Project Management in North America - a Potential Still to be Fulfilled

Project Management in North America - a Potential Still to be Fulfilled

Project management in North America has a long way to go to fulfil its potential.

This is partly because there are many notions about what project management is and partly because a proportion of people involved in project management are giving their abilities more credit than is actually due. And too many organizations are encouraging their people to run from task to task with little time for reflection or planning that's meaningful in the face of the present challenges.

Ken GonzalezThe North American news media are littered with stories of failed projects. For example, the launch of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") registration website was a disaster - whatever technology problems might have been encountered along the way, the actual failure certainly has at its foundation a failure of project management. It needn't have been that way, if the stakeholders had been briefed better and the associated impacts accurately assessed, they could have easily taken action to rectify it earlier. Projects don't go off the rails of their own will. Anyone with some amount of time in IT will likely recognize similarities to this project within their own organization. This is not a problem unique to government!

Ultimately, any project management team is responsible for a project's outcomes and it needs to have the right tools, delegated responsibility to act and a means of communicating to stakeholders that resources and funding are being used appropriately.

For any organizational activity, you need to be able to answer: why are we doing this, what's the value and for whom? If we can't answer these questions, the activity is, by definition, suspect! It's not enough to plead "but we're busy"; a distinction is needed between "busy-ness" and effective action - and project management is the antidote.

The essential quality of project management qualification 

The total number of those with responsibility for some type of project management in North America is huge, but so few are either trained and certificated or are formally appointed as a project manager.

Right now, the timing is right to make project management credentials available to people whether they are appointed project managers or not; because the level of critical thinking it provides to evaluate project value and manage risk is vital in deciding whether or not to pursue a particular initiative.

I've been in the technology industry for 30 years, doing everything from developing software to executive management. In managing projects I've drawn on not one but a wide range of best practice sources to help organizations continuously improve, which makes me officially best practice agnostic!

But having used PRINCE2 for more than a decade I now believe there is a real need for different groups across North American industry and commerce to recognize the value in the AXELOS portfolio of best practice guidance.

For practitioners, it offers a whole bunch of collective wisdom and tangible benefits, if they use it properly in structuring the work they do. For the executive/leadership perspective, the guidance helps establish the context in which work will be done inside the organization. It can help simplify the decision making process, when it comes to those choices which affect the style of operation, organization/workforce structures and the methods used to engage the customer. It's about having the knowledge to make the right decisions and periodically re-evaluating those decisions to ensure they're still right for the organization.

And for anyone who remains wary about PRINCE2 or any of the AXELOS portfolio because of their origins in the UK Government or being classed as "stove piped" products, in the new world of AXELOS it's a different proposition: it's now much more a conversation that grows, expands and evolves over time into new applications. PRINCE2 Agile and Cyber resilience are prime examples of this. This is not your grandfather's approach to managing frameworks!

PRINCE2 provides anyone tasked with managing a project recommended practices, common structures and methods they can start using immediately. The concepts provide basic building blocks for project managers to improve their skills, knowledge and abilities to achieve benefits for their organization.

PRINCE2 versus PMBOK?

I often get this question asked of me: "But where does PRINCE2 sit in the context of other project management approaches, such as the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification or the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge)? [NOTE: PMP and PMBOK are offered by the Project Management Institute, based in the U.S.]

PMBOK is a great tool and project managers should be taking advantage of the guidance it provides. But, as with any body of knowledge, set of standards or guidelines, it's never going to contain everything practitioners need.

PRINCE2, PMBOK and their associated certifications live within the much larger "circle" which incorporates the world of project management; to be successful, competent and fulfil the role of project manager, practitioners need to call upon a variety of best practice sources.

That's why PRINCE2 and PMBOK can (should, really!) live alongside each other for the benefit of the entire community. Choosing one over the other is a false choice; each is valuable, provides tangible benefits and is 100% complementary.

For those who want to be professional project managers, PRINCE2 is actually a good place to start, as there are no experience requirements. Our certificates can help new project managers get up and running quickly, on the path to satisfying the experience requirement to eventually obtain their PMP. For those of you who already hold PMP certificates, getting your PRINCE2 certification can help you by giving you both new tools to become more capable and also provides some of your required professional development credits towards keeping your PMP current.

In addition, it's worth noting that PRINCE2 qualified project managers are in a better position to help projects and programs in large, multi-national organizations be successful, as PRINCE2 is the most widely used project management framework/method globally. It can be part of a global organization's "insurance policy" to ensure that proven project management techniques translate well and are consistently applied across the various geographies in which the organization operates.

The next steps for North America 

In spite of all the great tools we have available (best practices, frameworks, standards, etc.), so many projects in North America continue to fail.

Unfortunately, many project managers in North America just are not familiar with PRINCE2. Practitioners "over here" need to "kick the tires" and see what the framework really has to offer. I'm convinced that those that do will find many practical, low-impact and high-yield tools to manage projects.

If your mind-set tends to be "hey, let's stop this sitting around and talking and get to doing something!", then PRINCE2 is for you - it's all about what to do (as well as what not to do) and increasing both quantity and quality of outcomes.

The great news here is that the cost of the publications, training and certificates are not cost prohibitive; one good decision leading to an operational improvement based on this guidance could give your organization a full return of your investment on the first project! Even better is that this is a gift which can keep on giving, as your knowledge and ability to execute projects evolves over time and is applied to each successive iteration.

It should be neither difficult, costly or far into the future to realize a transformation of project management in North America. But we must remember it's a bigger conversation than PMI or AXELOS; we all need to be working towards evolving project management as a practice and as a community. Only then will it realize its full potential and enable us to work smarter, not harder. Thankfully, the tools are there to help us achieve that.

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