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Experiments in project management

After reading the PMBOK book or Prince materials that teach project management methodology, it may seem that projects are only those that have a very clear scope, duration and budget (you've probably heard of the iron triangle?). And all this is true, if you want the project to be successful, it is important that you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. However, this does not stop you from experimenting before choosing a vision that you want to implement during the project.

Project management

First of all, let's start with what is an experiment in project management?

Experimentation in project management to me is simply an opportunity to test many different hypotheses, theories or IT solutions before making a decision on which one to go with. In IT project management, one way to test different theories is by creating demo versions of the solution, i.e. prototyping a future solution and thereby deciding whether it is what you want to achieve. In non-IT project management, experiments can be carried out by selecting and testing a target group, lets say process changes.

In a sense, an experiment can be treated like a project as well, as the steps are very similar to those used in general project management practices, but it is usually treated as the ideation stage of a project. When deciding to conduct an experiment, there are, first and foremost:

  1. the hypotheses that we want to check or test are listed - an analogy to the idea phase of project management

  2. it is assessed how the hypotheses will be tested: creating a solution prototype, testing after forming a target group of people, etc. - corresponding to the project planning phase

  3. a hypothesis study is carried out - the project implementation phase

  4. a decision is made according to the obtained research results, which way to go, or maybe not to develop the idea at all - project closing phase, including user acceptance phase

The only difference between normal projects and experiments is that after the experiment, the answer is obtained, which vision of the idea is more suitable for the organisation and only then the real project is initiated, while after the implementation of the project, an already working solution or product is obtained.

For this reason, it is not uncommon for organisations to discourage experimentation, as it requires investment and may not necessarily yield results. Although, in principle, experiments cost less than such situations when in the middle of the project it is understood that the chosen solution will not bring so much benefit and the direction needs to be changed.

Therefore, it is recommended to allocate some amount per year for experiments in the organisation, because it encourages people to think out of the box and reduces the fear of making mistakes.


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