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No-drama Project Management: Is it possible?

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In hindsight, life is like an ensemble of a series of episodes of a drama with some episodes full of comedy and other full of climax. Oxford dictionary defines drama as “an exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance.”

Project management is no stranger to dramas. The often-reported ups and downs, twists and turns, excitements and dejections, good and bad, successes and failures make some people feel that perhaps project management is a full-scale drama production.

For the sake of developing an understanding, we define no-drama project management as being the state of consistency and stability in predicting events, and developing capabilities dynamically during project delivery to deal with those events as they unfold.

The question is, why project management is so eventful process, often associated with a series of unexpected circumstances, issues, problems and risks? Can there be a no-drama project management?

Intuitively, it seems that a prefect no-drama project management state is highly unlikely if not impossible. This is because, dramas are not just triggered by events alone. The dependencies among the events could be complex enough to make events unpredictable with the human and computing capacity of project environments. In such circumstances, even if the events are predicted, the dependencies among the events could result in emergence of circumstances beyond control of project teams degenerating into occurrence of a state of drama.

With wide-scale documented knowledge, standards and processes, tools and techniques, and systemic nature of project delivery; one would expect that the dramas could be kept to a minimum. But, the large number of project failures, some reported and others that never come to light, point to the fact that more needs to be done to stabilize the project environments to minimize dramas.

Given the above, keys to no-drama project management are consistency, maturity and resilience. With that in mind, we propose five elements of ‘TEPEC maturity model’ that could help in achieving the required level of consistency and resilience to try and keep the project management dramas at minimum.

1.Thoughts and actions maturity

Project environments are typically intense, and stability of such environments require people who could deal with intense pressures. Emotional intelligence is often considered a critical trait for people working on the projects. However, due to large scale project based activities it is not always easy or possible to have everyone with a certain level of thought process or emotional intelligence.

What to do: Conduct scenario based trainings, mock project exercises, supervised on-job trainings, boot camps or use virtual project management exercises to help people develop thought-skills and thought-resilience for project work.

Similar to business continuity management (BCM) drills, the thought-skills or thought-resilience trainings should be done in a very real looking environment so that people can get the feel of how to respond and get skills that they can use in real life project situations to keep project management dramas at bay.

2.Environmental maturity

Building an internal project environment that is less prone to errors, crises and disasters can go a long way in achieving a state of no-drama project management.

What to do:  Following can help in achieving environmental maturity (thought list is neither exhaustive nor completely inclusive of everything that can be done):

  1. Having clear guidelines,
  2. Communicating lessons learned in brief messages on an ongoing basis such as using social media,
  3. Conducting one-point lessons sessions to highlight an issue that was recently identified and discussing the causes vs consequences of the same,
  4. Building lean thinking within the organization, and
  5. Conducting crises management and issues management drills.

3.Process maturity

Process maturity will come from having established project management processes and standards, common project management language and frameworks / methodology, and practicing an approved set of project management protocols throughout the organization.

What to do: Some of the things that could be done to develop process maturity and resilience towards project management drams are:

  1. Enlist top management support for project management skills. Executive support is critical to build project management maturity,
  2. Develop standard processes, language, and choose a singular project management methodology,
  3. Training and guide people on the current processes,
  4. Keep process e-books,
  5. Improve and enlarge project management influence within the organization.

4.Execution maturity

Execution is the stage where most of the dramas often happen. In hindsight, it is because at the execution stage the number of people / stakeholders involved becomes large, dependencies among tasks and people involved increase as well as the influence of stakeholders’ increase to a level that things start happening outside planned parameters. All these occurrences could result in unfolding of dramas.

What to do:  Following could help:

  1. Develop and implement quality procedures for project work,
  2. Inculcate risk-based thinking among the people,
  3. Establish and implement robust change management protocols,
  4. Use project management software system / configuration system to reduce human errors,
  5. Staff projects with people having skills, knowledge bandwidth required for the project work.

5.Command and Control maturity

Resilience towards project management dramas can be built by having a well thought-out command and control structure.

What to do:  Following could help:

  1. Install a No-drama project manager (Gerardi, 2011),
  2. Borrow HR policies to develop guidelines for project work,
  3. Have clear reporting structure, roles and responsibilities charts,
  4. Exercise appropriate governance contextual to the situation (hard vs soft governance),
  5. Develop exception thresholds and provide guidelines on who to report to in case of dramas.

Concluding thoughts:

The growing push towards use of project management for every type of development activity require project management to be less prone to dramas. The TEPEC maturity model is a starting point to help project organizations develop a certain level of resilience, maturity and consistency in their environments to minimize occurrences of dramas and potentially save time and cost for the clients.


  1. Gerardi, B. (2011). The No-Drama Project Manager. In No-Drama Project Management (pp. 1-14). Apress.
  2. Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/drama

- Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments such as Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and Australia, among others. Over his career, he has provided leadership in establishing, designing, and delivering Executive education / Master’s, Training, and Research programs.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of a Working Paper Series and directs publication of a monthly newsletter, ‘Project Management Voice.’

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community by speaking at various events and writing on emerging issues. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012, one in the International Journal of Production Economics and the other in Journal of Engineering and Technology Management. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.

In 2016, Jiwat won prestigious Asia Pacific Federation of Project Management (APFPM) Award in research category.

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9 responses to “No-drama Project Management: Is it possible?

  1. Ideas are scale-able and so is the TEPEC maturity model. But given the nature of forum, the article was kept to a length that facilitate readership..

    Much appreciate the comments Dr. Kotting.

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