After an absence of several years, veteran project manager John Earwood has returned to his roots and is re-taking project and programme management qualifications. Here, he reflects on how far project management has come.
Before PRINCE2® was introduced, project management teams in my organization lacked a structured methodology. The approach we used at the time could best be described as “muddling through”.
In the late 90s, as a project management practitioner, I saw that PRINCE2 - though perceived at the time as overly bureaucratic and difficult to implement - was something that ticked a box for senior management, although there was little thought on how it should be used within an organization.
It took a few years but eventually there was a realization that just training individuals in PRINCE2 wasn’t enough. Companies started looking at what else was necessary to embed PRINCE2 into their own business culture in order to get a return on the training and investment.
This was the time when every project manager wanted to be a PRINCE2 practitioner and it became a requirement to have it on your CV if you wanted to secure an interview. Strangely though, admitting you actually liked PRINCE2 wasn’t ‘cool’. That said there were, and continues to be, many pockets of people that had gained a more progressive understanding of its principles and what they offered, and were slowly and quietly stitching it in to the fabric of the more forward-thinking organizations.
So what are the best practice qualifications offering us today?
Since returning to the PPM arena I have discovered that many things have changed; most significantly for me, I was interested to discover that AXELOS had taken on the best practice portfolio, and was saddened to learn that someone I greatly respected, APMG’s Alan Harpham, a man at the heart of promoting best practice for many years, had passed on.
Having re-taken the Foundation and Practitioner exams in PRINCE2, the first thing that struck me was a lot of the underlying process complexity has been removed; it is now a much more ‘punchy’ project management methodology. Also there is clearly much more emphasis on tailoring the method to a particular project and embedding the method within an organization as well as warnings about being overly “mechanistic”, which is all very encouraging. Obviously the method hasn’t stood still.
One of the great things about best practices is they are constantly looking to improve and one thing I see in PRINCE2 now is how well it will work with the ‘new kids on the block’ such as Agile. From a researcher and consultant viewpoint, my initial observation of Agile is that it’s virtually the same as PRINCE2 on a certain level - they just approach the challenge from a different perspective. So, AXELOS’ imminent addition to its best practice portfolio - PRINCE2 Agile - should be a major plus point. I hope that this helps to show that the two methods are not mutually exclusive and do not require organizations to make a straight one-or-the-other choice.
The project management profession has ‘grown up’
Project management has certainly matured over the past 20 years. Things were improving from the late 90s into the 2000s but, like a child that learns from doing things wrong, the profession needed to go through that process in the early days.
We’ve overtaken the early perception of “let’s train everybody” without moving the organization forward to become a profession that understands the need to tailor the frameworks and embed them into the entire organization.
Project managers in today’s economic and business climate
I hope to see much more of a focus on organizations developing the right level of organizational competence which often will need a change of culture as well as process. With cultural changes being one of the most difficult things to achieve in an organization, adopting best practice guidance is also the best way to accomplish it.
We already have the methods, so the focus now needs to be on getting the methods into organizations and producing measureable benefits, enabling organizations to change effectively and implementing projects and programmes more successfully.
The future of project management
Best practice frameworks help organizations to work to a common goal; but the framework has to be understandable and aligned with everything else in the organization to avoid the demoralizing approach of “muddling through”.
If AXELOS continue to aggressively develop and renew Best Practice, then the qualifications will continue to be an important way of maintaining a strong focus among PPM practitioners.
We in the profession must be ready to continue to grow and develop to support the 21st century’s ever accelerating growth dynamic.