AIPM National Conference 2019 – A Review

Three project managers laying out project plan document on floor and discussing their work

I recently attended the national conference of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) in Melbourne. The two-day event featured talks from a wide range of industries and roles, all sharing their experiences on how to further project management.

I’d like to share with you some of the key themes that I noticed across the event, both from the sessions I attended and the conversations I had.

Leveraging Agile in Project Management

A constant theme throughout the two days was how project professionals can leverage agile and how to overcome challenges in working in a more agile way. Many attendees saw the great value that agile working can offer but were struggling with how to best leverage the approach, particularly in their organization.

One recurring theme was the challenge of how to merge agile delivery with traditional financial planning. With most organizations adopting the traditional funding approach of quarterly or yearly financial planning, how do you support agile projects with much shorter delivery cycles?

One solution could be funding by initiative instead of time but for many this approach simply doesn’t correlate to their finance department’s view of the world. There were some case studies presented which offered guidance, but I am still of the opinion that this is a great example of how the rest of the organization must embrace agility in order to truly enable an agile way of working (at least at any sort of scale).

Regardless, the sheer level of coverage devoted to agile at the event clearly demonstrated how agile is now very much a common tool in the toolbox of most project professionals.

Defining Success of Projects

An interesting discussion in a number of keynote sessions was how we measure project success. Traditionally we have looked at the outputs (and potentially outcomes and benefits) of the project in relation to the time, cost and original scope. By this measure though, according to the Project Management 2019 AIPM and KPMG Australian Report only 19% of projects were deemed to be successful. If projects are that bad at delivering success, then I fear for the future of the profession.

There are many examples where projects have run over time, over budget and yet have still delivered incredibly successful outcomes. In Australia you have to look no further than the Sydney Opera House; according to certain reports it was 1,400% over budget, and yet it is hard to argue against the overall benefits as it now stands as one of the most iconic buildings in the world.

So, in this context, how do we measure project success? Obviously, time and cost must be taken into consideration, but what else should we be considering? The report also mentioned that 46% of projects delivered stakeholder satisfaction. While this is considerably higher than the 19% of projects that were deemed successful, it still means that well over half the projects delivering stakeholder satisfaction were not deemed successful; that doesn’t quite add to me.

In today’s world there are also other considerations to take into account which may be much harder to quantify. What is the social impact of the project? Are there any environmental considerations to take into account? How is the wellbeing of those working on the project?

I can say is that I believe we will see fundamental shifts in the way that we will measure success going forward.

Developing Project Management Skills

In our recent PPM Benchmark Study, one of the key findings was that project managers believed it was more important to be seen as a generalist project manager over being a specialist. This was despite specialists having a greater success rate in projects (albeit with similar considerations to the above theme). During the conference delegates were introduced to the concept of T-shaped skills development - having deep knowledge in one area and a broad base of general skills.

What I am seeing with the development of the project management profession is the great desire for professionals to develop a broad range of skills and become generalists. That said, this should not come at the expense of losing that deeper level of knowledge and expertise.

If you have any thoughts, comments or questions on anything I’ve covered, please leave one below and I’d be delighted to start a conversation!

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