Are You a Project Artist?

By Jack S. Duggal, MBA, PMP

Do you consider yourself a project artist? Typically, project managers do not think of themselves as artists. They assume that their job is to use standardized processes, methods, checklists, tools and templates akin to running the project on autopilot. They see little room for artistic expression.

This is a common misconception!

Projects by definition are unique and changeable. To deal with these dynamic characteristics, an artistic approach can complement standardized processes.

Instead of using precisely defined rules and processes each time, project artists sense the situation and respond accordingly. Project artists:

  • Are better prepared to deal with the changes and variability of project environments.
  • Design the project with a creative eye, with a built-in flexibility to rearrange the project plan based on emerging stakeholder needs.
  • Constantly ask “what if,” challenge the rules, and substitute or combine project elements to create a robust project plan.
  • Use personal judgment and make appropriate adjustments to each situation.

An artistic approach can help you do a better job. It can help you better understand and respond to stakeholder needs. It can help you focus more on outcomes and results, rather than on standard outputs based on following the same steps each time.

Use of personal judgment can help you to reduce costs as you judiciously evaluate each situation and make appropriate decisions.

The artistic approach also increases your accountability. Like an artist, you as project manager are responsible for the end product. You are not simply following a process.


You may find that the need for standards on one hand, and artistic freedom on the other, are paradoxical and at odds with each other. However, they are not.

Standards provide a foundation and outline the boundaries within which there is room for flexibility and artistic expression. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth Edition states in the introduction that it is a guide, rather than a methodology.

Yet in practice, many project managers do try to apply the PMBOK® Guide as a step-by-step methodology — they don’t realize its intent is to provide an adaptable framework to deal with unique project characteristics.


The need for discipline needs to be balanced with the right amount of flexibility. The challenge is to achieve rigor, but without rigidity. Not all projects are suitable for an artistic approach. The appropriate degree of artistic application depends on the type, scope and nature of your project and your organization.

For example, in health care or security-related projects there is a greater need for standardization than in software development projects. The latter often afford more flexibility to iterate with stakeholders and refine the project to address their needs.

Your organization’s level of project management maturity will help determine the degree of artistic freedom that is acceptable. So will its culture. Control-oriented cultures may be less conducive to artistic approaches than cultures that foster creativity and innovation.

Are you ready to craft your project masterpiece? Becoming a project artist takes time and experience. You need both the hard and soft skills, and the ability to use the appropriate tools. When you learn to balance the science and art of project management, you can become the project artist and take your craft to the next level up.

Mr. Duggal is the managing principal of Projectize Group LLC specializing in next generation training, consulting and tools, and a PMI SeminarsWorld® leader of the seminar Building the Next Generation PMO and Portfolio Management. For questions on the content of the seminar, or your comments and feedback, please contact Mr. Duggal. He will present a paper on a related topic, Rigor Without Rigidity – How to Achieve Balance, at PMI® Global Congress 2009— EMEA to be held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on 18–20 May.

See the article, Rigor without Rigidity from the 10 October issue of Community Post.