There once was a time when one simply fell into project management. There were projects,
someone needed to manage them, and boom: eventually someone did. But corporate structure
did as corporate structure does and funneled the role into an official title, outfitting it with all
the usual business-y tenets and a certified career path.
Today that professionalism still exists, but recent trends in the workplace–particularly the
push for cultures of collaboration and agility–are leading project management to a place more
reminiscent of its origins. In other words, more and more organizations are finding that they
require the bootstrap approach of those without the PM title to take the reins.
In this edition of Mindjet Perspectives, we present a collection of articles covering the changing
environment of modern project management, as well as tips for avoiding its most common pain
1. Traditional vs. Agile Project Management
A quick overview of where project management has been and where it’s currently going.
2. Solutions to 5 Modern Project Management Pain Points
When untrained individuals are suddenly heading up projects, things can often get a little
overwhelming. In this article you’ll learn how to resolve five of the most common pain points.
3. Why Visual Project Management Makes Sense
Communicating in a language everyone understands is particularly helpful when the
unaccustomed are shouldering project management responsibilities. In this article, we explain
why visual processes are a simple yet effective way to boosting communication as well as
Though every organization will certainly need to find its own winning combination for handling
modern project management, we hope our thoughts on the matter will serve as a helpful
foundation, as well as encourage you to start thinking differently about how to maximize your
individual value as well as your team’s.
Chief Marketing Officer, Mindjet
While there are several process differences between traditional project management and agile,
the most significant is the shift away from hierarchal responsibility and task assignment to the
Traditionally, the onus for project success has resided with the project manager, as he or she
is usually responsible for creating, communicating and executing on a completed and linear
project plan. In the agile approach, however, the whole team is responsible for success. While
an official project lead is still available when needed, members are given the freedom to pick
and choose the tasks that are best suited to their abilities, even when that means playing the
role of temporary captain.
In effect, agile fosters a sense of shared responsibility within a self-organizing team. Everyone
in the agile workplace must be their own project manager, to a degree, by tracking his or her
individual tasks, duties, expectations, and how they fit in with the overall project.
Those without formal process backgrounds most instinctively turn towards what they want to
accomplish over how it will get done. The agile approach provides the framework and guidelines
to allow for that, with enough true process still intact for providing boundaries. And rather than
looking to a single project manager for task delegation and direction, agile encourages problem
solving from multiple points of view.
Of course, none of this is to say that agile is anti-project manager, or that PMs should steer clear
of agile adoption. Instead, the aim with this modern approach is to provide official PMs some
relief by parsing out responsibilities. At the end of the day businesses still require leaders, and in
the case of agile project management that simply means someone to keep tabs on all activity as
well as provide whatever resources are at his or her disposal.
Whether it’s out of GTD necessity or simply a desire to join the agile club, this all-in strategy will
ideally result in the empowerment of every player, spurring innovative thought and productivity
where it might not have otherwise had the opportunity to grow.
Traditional vs. Agile Project Management
Pain Point #1
It’s not uncommon for someone to fall into role of acting project manager without asking for it. As
a result, organizations see varying degrees of acceptance. There are those who move forward with
glee, others seem neutral, and some shift grudgingly or not at all.
Resolution: Management needs to recognize the differing levels of acceptance. Encourage those
that relish and thrive in that type of environment, guide those that are neutral, and accept those
where it isn’t a good fit. Also, have the acting project managers who enjoy it mentor those who
don’t. Peer training is often the best!
Pain Point #2
Most (if not all) acting project managers have little or no formal training. As a result, there can be
a variety of differing styles and approaches, and it’s unlikely any will have traditional certifications
or training in Gantt charts, work-flow-diagrams, etc.
Resolution: To resolve this, settle on a simple, yet effective ‘Minimum Viable Product’ project
management style. Agile is perfect for this! Start with the basics and some simple approaches
everyone can agree upon.
Pain Point #3
It’s difficult for the team and management to get complete status and the overall picture, including
accountability and metrics. Acting project managers will show varying inclination for documenting
and measuring their team’s progress and results.
Resolution: Create an agile story to settle on a basic reporting template everyone can use. Focus on
the results, the value, and what can be learned from them. Format is secondary!
Solutions to 5 Modern Project Management Pain Points
Pain Point #4
Often employees will take on the project manager role simply to get their work done. They suffer
from the “if I don’t do it, it won’t get done” syndrome. Initiative is good, but this scenario can lead
to unhappy workers. The overall project environment can become very horizontal without a clear,
designated manager with oversight jurisdiction.
Resolution: Designate someone on the team, preferably a volunteer, to oversee the big picture.
Acknowledge this will take some bandwidth. The best manager will promote, incentivize and
Pain Point #5
Everyone’s-a-project-manager is not a long-term solution. This approach can work in the short-
term, meaning up to twelve months or less. Assuming success, which should be anticipated, the
lack of a more structured approach will inhibit growth as products and companies move forward.
Resolution: Accept this risk and shortcoming in the near-term. Set a standard and checkpoint for
when ad hoc project management has reached a ceiling. Move to the next agile step and have
the team members agree upon an additional process everyone can accommodate. By this point
everyone will have some real world project management experience.
The human penchant for visualizing information has never been anything short of obvious.
From cave drawings to an obsession with cartography to the number of hours per day we spend
staring into computer/cellphone/tablet screens, pictorial association has always been our thing.
In fact, several supporting statistics of this behavior indicate that, in order for information to be
conveyed most efficiently, it needs to be visual. According to insightinformation.net, for example,
the human eye can see visual patterns 65,000 times faster on a picture than in tabular form.
And quintagroup.com claims 95% of all information is perceived through the eyes.
In other words, seeing is understanding.
Visual + Data =The Cognitive Sweet Spot
It’s surprising, then, to think of how many of today’s workflows lack a visual component–
particularly when it comes to the soup-to-nuts requirements of project management. A simple
shift in cognitive approach could drastically improve processes in domino-effect fashion:
The human problem solving process involves a number of stages, including identifying the
problem, generating alternatives and evaluating alternatives. According to psychologists
Allen Newell and Herbert Simon, the most difficult is identifying the problem, as it is the most
ambiguous of the three.
But imagine if all the disparate data points were presented visually. Project leads could perceive
the nature of the data and determine weak points much quicker–such as when a CFO looks at a
graph of profits and losses, or a social media manager reviews website traffic reports.
Why Visual Project Management Makes Sense
Quicker Decision Making
When hiccups are more easily spotted, managers are able to swiftly respond. This is particularly
useful when the need to make decisions in unstructured environments arises, which any team
lead–including club C-Suite–can likely identify with.
Higher Human Bandwidth
The end result is simple and yet increasingly elusive: increased headspace. Robert E. Horn, an
award-winning scholar at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information,
puts it like this: “When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new
and we augment our communal intelligence … visual language has the potential for increasing
‘human bandwidth’—the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large
amounts of new information.”
Visual communication has proven its worth time and time again, and yet most of us still put it on
the back-burner, choosing instead the (often overwhelming) linear approach to work. Perhaps it is
its obvious nature that blinds us from its usefulness, or maybe we just have an attitude problem.
As Sunni Brown, leader of the Doodle Revolutions sadly points out, “[Visualization] is considered
to be anti-intellectual and counter to serious learning.”
As we trudge our way through the increasingly crushing age of information overload, we at
Mindjet think people will begin to turn to visual components out of necessity. But why wait?
Want to know more?
The agile project management conversation is just getting started, and
we at Mindjet are dedicating to contributing on a fairly frequent basis.
Head on over to Conspire for our latest musings on the topic, and don’t
be shy about adding your own two cents in the comments section.
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