In the world of project management, rules (e.g. processes, tools, and techniques) are often seen as the bedrock of different approaches and methodologies. It seems that each one has their own particular sets of rules designed to ensure maximum chances of project success.
But there’s an unspoken truth that lurks beneath the surface of these “rules”: sometimes, to truly excel, you must learn the subtle art of breaking these very rules. That’s right, sometimes in project management you just have to forget, and abandon, all the theories and just go with what is right.
Now, this doesn’t mean don’t learn the rules and theories. That possibly just makes you ignorant and dangerous. Like any successful rule breaker, you need to know the what, why, and how of the rules to understand their reason and purpose before you make the decision to break them.
Think of it like driving a car.
You can study the road rules, practice safe driving techniques for different driving conditions, pass all the required beginner and advanced licensing requirements but there are some times you just have to forget all of that and just drive!!! Go by instinct and feel. Drive on the wrong side, go faster than the speed limit, brake quickly, do a U-turn quickly or simply decide to stop and turn the engine off …But you can’t do any of that if you haven’t been trained. If you try doing these things without training you may do your project an injury it cant recover from.
So how do you apply this in project management?
Well sometimes we can get lost in the theory of project management. You might have just been on a training course for a particular approach, methodology, or tool, and you come back to the workplace and you really try to make it work. You follow it just as you’ve been taught and try to make it work even though you can see it isn’t. Another situation could be that your organization has processes for the sake of processes and they actually hamper your projects. These are both times when you need to consider breaking the rules and just doing the right thing.
But the decision to step outside the boundaries of established rules shouldn’t be taken lightly. It requires a detailed understanding of the rules and also the project’s unique context. Factors like team dynamics, client expectations, and the nature of the project itself can all signal the need for a non-traditional rule breaking approach. I’ve found it’s the most experienced project managers, having already served their time in a wide range of projects that develop an intuition for when rules start to stifle rather than facilitate progress.
Breaking rules in project management is not about recklessness; it’s a strategic decision. It requires a clear understanding of the potential risks and rewards. The approach should be calculated, with a solid rationale behind every deviation. And make sure that you communication the why, how, and when of your decisions to all stakeholder so they don’t think you’ve gone rogue. It’s absolutely vital that team members and stakeholders understand the reasons for diverging from the norm. This not only ensures buy-in but also prepares your team for any unforeseen consequences.
So, learn the rules, get that experience under your belt, and then when the time is right, be prepared to be a rule breaker.