Recently I watched the movie “Ratatouille” by Pixar/Disney. In this movie a renowned critic looks at the menu and asks the waiter for “a good meal of commonsense”. Of course the waiter does not understand and the critic explains to him he wants the best food the chef can manage.

Sometimes I feel like this critic when looking at how projects are managed. People tend to stick to accepted methods, best practices and known rules and regulations, but at the same time lose track of the things that really matter. Methods that were once introduced as guidelines for doing things better have become goals in itself.

Let me give you an example.

The UK government once studied successful projects and found some similarities. These similarities led to the project management method “PRINCE2″, a method widely used in Western Europe. PRINCE2 covers all kinds of projects, small and large, ICT related or not. So the method is quite elaborate and explicit about procedures, forms and project documentation.

Though Prince 2 is used widely in the Netherlands, many people consider the method to be very formal, producing a lot of paperwork and overhead. This is often true if you look at how the method is implemented. Also Prince 2 is often only partially implemented (“PINO”, Prince in name only) to make it more “lightweight”.
In both cases often Prince 2 does not lead to (very) successful projects.

So why is it that a method that is derived from successful projects often does not lead to successful projects?

In my opinion it has nothing to do with the method itself but everything with the mindset of the people implementing the method. It is not the method that does the trick; it is the rationale behind the method and subsequently the awareness of these rationales by the people using the method. If you know why a specific process or form helps creating a better project result then you also know what choices to make when implementing the method.
(Of course there are a lot of other things that determine the project success but that’s out of scope for now).

In the case of Prince 2 my advice is to implement all the processes described in the method, but to choose carefully the extend of paperwork/overhead for each process. The reason behind this is that each process described in Prince 2 has a rationale behind it, a reason why that specific process helps creating better results. Omitting that specific process could mean that the project (manager) is less in control. Implementing that process with too much paperwork has a negative impact on the effectiveness of that process (to a point that the process becomes counter productive).
The rule should be: “as much paperwork as needed but less is better”.

It is interesting to see that sometimes people with the least knowledge of PM methods create the best results. May be they practice a little bit more of “commonsense”? 😉