We believe that (evidence suggests) project management is far from ‘common sense’. It is not a skill we are born with but it is a skill that some people can learn and develop. We do not believe that highly skilled project managers are commonplace in business.
- Randomly select 20 middle and senior managers from a large business. How many of the 20 would make successful project managers? We have asked this very question, in a formal manner to well over 2000 people involved in project management. The average answer they give is less than 2. What is it that the ‘2’ have that the others don’t?
- If you formally test the most basic but important skills of large groups of project managers (which we have) the results can a long way short of what any organisation would want to see or publish. If you then correlate the results of their projects to how they performed in the assessment, they match. Furthermore, where we have done this, grade or seniority did not correlate to good performance in the assessments.
We believe that organisations constantly make projects much harder to deliver than they need to be, by the things they do and don’t do. Common examples:
- Internal politics being allowed to occur, to the detriment of projects. Often PMs are the only person in the business who is motivated (even measured) by any form of delivery around projects. If technical resources work solely on projects but are never motivated towards success factors for your projects, this will result in delivery issues in projects.
- Contractual arrangements (and other agreements) often obstruct the needs of projects. Contracts are often drawn up with little or zero reference to those who will be responsible for making a project happen.
- Contractual arrangements and considerations driven by ‘commercial considerations’ (fears) often drive extremely poor behaviours by major organisations, such as slow disclosure of bad news or even worse. This often results in a completely sanitised version of progress and issues being published, reported and shared on projects, especially to customers of projects.
- Many key considerations for a project are only discussed, negotiated and agreed after contracts are signed, many of which could have been included as part of a contract.
- Poor, limited or zero understanding by executives of what’s involved in delivering projects well. Dismally poor messages being made by executives relating to what’s involved in projects well.
- Refusing to talk in anything but absolute terms (i.e. certainty) at the very early stages of projects. This creates a culture where potential issues and their impact are discouraged from being raised. This is the wrong way to motivate project teams towards the things that will have the biggest impact on success or failure of a project.
- Not accepting that projects deliver bad news – unwillingness to want to accept this happens or hear the issues when they arise. Organisations not wanting to accept the reality of doing projects which is they will face issues and challenges. The earlier you know about them the better off your project is. Too often this information is stifled by the habits of the business. The results of this are:
- PMs and project teams either hide or falsify information (e.g. progress)
- PMs don’t want to highlight issues
- Issues fester and their impact can be magnified beyond repair.
We believe that primarily people deliver projects, not processes (and especially not methodologies).
- Process deliver plans and controls but people (soft) skills deliver results.
- Human interaction and communication are key to so many projects, especially where any kind of development is involved or the project will have real impacts for stakeholders.
- Projects are often an exercise in communication, more than any other challenge. Where communication methods and practices are weak projects will struggle. Many methods and practices suggested by mainstream project management methods and bodies of knowledge would and do damage projects substantially.
We believe discussions on ‘best’ PM methodologies are largely the wrong conversation – aspects like clear and strong project leadership are far more valuable and important (relative to successful project delivery).
- Real PMs take full responsibility for their project. It shows in the ways they behave and the things they do. They never shift the blame to others when the going gets tough. They roll up their sleeves and make real progress
- If you ask an executive in any business if their PMs are responsible for delivering a successful project you will get an overwhelming ‘yes’. They may even add things like “what else is the point of having them?” If you ask the PMs in the same business the same question (without the Exec’s in the room), around 5% will say yes (we have done this for large numbers of PMs). That leaves quite a gap in expectations. It also goes much further and can be seen in behaviour and performance of many PMs.
We believe too many PM ‘movements’ and trends do not even mention some of the most critical skills of effective project managers. Such as:
- Emotional intelligence
- Decision making
- Technical competence
We believe recent trends to turn project managers (or project management) into process junkies are wrong. We also believe that because you have a suite of templates it does not mean you are ‘doing’ project management.
- PM is not a process and methodologies are the wrong tools for projects. They falsely give organisations comfort that some form of good practice is being followed.
- Projects by their very nature are all different to at least some degree. This leads to two issues:
- Trying to pretend that all projects can follow a common methodology is damaging at best.
- It also ’dumbs down’ one of the most important tasks that projects must do every time they are faced with a challenging project, and that is to develop and agree with all stakeholders the strategy that is best for delivering their project and elevates the prospects of success.
- Evidence of the output of a process is not an indicator of fit-for-purpose/ good practice or indicator of likelihood of project success.
We believe project management should be as non-bureaucratic as possible.
- Any project should never have any more process and documentation than it needs.
- As PM as a subject has become more and more bloated the scope for overwhelming PM ‘processes’ with more and more documentation is a real issue.
- Project management is not: reporting; filling timesheets, dealing with admin. It is about setting goals, priorities, communicating successfully and resolving issues quickly before they become a crisis.
- Reports should be crisp and direct but should never be based on thresholds – people will always find ways to stay just under the radar if you use thresholds.
- Traditional (lengthy) documents like a lengthy business case should be replaced by a highly focused and crystal clear one-page equivalent.
We believe that individual certification (e.g. PMP etc.) has reached a point where it incorrectly dominates discussions around project management. It is fine for the development of skills and an individual’s CV but does little if anything to help organisations deliver projects more successfully. We believe that gaining PMP does not make you a project manager.
- There is nothing wrong with gaining PM certification. For those new to the discipline it can be a valuable learning experience.
- Depending upon which qualification you chose, you will study a large number of items you may never use in your role of PM.
- Very few certifications cover the most important skills and qualities of successful PMs, preferring to focus more on topics you can test in a multi-choice exam.
- Project management is an ‘organisational’ disciple, not an individual one. Just having your PMs gain PM and expecting that they can drive projects through your organisation without the co-operation of others is going to fail.
We believe the trend to use PMOs for some form of assurance or governance can be very flawed. Too often (at least in the UK) they don’t have the experience or knowledge to do this. It then becomes a tick-box exercise.
- There can be some good reasons for having a PMO and at the same time many organisations deliver projects very well without ever having one.
- There can be value in a PMO helping out with some of the administrative aspects of managing information and reporting relating to projects.