What Are the Disadvantages of Project Management?

A lot has been written and said about the advantages of Project Management, but almost nothing about its disadvantages. So, does Project Management have any disadvantages? And if yes, what are they?

To answer the above question, yes, Project Management has some disadvantages, but, in most cases its advantages far outweighs its disadvantages.

The disadvantages of Project Management can be grouped into 3 main categories: overhead, obsession, and non-creativity.

Overhead

Project Management presents 3 types of overhead: cost overhead, communication overhead, and time overhead.

  • Cost overhead: Project Management costs money. Hiring Project Managers, training Project Managers, hiring Program Managers to make sure that projects are kept aligned with the overall business strategy, creating a PMO to control the different projects, changing the organization to adopt and adapt to Project Management, etc… are all actions that can cost a substantial amount of money. In the case of small companies, even paying for just one Project Manager is huge overhead, as Project Managers are rarely paid below the $70k mark. Not to mention that small companies view Project Managers as (redundant) employees who do not produce tangible work.
  • Communication overhead: Project Management introduces another layer of communication between management and team members. Instead of having the information flow directly from functional managers down to the team members and back up, it’s all funneled through the Project Manager.
  • Time Overhead: The communication overhead stated above is one cause of time overhead. For example, consider some wrong requirements that the Project Manager mistakenly gathered and passed to the team members for implementation. Once the requirements are discovered to be false, the team members have to scrap the implemented part based on the wrong requirements, the Project Manager has to re-gather the requirements, and finally pass them again to team members for implementation. Additionally, Parkinson’s Law is a nearly unavoidable problem in Project Management, as Project Managers can never accurately assess the length of any task, and pad their estimates so that they won’t wind up with a late project.

Obsession

Obsession is a growing problem in any Project Management environment. It stems from the minds of Project Managers and can be one or more of the following: methodology obsession, process obsession, and stakeholder obsession.

  • Methodology obsession: In case you’re new to Project Management, here’s a short introduction to the whole subject. Project Management has existed for thousands of years (pyramids, for example, were a project). A few decades ago, the “Waterfall” term has been introduced to describe the then linear process of Project Management. Waterfall was applied to all kinds of projects (construction, engineering, etc…), including software projects. Nearly a decade ago (in 2001 to be exact), a group of software professionals introduced a certain methodology (it is debatable on whether it qualifies for a methodology or not) called Agile, claiming that it’s much better for managing software projects due to its iterative approach. Some people converted to Agile and became Agilists in the view of Waterfallists. Moving back to the current day, each camp claims obsessively that their methodology is much better, and one can never finish a project with the other methodology. Instead of just “getting the project done”, which is the whole point of Project Management, some Project Managers have become so focused and so obsessed about the methodology that the latter has grown to be the “end” rather than the “mean to the end”. This jeopardizes the delivery of the project and causes missed opportunities as Project Managers become so closed and so protective their own methodology that they refuse to experiment with another one that might be faster and better for their current project.
  • Process obsession: Quite a few Project Managers hinder the progress of the project with their obsession for sticking to the process. For example, they require all the paperwork to be in perfect order before processing anything, be it a new project, a major change request, a minor change request (e.g. changing the font color), the addition of a new resource, etc… Unfortunately, rigidly following the process is encouraged by most references on Project Management as well as by experienced Project Managers. The reason why most Project Managers consider process obsession a good practice is because of the following:
    • Insecurity: The vast majority of Project Managers are insecure, they’re afraid that if they don’t have a proof of who approved what, they will be scapegoated if something goes wrong.
    • Fear of loss of control: Most Project Managers think that if they don’t enforce a process, then they will no longer be in control of the project (this, to a certain extent, is probably true).
  • Stakeholder obsession: The term stakeholder management, for quite a few Project Managers, means “ensuring stakeholder satisfaction”. Instead of managing the stakeholders’ expectations, requests, and interference, and focusing on getting their support, these Project Managers try their best to accommodate the stakeholders. This accommodation, which often manifests itself in gold plating, is costly and needless. Unfortunately, stakeholder obsession is here to stay, as, in most cases, this is a win-win situation: stakeholders love to be pampered, and Project Managers (for selfish, provincial reasons that have nothing to do with the project) love to pamper their stakeholders.

Non-creativity

Some organizations, when adopting Project Management, suffer from non-creativity. Non-creativity can be either technical or managerial.

  • Technical non-creativity: Project Management imposes deadlines on resources, who have to work as fast as they can to finish their tasks on time. By nature, people like to be creative, especially at work. For example, designers like to come up with the perfect design, programmers like to write elegant, smart, and scalable code, but when there’s a Project Manager breathing down their necks all the time, their primary goal is just to finish on time; they don’t care anymore about unleashing their creativity. This demotivates the resources and adversely affects the quality of the end product.
  • Managerial non-creativity: Faithfully trusting and following a routine process is not the dream of any manager (at any level, whether lower, middle, or upper management). Project Management, by nature, enforces that routine process. Managers, usually leading humans, become lead by a process. Their managerial skills weaken, as there’s no need to sharpen them anymore: the process is clear and it should be followed. Likewise, managers (especially functional managers) become demotivated.

As stated by many, nothing in life is free, and everything comes at an expense. If you’re thinking about implementing Project Management in your company/organization, weigh the expense for making that move, and then weigh the benefits, and finally make your informed decision.

© 2010 Project Management Learning – Reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Project Management Learning.


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