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Too Much of a Good Thing

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There’s no question a sound project management methodology helps an information technology project succeed in terms of cost, schedule and functionality. However, just as there’s risk in too little project management, too much project management can be a hindrance.

There’s no question a sound project management methodology helps an information technology project succeed in terms of cost, schedule and functionality. However, just as there’s risk in too little project management, too much project management can be a hindrance.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Information Technology Bureau formed a project management office in 2005 to coordinate a standard process for managing projects. Several IT staffers completed project management training and acquired the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. Our PMO initiatives reaped many benefits, such as better alignment with our agency’s mission, resource planning, project prioritization and control and oversight. Project management has become an integral part of our operations.

At the same time, our experience shows that project management in government has a natural tendency to grow bureaucratically. What’s more, formal project management training advocates a consistent methodology, which some misconstrue as rigid methodology. Rigidity requires that every project receive the same measure of methods and management, regardless of size, risk profile, team dynamics, clarity of vision or resource requirements.

Such rigidity can impede success by applying too much overhead to smaller projects. We have learned that the way to manage a big project should be different from the way we manage a small one. For example, building a basic website versus a complex legacy-system rewrite represents both ends of the project management spectrum and clearly requires different amounts of control.

Incorporating project management methodology has been a cultural shift. One undesirable effect of this intense indoctrination is that sometimes we focus too much on methods and not enough on the project itself. This, too, can halt progress. As a result, we are right-sizing our project management methods.

Comparing the characteristics of large and small projects suggests fundamental differences in how project management methodology should be applied. For example, large IT projects, because of the far-reaching impact of failure, demand the utmost in formal planning, organization and management. But for small projects, formality and adherence to the comprehensive project management model are stifling. There’s need for less formality when there’s a carefully chosen, well-informed project team in which synergy spurs information flow.

Our experience confirms the value of a sound IT project management methodology. However, organizations will do well to balance structured control with relaxed control, depending on project size. This balance is critical to moving projects efficiently and quickly through the pipeline.

Mark Kinkade is CIO of the Illinois Department of Transportation and holds the Project Management Professional certification.

Size Comparison

Large projects

  • High risk and many unknown issues
  • High cost
  • Long timeframe for deliverables
  • Complex vision, requirements and deliverables
  • Many resources required
  • Big team
  • Variable team dynamics

Small projects

  • Low risk and few unknown issues
  • Low cost
  • Short timeframe for deliverables
  • Clearly understood vision, requirements and deliverables
  • Few resources required
  • Small team
  • Strong team dynamics

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Jul 07 2008

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