Previous feature

Is PM going soft?

Is project management going soft? Yes, and not a moment too soon.

I am the first to ridicule the Project Manager sitting in his office, managing by Gantt chart. I believe that an emphasis on the "softer" side of project management is essential. Good Project Managers have always known that. The best have always done that.

Business Change Management, Stakeholder Management, Communications Management, etc. now rightly appear in Bodies of Knowledge. Training courses teach. Qualifications examine. Articles implore. Presenters, Charles Willbe included, evangelise.

But not all Project Managers are "good" and fewer still are "best". For those who fit neither category, "soft" skills are convenient alternatives to the traditional ones that they lack. I have heard them describe planning as dictatorial, estimation as trivial and risk management as just too depressing.

The move towards Agile software development illustrates both the best and the worst of what is happening. The Agile Manifesto states:

"We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more." Agile Alliance, 2001

True adherents of Agile subscribe to the whole manifesto. Others read only the first half of each bullet. Most ignore the final paragraph.

Physical agility without expertise can cripple you. Agile without basic project management can cripple your project. Addiction to the "soft" wrappings of a project can cause neglect of its "hard" core. Direction, control and delivery are the casualties.

Agile methods work best when business benefits are understood, sufficient resources are available and unknowns are anticipated. Agile is not an excuse for slack project management. Agility requires balance.

But Agile is just an example. "Soft" skills are always essential for the delivery of benefits - so are "hard" skills. I know a project where embedding the deliverables into the culture was everything, they just lacked the deliverables!

In pursuit of the "soft" let's not neglect the "hard". As my father used to tell me, "Don't chuck out the baby with the bath water".