The project management process is a key element of any successful organisation. It provides a framework for managing projects, ensuring that they are completed on time, within budget, and to the required standard.

However, in some cases, individuals or teams may bypass the formal project management process in favour of an alternative workflow. This is what’s known as shadow project management, and it can have a number of negative consequences for organisations.

In this article, we’ll discuss what shadow project management is, what the consequences of it are, and how to prevent it.

What is Shadow Project Management?

Shadow project management is a term used to describe situations in which individuals or teams circumvent official project management processes and procedures in order to get things done. This can be motivated by a desire to get results faster, bypass bureaucratic procedures, or simply due to a lack of understanding of the formal process.

Shadow project management can lead to a number of problems, including duplicate work, wasted effort, and confusion over who is responsible for what. It can also create tension and conflict between the official project management team and the shadow team.

What Does Shadow Project Management Look Like?

There are many different ways that shadow project management can manifest itself. Some common examples include the following.

Working Around the Project Manager

In this scenario, team members bypass the project manager and go directly to other team members or stakeholders to get things done. This can be motivated by a desire to avoid bureaucratic procedures or to get results faster.

Creating a Parallel Project

Some cases of shadow project management may see team members create their own parallel project outside of the official project management process. Whether  this is motivated by a desire to get results faster or simply due to a lack of understanding of the formal process, it can lead to duplicate work and wasted effort.

Doing Things Without Formal Approval

In some cases, team members may take action without formally seeking approval from the project manager or other decision-makers. This can lead to confusion over who is responsible for what and may cause tension between the official project management team and the shadow team.

Why Does Shadow Project Management Happen?

There are a number of reasons why shadow project management can occur. The following are some of the most relevant.

  • Lack of understanding of the project management process: In many cases, shadow project management arises simply because individuals or teams are not aware of the formal project management process, or don’t understand how it works.
  • Perceived inefficiency of the project management process: In some situations, individuals or teams may bypass the formal project management process because they perceive it to be inefficient or bureaucratic. This is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the more people who bypass the process, the more inefficient it becomes.
  • Desire to get results faster: Shadow project management can also be motivated by a desire to get results faster than the formal project management process would allow. While this may work in the short-term, it can lead to duplicate work and wasted effort in the long term.

What Are the Consequences of Shadow Project Management?

Shadow project management can lead to a number of negative consequences, including:

  • Projects being delivered late or not at all
  • Inexperienced project managers making decisions that impact the entire organisation
  • Lack of standardisation and governance across projects
  • Resources being pulled away from other projects to work on the shadow project
  • The true cost of the project not being known until it’s too late

How to Prevent the Pitfalls of Shadow Project Management

What mitigating shadow project management comes down to is the basics of PM itself – understanding the fundamentals around the standard guidelines for project management, which includes best practices for planning, executing, and monitoring projects. By following these guidelines, organisations can avoid many of the pitfalls associated with shadow project management.

What does this look like in practice? Here are a few examples:

  • Making sure everyone involved in the project understands the project management process
  • Encouraging transparency and communication among all project stakeholders
  • Creating clear roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the project
  • Implementing strict change management procedures
  • Establishing clear governance structures and procedures

Shadow project management can be a major problem for organisations, leading to wasted resources, confusion, and frustration. However, by following core project management guidelines and encouraging transparency and communication, organisations can avoid many of the pitfalls associated with this phenomenon.

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