Project management system

A system is vital to managing anything effectively and efficiently. Projects are no exception. There needs to be a system in your project, and at the very least both the sponsor and the project manager need to understand the system and agree on it. The following case study shows why the sponsor and project manager must agree on the basics of the system to be used for project management in their project.

Case study

Why project management systems matter: a case study from the UK public sector

This case study may sound incredible but is sadly a true real-life example. Sad because it wasted a million pounds of taxpayers' money. There was a 1 million budget project in a UK government body where the government organization used the term 'sponsor' to mean, in effect, low-level administrator with no power. This organization did have people called 'responsible directors' who fulfilled a role that most other organizations call 'sponsor'. The organization also had adopted no fewer than four different standard methodologies for project management, including PMBOK, PRINCE2, APM and the British Standard. It hired an outside project manager to run the project, the responsible director washed their hands of the project, the 'sponsor' mandated one project management methodology one week and another the next, and because of great confusion about which project management system was to be used, and also for other reasons, another million pounds of public money was wasted. It only became clear some months after the project that a major cause of project failure had been confusion about the project management system had it been clear at the start, the project manager could perhaps have avoided many of the problems but at least would have halted the project. The project manager was blamed for everything that went wrong. A new project manager was hired, who confirmed that the first project manager was indeed useless and incompetent, and then proceeded himself to fail even more spectacularly to deliver the project, for roughly the same reasons. The government organization shrugged off this double failure as just the way that projects are. It did not document any of the lessons learnt in its lessons learnt database. Such is the way that public money is sometimes spent.


A project management system need not be large and complicated, and certainly should not be bureaucratic. The most important thing is that the sponsor and project manager agree on what the system is, or they can even start by agreeing that there is no system and that they will develop one as they go along. It is also perfectly good to say 'We will use the Company's standard project management system' or 'We will use the Company's standard project management system but adapt it as necessary for the needs of this particular project'. Whether you document adaptations or not is of course up to you, but again the project manager and sponsor should agree, in order to avoid wastage by, for example, the project manager documenting where the project will differ in its system from the company's standard when the sponsor sees no need. The kind of thing that needs to be surfaced and discussed, to continue with that example, is if the project intends to take many other people into the project team from the same organization at a later stage, then having documentation of how the project management system differs from the company standard will save much time and risk in inducting those people into the project.

One of the standard methodologies for project management, such as the PMBOK one which is followed in this book, can save much time and effort by providing much, but not all, of a project management system. However, the golden rule in project management is to focus on being effective: pick something that works and be prepared to bend, break and chop up existing standards and approaches to get it right for your project (within the constraints of your organization's policy, of course). One very successful project manager eschewed all specialist project management methodology and based his system on the 1980s edition of the British Army's Platoon Commander's Aide Memoire. It worked for him. By all accounts he was a pain to work for, and the women who worked for him complained that they felt they were actually in the army in his platoon, but the fact is that his projects ran well and even the women who worked for him respected him. Conversely, there are people who score top marks in all the project management training and tests of methodologies yet who could not run a successful project if their lives depended on it. Find a system that works and stick to it, and develop it as you go.

PMI says

'Project Management System (Tool). The aggregation of the processes, tools, techniques, methodologies, resources, and procedures to manage a project. The system is documented in the project management plan and its context will vary depending upon the application area, organizational influence, complexity of the project, and the availability of existing systems. A project management system, which can be formal or informal, aids a project manager in effectively guiding a project to completion. A project management system is a set of processes and the related monitoring and control functions that are consolidated and combined into a functioning, unified whole.' PMBOK Guide (p.369)


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Definitive Guide to Project Management. The Fast Track to Getting the Job Done on Time and on Budget
The Definitive Guide to Project Management: The fast track to getting the job done on time and on budget (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 0273710974
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 217
Authors: Sebastian Nokes
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