Project Management Art or Skill?

I share an office with an artist. I’m told art is a skill.  Art is something that is developed through experience, dedication and practice: nearly anyone can draw but it takes effort to be an artist.

My first reaction is that project management is a skill but the best project managers make it look like art.  In the same way as drawing is a skill, using project management skills with dedication and practice, you develop the experience to allow you be creative and find innovative solutions. The art is using those so you meet the objective, satisfy stakeholders, deliver products fit for purpose and to specification, be timely in delivery, and stay within constraints on resources (raw materials, people and budget).

Have you noticed that the headlines and discussions about modern art boiled down to how skillful Damien Hurst was when cutting a cow in two (he got other people to build many of his works) or Tracy Emin’s lack of skill in making her unmade bed (“Is that art or just rubbish thrown about?”) or the original stack of bricks (“any brickie is an artist now!”)?  If art without skill is still art because it is about concept and message (even if shocking – art always has been at points in history), what does that say for project management without skill?

I suggest that project management without skill may deliver but there will be questions about :

  • if the project met the objective,  
  • the stakeholders need for what is delivered,
  • the huge price tag,
  • if the delivery schedule can be relied upon. 

Does that sound familiar?

Project managers must be dedicated in developing their skills: defining objectives and requirements, working with and managing stakeholders, motivating and managing teams and suppliers,  managing schedule and budget, and understanding strategy and what quality means in that context. Just like artists learn about seeing and drawing, materials and colour, perspective and composition, history and culture, and how to present a message. 

To summarise: project management art without skill cannot be relied upon to succeed.  Project management skill with art can be effective, efficient and something to admire.

One last thought: should we make our project managers work alone in the lofts at the top of old city houses like artists? No because they need to work with and among the subjects and recipients of their projects. That is also a myth about artists: that image does not seem to reflect what we know about artists on the streets or in a cafe watching the subjects and recipients of their art.


About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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