Formal or Informal Project Management

I was shown to a group of project managers this week discussing the pros and cons of formal project management. One member of the group was convinced the best approach was no formal approach. Basically carry all information in some simple spreadsheets of tasks and then plan the rest the project by email and Excel. Another member of the group and much more formal approach wants to adopt formal project controls to sell the policies and procedures for the management of the project, detailed Gantt chart for each project and a summary highlight report applied consistently across the portfolio.

As both individuals project managers in one organisation this presents quite an interesting dilemma when deciding what’s the best approach to project management to take. Should be formal with lots of documentation processes and procedures or should it be informal with a more flexible and dynamic approach to the delivery of projects.

So if you look at the PMI body of knowledge we expect this to say that the policies and procedures governing project management to be quite formal and documented. The first reading it seems to suggest the need to plan for everything scheduling plan, cost management plan, configuration management plan, communications management plan etc. But careful reading define these plans do not fact need to be formally agreed they just need to reflect the working practices in the organisation. That doesn’t really help is very much either because the PMI body of knowledge gives us flexibility to decide in a particular situation.

So here we meet dilemma between personality and approach. Can one organisation really have several different approaches to project management and are the benefits in having consistent approach within a peer group. Clearly my view is if we can find a consistent approach to beef the benefit of everybody but how formal should this be lost the minimum set of controls required the project management.

Careful thought come to the conclusion that in order to call something a project you are least need the following elements

1) project schedule which may not actually be a critical path Gantt chart but should at least show the dependencies for the main activities in the project.

2) A  project report is issued at regular periods to keep stakeholders informed about what’s going on.

3) A project manager with clearly defined roles and responsibilities as a project manager.

4) Some way of identifying and managing issues and risks even if this is just a notebook or whiteboard.

And a systematic approach to change control. My view these essential elements of project management framework without this we don’t really have a project management approach in any way shape or form.