If you had asked me 10 years ago my thoughts on project management, I would have lamented the overly restrictive activities, rules, and heaven forbid processes. I have leRner since not that I was necessarily wrong, but that I was biased from a viewpoint of a company that had that natural, instinctive operation. The addition of what I naively considered project management just made things worse. Due to smart people and good leadership, we already had found that sweet spot of operation.
In the majority of my subsequent jobs, I have been lucky to have similar situations. Recently, however, as I have moved up in my organization and talk with others in different companies, I have seen the risks of both too little and too much management.
On the too much side of things, I see organizations that are burdened with huge handbooks defining every aspect of how a project is supposed to proceed. These are generally written by well intentioned peole who have never actually worked on a project. They sound good in theory, but as I like say, in theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice they rarely are. What does this result in? It results in a process that is ignored or only partially followed. You end up with people frustrated that they cant count on the process to work because the cost of implementing it is far too great. Token compliance is the inevitable result of reality; frustration with the process but no benefits.
On the flip side, you have organizations with little or no project management. This has many causes; ignorance, small companies who are growing, companies that dont know how, or key people in the organization who think like I did when I started working in the tech sector. In this scenario, you end up with a group of people which rely only on the personalities of the group. Some people are better able to function in a completely free form (or anarchic) environment. But as projects get more complex and more people get involved, the costs of the lack of planning take a toll on everyone. Without a plan, people face the risk of being pulled in many directions simultaneously. It has been shown that the human brain is most efficient when it works on a single topic (being in the zone). But when you are interupted, it takes at least 30 minutes to get back to that same level of productivity. And with no plan, this happens more and more frequently, potentially dooming the project to failure, frustration, or cost overruns.
To me, that is the one and only goal of project management; to keep the team on focus, out of the weeds, and in the zone. Scrum, agile, waterfall, I really couldnt care less. Find what works for you and your team. Use it just enough to make things flow but no more. Find the right tools and embrace them. You will work better.