Project Management Group

Project management group with a difference:

An invitation to participate – starting in 2017:

We operate exclusively in the area of project management and have some pretty firm beliefs about what is important in being a successful project manager and delivering projects well.  Something that all of us would probably agree can be a challenging task.  We believe passionately in the value of skilled project managers and disciplined project management at the organisational level.

Our beliefs are based on both what we see as common issues on projects and what we see as working well. We are concerned about many of the views (and even ‘fashions’) developing in recent years (especially online), that are often promoted through vested interest (including ‘professional’ associations) rather than fundamental evidence of being useful or productive. We are equally concerned that the fundamentals of good PM are being drowned as PM as a topic becomes bloated.  Here are some of the things we believe, and believe in:

A) 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 master. We do not believe that highly skilled project managers are commonplace in business.

  1. Randomly select 20 middle and senior managers from any 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 projects.  The average answer they give is less than 2. What is it that they (i.e. the 2) have that the others don’t have?  What common sense is it that the 18 are missing?
  2. If you formally test the most basic but important skills of large groups of project managers (which we have) the results can be 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, staff grade or seniority did not correlate to good performance in the assessments or project delivery performance.

why-projects-fail

(click the above to enlage)

B) 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. This list could be very extensive. A few common examples are:

  1. Internal politics being allowed to impact projects routinely.
  2. Often PMs are the only person (role) in the business who are motivated (and even measured) by any form of success around projects. If other resources work routinely on projects but are never motivated towards project success factors, this will result in delivery issues and challenges.
  3. 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. Too often 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. This can result in constraints on projects and issues that damage the results of projects.
  4. Contractual relationships and considerations driven by ‘commercial considerations’ (i.e. fears) often driving extremely poor behaviours by organisations, such as slow disclosure of bad news or even worse. This often results in a completely sanitised version of information being shared on projects, especially with customers or external stakeholders.
  5. Poor, limited or zero understanding by executives of what’s involved in delivering projects successfully. Dismally poor messages being made by executives relating to what’s involved in delivering projects well.
  6. Refusing to talk in anything but absolute terms at the very early stages of projects (i.e. as if there is total certainty). This creates a culture where potential issues and their impact are discouraged from being raised and discussed. This is the wrong way to motivate project teams towards the things that will have the biggest impact on the success or failure of their projects.
  7. Unwillingness to accept that projects sometimes deliver bad news – not wanting to accept this fact or hear the issues when they arise. Organisations not wanting to accept the reality which is that there will be issues and challenges to be resolved, whatever the project. The results of this are are often:
    1. PMs and project teams either hide or falsify information (e.g. real progress).
    2. PMs feel reluctant to highlight issues.
    3. Issues fester until they are beyond repair.

C) We believe that primarily people deliver projects, not processes (and especially not methodologies)

  1. Processes deliver plans and controls but people (soft) skills deliver results. Projects are about working as a team, not working to methodologies.  That is almost always the biggest and most important single challenge.
  2. 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.
  3. More than any other single thing projects are often an exercise in communication. Where communication methods and practices are weak projects will struggle. Many current day methods and practices damage projects substantially.

D) 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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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). This leaves quite a gap in expectations.  It also goes much further and can be seen in behaviour and performance of many PMs.

E) We believe too many PM ‘movements’ and trends do not even mention some of the most critical skills of effective project managers. Such as:

  1. Emotional intelligence.
  2. Judgement.
  3. Decision making.
  4. Technical competence.

F) 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

  1. PM is not a process and ‘methodology’ is the wrong way to view projects because:
    1. They falsely give organisations comfort that some form of good practice is being followed.
    2. Projects may follow a common life-cycle but never a methodology. It is a flawed assumption to believe that they can.  Projects are unique and the circumstances around projects can be vastly different, giving rise to the need for flexibility or even approaches within a common delivery framework, not ‘methodology’.
    3. It also ’dumbs down’ one of the most important tasks we must do every time we are faced with a challenging project, which is to develop and agree with all stakeholders the strategy that is best for delivering the project and elevates the prospects of success.
  2. Basic evidence of the output of a process is not an indicator of fit-for-purpose/ good practice or indicator of likelihood of project success.

G) We believe project management should be as non-bureaucratic as possible

  1. Any project should never have any more process and documentation than it needs.
  2. 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.
  3. Project management is not: reporting; filing time-sheets; dealing with admin. It’s about setting goals, priorities, communicating successfully and resolving issues quickly before they become a crisis.
  4. 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.
  5. Traditional (lengthy) documents like a lengthy business case should be replaced by a highly focused and crystal clear one-page equivalent.

H) We believe that individual certifications (e.g. PMP etc.) are fine for the development of skills and an individual’s CV but do little if anything to help organisations deliver projects more successfully. We believe that gaining PMP (for example) does not make you a project manager

  1. There is nothing wrong with gaining PM certification. For those new to the discipline it can be a valuable learning experience.
  2. Depending upon which qualification you chose, you may study a large number of topics you might never use in your role as PM. Some of the most popular PM certifications have become very bloated and have moved away from the first-principles of project management towards more trendy topics (many of which are not practiced by vast numbers of businesses).
  3. 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.
  4. Project management is an ‘organisational’ discipline, not an individual one. Just having your PMs gain certification and expecting that they can drive projects through your organisation while few others understand the critical aspects of delivering projects (well) in your organisation is bound to fail.

I) 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

  1. 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.
  2. There can be value in a PMO helping out with some of the administrative aspects of managing information and reporting relating to projects. However, PMOs are not normally staffed by people who have the knowledge and experience to exercise governance over ranges of projects.  Such examples become an audit of physical evidence of process which is not an indicator of probability of project success. 

The above are just a few of the things we believe.  We are determined to lead an evidence based discussion on the most important aspects of delivering projects well.

We invite people with real experience in project management who agree with at least some of the above to join the group and contribute in some way.  We will invite people from anywhere around the globe to contribute towards or be part of the group, providing there is evidence of positive results or useful experience. We will try as far as possible to produce evidence-based output rather than opinion.  We will encourage the founding members of the group to shape the ideas of what this group will do or what it will produce and publish.  We do not anticipate this group becoming a large LinkedIn group for example, not to keep it exclusive but because existing LinkedIn discussion groups seem to demonstrate to us that it would be impossible to achieve the above aims in an open public group. In addition, the overhead in running such a group would be prohibitive.

IF YOU MIGHT LIKE TO PARTICIPATE:

We don’t expect everyone to agree with all our views as everyone’s beliefs are formed by things we witness personally and the experiences we have as individuals.

To further challenge this type of discussion, regional variation will matter and project context (including cultural) will count a great deal too.

We would prefer that this discussion is not dominated by any one domain, e.g. software projects, or PM method, e.g. Agile etc.  Where practices can realistically be applied to many projects in general, this is precisely the kind of thing that we wish to discuss and ultimately agree. If you disagree with any of the above that does not necessarily make our aims incompatible. 

If you also believe at least some of the above, wish to join and contribute or find out more:

 email us.

Tell us about yourself and the things you believe in.

Please do not email us if your motivation is to promote yourself, commercial services, products or content.

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  1. Stanislav Finkelshtein on November 7, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Well. I also do believe that highly skilled project managers are not at all commonplace in business.not every one can be a PM just because his title says he is…Internal politics – is the worst.i just finished working for such an organization..it`s terrible.. you find yourself fighting unnecessary wars for no good reason, instead of putting that energy to the things that really matters..
    Gaining PMP does not make you a project manager – true. ypu should be one bewfore going to the exam, but as i see – in USA the PMP is very helpful to get a job…so – it`s still important to have one of this. you talk about most critical skills of effective PM – i think that in my language i`l call it as the “soft” skills, rather than the tech knowledge of using MSProject or building a gunt – and YES – it`s far more important

  2. Kevin Lonergan on November 7, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Stanislav – many thanks – I agree with you totally about soft skills, as we say above in C.1.

  3. Ieva on November 15, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    I LOVE all what’s written here. As if I wrote it by myself based on my experience and (sometimes painful) lessons learned. Thank you!
    I would also add that one of the key factors for PM to perform well is management support and empowerment.
    One more thing from my corporate PM experience – projects are started most often with high priority (if not then PM is in problem from the very beginning) and in a long run the priority decreases which mean less attention form management and “stolen” resources to other projects that are higher priority.
    One more PM myth from theories is that PM can CHOOSE and REPLACE resources with better ones – usually it’s the case that you are lucky if you GET full staffing for your project at all! 🙂

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