The Art, Science, and Craft of Project Management

The Science Side of Project Management

You’re probably a bit puzzled how project management could be ‘science’, and you’re right, it’s not science in the traditional sense like, for example, chemistry and other natural sciences. However, PM is science in the sense that you have theories and frameworks that you can apply (e.g. the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) PMBOK). There are best practices and tools through which you can measure the success of projects (e.g Scrum, Kanban etc.). The keywords here are ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’. A big part of creating business value and increasing the bottom line of a company is to find a balance between both of these aspects. Efficiency is doing things right (being on time, budget and scope etc.) while effectiveness is doing the right things (meet or exceed customer requirements). Furthermore, the job of a project manager requires the ability to plan, estimate budgets and costs accurately, anticipate and mitigate risks and tracking metrics. All of these are ‘scientific’ or rather ‘technical’ skills.

The Artistic Side of Project Management

Project management is also not an art form in the traditional sense. PMs do not paint pictures or create sculptures. But being able to find solutions to problems and navigating through unforeseen events and, in the end, delivering a project on time and on budget is an art form in and of itself. Project managers need to be creative and need to have the ability to communicate effectively and also to motivate people. Without soft skills, you can be an expert at tracking metrics and calculating risks, but you might still not be able to meet a project’s objectives, because you weren’t able to communicate with the project stakeholders or were too focused on the facts so that you missed other possibilities of solving a problem.

Conclusion: Project Management is a Craft

A successful project manager needs both, the hard skills and soft skills, to lead a project to success. In any given situation the project manager needs to utilize both skills to decide on the appropriate action for individual situations. It’s important to look at the data to guide you, but sometimes you also need to listen to your ‘gut feeling’ or intuition. A project’s process might be perfectly streamlined and running efficiently and effectively, yet neglecting the artistic side of project management can lead to stagnation and a lack of creative and innovative thinking. On the other hand, of course, only concentrating on being as creative as possible without any regards for ‘hard facts’ will have a negative impact on the project’s success and the overall success of the company.

PMs with only scientific skills or only artistic skills will run into a wall very quickly. As you can see, the key to successful project management is to be able to combine art (creativity, intuition, leadership etc.) and science (efficiency, effectiveness, controlling, measuring etc.). The ability to combine both these aspects and to apply them is what makes project management a craft.


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