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Is Project Management an art of a science?

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Jayadev Menon: This can be debated till the cows come home but then that would be a futile and fruitless exercise – the need of the hour is a definite result and so let us get started.  The first thing we learn in Project Management is that a project is a temporary endeavour with a definite start–date and an end–date and yields a product or a service or something unique.

The answer to the question asked the top is in the definition itself. Whenever there is need for something unique and different it calls for human ingenuity and creativity – to bring to life something that did not exist earlier. It is almost as if a magician or a team of magicians were working synergistically to produce something out of thin air. Creativity and genius are proven qualities yet we cannot explain them completely – what forces or emotions come into play to give shape to a song, a piece of art or even an architectural masterpiece is still not fully explained. We can only say that there are many manifestations of those faculties in existence and more is being produced each day - we humans continue to enjoy the output and marvel at the way they have been brought into existence.

So since Project Management is about unique, never-seen-before products and services there is a lot of creativity and genius in action … human brain working at its best; often there is even the debate whether it is the brain or the heart in action, speaking metaphorically.

Looking from that perspective Project Management may be an art. There is also the esoteric element known as leadership, that amazing quality to get a group of people to work together and produce amazing results – make them strive for goals they would not have attempted as individuals. This again is a quality that cannot be learnt at a school or college; but it is an ability that can be developed through practice. Situation create leaders and when there is the need to achieve results in a given time (usually less than expected), with a finite amount of resources then there is a need to go beyond just juggling of numbers and manipulations of the variables involved. It needs a humongous effort on the part of the players involved to create something astonishing out of the limited resources available. Leadership, the quality that makes it all possible, is again an aspect of human creativity – one more reason to say that Project Management is an art.

If you are someone who believes that Project Management does not need an artist then you only need to imagine what the Taj Mahal would have looked like with the creative elements missing!

But on the other hand projects have very earthly roots too – it has a start-date and an end-date; so there is the need to get things organized, to work in an efficient manner, to ensure that the various steps involved are thought out and listed, various elements are planned, scheduled and executed in a time – bound and cost effective manner.

When we get into the details there is also the need to understand what is required by the people initiating the project, who would be people involved in planning, coordinating and executing the tasks and what material would be needed to finish the project.

It is also important to remember that there are standards to be met, quality to be assured and new knowledge and skills to be imparted to the role-players to ensure the project starts, progresses and ends as per plan and as required by the initiators, often known as the Customer.

So the Project Manager, with whom the buck stops, has to define the product through a series of discussions which can involve the customer, other members of his/her own organisation and members of one or more other organisations who would be partially or completed involved in the creation of the product or service.

They would arrive at requirements consisting of specifications, standards, time-lines and costs. After confirming the requirements the Project Manager details the project into steps and stages and prepares plans, drawings or whatever other enabler is needed to get the project started – s/he would continue to produce these enablers to keep the project moving forward towards the completion.

While raising requirements of inanimate resources there is need to specify quality and price standards and for the animate resources there are needs for requisite skills and safety – at a macro level the entire project requires security from external interferences and damage and conversely nothing being done during the project should negatively impact the environment or people who may be associated with it.

All the elements mentioned in the second half of the discussion point at the scientific nature of Project Management.

All components used need to be of specific standards which are predefined and there are specifications for the final output too. All the manpower involved in the process need to have skills as defined or need to undergo training to achieve the levels mentioned. All organisations involved in the process need to meet quality standard for intellectual property, equipment used and product or services delivered; and they also must follow all government rules and regulations for safety, security and environment protection.

The science aspect of Project Management also involves the techniques and the technologies used to make the final product or service a reality. To ensure that everyone uses the same language and also understands the instructions the same way there is need for a common lexicon – Project Management is the science created to make this happen. 

Across the organisation and across projects people can converse with each other and even replace each other if needed mainly due to the availability of standards, specifications and metrics. It makes work flow smooth and assures the right results.

The Taj Mahal needed an artist to create the beautiful shape but it also needed an engineer who knew how to make a strong and long-lasting structure.

The scientific nature of Project Management ensures that products or services created meet the technical and practical requirements, while the aesthetic aspects ensures that something unique, a thing of beauty, emerges from the efforts … something that remains a joy forever, for everyone involved!

The author of this article is Mr. Jayadev Menon, Business Manager of East Horizon LLC. East Horizon LLC regularly conducts programs on Project Management, Leadership, Managerial Effectiveness and Sales. He can be contacted at

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