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Balancing Art and Science in Project Management

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 4/29/2013

Is project management more of an art or is it more of a science? Maybe it's a little bit of each. Find out here.

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    It's an Art

    Many have hailed project management as an art. More than anything, this camp believes that project management consists of carefully constructed and choreographed steps in the dance of creating tasks and work items. Basic project management phases can seem a lot like an art in the beginning. After all, you have to be creative to brainstorm, break down, and execute projects. In order to have a successful project, the steps rely just as much on your creative instinct as they do on knowing how to break the project down into its component parts.

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    It's a Science

    picture Project management can also be seen as a precise science, especially with many project managers following practices such as outlined in the PMBOK Guide or other formal practices. By utilizing strict systems of metrics (like you might find in Six Sigma), this school of project managers feels that you can create a precise estimate, and gain precise results for your project. While it seems like it would be intuitive that if you follow a project management methodology to the letter, the project itself should be a success, in many cases the opposite proves to be true: That you do require a great deal of art in your project to achieve success.

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    Both Art and Science

    The best of both worlds approach views project management as both an art and a science. Being too loose with the project management process can lead to a scope that keeps growing out of control. Likewise, being too stringent with adhering solely to the project management methodology could lead to missing important moments where a creative approach could propel the project forward. So what's a project manager to do?

    Since project management is mostly about achieving a desired effect through productive measures, the "art" part of project management comes into play when you are dealing with human behavior and interpersonal relationships. Getting Bill to do what needs doing is the art of project management. Creating the project schedule, dealing with quality management, and estimating costs are best left up to a scientific, best-practices approach.

    Finally, viewing project management as both an art and a science can be beneficial when your project comes to a standstill. Viewing project management as an art will help you to see creative solutions to problems. Viewing project management as a science will have you create that risk management plan before you even begin to schedule your project - with appropriate and creative solutions to potential risks.

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