The Art & the Science

By Candice Banghart, PMI Central Iowa Chapter President


One of the first sentences I read in the field of project management told me very clearly that project management is both an art and a science. As a stickler for details, something I didn’t find was a ratio of science to art. After many years in the business, with the last several as a consultant working in multiple company cultures, I have found that like so many other answers in project management, “it depends.”

Science, of course, is the accepted practices, principles and standards used to manage a project. Professionals around the globe consider the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) as a primary source of truth and more recently, agile practices have become widely accepted and, in some cases, preferred. Those resources, separate or combined have become the standard tangible tools of project management.

The art, however, is not really something we will find spelled out for us between the hard covers of a book. As for how much art is necessary, it really does “depend” on the project, the environment, the goal, the timeline, and much more. It seems the art is a project manager’s personal style, an individual instinctive way to lead, to discern, to communicate. Think about it like this: communication can be taught, but the ability to be relational in your communication is your personal approach to people and communication in general. The same can be said for leadership. There are thousands of leadership books and courses and those courses can help you identify your leadership style. They can even help you to understand why what you’re doing may not be working for you. What they can’t do is to change your internal compass of right and wrong methods or what leadership looks like to you. As a collaborative leader, I can be direct and authoritative, but it’s difficult and against my nature because I strongly believe in collaborative leadership.

It seems clear that we, the project, program and portfolio managers of the world, are the “art” of project management. I know the art of project management is made up of many things that each project manager brings to a project, such as experience, expertise, communication and leadership style. Every project will require us to use our art in a different way and to a different degree. So, the next time you’re planning a project, don’t forget to consider the “art.” Be purposeful, consider the environment and the culture, consider the project and the team, and plan an approach that will effectively support the goals, the project and the team.