When it comes to project management, looking back is just as exciting and entertaining as looking forward to the future! We asked Heinrich Drügemöller, Managing Director of the project service provider iatrocon GmbH, to report from his wealth of experience of more than 3 decades in project management. And to deduce where the dynamic segment of project management is headed. This much can already be revealed: It was, is and will remain exciting!
What has changed in project management? And what is next?
Like most other areas in the working world, project management has also changed significantly in recent years. In the process, it has been able to benefit, perhaps even more than other areas, from digitalization and automation - provided that PMOs, teams and project leaders were and are willing to help shape the IT-driven future of project management.
What has digitalization actually achieved for project management? And what future will the new project world take us into? Heinrich Drügemöller, Senior Project Manager and Managing Director of iatrocon GmbH, takes a retrospective look and a glance into the future. In his guest article, Drügemöller, who has more than 35 years of project experience, provides an overview of the status quo and shows where the PM path can lead.
The good old days?
"Everything used to be better!" - really? I would say: Everything was different in the past, and some of it was perhaps really better. Or, at least, one had achieved the best possible state with the means available at the time. At least, that was always my ambition in the period from 1985 to 2020, when I carried out projects for various companies. And that in the most diverse constellations: employed, as a service provider with my own team or as a program manager / project manager. The projects took me through numerous industries with different topics - but the focus was on IT topics in a technical environment. During these three and a half decades, the aforementioned means, i.e. both the methods and procedures as well as the tools, changed dramatically.
At the beginning of my career, for example, projects were still being carried out without PCs, cell phones, e-mail, and video conferencing. Even office applications that are commonplace today were hardly available at first. The predominant tools were paper, desk calculators, landline telephones, slide rules, drawing boards - and fax machines, of course, for modern and fast communication. But as archaic and cumbersome as the earlier tools may seem from today's perspective, organizations, sets of rules and standards were already developing back then in order to harmonize project management methods in the long term and to map them uniformly.
Excursus: Examples of project management organizations and methods
Standardization is - in my view - a significant achievement for project management: It creates uniform processes and structures and thus also optimizes internationally cooperating teams. It makes projects and their efficiency comparable. Finally, certifications make it possible to objectively prove the qualification of project managers and their teams - and to use them in the best possible way.
One of the oldest PM organizations is IPMA (International Project Management Association), which as an umbrella organization currently unites around 70 member companies. It was founded in 1965. The central secretariat is located in the Netherlands.
Today's leading project management methods were not widely used or published for a long time. It was not until 1987 that PMI (Project Management Institute) published a first PMBOK® Guide, which is now in its 7th edition 2021.
In April 1989, PRINCE® (Projects In Controlled Environments) was introduced. PRINCE® was regularly applied outside of pure IT environments. Recognizing that PRINCE® can be used for all types of projects, some simplifications were made and the method was published as PRINCE2® in October 1996.
Other standards in the agile field, which are on everyone's lips today, were not yet defined or described for projects when I started. These include, for example, Scrum, the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) or Hybrid Project Management.
Back to the eighties
The success of projects in the 1980s was determined by the seniority and experience of the project manager, the skills of his or her employees, and the trust of management in the project team. In addition, tasks were not as extensive and complex as they are today, at least in the IT sector. For complicated and complex large-scale projects, the first network diagram programs on mainframes were available in the 1980s and were used, for example, in the construction of large chemical plants, nuclear power plants or production facilities in the automotive sector. Entire office walls were "papered" with project plans, and only a few experts were able to create and subsequently interpret these plans. The data for these network plans was compiled by numerous project team members and collected on paper. This required appropriately large teams. The project team members usually sat together in the open-plan offices that were modern at the time - of course, there was still no sign of remote working.
When I personally look back to those early days of project management, I have the impression that people were satisfied with less functionality back then. The existing functions were sufficient to ensure operations in payroll and accounting, for example. Even complex calculations in mechanics, thermodynamics or physics could be performed with the available technology and delivered qualified results. It "Felt" like these projects were successful.
Today, many things are better!
Let's take a leap into the present day: We find ourselves in a completely changed project environment. Technically, the world of project management has changed dramatically. Employees can collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world. Video conferencing, e-mail and project management tools make this possible.
Methodologically, too, there are no longer any shortcomings or deficits today. No matter which method a company uses, each of the methods is suitable. Differences in the way of working (and thus in the choice of methodology) result from the type of project, the business sector or also from preferences in the project teams. Personally, I have worked on projects in various companies, for example, according to:
There are extensive certification programs and corresponding literature on the methods mentioned here. The methods help the project team members to approach the respective task in the project in a structured way. I myself have successfully passed the PMI® and Prince2® certification.
However, although standardized methods, highly qualified employees and the greatest possible digitalization create ideal conditions today, not all projects are successful by a long shot. Two examples from my recent work show the background.
Example 1: A lot does not always help a lot
An international company works according to PMI® and has created corresponding templates on MS Office basis for the processes and steps. The first challenge for the project manager was to find his way through the many templates, since there were several variants for critical templates (for example, for the calculation of profitability). It was not possible to get an overview of the many templates and find the right one. This landscape of templates that supported PMI® led to a project that was formally documented correctly, but was totally out of sync in terms of content. The project team simply lost track of the volume of data. In addition, much of the data in the templates had to be transferred manually to another required template. The PMO had only checked the existence of the templates, but not their content. The steering committee/steering board were responsible for checking the content, but did not have the time to do so in detail. Also, no one had dealt with the project plan that had been created, and resources were managed separately in Excel. It was therefore not possible to control the activities. And because reporting also did not function correctly, the project's imbalance was recognized way too late.
Less is more. The unmanageable number of templates must be replaced. It would also be ideal to use a dedicated project management tool that makes resources and risks more transparent and documents the progress of the project in a comprehensible manner. Like Can Do, for example, with its AI engine and its own algorithm for project and risk management.
Example 2: Disruptions, risks, priorities and other problems
I had the task of taking over an MES project (MES, Manufacture Execution System) that had fallen behind schedule. At the time of the takeover, the project had already been running for more than 1 ½ years. At the time of the project takeover, the first realization phase was 2 months behind schedule. The entire project control was carried out with Excel. After the project takeover was completed, my first activity was to conduct root cause research on the project delay. It turns out the following:
Top management had intervened in the realization plan 3 months after the start and fundamentally changed the priorities. This intervention had a massive impact on resources and subgoals.
Nevertheless, the realization plan had not been adjusted. The company did not have project management processes and no methodology was followed. Standards for the realization of large IT projects were also not in place.
There were also insufficient resources available internally, and the IT resources were also involved in many other tasks. There were a larger number of priority 1 projects that were also already complaining about too few resources.
Stopping the project and remedying some of the deficiencies mentioned was not considered as an option. The available budget was used to address the major deficiencies through external resources. A project plan was created and fully maintained manually. A further lack of resource alignment with portfolio management did not improve the overall resource situation. In addition, top management repeatedly changed prioritizations that had a direct impact on the project work. Risk management was introduced for the project. Based on the risks identified and their impact, reports were submitted to the Steering Board. Risk management was not actively pursued in the portfolio itself.
Portfolio management was identified as a major source of errors or wrong decisions, as no clear priorities and risks were managed for the individual projects. In addition, since no transparent resource management was practiced, the projects very often started under the wrong framework conditions. The first measure would be to support portfolio management with a suitable tool and to manage priorities, risks and resources at portfolio level. Once this is stabilized, further steps can be taken.
Another measure accompanying the introduction of a tool should be the education and training of employees on project management. If the impact on the current project is very large, project termination is also an alternative. A new project, better aligned with the strategic goals, often leads better to success. Before it has to get that far, software such as Can Do can also significantly stabilize and improve project management: Can Do is almost infinitely scalable up to the largest portfolios and enables real-time resource allocation as well as portfolio-wide controlling.
Where is the journey taking us?
Digitalization creates data - and those who make the best use of it can decisively improve their project management. Having seen project management become increasingly technologized over the past few years, it is now up to managers and employees to keep pace with this development and cut out old habits. The tools for this are already there, and I think they will continue to develop in a rather evolutionary way over the next few years. So it's not too late!
The project management train continues to roll into the future, and its next stops include developments such as hybrid project management or the use of artificial intelligence. It is now up to each PMO and each project manager to decide whether to jump on this train ...
If you look at the work of project management at the beginning of my career and compare it with today's actual state, you can see: The working tools have changed and the possibilities to optimize projects have improved - but then as now, project success lies in the fact that the employees in the teams, the stakeholders and the project managers use the tools they have at their disposal in a way that is appropriate for the project. And unfortunately, the tendency to misleading spontaneity has persisted among some managers, as has the opinion among some employees that every project can be planned with a spreadsheet ...
"We've always done it this way": This sentence has always been a popular, but also unmasking excuse for refusing innovations. Wherever it appears, it should be supplemented by "And if it is to continue successfully, we will do it better from now on!". This is especially true in the ever-changing world of project management.
About the author
Heinrich Drügemöller is senior project manager and managing director of the project service provider iatrocon GmbH. He has more than 35 years of expertise in projects and over 20 years of experience in corporate management. His industry expertise includes insurance and banking, utilities and energy, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals and transport logistics. He holds the PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environment), PRINCE2 Practitioner as well as PMI (Project Management Institute), PMP (Project Management Professional) certifications. Heinrich Drügemöller is a guest author for Can Do.