Six Project Management Themes from 2013
By Russell Whitworth
Over the last year I have worked with a variety of clients, each with unique challenges. There have also been some common themes. It is the time of year for a bit of reflection, so here are the things that have struck me about project management in 2013.
- We’re all overworked
Having too much to do is surely far better than getting bored. Being busy is fun, exciting, challenging and stimulating up to a point – but can ultimately lead to stress, physical and mental illness and inefficiency if it goes too far. It’s a fine line.
The key to coping here is prioritisation, at a personal and corporate level. Corporately, the trick is to allocate scarce resources to the right projects, i.e. portfolio management. The science and discipline is well-understood, yet it is poorly executed in practice. I find this strange, since it should be obvious that investment in portfolio management can easily be justified by the savings of avoiding wasted projects.
At an individual level, project managers need to understand that you can’t do everything. You really can’t. And that’s a tough message for the typical “completer-finisher” PM. So instead, make sure that you’re prioritising effectively – always doing the most important thing that needs doing. Always. If you’re confident that you have invested your time in the most important things, then you don’t need to feel guilty about not doing the things you don’t.
Senior stakeholders don’t understand risk management
I’m generalising massively here, but project managers seem pretty good at risk management these days. But what is the point in producing a high-quality and quantified risk register, mitigated and managed, if the information is ignored by the decision makers? Why do our stakeholders still think it is acceptable behaviour to set demanding targets, whilst squeezing the budget and timescale to the minimum, and not allowing contingency? Using the classic time/cost/quality measures of success, it means that projects are set up for failure. It’s not acceptable, it isn’t the PM’s fault, and a major re-education effort is needed.
Everyone thinks they are doing “lessons learned” badly
As a consultant, this is the plea I hear more than any other – from PMs, PMO and from senior managers: “we don’t record our lessons learned properly; can you help?”
Actually there is a clue in the way the question is usually phrased. Somehow, the focus is always on writing down the lessons, to form some sort of organisational learning database. I think the focus is all wrong. The real value is the learning for the individuals – what happens in their heads – rather than what gets written down.
I hope to return to this topic in more detail in a later blog.
Everyone wants it, but there is a reluctance to provide the right environment in which it can succeed.
What is a PMO?
There are so many things that a Project Management Office could do, anything from gating projects based on their fit to corporate strategy (i.e. portfolio management) to looking after room bookings for project team meetings (admin support to the PM). The purpose of a PMO can take a social-worker role of being highly supportive to the projects and project managers, or it can be the policeman of all corporate processes.
Sometimes I get asked “should a PMO do this or not?”. The answer, of course, is “it all depends.” There is no single correct model for a PMO, and an organisation needs to find what works best for them. In most cases, it will be a subtle blend of the supportive and the authoritative.
PMs don’t just come from technical backgrounds
In the past, and particularly in the telecom industry where I’ve worked most of my career, PMs tend to come from a technical background. They are engineers or developers that have moved into project management.
That still happens, but in addition I am increasingly seeing two new breeds:
- The career project manager, coming direct from higher education into project management
People-oriented people, coming from a background of customer services, admin functions, or personal assistants
These newcomers make our profession a richer place to be, and I certainly welcome it.
Those are my thoughts on recent trends and challenges in project management – what are yours?
Q2 Associates Managing Director, Russell Whitworth, is an experienced project/program manager and consultant who has worked in the telecommunications industry throughout his career. His employers have included a user organization, a vendor, a management consultancy, a telecommunications consultancy, and a major telecommunications operator.