When Shim asked I write a blog about what project management means to me I first thought that would be easy. I'd just write about how I came to project management from my software development past and how managing software development projects was a natural transition from those experiences.
The more I thought about it, the less I understood my actual motivations to be a project manager. At first it meant being more involved in the business aspects of projects and programs. But at this stage in my career - late career - there is something different about my roles on projects. When I discovered the quote from Edwin Land a few years ago, it all became clear.
Never undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible
Land's statement came into focus when I was a manager of Project Managers at Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, in Golden Colorado. This was a U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Agency production site that operated from 1952 to 1992. Rocky Flats was the most contaminated nuclear weapons plant in the country, it was an environmental disaster and the site of rampant worker unrest. Estimates projected that cleaning up and closing the facility would take 70 years and $36 Billion. The actual project was completed in 10 years for $6 Billion, and was the PMI 2006 Project of the Year.
My world view of project management was finalized after Rocky Flats and has now been extended to the 5 Principles, Practices, and Processes I apply to all projects and programs I encounter. The development of these concepts has been informed over several decades, starting with the software projects I worked on and managed. This software ranged from embedded navigation and guidance systems, to commercial products, real-time control systems, to ERP. There was always a common thread - mission critical and now working on the policy side of Earned Value Management and standing up Program Planning and Controls systems
I get meaning from working programs (as we say) for the program's success. This success can be simple - it worked as we planned. Or it can be more complex - I was there when something momentous happened from the program - landing on Mars, cleaning up a toxic waste site, having a customer say to a large crowd, this program would not have been a success without you and your team.
These are personal rewards for me. Working projects that are difficult, important, and nearly impossible and learning things that I never knew about before is also a reward. A recent one was learning and applying the programming language R to statistical forecasting of cost and schedule for ACAT1 (Acquisition Category 1) programs. These are programs greater than $5 Billion. There are currently 78 of those. The new methods we are developing will increase visibility into their future performance and provide information needed to take corrective actions to keep these programs GREEN.
In the end, my current approach to project success is been developed over the decades of experience, both technical and managerial. This result is the Five Principles, Practices, and Processes described in Performance-Based Project Management® shown below and the related book.