Project 2012

by Donnie MacNicol

I recently came across an article I wrote in 2005 about the world of project management in 2012. I believe it was published and I believe I even did a presentation on it but for the life of me can't remember where. Anyway, I would invite you to read the unedited version, warts and all. Just in case you are a little confused, this is 2015. Comments welcomed!

Adaptation or re-invention – Project 2012

Organisations are increasingly appreciating the benefits that project management can have on the efficiency with which they implement change. This is driving the development of the discipline and also the acceptance of project management as a profession.

So what is project management? This was defined succinctly by Martin Barnes, the APM President in his lead statement to introduce the re-branded APM in 2005. “At its most fundamental, project management is about people getting things done”. This would suggest that project management is focused on people and secondarily the things they need to get done. This is not the case.

Since the 1950’s when project management was “defined” its focus has been on getting things done – either quicker, with fewer resources, more profitably and so on but not on people. People have historically been considered as little more than a resource with particular maintenance requirements such as a teambuilding session and review meetings.

This is changing. There is a growing conviction amongst experienced project management practitioners that people; their competence, understanding, engagement and a host of other factors should be the key considerations in project management. It has been shown repeatedly in studies that these softer factors are the most important influencers as to either the success or failure of a project. This does not diminish the importance of aspects such as the creation of a robust business case, agreement of a comprehensive scope and planning but ultimately these are only created to provide understanding and buy-in to what needs to be delivered, by whom and when. They are an enabler not an end in themselves.

So what is the issue? Most project managers would agree that people are at the heart of project management.

Unfortunately it is accepted conceptually but not acted upon e.g. consider a typical project manager on a typical project. How much of their time and energy is put into ensuring that a robust organisational structure is in place, that team dynamics have been considered and are being managed, relationships between team members have been resolved and that individuals are motivated and engaged? Very little, from anecdotal evidence.

Why? I would suggest for two reasons. The first is that project managers do not generally feel comfortable considering people issues, as they have been neither trained nor encouraged to do so in the past and often do not have a language with which to express it. Help could be provided through re-tooling existing processes thereby providing a softer focus or providing a greater focus on engagement and communication in collaborative systems. Helpful but the equivalent of covering up a structural weakness with a plasterboard skin.

The second reason is that project management was not created with people as its central focus. Therefore the very foundations of the discipline are biased towards “getting things done”. There is nothing wrong with that but with our developing understanding of the importance of people in delivering success not a great foundation on which to continue to build a profession. The question is therefore; can the current foundations effectively support a change in emphasis towards behaviours, relationships, culture, etc?

My suggestion is to give serious consideration to re-inventing project management with “people” as the primary focus. The debate would require us to go back and question the principles and structures on which project management is built - de-constructing the very basis of project management.

So what would a re-invented project management discipline look like? It would be interesting to reflect! Take for example Prince2. Rather than ask what would be different about Prince2 ask would its purpose be. Would it be structured and presented in the same way? If you had a team who were highly motivated, informed and fully accountable would the same type of processes and controls be required? How would a typical progress meeting be structured? How often would they be held? What factors would be discussed? Should the meeting focus on the functioning of the organisational structure (e.g. understanding and use of decision making routes, the quality of information flow, etc), the way that the dynamics of the team is supporting or hindering progress, the need to resolve conflict between individuals or the concerns over an individuals stress levels and workload?

If these issues were addressed openly and directly what need would there be to review progress, risks, issues, etc in detail? Considering a wider issue, what shape would a future APM have? What would differentiate it from other people focused professional bodies such as CIMA, CMI, etc? An associated question is will change management be distinct from project management by 2012, if the core competencies that differentiate change from project management are shared?


So between 2005 and 2012, did anything really change?


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Project 2012

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