Project management is under pressure – and organizations aren’t doing enough to get the most value from it.
According to AXELOS’s PPM Benchmark Study 2017 – The Value of Project Management Excellence, about three-quarters of project managers are facing the dual challenge of a more competitive business environment plus tighter budgets and timeframes from their organizations.
Almost two-thirds are expected to deliver more projects with less time which is creating greater risk for more than 50%. Compelling project managers to do more with less, along with changing project briefs, is also leading to project failure in close to half of cases.
This compulsion to do things more quickly leads to a tendency among organizations to slim down project management, seeing it as bureaucratic and a brake on rapid progress. Unfortunately, that’s a bad choice and a persistent myth.
Recognizing project management value
The point is, projects need the right degree of rigour for the work being done. So, a simple project needs simple project management; a larger, more strategic project needs appropriate governance.
Putting pressure on project managers to complete more quickly or carry more projects simultaneously creates similar by-products and there’s a finite limit to what project professionals can do.
I believe this problem identified in the AXELOS research is borne out of a senior management disconnect: they are looking at projects overall but don’t think of project management as a profit centre, but a cost centre. They will ask: “what has project management earned the organization?” while seeing a successful project as owned by a particular department or division, not the project team.
Projects and business benefits
What is needed more in organizations is a dialogue about the business benefits that projects have provided.
As outlined in the PRINCE2® project management method, that requires the key role of the executive, someone senior who will champion the project management team and ensure projects have strategic alignment with the organization and deliver value for money. Executives should be talking to their peers about how projects and project management are contributing to the business overall – and these discussions need to happen more often.
Beyond organizations running PRINCE2, there should be at least a senior management role that supports the project management function. Project managers need a sponsor or business owner. This is critical, as organizations want to ensure that projects are more strategic while project managers need a greater level of clarity about what’s expected of them. Somebody senior needs to steer that conversation.
The facts about project failure
AXELOS’ Benchmark Study shows that project managers have an ethos of skills development and are trying to get better at what they do in order to succeed.
However, the spectre of project failure is ever-present. That includes the less common scenarios where projects are cancelled or incomplete along with the more common examples where failure is defined by stakeholder dissatisfaction with the project results.
The primary reasons project managers cite for project failure are all plausible: insufficient time for delivery, changes to the project brief, misunderstood risks and having the wrong people on the team. That said, I think there’s a bigger, underlying cause of these symptoms: starting projects.
When under time pressure, the start of a project is a typical place to make time savings. It might feel like a good idea at the time but that runs the risk of finding out within a few weeks that you’re going in the wrong direction.
The project start is where you define success and set up the environment which leads towards the right support mechanisms, resources, assessment of threats and appropriate governance.
The goal of a project manager is to succeed through clarity of purpose; knowing where you’re going and managing to that idea. This deliberate approach is less likely to generate the type of failure also known as stakeholder dissatisfaction.
For more information, see AXELOS' PPM Benchmark Study 2017.
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