Monday, 14 June 2021
SOME REFLECTIONS ON A CAREER IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT
According to a report by the Project Management Institute there is demand for 88 million roles by the end of 2021. In this article my aim is to share some experience, notably contracting the theory with the reality of Project Management and noting some of the things that are well documented and pointless with the factors that are often absent but essential.
Since my aim is not to teach project management nor champion one approach over another (eg Waterfall v Agile, or PRINCE2 v Scrum) I will instead include references and links in the comments if anyone asks.
WHAT IS A PROJECT MANAGER (OR A PROJECT LEADER)
Project managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing projects. They are accountable for the entire project scope, project team, resources, and the success or failure of the project. There are lots of good texts explaining the role of a Project Manager (PM) and comparing to a Sponsor, Scrum Master, Product Owner etc. (See links in comments). What I would like to do here is draw upon my own experience and make the comparison of Project Manager with Project Leader.
I often see inexperienced and newly qualified Project Manager who can do exactly what the client wants and what the book or course says is the best way of doing it. They are like novice cooks following a recipe for a customer who knows they want a cheese omlette. What can do wrong? The client knows what they want and the book explains how to do it. When people hire student, graduate or cheap project managers this is what they get, and very often this is excellent value for money.
Problems arise when the client isn't able to clearly articulate what they want, or the idea is so novel to the organisation, technology, people or circumstance that the Dummy's Guide to Projects is not really helpful. Project Leadership is more like coaching or consulting, using discussion to help define and document the intended outcome and necessary outputs in a way that can be used to gain consensus, clarity, coordination and collaboration. When this is achieved then perhaps you could delegate a Project Manager in the same way a Chef might direct a Cook, but in my experience ambiguity doesn't go away and there is a constant need to discuss, review and revise and this happens at a level of seniority where Project Management is more about people and stakeholder management.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT
It is interesting to think about what is important in the context of why projects fail and accordingly the key success factors in rank order.
Clearly defined objectives
Good planning and control methods
Good quality of project managers
Good management support
Enough time and resources
Commitment by all
High user involvement
Good project organisation and structure
Being able to stop a project
We can see right away that communication and consensus (near the top) are critical to co-ordination and collaboration (which are necessary in all the subsequent elements). By speaking to experienced project managers Sam Elbeik and Mark Thomas attempted to identify the critical factors that must be addressed if a project is to be completed successfully. They developed a six stage process for managing projects: define, plan, build the team, lead and motivate, control communications, review.
CLASSIC PROJECT FAILURES
The underestimation of complexity, cost and/or schedule
National Health Service – UK - Rollout of the Care Records Service component of the UK’s National Program for IT grinds to a halt after pilot sites report significant problems. Already 4 years behind schedule, the initial pilot releases in London England were branded a shambles as failure to address culture change issues interacted with ‘technical faults’ to produce weeks of chaos at hospitals. Original scope and cost of project was radically underestimated. Original budget was $4.6B, it has subsequently grown to $24B, with some observers estimating it could grow to as much as $40B.
Failure to establish appropriate control over requirements and/or scope
Rate Collection Agency – Northern Island - Problems with local property tax (“property rates”) collection system result in $260M worth of payments going uncollected. Poor requirements specifications, missing requirements, problems migrating data from legacy systems, pressure to deploy the system before adequate testing had been completed.
Lack of communications
Department of homeland security – USA - Efforts to upgrade existing anti-terror tracking systems run into serious architectural and quality flaws. System fails to perform basic Boolean functions (AND, OR, etc) and reports of serious performance concerns surface. System performance and architectural concerns regarding use of XML over a relational database design, failure to meet security requirements, radical reduction in functionality versus systems it replaces (reasons for functional shortfalls not stated), failure by the government to staff key oversight roles, quality flaws, agency turf battles, plus some interesting allegations
Failure to engage stakeholders
Qantas - “Jetsmart” engineering parts management system is renamed “Dumbjet” by aircraft engineers because the system is so difficult to use. Failure to engage the engineers who would be the eventual users of the system into the requirements and design processes resulted in a system that the engineers deemed to be unusable once it was launched.
See more examples from the resources provided in the comments.
MY LESSONS AND LEARNING
I started as a computer programmer and later became Head of IT. I had a logical thinking discipline and analytical approach to problem solving and later managing systems and solution delivery. I then got involved in non-technology change when first working in retail and thinking about shoppers, suppliers, staff and the need to work with groups and teams with different needs and priorities.
This then went up a level when I took responsibility for the 'privatisation' of the Post Office and necessarily had to start thinking about laws, legislation, unions, policies and politicians. It was in this period that I did my MBA. At each stage of increasing complexity I learned more sometimes getting it right, and sometimes learning from mistakes.
I became a ICF Trained Coach and IoD Business Mentor when I realised that I understood systems and processes better than I understood people. I could discuss, design, build and deploy changes in banking, retail, public service or improve processes and performance in manufacture or service but I knew very little about psychology or the cognitive processes of change and the unconscious concerns that often underpin resistance or fear to change.
Ironically I am a World Champs and Commonwealth Games athlete, but I never applied the mindset of sport into the management of people because despite the frequent comparison they are very different. Nonetheless the combined experience of sport, technology, business, change, processes and people has been valuable especially given the academic underpinning with qualifications. This it not about the badge, but the books. It isn't about the certificate but the knowledge.
Read wisely, there are a few books from which you can gain many years of knowledge in a few weeks. There is some brilliant stuff on the internet but a book is often better than a brochure or a blog when it comes to deeper learning.
Gain experience, take the jobs at the edge of your comfort-zone and work really hard to understand everything around that new role, sector or circumstance. When I took a role in a bank I also took a Corporate Diploma in Banking so that I properly understood the client, industry and culture as well as the project and planned changes.
Work hard to help people achieve their goals. Not every moment has been a success, but people will forgive you and work hard if they believe you are genuinely committed to helping them or their organisation achieve something important.
Ask people what they think. In the battle of ideas yours may have only one-vote, whereas others will come wrapped with different experiences and perspectives. Examine these very closely and then seek consensus rather than compliance.
See in comments below useful resources.
Tim HJ Rogers
MBA Management Consultant + Change Practitioner
ICF Trained Coach IoD Business Mentor
Tutor / Trainer for the Chartered Management Institute.
Mob 447797762051 Tim@AdaptConsultingCompany.com
#people #process #performance #projects #change
Useful resources to the above article.
What is a project manager? The lead role for project success
Scrum Master & Project Manager: What are the differences?
Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail
Analysis of the examples in the “Catalogue of catastrophe” reveals the most common mistakes.
CMI Strategic Project Management
Posted by timhjrogers at 08:08