Project Management is Dead

Dead Tree
This tree, unlike project management, is dead.

A podcast by E-Commerce Times’ Dana Gardner about technology projects got my attention. In it, Ron Schmelzer, of the advisory and analysis firm ZapThink, says: “We think that the whole idea of project management is just an increasing fallacy in IT anyway. There is no such thing now.” He’s not the first to suggest that project management is dead (Summers 2008; de Baar 2007), and he won’t be the last.

When you say “project management” some will immediately envision Gantt charts and Microsoft Project. Others will envision planning that requires a static environment as your project unfolds, communicating that assumes that your team is in one geographic location, or the luxuries of dedicated staff and a dedicated project manager. In the Gardner podcast, Schmelzer specifically mentions the interconnections between different IT projects as the reality that makes project management harder and harder to practice.

Project management can include all the formal tools and old realities of organizations, but is not entirely defined by them. To reject them is not the same as rejecting project management. Project management uses many tools—formal and informal—to execute a project “through its lifecycle, including defining the project, collaborating with stakeholders and team members, facilitating meetings, managing the timeline and deadlines, and overseeing all aspects of communication among the technical team and within the organization” (Fagan & Keach 2009, 8). We all choose among the tools available to us to fit our environment and our project.

The environment in which I work—an academic library—has never had dedicated managers or staff for a particular project. The projects typically do not exist separate from the other projects and day-to-day tasks. Our team members are increasingly working in different buildings and from home. And change is happening faster and faster. And yet, we still have meetings, timelines, and communication needs connected to our projects.
When you “do project management by the book,” you probably aren’t going to skip the Gantt chart. When you “do project management” in a lean and experimental fashion—picking and choosing what works best for you, your project, and your environment—project management doesn’t die. It adapts.

de Baar, Bas. (2007) Project Management Is Dead.

Fagan, Jody and Jennifer Keach (2009) Web Project Management for Academic Libraries. Oxford: Chandos.

Gardner, Dana. (2009) SOA and the Pragmatic Enterprise.

Summers, John (2008) Technical Software Project Management is Dead.

An earlier version of this article was published December 2009 in the blog for Web Project Management for Academic Libraries

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