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What do you think you know about project management? As people age, we often realize that the beliefs that we held when we were younger are no longer true. Things change. We grow. Technology advances. So are the beliefs that you’ve held for years about project management necessarily true? Are people today falling for project management myths that are simply flawed?

I was having lunch with another project manager recently and we were discussing the difference between the way seasoned project managers see their role, and the way younger people without much experience see project management as a discipline.

Many young people leading projects today have a completely different mindset. They may be on to something important. Consider the teams of young people who get together and work on a project, with no planning or schedule, and get it done in a weekend. Maybe there is something we can learn from these product launch weekends.

Regardless of the changing nature of project management and the different approaches, there are some dangerous project management myths project managers should avoid falling for. In my experience project managers who tend to fall for some of the most common myths are in two major categories: either a large, bureaucratic background, or a smaller, leaner background. Regardless of whether you fall into these two categories, make sure you’re not falling for these common project management myths.

Bureaucratic background

There are many highly trained and seasoned project managers in this group. They have been through PMI training and likely have multiple certifications. They may be working in organizations which have spent years doing things one particular way. Or, they may be in companies which have just begun to think about incorporating more Agile approaches into a well-established process. Regardless, it can be hard to let go of beliefs that you’ve thought were pretty solid ideas. Here are some project management myths that I see in that group.

We can’t begin a project until we have clear requirements.

That is certainly the mindset for those who are still using a Waterfall methodology.

If you’re planning your large family’s long-awaited vacation trip to Disney World, how much do you need to know before you get on the plane? You can’t know everything, but you might want to know that you have a place to sleep.

The same is true in business projects. You need to know some things. But how much? If the Agile movement has taught us anything, it might be that you need to be able to identify the next steps, even when you can’t see the road. I’d like to think that even if we can’t see the road that we know what direction the road is going to take us. No one, other than a ballet dancer, wants to be traveling in circles for very long.

While we sometimes must begin a project without clear requirements, a clear and compelling vision for the project is critical. Know your why. Define what you are NOT going to do, as you try to define what you ARE going to do.

#PM Myth: You can’t begin a project until you have clear requirements. Truth: Even if you can’t see the road, you know what direction the road is going. Identify the next steps and keep moving forward. Click To Tweet

We need to know the schedule before we start.

This myth comes in various permutations and combinations, including: we need to know the critical path before we start. People who come from a traditional Waterfall background can have a hard time letting go of this belief. There are many highly skilled, seasoned project managers spending a lot of time on scheduling and earned value management. And yet, in a rapidly changing world, this may be one of those beliefs that we should discard.

We don’t need a rigid schedule. We need to define the essential activities, but not every single task. We need to know what ‘done’ looks like for all of the essential activities. We need to know the critical deadlines. We need to understand any true dependencies. The team can decide during execution on the best way to get the work done.

#PM Myth: You need to know the schedule before you start. Truth: You don’t need a rigid schedule. Define the essential activities and decide what ‘done’ looks like. Click To Tweet

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a list of all of the project tasks.

Microsoft Project certainly propelled this myth into the mainstream. The last time I looked at the software, the term work breakdown structure, or WBS for short, referred to a numbering and indentation system applied to the list of activities in the Gantt chart. There is nothing particularly wrong with this belief. But a picture is worth 1000 words. And a long list of project activities, both large and small, can be distracting. It can cause people to miss the forest for the trees.

It is much more helpful to think of your WBS as a graphic display of the essential activities. Picture an organizational chart with each one of your project activities displayed in boxes, organized in columns that the customer finds most helpful. Some people prefer to arrange the columns in some kind of linear sequence. I find this approach most helpful in construction work, where the work is more linear.

Another approach is to think about how you want to view your budget and align the activities to conform to budget reporting. I recommend this approach. If you are unclear about how to create a WBS and set up a new project, check out this four-step guide.

#PM Myth: A Work Breakdown Structure is a list of all of the project tasks. Truth: A WBS is a graphic display of the essential activities. #ProjectManagement Click To Tweet

Project management is about assigning tasks.

Said differently, this one might translate into: project managers tell people what to do, or project managers keep people straight.

That’s certainly an approach to project management that a lot of organizations use. The idea of self-managing teams hasn’t really gone mainstream. But the benefits of using teams that are engaged in managing their own work are significant. You can realize some of those benefits without a major organizational restructuring. Check out these tips for using self-managed teams.

Maybe it’s time to let go of the command and control mindset. Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, speaks of autonomy as a key motivational factor. The same is true for teams. Teams that are in control of their own work tend to be far more productive. There is a shared sense of responsibility and accountability.

#PM Myth: #ProjectManagement is about assigning tasks. Truth: The benefits of self-managing teams are significant and is something you should explore. Click To Tweet

Smaller, leaner groups

People who come from smaller, leaner organizations are likely more knowledgeable about Lean and Agile, and methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban. They have likely attended a product launch weekend or know people who have. This group also includes organizations that are in survival mode, fighting for their life. They simply don’t have time for project management, or at least, they don’t think they have time for it. For this group, the most likely project management myths include the following.

The first thing we do on a new project is to list a bunch of needed activities.

This myth may have started with Microsoft Project or may just be an effort to avoid writing everything you know about the needs of the project. While there’s nothing wrong with that, you still need to identify your why. Do you know what’s most important to your client or management team? I’ve seen people spend days working on a project before the customer even authorizes it. What happens when your client backs out, and you are left with a week’s worth of time that you can’t bill? If you haven’t read my blog on starting projects wisely, check it out.

#PM Myth: The first thing to do on a new project is list a bunch of needed activities. Truth: The first thing you need to do is identify your why. Click To Tweet

Project management just means getting tasks done.

There is no question that getting tasks done is a critical part of project management. And some companies are simply in survival mode. Getting it done is about the best they can hope for.

But the danger of this myth is in thinking that if everything gets done that you have necessarily been successful. There are many other aspects of project management. Yet most of the popular project management software tools ignore many of those aspects. In the previously mentioned blog on starting projects, I talked about defining success factors, failure criteria, and understanding what’s important. It will vary from project to project.

#PM Myth: #ProjectManagement just means getting tasks done. Truth: Completed tasks do not equal project success. Defining success factors and failure criteria are essential in Project Management. Click To Tweet

We don’t have time for real project management.

This myth may be a twist on the getting tasks done myth. It reminds me of the question that I used to ask my children when they were young. If you don’t have time to put your toys in the right place, how are you going to find the time to clean out the closet where you hid everything when you thought I wasn’t looking?

I can understand why younger organizations and those in survival mode don’t have time for project management. If you watch any YouTube videos on how to do scheduling, earned value management, critical path analysis, or resource allocation, you can go brain dead.

But there are some really good practices that you can use that won’t fry your brain.

#PM Myth: You don’t have time for real #projectmanagement Truth: There are some really good practices that you can use that won’t fry your brain. Click To Tweet

Risk management is for big companies.

And speaking of good practices that you should implement, risk management is one. It’s not just for big companies. Let’s face it, your little group doesn’t have nearly the financial cushion that larger companies might have. You need to get it right. Here’s the secret sauce to risk management, and a three-step process that you can do.

#PM Myth: Risk management is for big companies. Truth: Risk management is a best practice that can be done by organizations of all sizes. Click To Tweet

Does this feel overwhelming? Are you interested in an email course on project management? I’m working on a new one now. Let me know what you’d like to learn and I’ll add you to my growing list. Give me a call to discuss, and maybe I’ll write a blog about your particular dilemma.