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Project Management 3.0: Are You Ready to Upgrade?

What version are you running?  That is the question you are likely to be asked if you have a problem with a program on your PC, tablet or phone.  But the same question is apt for the projects and initiatives your organization is running.  That is because, if the version of project management you are using is not up to date some important features may not be available and performance is likely to suffer.  

In Need of an Upgrade?

Just like so many aspects of business, how projects are managed is changing fast.  Traditional Project management, let’s call it version 1.0, has been around for a long time. While it excels at providing visibility and control for project managers, its role in ensuring the success of projects is increasingly being called into question.  Indeed, reports suggest that as many as 8 out of 10 projects are struggling – they are either behind time, over budget or failing to deliver the results expected. While these reports may be exaggerated, there is no question but project management’s popularity has waned.

Project Management 1.0

Designed for simpler times, Project Management 1.0 may well be coming to its end-of-life. An accelerating pace of change and increased intensity of competition, demand speed, agility and innovation.  These things are not compatible with version 1.0 – hence the need to upgrade. 

The characteristics of V1.0 are top down, bureaucratic, waterfall and task centered.  However, the approach that maximizes confidence and ambition has the following characteristics: Bottom-up, agile, innovative, iterative and team-centric. This is what we call Project Management V3.0. 

V1.0 is rooted in a project plan with clear project outputs, while the roots of V3.0 go deeper – they connect with business needs / strategy and are tied to business outcomes and impact.

Project Management 1.0Project Management 3.0
Waterfall / BureaucraticAgile / Iterative
Top DownBottom Up
Occasional Project ReviewsRegular Project Adjustments
Bureaucracy & ControlInnovation & Creativity
Project OutputsBusiness Outcomes / Impact
Removed from StrategyConnected to Strategy
Task CentredTeam Centric

With its bureaucratic core, V1 is a linear version of project management where things move in a straight line and adherence to plan is paramount.  On the other hand, V3 allows teams to duck and weave, adapting their plans to reality as it unfolds. While project rigour is as important as ever, V3 recognises that ‘the best made plans are often laid to waste’.  It does not hold teams captive to plans that look good on paper, but are not working ‘on the ground’. 

Perhaps the best way to know if a project is running V1.0 or V3.0 is to sit in on a project review. With V1.0 Project Management, reviews are not happening regularly enough and when they do happen, they are not effective enough – as evidenced by the levels of energy, engagement and exploration from those present.  The focus of V3.0 is not just on reviewing, but rather adjusting.  It is an iterative approach with short plan – do – review cycles that foster creativity, experimentation and innovation.

Is Version 3.0 the Answer?

Version 3.0 and higher are far from perfect, but they are designed to deliver increasingly ambitious projects within a fast-changing environment. They promote agility, collaboration and innovation, even if that comes at the cost of the ‘perfect’ Gantt chart, or project plan. Unlike previous versions that ran on bureaucracy, V.3 runs on agility.

However, V 3.0 won’t solve all the challenges of project management.  When it comes to ambitious, innovative and complex projects, delays, overruns and shortfalls are not a bug in the system – they are part of the system.  It would be naïve to suggest that project management of any sort can deliver complex projects on time every time, or that it can always deliver within budget. However, it reduces the shock and frustration where this happens.

Moreover, V3.0 is far from the total solution. That is because project management is only part of the equation.  It is part of a complex jig saw that includes strategy, leadership and agility.

Which version(s) do you need? 

While contrasting V1 and V3 serves to highlight the differences between the old and the new of project management, most organizations are running different variations of project management in between.  So, when you look across a project portfolio you will likely find projects that are being run in the traditional matter, while others are being run with agility. Sometimes the version being adopted depends on the project manager, more than the project. 

Above all V3 is a situational, rather than a ‘once size fits all’ approach to Project Management.  It recognizes that the optimal approach depends on the nature of the project.  With this in mind, the projects most suited to V1 and V3 are contrasted in the table below.

‘Ideal’ V1 Projects‘Ideal’ V3 Projects
Low AmbitionHighly Ambitious & innovative
Low risk / uncertaintyHigh risk / uncertainty
Routine / Straight-forwardComplex (lots of moving parts)
Short TermLonger Term (shaping the future)
Business As UsualBusiness Unusual
Siloed / Limited CollaborationCross-functional Collaboration
Delivered via the existing structureDelivered outside existing structure

V1.0 is best suited to projects that are predictable and routine.  V3.0 is best suited to projects that are complex and ambitious, where:

  • There are many moving parts (various workstreams, skillsets, stakeholder groups, etc.) – all set against a fast-changing background. 
  • The needs of the business and its various stakeholders are dynamic and likely to evolve from the start of the project to the end.
  • The project represents a leap into the unknown (future) and results are not predictable (or even certain). 
  • There are many unknowns and ‘unknowables’, with a lot of assumptions to be validated. Trading certainty or curiosity is key. 
  • Success is not a matter of following a clearly defined formula. Experimentation, iteration, and innovation are paramount.
  • Cross-functional collaboration is essential, often taking place outside the traditional organizations structure.
  • Those working on the project must bring their creativity and passion, as well as their skill.  Engaging and energizing them is key.  They must think like owners and entrepreneurs, rather than simply employees.
  • The solution is adaptive, as well as technical.  It is likely to require new attitudes or behaviors, as well as new skills. 

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