What Is Common About Projects?

Differences between project environments never stop to astonish me. Having experienced a number of approaches to project management, I can’t help thinking there’s so much more to a project than what’s described in a typical manual. In fact, I often wonder — is there anything common about project management apart from a couple of definitions?

I have recently come across construction “projects” where hardly any scheduling was expected — everything process-based, depending on sequential document updates and approval steps, preferably tightly supported by workflow tooling. Project managers? A handful, basically pushing “their projects” from step A to step B, often taking care of more than two dozens of such activities.

Then, there are projects without a Steering Committee whatsoever or depending on a common body — doing both basic portfolio management and project / program steering and treating projects in a FIFO manner.

There are stories of Project Managers who used to work with their teams in an operational-like manner and discussions about virtual teams becoming predominant in our times.

Or construction PMs acting more as salesmen and account managers, depending on site managers to do “typical project management”.

Why are various project management implementations so different? Why can’t one find scheduling, risk management, change management or let alone earned value management in most settings?

Even if we are understandably against “silver bullets,” what are best practices for?