Mind the gap

Many client-side project managers who struggle to a greater or lesser extent believe they are performing well – evidenced by focusing on some of the good characteristics within their project.  Yet the gap between what is perceived as good and best practice can be enormous (something our clients have pointed out to us after working with us).  Only when clients gain the benefits from one of our health checks or project assurance assignments, do they realise how good, good really is!  Oftentimes project managers themselves are temporarily stunned by the length, breadth and depth of what it takes to be a top-class project manager.  And that is what we want to claim; and with demonstrable proof. 

Our goal is for Pelicam to be the home of the best 100 independent programme and project management practitioners, in the IT and business change arena, in the UK who live our values of professional integrity.

It may be almost impossible to prove our case; it may be extremely difficult to identify and recruit the up-and-coming project managers; it may be impossible to retain all our elite practitioners as their work-life balance moves in a different direction – nevertheless that remains our goal.  Aim high, hit high.  However aim low and…

The reality is that many, if not all, organisations struggle with why and how to develop their project management community.  The routine operational challenges of a business override any concerns about one community within that business, often resulting in a disenfranchised group on the fringe of what is perceived as adding business value with no clear raison d’être, no credible career path and no credible professional qualifications to boot.

Developing your project management community

1. Matching the portfolio to our project intelligence

Each year, a company’s portfolio requires the management of small, simple projects through to large, complex ones.  But does the project management community have the necessary project intelligence to deliver that portfolio?  If not, what else can be done?

Using an inexperienced project manager could prove disastrous.  And when things do go wrong, a well-intentioned but misjudged performance assessment of the entire PM community (to ensure it doesn’t look like a witch hunt) will surely undermine the entire project management community.

2. Lack of training courses to develop a career path

OK…so you’ve got your PRINCE2/APM certificate.  But now what? 

The opportunity to become a project planning software jockey is neither enticing nor career enhancing. 

1.     And the prospect of spending the rest of your career learning from your peers - who are no more “expert” than you are… 

2.     And what about the complete absence of training courses for project managers trying to advance their careers..? 

3.     And the general ‘Management Training’ course PMs are often sent on (as a feel-good factor) but are, in fact, hopelessly targeted and simply waste their annual training budget.

4.     And why are training budgets handled by folk incentivised by volume and cost reduction rather than appropriateness and quality of training returned through business benefits?

Reflecting on the ideal career-training path that a PM should have, helped us produce a first draft diagram (below) that highlights:

1.     IN GREEN - training currently widely available 

2.     IN AMBER - training widely required but rarely available

3.     IN RED – training required but simply not available.

I have also highlighted the illustrative time-scales during a career when the training will be at its most effective because it can be implemented immediately afterwards.  Far too often I have met project managers who have had the right training at the wrong time: rendering it almost worthless.  Who owns your training budget?!?!

Amidst all this doom-and-gloom it is no wonder that a PRINCE2/APM certificate stands head-and-shoulders above the rest as being something of apparent value…but I know, you know, project managers know and even the PRINCE2/APM stakeholders know – it isn’t enough!

Training companies are unlikely to ever deliver the training we need and why?

1.     The more advanced these courses are, the smaller the target population of project managers becomes (hence fewer sales ergo reduced profit).

2.     The more advanced these courses, the more expertise and experience is required to create them (hence increased cost of authors ergo reduced profit).

3.     The more advanced these courses are, the more expertise and experience is required to deliver them and not just in project management but also those with a training/coaching inclination (hence increased cost of training ergo reduced profit).

4.     And even if they could be delivered they could not be delivered to large audiences (generating profit) because project problems become increasingly specific and complex in their very nature (hence decreased revenues from smaller audiences ergo reduced profit).

5.     And even if all these obstacles could be overcome, there is no sufficiently serious and nationally (or globally) recognised professional body that would or could validate the qualifications resulting in some sort of tertiary qualification.

So shouldn’t we all give up and go home?  Well we have already begun to address these gaps in the professional career path with a small set of expert training and coaching workshops delivered by some of our best and most senior project managers.

Question (and I know what you’re thinking): “doesn’t this lack of profit all apply to Pelicam?” 
Answer: YES – but we care passionately about our profession and are prepared to do whatever it takes to raise the level of professionalism so that it becomes a respected profession…and even if that means taking a risk in producing a loss-making course..

What are the alternatives?

1.     Use a PM provided by a recruitment agency although you have:

a.     No guarantee of quality

b.     The time-consuming job of qualifying them yourself

c.     To pay a large commission to the agent whether or not they are any good

d.     An overhead in managing their performance and delivery capability

2.     Hire a big-firm consultancy although it may:

a.     Not guarantee quality (the consultancies can't find senior PMs either!)

b.     Cost a large amount of money

c.     Deliver a large number of junior PMs learning their job at your expense

d.     Send a clear, and somewhat unpalatable, message to your PM Community

e.     Not provide any real skills transfer

f.      Not provide any guarantee of delivery.

3.     Use a less senior PM though:

a.     They will need regular and frequent mentoring (and still may not succeed)

b.     It may lead to failure, recriminations and typically, redundancy or some form of exit

c.     You must consciously accept the level of risk and not blame the PM you chose!

4.     Hiring an independent PM could work and provided they:

a.     Are genuinely top-class self-starters and don't need managing

b.     Add real value

c.     Transfer best practice skills to internal PMs

d.     Can work within the organisational culture without undermining the internal PM community's faith in its own abilities.

e.     Can be found!!!


3. Lack of role models

There used to be enough senior project managers to demonstrate and spread good practice (using juniors as project office managers whilst learning).  Occasionally juniors would simply shadow their role models – a surprisingly good use of time and money.  Yet this practice appears to have been discontinued: but why?  Is it because:

a.     There is insufficient best practice from PMs acting as role models?

b.     The best PMs are too busy?

c.     Juniors don’t want to learn?

d.     The value for money hasn’t been evaluated properly?

e.     Something else?

4. Not understanding project management potential

Even though few (if any) organisations can call upon the quality of project manager that Pelicam can; does that matter anyway? 

Organisations should, and often do, manage a large proportion of their own portfolios.  For this to succeed, however, the capability of project managers must be assessed realistically…without creating job unrest.  Then project managers can be allocated projects with which they can be stretched and still succeed

Over the past few years (and following much research, discussion and experience) Pelicam has developed both a core and advanced competency framework designed to flex according to company strategy as well as the target abilities of the community of project management required by that organisation – ranging from the most junior project personnel to the most senior.  We believe it to be unique in the industry.


2010, PeopleKatie MayerComment