Software Project Management is dead; Software Project Managers are not

[Authors: Josef Langerman and Carl Marnewick]

Organisations are getting value from products and their benefits, not from the Project Management process.

Is there still some value?

Value. This is such a small word but there is a lot of promise in it. Value can be defined as ‘the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.’

Value can also have interpretations depending on the lens that is used. From an accounting perspective, value equates to the monetary worth of an asset. Economists have a different perspective. To them, value is based on ownership. How much benefits and rights are arising from owning something. That is the true value. Marketers on the other hand defines value as the extend to which a product or service meets the customer’s needs. In ethics, value denotes the degree of importance of something or action, with the aim of determining what actions are best to do or what way is best to live.

So, when the question is then asked, what value does project management bring to or have for the organization, I am sure that I will get a multitude of answers. Answers will raise from ‘nothing’ to ‘we cannot live without it’. It also depends on whom I ask? I am sure that business will have a different answer than the Project Management Office and the project managers themselves. As they say: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same applies to the value of project management.

But how must one go about to determine or measure the value of project management? I think an objective view is needed. One cannot ask the PMI or IPMA what the value of project management is, as they are making money from selling project management to individuals and companies. Asking them is like marking your own exam paper.

Recent research indicated that organisations do derive value from project management irrespective whether the project was delivered within the constraints of time and cost.



The projects under investigation were on average 131% more expensive and to make things worse, these projects were on average delayed by 71%. Let us put this in perspective. A project that would have cost $1 000 000 and a duration of 1 year, would then ultimately cost $1 310 000 and be delivered in 20.5 months. Not bad taken into consideration that the stakeholders still believe that they get value from the project.

Now the question is: did they get value from project management or from the actual delivered project?

I am arguing that they are getting value from the actual delivered product and the benefits that these products provide and not from the Project Management process. At the end, it is actually what was delivered rather than how it was delivered. Yes – it would be nice if we can deliver the final product or service quicker and faster but it seems as if IT projects are notorious for being late and over-budget.

Does this imply that we need to find a different delivery mechanism for IT initiatives? You’ll be pleased to know that we have some ideas about the role of Software Project Managers.

Software project managers are not dead

Even if the role of project management is changing it would be foolish to think that the people historically playing the Project Manager role have no value.
  1. Project Management is needed as the the value chain that needs to be managed is larger than just the activity of the construction of working software.
  2. Large corporates have governance processes that you want to shield your development teams from and would necessitate at Project Manager.
  3. There are many activities across various development teams that necessitates some type of co-ordination.
  4. If the typical PMBOK/Prince 2 Project Management style is not appropriate for development teams, then we should look at Agile Project Management.

I think that arguments 1, 2 & 3 have some validity but are context sensitive and influenced by the environment one operates in. These arguments are strong in highly bureaucratic organizations but may be less so in more entrepreneurial environments.

The question to be asked is: Is this classical project management or some type of administration function? The same holds for the co-coordination across teams. It is a vital role but is it classical project management?

Argument 4 is more subtle and my personal view is that the concept of project management in an agile world is almost a non sequitur. If the concept of a project does not exist in an agile world then why do we name something Agile Project Management? It seems to me that adaption of general project management in an agile world is holding onto what was rather than embracing the cultural and process revolution necessary to establish what is coming to be.

Project Managers are often domain experts and in many cases form the solid middle management core in large organizations.

Even if the role of project management is changing it would be foolish to think that the people historically playing the Project Manager role have no value. In these new methods there are many roles that could, and in some cases even should, be executed by people with strong domain and co-ordination skills. Release Train Engineers, Iteration Managers, Value Stream Engineers, etc. are all roles that spring to mind depending on your method.