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It’s Project Managers who Deliver Organisation Strategy

Project Managers StrategyWe all know that it’s people who deliver projects. However, without the proper support, delivery teams and project managers can’t achieve their goals successfully.

I often see businesses put their project managers through certification, and then stop there. Don’t get me wrong, certification is a huge step in the right direction. It enables teams to share a common language about projects and programmes, use common tools and techniques and tap into best practices that have been evolved and polished over years. But ongoing training and support lends itself to ongoing successful delivery. But certification doesn’t automatically equal capability, and other sorts of training can support the growth of project management maturity across the business by building capability.

It’s not just me who thinks this. The 4th annual PwC global PPM survey came to the same conclusion. “PPM is a profession,” the report authors write. “Training PMs effectively will improve delivery success.” So how can we improve in this area?

Recognise that PPM is a critical skill

Before working out how we can improve, first we have to understand the problem. The PwC study states that only a minority of CEOs feel that their organisations are well-prepared for delivering change programmes across most business functions.

Despite that, nearly three-quarters of PPM professionals felt that PPM is recognised as a critical skill – great. But less than 40% of them are certified in the methodology that the organisation uses, and 55% felt that their company didn’t provide enough time for training.

Even worse, when PwC carried out maturity assessments of initiatives that PPM professionals were involved with, their objective view was that PPM is not recognised as a critical skill. Project managers are deceiving themselves by feeling that in the main their bosses recognise and support what they do. Only 7% of programmes rated ‘mature’ when it comes to identifying resource skill gaps and providing training for project management staff. Nearly a third of the remainder had an established process (that wasn’t necessarily mature) but that still leaves over half of programme managers and executives failing to discuss training needs with their team and ensuring they then have the chance to get that training.

What project managers can do differently: Talk to your executive team about the value that project and portfolio management adds. Let them know what you need in order to deliver change more effectively, including the rationale behind asking for time to attend training.

Programme managers should be looking across the resources allocated to their initiatives and regularly reviewing the skills portfolio, identifying gaps and working with the relevant project managers and line managers to find solutions to fill those gaps including succession planning, training, coaching and bringing in experienced staff.

Project ResourcesAllocate more resource to change

A huge 40% of the executive team and general managers surveyed said that they are managing change programmes on top of their normal day-to-day work. In other words, they are doing a full-time job and are still expected to deliver strategic, transformational business change on top of that. Only 6% of respondents said they had been seconded to their programme of work on a full-time basis.

“People are still trying to deliver really important programmes ‘off the side of their desk’,” says the PwC report. “Organisations are resourcing programmes alongside their day-to-day activity – fitting it in with the day job indicating that they do not make sufficient differentiation between ‘running’ and ‘changing’ the business.”

This is a significant risk to any project. If your project managers and senior stakeholders aren’t able to spend enough time on the change and working with team members, then you can’t expect them to deliver the benefits.

Some PPM practitioners are managing because they’ve delegated work to other people. That’s the case for 15% of respondents, who say they’ve passed work off on to their colleagues so they have the time to spend on their change projects and programmes. A further 51% of people say they believe the extra workload placed upon them is ‘manageable’. In my experience, ‘manageable’ is OK for a short period of time. Change programmes, though, can stretch for a year or more. What’s manageable over a month or even two soon becomes a burden and then a breaking point. ‘Manageable’ is not the same as ‘successful’.

What project managers can do differently: It’s not down to the executive team to read your mind about needing more resources. If you are stretched, say so. Talk to your managers about prioritising the workload of you and your team. Identify which resources on your project are only working part-time and calculate how much faster you could deliver benefits if you had them full-time.

There is often a clear business case to do this: a resource that costs £60k could help you deliver strategic projects with defined business benefits more quickly. The value of the benefit, when delivered earlier, could easily outweigh the cost of their salary for the year. Do the maths: you might be surprised that it’s a no brainer to get additional resources!

Foster environments that promote success

Nearly 65% of CEOs say enhancing their skilled workforce is a priority over the next three years. This is good news: not only will it keep us all in jobs but it helps to keep our companies ahead of the competition and bring new innovative solutions to market.

An environment that fosters success is important for people to use their skills in a way that does all that. The most skilled people won’t give you innovative solutions in a stifling environment. A supportive, professional environment where it’s clear that PPM is recognised as a business driver will go a long way to creating that ideal working environment.

What project managers can do differently: Make sure that your team feels like a team. Encourage them to work together to solve problems and as part of their project work too. Share ideas. Make lessons learned and team work the way you do things in your department. Collaboration should the standard, not something that team members find new when they join a project for the first time.

It’s easy to say this, but in practice it takes some effort to get the team dynamics right. Being aware of the softer skills involved in setting up productive teams is something else that project managers should get skilled at. Think about how to deal with team conflict early so that you aren’t stuck for solutions when the inevitable row happens.

When people feel like a team, and like their chosen profession is supported and valued, they are free to do their best work.

I’ve noticed a definite shift over the past two years in how project and programme management is viewed. It’s as if the powers that be have finally realised that it’s project managers who deliver their strategy. They come up with the ideas to drive the business forward and now they know who actually does the graft to turn that vision into a reality. However, from the PwC research report it looks like we still have some way to go before all areas of support are in place for PPM professionals.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She is Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy and author of Social Media for Project Managers and the award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.

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