Three things I learned about project management

Whatever your occupation is today, chances are you are involved in at least one project. Projects are the next wave of work’s organizing factor. Here are three important lessons learned.

Whatever your occupation is today, chances are you are involved in at least one project, you have done a few in the past, and—if I interpret the literature on project management correctly—projects are the next wave of work’s organizing factor, so you will work on even more projects. There are three things I have learned that might be useful for others to know.

1. To manage projects successfully, everything needs to be explicit. A project is by definition an endeavor that implies dealing with uncertainty. The “what” is new and uncertain, the “how” is new and uncertain. Often both are new and uncertain. Making things explicit connects me with the others on the project team in a way that prevents project failures. Making things like ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ explicit all the time enables everybody to test whether their assumptions on the process of the project or on the outcome of the project are adequate. The last thing you want during a project is to take things for granted, to think that whatever worked during the previous phase of the project will still work in the current or future phases.

2. If you don’t control the project, the project will control you. Controlling a project means you are learning whether the project is healthy or not. Controlling the project requires that you create and nurture a constant flow of information about the project that will tell you how likely it is to fail. Project control requires work and energy. Not investing this work and energy means the project will control you (and that will take much more work and energy).

3. Choosing projects is a determinant of project success. There are many writings on determinants of project success. A vibrant portion of this literature focusses on not getting involved in projects in the first place. Indeed, prioritizing projects—a fancy term that simply means some projects are not worth getting into—is a good way to not get overwhelmed.

For more on this including author's confessions, read the full Practice Makes Perfect column in the February issue of the Newsletter, available in the Members’ section at

François Chiocchio is OBHR professor at the Telfer School of Management. Through rich collaborations with co-editors, he recently published Advancing Human Resource Project Management (SIOP/Wiley) and The Psychology and Management of Project Teams (Oxford University Press).

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Comments (1)

    Earon kavanagh

    Thanks for posting that, Francois. Decades ago, before I started studying psychology, I was a RED SEAL carpenter. Everything we did was project management (although back then we called it construction management and critical path method). After I became active practitioner in psychology I rarely met anyone who understood project management. I'd never stopped doing PM, but recently embraced it and got an MBA course and a credential in PM as a refresher. I look forward to examining your books on PM.

    • Mar 06, 2015 at 09:13 PM