History is the how-to manual for the future – but only if it lasts that long.
People are studying project success rates all the time, and they find that well over half of all projects fail to some significant degree, even when the standards of measurement are relatively forgiving.
Why are things this way? Well, there are the people, generally very good people. Then there’s the process, often not a very good process.
First, the people. Project managers, when they’re successful, are action people. They typically are not contemplative types. They thrive on engaging the multiple simultaneous challenges of complex innovation. Their days are consumed by the trials, errors and revisions that keep projects moving through the fog of uncertainty. If something works, great. If it doesn’t, let’s move right on and try something else.
This is the way to go, as far as it goes. When it doesn’t go far enough, the project manager’s workstyle, combined with other typical factors, does not encourage a cult of preparation and documentation. If they’re not careful, project managers are tempted to shortcut planning and tracking.
That can limit the formal planning/operating process to combining adoption of some old paperwork with finger-crossing for what’s new this time. There is no history. Individual memories tend to be selective and incomplete, and of course the memories leave when their owners do. The institution doesn’t develop and retain knowledge for use the next time.
When that happens, it results from a false choice: Either we get going and tackle this challenge, or we sit around and waste time attempting to plan the unplannable.
Don’t be tempted. Professional project management methodology, thoughtfully employed, works. It engages the unfamiliarity, the complexity and the risks – while actually taking less time and hassle.