I currently work in IT project management in a public organization. The industry of IT is relatively new, and the maturity of the IT industry in public organizations is in its infancy. The barriers and struggles in getting projects proposed, approved, executed, and controlled range from bureaucracy, new and emerging technologies, and lack of resource availability. Try to explain project management best practices and processes to your typical agency director or rule making body and you are likely to be met with blank stares. Say, “cone of uncertainty”. We are only now beginning to see some exploration on the value of project management offices, professional project managers, and PMP certification. It is the reality of living in this world that makes me marvel at the barriers that are overcome by many large engineering projects.
I base this statement on a number of presentations I have attended at PMI events; Tacoma Narrows Bridge replacement, rehabilitation of the Washington State Capital building, Boeing 787 development, and most recently replacement of the Hood Canal Bridge. I first got sucked in to the marvel of project management in engineering projects when catching part of a documentary on the building of an aerial tramway. Marvel may seem like an extreme word, but it best describes my emotion in seeing these recaps. I marvel at successful communication with hundreds of vendors across the globe, setbacks due to archeological and geological finds after construction begins that are overcome, the risk and uncertainty in geology, weather, and the economy, and the massive amount of constraints and coordination. Most of the projects I’ve seen presented included schedule and budget adjustments; yet they are not viewed as failures.
So here is my hypothesis. The long history of experience and best practices of engineering create a culture where project management is embraced and honored. Project managers are trusted as industry experts; teams follow and stakeholders trust. Inquiry into processes and results are made by comparable industry experts and therefore not given the same scrutiny and distrust from stakeholders that I have observed. Communication across multi-disciplined, geographically dispersed team is a practiced, fine art. Project planning, risk management, and schedule development as known as essential and not perceived a delay to the project. Then again, as I think about this last sentence, given the newness of the discipline to IT in government, I must acknowledge that perceptions likely begin at the source here.
Bottom line, the experience of those overseeing, participating in, and funding projects leads to a better understanding of all that is involved to accept the fact the good project management is able to respond to the changes that happen, rather than expect the initial plans to hold true throughout the life of the project.
Update 10/31/2011 – Just ran across A Brief Pictorial History of Project Management. Check it out.