSRC Network 2004-2006), [Electronic]

5 Lessons Project Management Can Learn From The Aviation Field

Introduction
Organizations are in desperate need of creating predictable outcomes and managing the risk inherent in almost all of their project management initiatives. This is true whether they are designing products, performing services for clients, managing technology, implementing a government initiative, or any of a number of different projects. The purpose of this white paper is to identify five lessons (there are many more) that project management can learn from the aviation field to accomplish this objective of predictable outcomes and managed risk.

Why Aviation?
Aviation is a rich source of information because it has already gone through the pain and consequences of not having predictable outcomes and has largely come through the other side. That is not to say that aviation is perfect, but aviation has done a stellar job of taking an inherently risky activity (flying) and creating safe, predictable outcomes. It has learned what is necessary.

Project management does not pursue predictable outcomes to the same degree as aviation has pursued them. This may be due to the fact that the consequences of a failure in aviation are far higher than the consequences of a failure in the typical project that we manage.

This idea of consequences is we target aviation as a good source. Aviation has been forced to develop methods of dealing with risk and creating predictable outcomes. Many of these same lessons that aviation has already been forced to learn can be applied directly to project management.

Implement Predictable and Standardized Processes
When you fly, you cannot do things on a whim. There are specific procedures that you must follow. When an airliner comes in to land, there are certain things you do at certain times – when the flaps come down, when the landing gear comes down, the specific route to fly for a specific airport. If there is an emergency, there is a procedure for it. Pilots do not wonder what to do. They have been trained to follow certain procedures.

Aviation has recognized the great importance of creating these predictable processes where risk is involved. For example, when approaching a major airport, there are documented, published procedures that every pilot must follow called Standard Terminal Arrivals (or STARs). A pilot will review these procedures even before they take off. When they are assigned by air traffic control what the currently used STAR procedure is, they know exactly what they will do and how they will fly. There is no “I wonder how we should fly into Atlanta today?” Project management cannot create predictable outcomes if it does not similarly implement predictable and standardized processes to deal with normal operations as well as contingencies.

Here are some of the specific guidelines we can learn from aviation as to the implementation of these processes:

  • The processes must be well documented and accessible.
  • Everyone must follow the processes.
  • Everyone must be continuously trained on the processes.
  • The processes must be continuously evaluated and improved over time.

There are several advantages to implementing this in our project management practices. These advantages include:

  • Eliminating confusion (everyone knows the proper steps and activities).
  • Providing a clear plan for how to produce a desired outcome.
  • Communicating the desired outcome.
  • Reducing workload by eliminating needless communications, decision making, and activities that should be routine.

Just like aviation has created standard procedures to create the predictable outcome of landing at a major airport (thus making it safe and routine), project management needs standard procedures to create the predictable outcome of a new product, a customer implementation, a new service, or whatever your desired outcome happens to be.

Defining Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Clear roles and responsibilities are critical in aviation. Each pilot knows their responsibility for each phase in flight and for every contingency. For example, when an airliner takes off, one pilot is the flying pilot and is focused on flying the airplane. The other pilot is the supporting pilot and does almost everything else such as talking with air traffic control, calling out airspeeds, and raising the landing gear and flaps at the appropriate times.

In the Hudson River incident for US Airways flight 1549 was ditched in the Hudson River, there was a brief but interesting exchange on the cockpit voice recorder transcript. First Officer Skiles was the flying pilot, but after the incident with the birds, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger said “My Aircraft.” No additional explanation or instruction was given, but both pilots knew that their role had just changed. Captain Sully was now the flying pilot and First Officer Skiles focus shifted to getting out the emergency engine out checklists.

The reason for these clear roles and responsibilities is because of the repercussions when they do not exist. In a lesser known event during the Apollo space program, Gene Cernan and John Young found their Apollo 10 lunar module (the one before the moon landing) spinning out of control. They were able to correct the situation, but the root cause was a simple misplaced switch. One pilot put the switch in one position. The other pilot inadvertently put the switch in the other position, not realizing what the first pilot had done. There was not a crystal clear distinction on who would throw the switch.

How many times in project management has there been a lot of unneeded activity, lack of decision making, duplicate effort, or competing initiatives simply because roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined? Aviation’s experience would offer valuable lessons to implement in project management including:

  • Documenting roles and responsibilities (as opposed to assuming).
  • Setting roles and responsibilities for every project.
  • Setting roles and responsibilities for every process (that may be used across multiple projects).
  • Routinely communicating roles and responsibilities (instead of assuming everyone knows and understands them).
  • Maintaining accountability.
  • Continuously reviewing and updating responsibilities as needed.
  • Making sure that someone has the authority to make a decision.

There are several tools and methodologies for accomplishing this, including creating a RACI (responsible / accountable / consulted / informed) matrix.

A common argument is that people do not have the time for such definition. However, that is one of the benefits of doing so: to eliminate all of the time wasted because people do not understand everyone’s role. Additional benefits include:

  • Understanding who has the authority to make a decision.
  • Preventing competing activities.
  • Knowing who to keep informed.
  • Implementing proper accountability.

If your projects seem to be slowly spinning out of control, defining roles and responsibilities may be a good place to start.

Implementing Accountability
Aviation does not assume that everyone is following the standardized processes and maintaining their responsibility. It implements accountability measures to ensure that this is the case.

Pilots are required to attend training regularly where they learn new procedures, but they are also evaluated to ensure they are following proper procedures and have maintained a proper skill level. It doesn’t stop there. New pilots initially fly with an instructor pilot to ensure they are following what their training taught them. All pilots must occasionally fly with a check airman who evaluates the pilot’s performance in real-world operations. Captains hold First Officers accountable for following proper procedures.

When procedures are not properly followed, there is a clear course of action. That may be as serious as action from the FAA, or dismissal, or perhaps a visit to the airline’s chief pilot’s office.

Accountability is sometimes a bad word in project management but it is equally important. If people are not held accountable for following standardized procedures, how valuable are the procedures? Not very. If you are trying to implement predictable outcomes, how can you predict the outcome of a series of activities where people are not accountable to perform those activities in any sort of predictable fashion? You cannot.

Accountability provides many benefits to project management as it does to aviation:

  • It provides a clear view of what is expected of everyone.
  • It provides a clear understanding of what happens when the expectation is not met.
  • It ensures that activities are performed in a predictable fashion, thus contributing to a predictable outcome.

Employ Effective Training
Most people assume that the pilots that are flying their airliner have been properly trained, but they do not give it any more thought. The fact is that training is a huge part of the aviation paradigm and for good reason. Who wants to go on a flight with their family and put their lives in the hands of poorly trained pilots? There are a couple of key facets of aviation training that stand out:

  • Training is continuous.
  • Training is comprehensive and diverse.

We often view training as a one time event in project management. We train on a new system or to get a certain certification or learn a certain methodology. In aviation, training is a continuous part of the culture to create a safe, predictable outcome.

Pilots go through weeks of training when they first hire on with an airline. After that initial intense training, they perform additional training through on the job supervision and one on one training. It does not stop there. At least once a year, pilots are required to attend extensive classroom and simulator training.

The continuous training they undergo is also comprehensive and diverse in scope. It is not focused on a single area, such as technology or how to fly an airplane. Training includes at a minimum the following aspects:

  • Training on policies.
  • Training on standardized procedures.
  • Training on rules and regulations.
  • Training on roles and responsibilities.
  • Training on cockpit resource management (how to work better together).
  • Training on how to fly the airplane (skills).
  • Training on how to utilize the technology in the cockpit.
  • Training on the aircraft systems of the aircraft they will fly.
  • Training on contingencies.

Our training in project management is often a single event or is focused on technology instead of on ensuring that everyone has the knowledge and skills to create a predictable outcome for the organization.

Applying the experience of aviation, our project management training should turn into a continuous program. That does not mean it needs to always be formal training, but it does not to be continuously intentional.

Training also needs to cover the following essential areas:

  • Training on the organization’s standardized processes and how to follow them.
  • Training on roles and responsibilities.
  • Training on skills (how to be a good project manager or team member).
  • Training on the technology that will be used to accomplish the processes and predictable outcomes.

You cannot expect a predictable outcome if you do not regularly train people to create that predictable outcome.

Utilize Proper Tools and Technology
There was an article in a recent aviation periodical that referred to a newer generation airliner as a “650,000 pound laptop.” This referred to the fact that there is a lot of technology in today’s airline cockpits. In fact, when a pilot moves to a new airplane, much of the training is not on how to fly the airplane but on the technology and aircraft systems that need to be mastered.

Aviation uses technology to perform a number of support roles such as providing situational awareness during each phase in flight, and performing routine tasks that can be automated.

If we take this lesson in the perspective of what we have learned so far, it should also be recognized that utilizing tools and technology is an important but balanced part of the predictability of aviation. This simply means that:

  • Technology is not put off as not important to the overall goal of predictable outcomes.
  • Technology is also not overly emphasized over other aspects such as creating standardized processes.

There are clear lessons to learn in project management. Too often in project management we either focus too much on the tools and not the processes, or we focus on the processes but use poor tools such as spreadsheets. Either way, it is hard to create an environment of predictable outcomes.

Specifically in project management we need to use the right tools that:

  • Support our standardized processes.
  • Provide situational awareness.
  • Provide up to date information that the organization needs.
  • Provides insight into problems.
  • Automates things that can easily be automated.
  • Provides data from which to learn and improve processes.

Technology in the right context and usage provides another pillar from which to create those predictable outcomes.

Conclusion

Aviation has already learned through much experience (some good and some not so good) the important lessons of how to create predictable outcomes and manage inherent risk. It provides a good source of information that can be applied to our project management practices. Specifically, project management needs to:

  • Implement predictable and standardized processes
  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Implement accountability
  • Employ effective training
  • Utilize Proper Tools and Technology

While certainly not an extensive list of the lessons that can be learned, these provide a good starting point to create the predictable processes in project management that our organizations today desperately need.