Project Manager at 20
My first project Management job was when I was 20. I was a Contractor engaged by a consulting business to take over a failing project at an American manufacturer and marketer of prestige skincare, make-up, fragrance and hair care products.
The previous project manager left under a cloud. He didn’t like the project, and so spent his time on the phone openly discussing rates with recruitment agencies. Needless to say, the client wasn’t happy, and the consultancy was in a precarious situation.
That project was a baptism of fire for me. I undertook my first recruitment and first dismissal on the project. The dismissal was a disaster as the guy I fired begged the client to get me to give him his job back! (Lessons learned? Get security to escort people off the premises when you fire them!)
The Dot-Com Bubble Burst
After a number of years plying my project management trade in the UK for organisations such as Barclays, Citibank, and other blue-chip firms, the dot-com bubble burst, and in 2002 the contract market dried up. I needed to differentiate myself and so embarked on a programme of self-funded training, earning over a dozen certifications in technology and project management. For one, I became a Prince2® Practitioner, which enabled me to take on bigger, more mission critical projects.
Training Project Managers
I wound up back in a consultancy, delivering projects across market sectors, including the public sector, and in locations as wide and varied as the UAE, Hong Kong and North America.
Whilst I didn’t lead the Project Management Practice (I led a different Practice), I was the person who taught project management to new hires. I took on this task as I was critical about what I saw as poor project management process in the firm.
The consultancy was achieving $50m in annual revenue, and was a well-known and respected firm of project managers in its niche. Yet the business owners did not believe in formal project management certification. They funded online training in Prince2® Foundation, but refused to fund training to Practitioner level!
A great Project Manager, or just a good Team Leader?
It was at this point that it dawned on me there are a lot of good Team Leaders masquerading as Project Managers, and that really good Project Managers are hard to come by. A Project Manager does need to have a broad skillset that includes team leadership, but the same is not necessarily true in reverse.
In my experience, a lot of Project Managers lack diligence. They:
- Don’t create and keep up to date a project plan
- Don’t consistently use a Risk Register and Issue Log
- Don’t track Lessons Learned throughout a project’s life-cycle
- Don’t have a delivery methodology beyond meetings and action logs
- Don’t understand that they are delivering on behalf of a Project Sponsor
- Don’t have a Business Case for their project
For example, I recently worked with a construction and engineering firm generating nearly €200m in annual revenue through projects. Yet they didn’t really have a grasp of what an Issue was. They saw an Issue as a Risk that is currently happening!
Another client in the legal sector could not provide me with a Business Case for more then one of their projects, yet the vast majority of the project management team agreed that a Business Case is a necessary component of a project!
So it just goes to show, you can deliver projects, and achieve some success, with a weak approach to project management.
But what are you missing out on? How much could you save if you delivered a project to scope, time, and cost? How many times are you making the same mistakes? How much more market share and/or revenue could the business achieve if it delivered business change cheaper, faster, and better?
Certification is a Toolkit Only
I think it’s easy to see an established project management methodology as the answer, whether it’s Prince2®, PMP®, or something else. But those are merely toolkits, and it’s rare to see them successfully adopted.
As I was taught when I learnt Prince2®, if you get a plumber to fix your dripping tap, you don’t expect him to use every tool in his toolbox. This is the mistake many people make with methodologies. They try and implement it all, sometimes just to embed their learning. But that’s when people start accusing methodologies of being bureaucratic.
Every Project Manager Can Be Better
I firmly believe that every Project Manager and project management team can improve. The secret is to determine what project management rigour is appropriate and required in your organisation, and to ensure that all projects adhere to it.
I’ve seen many organisations attempt to develop their own project management methodologies. Most of these initiatives are too ambitious, too broad in scope, run over budget, and fail to deliver the anticipated outcomes. The reasons for this include:
- Being too complex – often identified by very complex process flow diagrams
- Having no roll out plan – no detailed plan as to how the methodology will be trained and whom
- No plan for embedding the change in the organisation – it’s not just the Project Managers that need to understand the methodology
Lessons Learned is the gateway to improvement
It is for these reasons that we focus on providing a Lessons Learned service. By understanding how your organisation delivers projects, we have the greatest chance of achieving positive organisational change. As opposed to simply saying you should adopt an established methodology, or rigidly stick to best practice.
By learning where your project management team is effective, and what its weak spots are, changes can be identified that have much greater impact and likelihood of success.
Our mission is to achieve a minimum 20% improvement in project outcomes for our clients. That might be an average reduction in project delivery time, or of project cost reduction, or delivering to scope.