What Are the Limitations of Project Management?

After discussing the disadvantages of Project Management, a logical follow-up on the topic would be the limitations of Project Management.

Before starting, we need to define the meaning of limitation in this context. A limitation is a restriction imposed by the application of (mostly traditional) Project Management. Limitations differ from disadvantages as the latter are undesired results stemming from the adoption/application of Project Management, while limitations are boundaries artificially created by Project Management. The absence of these boundaries results in a better management of projects as well as a superior quality in the delivered product/service.

There are several limitations to Project Management, mainly:

  • Inability to “stick” with the project scope: Project Management, by definition, is unable to commit to the original project scope due to constant change requests. Project Management acknowledges this with the formal integration of Change Management. This limitation causes a lot of problems, and is the reason why so many projects end up way over budget and many months/years late, sometimes even canceled or killed.
  • Inability to fully align the project objectives with the business/organizational strategy: By definition, Project Managers manage projects, not their organization. Although projects are usually initiated by stakeholders/executives with a clear relation and full alignment with the overall corporate strategy, Project Managers are incapable, by themselves, to make sure that their projects are kept aligned with the company’s strategy. In order to solve this limitation in Project Management, Program Management was introduced as a higher layer of managerial control to guarantee and sustain alignment.
  • Inability to manage projects with unspecified budget and/or schedule: This is probably the biggest limitation in the traditional incarnation of Project Management. Imagine if, thousands of years ago, pyramid building was restricted to a budget and a schedule. Would the pyramids have lasted so long? Would they have been considered as marvelous wonders? Project Management imposes a budget and a deadline on any project and thus creates a major problem: All projects finishing on time and on schedule (and they are very rare) have their quality compromised (when was the last time you saw perfection in any project?). Resources are not allowed to give their best, gold plating is considered a bad practice, and resources finishing on time, regardless of the delivered quality, are considered heroes.
  • Dependence on functional management: Traditional (non-agile) Project Management is clear about the authority of the Project Manager over the resources: he has none. It is the functional managers who own the resources: they have their loyalty (resources are loyal to their functional managers as they’re the ones who report quarterly on their performance), they have their gratitude (most resources are hired directly by their functional managers), and they have their respect. The dependence on functional management is a major limitation in Project Management, as Project Managers are constantly at the mercy of both the functional managers and the resources (indirectly, for example, an excellent resource resenting the presence of the Project Manager might disobey him, while still being supported and endorsed by his functional manager), and they have to compromise, or “offer something” in return, just to get things done. Note that this limitation is almost negligible in highly projectized organizations.
  • Following an exclusive methodology Project Management forces the Project Manager to choose and follow a methodology, be it the traditional (waterfall) methodology, or a newer methodology such as Agile. In Project Management, a project can only be managed using one methodology, and, in almost all cases, is not switched from one methodology to the other (usually methodology switching is not per project and is a decision made at the organization level), even when the other methodology is proven to be highly successful for that type of project. Being restrited by an exclusive, non-changeable methodology, either at the project level or the organizational level undermines and limits the potential of the project as well as the resources.

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


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