It always surprises me when people tell me they know nothing about project management and/or how to carry out a project. And although formal project management can be a challenging collection of activities, there are smaller and not so small projects we all carry out in our lives, such as getting a college degree, buying a house, moving to a new city, etc. And, in all these cases, the triple constraint elements of a project are always there. These are:
- Scope – description of the work to be done, including goals.
- Schedule – life is finite, as is patience. Therefore, you have to have a timeline with deadlines.
- Budget – unless you have unlimited funds, there is a cap on how much you can spend.
Of course, there are other parts to a project; however, the three bullet points above are at the heart of any project. And the other parts, such as risk, quality control, and procurement, are also activities we have undertaken as part of any project we have undertaken.
Therefore, it comes to me as a huge surprise every time I see that in times of crises, people, especially our politicians, leaders, and any responsible parties omit basic parts of project management, such as the triple constraint noted above or, sometimes, more importantly, stakeholder engagement and communication, which are typically fused. As we all know, a project’s success is directly related to the stakeholders’ performance and/or effective participation. And, when it comes to major crises, stakeholder engagement is indispensable. Of course, strong leadership is also essential.
We all know we live through a challenging time with the pandemic, which is unknown to all current living generations, but other crises are less unusual, such as recurring economic crises, which come around every decade or so; political strife; and social unrest. Therefore, there is no excuse why the people in charge cannot use some common sense and proven tools and techniques from project management to handle these crises. Also, I am not talking about political viewpoints or specific politicians. Whatever side you take, there needs to be a clear goal or vision of what we are working for, plus the activities needed to get us there.
Let’s take the pandemic example, which I realize is a sensitive issue. There are as many viewpoints as there are people; at least it seems so at times. And although I realize that a budget and schedule, and scope, are difficult to define, they are definitely caveats. In all scopes, for example, we include exemptions, constraints, and assumptions. We may not like these terms, but we have something in writing that we can understand and/or use as a roadmap to the ultimate goals. Currently, in most parts of the world, there seems to be a lack of direction. Worst of all, the risks get identified, but they are rarely addressed with adequate responses if any. For example, at times, we hear that the pandemic will destroy a certain sector of the economy, but there is no Plan B, should the risk materialize.
More concerning, for me personally, is the lack of stakeholder engagement and communication that currently exists. As modern project management has evolved over the last few decades, there has been an increase in the importance placed on stakeholder participation and engagement, and communication. Statistics and empirical experience have shown that getting people motivated and engaged in the goal helps them feel they share ownership in the outcome. Therefore, they are more invested and willing to help. This is something that I feel is lacking in the pandemic and other major events globally. Our leaders and/or politicians neglect to understand their constituents’ relevance and exigency, which leads to more uncertainty, stress, and inefficiency in the way we come out or our collective crises.