Does Project Management Have Too Many Rules and Regulations?

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Michelle Symonds
Michelle Symonds spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in SEO.

Any activity that has already been given the name of “Project” is likely to involve considerable amounts of resources, whether that is time, people, money or all three. So it is fairly obvious that whoever has authorised the project will want to be certain that it delivers what is expected, that it meets the business requirements and stays within budget and on schedule. A sponsor will also expect that risks are managed and controlled in an effective way.


So a company will typically have evolved a strategy for minimising risks and enabling the best chance of success. Such strategies normally involve using a formal structured or knowledge-based methodology that has been proven not only on in-house projects but nationally or internationally on a whole series of projects in a wide range of business sectors. Project management methodologies are aimed at one result – success. And they have been shown to deliver projects on-time and on-budget time and again.


But by their very nature, these methodologies were devised for the most complex projects and very often projects are not that large or that complex. So for straightforward tasks is there any benefit in using a formal methodology or should each project’s specific circumstances be taken into account when deciding how to manage it?


There are many people who would argue that small projects can be managed with a calendar and a spreadsheet and good communication with the team. Sometimes that approach might even work – a team freed from the discipline of formal methods may just get on with it and deliver – on-time and on-budget. But what happens when something goes wrong – the schedule slips or an unforeseen risk happens?


In such circumstances a formal method has procedures in place to deal with these eventualities. Risk assessments will have been made, contingency plans made and they will all have been communicated to the stakeholders so that no-one is taken by surprise. More importantly a fully documented procedure provides ammunition for the manager to protect both himself/herself and the team from accusations of failure which can’t be good for anyone’s morale let alone career prospects.


So when you are next considering going it alone without a formal method for support, think about all the aspects of these methodologies that are actually beneficial to you and the team working for you. Or if you really believe that your small project will be mired in bureaucracy if you follow a defined approach then, alternatively, take only those aspects that will actually provide benefits to you, your team and your project. You may be surprised how many actually do.

There are a range of factors to be considered when making such decisions from the minutiae of frequency of reporting right through to the costs involved. Whether the method is a nationally or internationally recognised one like PRINCE2, APMP or PMI or perhaps a well established in-house method, depends on the organisation in which the project is being conducted. But there are some factors that indicate a full formal method should always be used, irrespective of project size or complexity and these are:

  • Inexperienced Project Manager
  • Totally new type of project, product or technology
  • High Risks (for any number of factors)
  • High Costs
  • Long schedule
  • Many sub-contractors involved


It is clear that different projects require different amounts of discipline and that a formal approach must be adaptable to different types of project but at the same time, no project should be conducted without some aspects of a formal method and full documentation if you want to guarantee the best chance of success.

For inexperienced project managers the process of following a formal method is a learning experience, which is often more valuable than the process itself. Inexperience poses a risk which following the discipline of a project management method can help to alleviate. Ideally, inexperienced project managers should have attended one of the many project management courses available in APMP, PRINCE2 or PMP prior to the start of the project but where this is not possible, an experienced project manager could be assigned to the project as a mentor to oversee progress.


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