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Project Management: Science or Art?

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Mastering the Science and Art of Effective Project Management

Project management is an ever-evolving field that combines the complexities of novel or ill-defined processes and practices with the intricate art of communication, persuasion, and emotional intelligence. Many continue to debate whether project management is a science or an art; it’s both.

At the core of successful project management lies the ability to engage with team members, stakeholders, and leaders at all levels, ensuring that everyone is aligned, and the project remains on track. In this post, we explore project management as both an art and a science, focusing on the pivotal role effective communication plays in driving project success.

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The Science of Project Management: Systems, Processes, and Language

Project management is built on a strong foundation of systems, processes, and a specialized language designed to facilitate efficient planning, execution, and monitoring of projects. By understanding and applying these elements, project managers can ensure a standardized approach that keeps their projects on track and within budget. A few key science-based aspects of project management include:

  • Defining project scopes and objectives
  • Developing detailed project plans and schedules
  • Identifying and managing risks and opportunities
  • Tracking project progress through milestones, performance metrics, and data analysis

The Art of Project Management: Emotional Intelligence and Influencing Skills

Effective project management is not just about mastering the systematic aspects; it's also about artfully handling the subtle dynamics of human interactions and communication essential to navigating complex organizational structures. In order to excel as a project manager, one must develop emotional intelligence and the skills needed to influence diverse individuals across the organization, often two pay grades (or more) above their own. Key art-based aspects of project management include:

  • Establishing rapport and trust with team members and stakeholders
  • Communicating with clarity and tact, even when delivering difficult news
  • Recognizing and managing cultural, interpersonal, and organizational dynamics
  • Leveraging negotiation and persuasion skills to achieve project goals

The Takeaway: Strengthen Your Project Management Skills by Embracing Both the Art and Science

Ultimately, effective project management requires the harmonious integration of both scientific and artistic elements. Project managers must be equipped with the necessary technical skills, while also possessing the emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate effectively with all levels of leadership. As you embark on your project management journey, make it a point to develop both sets of skills—embracing the science and art of effective communication—to drive your projects and your team toward success.

Video Transcript

So, project management- science or art? I'll talk to you a little bit- but I would like to hear perspectives here around what your experience is. It used to be a big debate, it still is debated for, to some extent, around what really is project management? It's both. I won't tell you it depends this time.

It really is both. Project management is a very specific discipline. Project management has its own language and processes associated with it. We talked a bit about data, information, and wisdom, but it's also an art. Because just doing the data, the processes in the systems isn't enough.

How do you use that information to influence others? What's the emotional intelligence like? How do you inspire others? How do you influence others? It's different across the, across the team members.

I went into a physician's office one day, and the, so earlier in the morning, the clinical project management team came into my office, and they were pulling their hair out. Like, Jay, you’ve got to help us. Dr. Howie won't make a decision. We had four different clinical plans, and we thought we were going to narrow it today, and we walked out with seven. I don't, I don't know what we're planning towards, CM&C can't plan, Tox can't plan, no one can plan until the clinical plan is established. Clinical tends to be the tail that wags the dog when it comes to pharmaceutical development.

So, I went into Dr. Howie's office, I had a very good working relationship with him, and I was expecting, a bit of a brawl, but I was also expecting to walk out with an answer. I was like, “Dan, you know, team came to me, they got seven different options, right?” The clinical plan is driving all these other plans. We've got a review board that we need to get prepared for. We've got timelines that we need to hit. We need to align on the clinical plan.

As I set expectations for him about what the clinical plan was driving and what timelines and committees that we had to go to, he looked at me and said, “Well, Jason, when do I need to decide? I said, “Dan, you need to decide today.” Without taking a breath, he said, “Option three.”

We were done. No one had clearly communicated to Dan what the clinical plan was driving, what the timeline needs were. Once I communicated that, it got easy. Now it's not always that easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it got a lot easier.

Project managers need to communicate at all levels. Within the project team, within, leadership, mid-level, as well as senior leadership. When we talk about influencing others, it's typically a rule of thumb that project managers need to influence folks at least two pay grades above their own.

Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it's not just even influencing peers. So, it requires, a special level of emotional intelligence to really drive behaviors, understand others, and how to inspire and motivate, and move behaviors for them.

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Pintail Solutions is a niche management advisory firm focused on enabling overall project and portfolio delivery, developing and deploying new business strategies, and delivering construction projects across life science organizations.

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