Mar 102017
Project Management apprenticeships

Ever since the 1980’s when professional qualifications in project management started to appear there has been a steady increase in the use of project management in all types of organisations. It is no longer confined to engineering or construction or IT software projects. In fact, project management is now used in almost every type of major business area and industry as companies tend to use project centric methods to grow and develop.

So whether you are involved in producing new high-tech products, building bridges, creating software applications, tourism, healthcare and many, many other fields the chances are you will come across projects in your working environment.

So it’s great news that a new UK Government Apprenticeship Levy looks set to encourage major employers to train their budding project managers in PM best practices. And, that those trainees will have started on a path to a series of professional qualifications culminating eventually in chartered status as a project management professional.

Young people who might enjoy and excel within a career as a project manager will no longer have to take a university degree to get started (with all the associated student debt issues that entails). So there is now a direct route straight into a project management career via a project management apprenticeship – these are Higher Apprenticeships that develop the practical skills and behaviours that a successful project manager requires.

More About The Apprenticeship Levy

The UK government wants to improve productivity in UK based companies by investing in the people who work there. It’s plan is to create 3 million more apprenticeships (including higher apprenticeships like the project management one) in England by 2020 and they are using the Apprenticeship Levy to ensure quality training is provided by employers. The Apprenticeship Levy comes into force in April 2017 and is charged at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s salary bill if in excess of £3 million.


The Benefits of the Project Management Apprenticeship Programme


The PM apprenticeship programme is directly aligned with the industry standard APM Competence Framework so all apprentices will benefit from learning industry best practices. The employer will consequently benefit from these best practices being used to complete projects – resulting in more rigours management of projects and hence more consistently successful outcomes. The apprentice will also gain well-recognised and highly regarded professional qualifications and accreditation.

Project management apprenticeships are normally undertaken via a remote course of study using online tools so there is no requirement to travel far afield to attend training courses, meaning that location is not a deterrent to completing the programme. It can usually be complete within an 18 month – 2 year period.

Apprentices are taught a combination of theory and practical skills such as:

  • Budgeting and Cost Control
  • Communication
  • Risk management
  • Schedule management
  • Stakeholder management
  • Collaboration & Teamwork
  • Leadership


This is a marvellous opportunity for anyone to embark on a career in project management – the newest of the chartered professions. It can eventually lead to chartered status in this highly regarded and growing profession.

Apr 122016
project fundamentals

Some project managers just seem to have what it takes to be successful at what they do, effectively and efficiently delivering projects over and over again. Yet other project managers seem to struggle to achieve the same success. Of course, the type of project you are involved in has an impact as does the particular business area or industry. An industry which is constantly at the cutting edge of technology may reasonably expect to have less project success stories than an industry that tends to embark on predictable projects of a type they have completed many times before.  So we know the type of industry makes a contribution to the likelihood of success or failure but the skill, experience, behaviours and training of the project manager also have an effect. But is it possible to train anyone to become a successful project manager or are certain necessary attributes simply innate and cannot be taught?

What skills are required for a project manager to be truly effect in the role? What behaviours and attitudes do the most successful PMs have that set them apart from those who are less successful? It is, of course, a mixture of training, their experience, and their natural skills but in what proportions? Can good training make up for a lack of experience and natural skills – can training, in fact, effect a change in natural behaviours and attitudes?

With a range of professional training courses and accreditation available from the APM Project Fundamentals Qualification for novice project managers through to the highest level of PM accreditation the APM Registered Project Professional (APM RPP) there is no shortage of training available that seeks to do more than just teach project management techniques and tools. These training course also seek to change behaviours and attitudes and teach new “soft skills” such as people management and communication skills and are delivered in an engaging, practical way using a range of training materials such as podcasts and animated videos such as the one below.



Some of these soft skills come naturally to certain people who instinctively understand how to motivate a project team and how to develop a good working relationship by communicating openly and on a personal level. It may not be possible to completely change someone’s innate personality but the right training and role models in the workplace can help develop traits in a PM to make them much more effective at managing projects and the people involved on the projects.

The most successful project managers are good at:

  • planning and managing a project
  • monitoring and controlling risk and change
  • staying focused on the project goals
  • understanding the detailed tasks required

They are also natural optimists with great communication skills who are able to motivate a team to ensure the project is delivered at the right cost, within deadline and that it actually delivers on the anticipated business benefits.

In summary, a project manager requires time to develop experience, along with technical competence in PM techniques and tools; and soft project management skills such as confidence, optimism, motivational abilities and effective communication. Some project managers may start their career already with these soft skills but good project management training will help those less fortunate to learn how to develop these soft skills.

Feb 152012
project management fundamentals

Most medium and large organisations will have become used to projects of one sort or another being part of their daily business. Many of those organisations have also developed a commitment to improving the success rate of their projects because they have experienced first hand what happens when an individual is assigned to managing projects with no prior training and, worse, when there are no formal processes or controls in place – and it isn’t success. Large organisations tend to have an understanding of the benefits of some rigour within the project management process through trial and error. They recognise that allowing a member of staff to “drift” into project management does not always deliver the best outcome. For these reasons they support a formal framework for managing projects which might be an internationally recognised methodology such as PRINCE2, APM or PMP, or an internal approach developed over some years and tailored to a company’s specific needs.

They also support the training and development of project managers and those involved in projects in other ways such as a team member or project support staff. Those new to project management are likely to be encouraged to attend introductory training courses such as the APM Project Fundamentals whilst more experienced project managers will be supported during Continuing Professional development (CPD) and advanced accreditations such as the APM RPP (Registered Project Professional).

Of course, project vary enormously in their size and complexity even within the same organisation but are still fundamentally about managing a series of tasks, the people and other resources required with the aim of delivering an end-result that provides a substantial business benefit to the company – a benefit that would, or should, have been defined at the outset of the project.

Unfortunately, the ideal of project management frequently does not live up to the realities – particularly in complex projects – and projects are becoming more complex as technology improves at such a rapid rate. There are great success stories but also many less-than-successful projects – let’s not call them failures because failing projects often end up being altered in some way so that they can be considered “successful”.

But all organisations want to improve the genuine success rate of their projects, which is why more and more of them are investing in the training and recognition of their project managers. Well-trained project managers with globally recognised qualifications are more motivated to succeed and build their careers. But recognition of professionalism is not just about training and qualifications – it is also about continuous professional development and the ability to demonstrate the skills necessary to competently manage complex projects.

With the introduction of advanced professional credentials such as the Registered Project Professional (RPP) credential from the Association for Project Management (APM) there is now recognition available for experienced project managers on a par with the well-established professions such as accountancy and law. By defining strict criteria concerning previous project management experience, the APM RPP is an indication that a project manager is a highly competent manager able to deliver complex projects using the appropriate processes and tools.

Just as chartered status in traditional professions gives a client confidence in the abilities of the professional so registered status in the modern profession of project management instils the same confidence in clients and employers. With the APM RPP effectively a step towards the project management profession gaining chartered status it will cement project management as a recognised profession and do much to negate the effects of the well-publicised and high-profile failures that have occurred in recent projects.

And maybe one day the project management profession will be as highly-regarded as law or accountancy and be just as attractive a career path.


Jan 122012

Many people believe that for a project manager to be successful, they need to have not only good project management skills and experience but also previous experience of the business area or industry in which they are working. This view is probably so widespread because they have often, in the past, simply progressed from one role within an organisation into a project management role in the same company. Their previous experience is often seen as a bonus and they are just thrown in at the deep end of project management and have to quickly get up to speed with a relevant training course, or worse, no training at all.

But do project managers who have reached their current role in this way have any greater success than a formally trained professional? Or do they find it difficult to remove themselves from viewing the project at a detailed level because they understand the business in-depth but are then prevented from seeing the project from a wider perspective. It can actually be a disadvantage to get too involved in the detail of individual tasks and activities.

A professional project manager will have been trained in a wide range of skills that are transferable across businesses and will have built up enough practical experience to be able to gather the right amount of information about the business in order to understand the needs of the client. After all you wouldn’t expect other professionals such as lawyers or accountants to know everything about your business – they just need to understand enough to do their job properly.

It could be argued that there are some industries where detailed knowledge of that industry is a pre-requisite for a project manager and that may be the case in certain technical areas such as IT but it is not the case for the vast majority of projects being undertaken across a wide range of businesses. An understanding of building and motivating a team, planning and managing tasks, risk and change, and having the skills to interface effectively with a range of employees from senior managers and stakeholders right down to the most junior team member are far more important skills for a project manager to have.

So if you want to develop your career fully and have the confidence and freedom to move into new business areas, organisations or even industries then concentrate on developing your project management skills and don’t worry too much about your business or industry knowledge.

Ensure you have the confidence and ability to talk with business heads about defining the goals and objectives of a project, determining the expected benefits and the impact on the status quo, and where the project sits in terms of overall priority within the business. Assist with documenting the detailed business requirements and clearly describing the project by being an effective interface between the business heads and users and the project team who will deliver the end-product.

Then increase yours and the project team’s chance of success by ensuring you document who owns the project, who the stakeholders are and what criteria will define its success. And also ensure you establish a proper communication strategy and that you understand the reporting requirements.

Then you can actually get started with planning and running the project, assessing and managing the risks and establishing a solid change management process.

And, before you start, don’t forget to ensure that enough budget, time and people have been allocated so that the project is at least feasible at the outset.

When you consider all these project management skills that are required you wonder how a project manager would actually find the time to get closely involved with the detail of the tasks – even if he/she did have the relevant business knowledge. Far better to focus on developing yourself as a project professional and gaining transferable qualifications such as one of the APMP accreditations or a PMP Certification.

Dec 132011

Projects come in all shapes and sizes such as straightforward improvements to products or operations procedures through to new product research or major software development. But the key components that contribute to the success of a project are the same no matter how simple or complex the project is and whether it is being run in a small organisation without any formal project framework or in a large organisation as part of a well-established framework in an ongoing programme of projects and with the support of a project office.

The most important factors that will contribute to a project being completed successfully can be broadly broken down into the following 5 areas:

Strategic Planning
Understanding your marketplace, the wider industry and your competition is necessary so that the specific business objectives of the project can be well-defined and, more importantly, meet a genuine need, or anticipated need, within the market to which the end-product will be targeted. For simpler projects in small organisations the “marketplace” may, in fact, be a small internal team or department but the concept of understanding them and their objectives is still the same and still just as important.

Developing the Product
Any new product, process or service needs to be developed or established solely to meet the defined business goals, which need to be articulated and documented at the very beginning of the project. Where a project involves a new process, it is important to prevent it becoming an opportunity to add or change related processes where they do not add real business benefit and do not affect the final outcome or contribute to the overall business aims.

Focused marketing aimed at the right target audience is as vital for the simplest internal projects designed to change an existing operations process as it is to a new product with a global market. Of course, the realities of such marketing are quite different – internal projects are unlikely to have big-budget advertising campaigns for example – but it is still important to “sell” the product/process to those who will be buying or using it. In many internal projects involving major change to the status-quo the greatest challenge is to convince the end-users that they will be better off with the new process in the face of typical human reluctance to change.

For the wide variety of projects that take place in organisations year-round, the provision of a support mechanism both before and after implementation is another key component to the success of the project. Support might come in the form of IT support (providing the right hardware and software), Human Resources for recruiting and retaining the appropriate staff, facilities for providing the necessary offices or other building space and any number of other support services relevant to the project.

There are different categories of people involved in projects and they all have different and specific roles to play but they are all stakeholders with a vested interest in the project being a success:

• Sponsor:- The sponsor(s) of a project is often a member of the senior management team of an organisation but can also be someone from outside the organisation if a strategic alliance has been set up. Their role is to define the business objectives that are the driving force behind the initiation of a project, to ensure that adequate resources are made available to complete the project and to influence the completion date of the project by defining priorities. They will tend to have a good overview of the project but not become involved in any of the detailed aspects.

• Project Manager:- A professional project manager has the responsibility of creating a detailed project plan that meets the budget, schedule and scope determined by the sponsors. They advise, teach and motivate team members; resolve conflicts and issues with deliverables and deadlines and have a good understanding of all tasks required to complete the project. They also aim to manage and control risks and changes.

• Team Member:- These can range from a subject-matter expert through to a recently hired novice but all team members will have a contribution to make towards the end-product. Each will be responsible for completing individual tasks to a deadline, including resolving issues that arise related to their tasks. More experienced members of the team should help the less-experienced members by answering questions and giving advice to maximise the ability of the whole team to deliver projects successfully.

So if you can get these 5 components right you will be able to do the following on your project:

1. Clearly define the aims of the project
2. Stay focussed only on those aims
3. Successfully “sell” the project to the end-users
4. Provide support for the whole project team as required
5. Select a committed team that will work co-operatively

This will go a long way to ensuring that the final outcome of a project is a successful one. Of course, underlying all of these components and driving the project to success will be professionals who have gained on-the-job experience as well as completing project management training in a recognised methodology such as PMP or APMP.

Nov 142011

All professionals who wish to be successful, in whatever field, needs to continually aim to improve their skills. As project management is becoming recognised more and more as a profession, project managers need to ensure they have the appropriate training to develop their careers and that they keep their skills relevant and up-to-date. That is just as true for new project managers taking the APM Project Fundamentals Qualification as it is for highly experienced project managers seeking to gain the prestigious APM RPP accreditation. Continuous professional development (CPD) has always been a recognised part of the career path of those in the well-established professions such as accountancy and law and is now being incorporated into training courses for project managers.


Project managers are required to fulfil an increasingly expanding and important role as projects become more and more complex with new technologies being developed ever quicker. They are having to find new ways of coping with increasing expectations from both clients and employers.


The right type of professional training course can equip a project manager with the skills to deal with these complexities and to plan and manage their projects efficiently, deal with risks and change effectively, and to deal with people at all levels involved in a project.


The benefits of professional qualifications and credentials to the individual can be a higher salary, better career prospects and improved job satisfaction so project managers themselves should need little encouragement to attend a training course. But employers also recognise the benefits of having a well-trained and motivated employee who can deliver complex projects successfully so most major organisations offer access to a training program.


For those project managers who are self-employed or employed by small companies without a training budget (or, worse, a company without the desire to train its employees) there are plenty of good courses aimed at individuals to help them gain recognised qualifications or credentials independently.


One of the unsung benefits of a training course (or at least, traditional classroom-based learning) is learning about the successes and failures of both the trainers and the other delegates. It is highly likely that there will be someone on your course who will have experienced, or is experiencing, the same issues as you. Being able to discuss these issues with others, in the company of a professional trainer, can be a good learning experience in itself.


So why is professional training worthwhile?

Planning and Managing

Whatever approach you might take to planning and managing a project will be determined by the type of methodology you have learnt (PMP, PRINCE2, APMP etc.). But what is certain in all projects is that a schedule will need to be planned and managed. Depending on the industry, your approach to the schedule may be that it is flexible, adaptable and likely to change frequently before the project is completed. This particularly true in software development projects. Nevertheless, every project will start with some sort of schedule, and knowledge of the key areas of good project management will enable the well-trained project manager to develop a schedule that takes into account all necessary tasks, their interdependencies, estimations, milestones and resource tracking, whilst also being capable of flexibility, where necessary.


Dealing with Risks and Change

Methods can be learnt to better anticipate risks or deal with those risks that could not be predicted. A training course will also promote the importance of a good change management process, how to establish one and how to ensure it is followed so that the management of change requests does not become a full-time job and change requests do not obscure the original purpose of the project.


Dealing with People

With the help of training, a project manager can learn team-building skills, including how to develop a motivated, committed team that will work co-operatively. And how to communicate effectively with everyone involved in the project, including the stakeholders. It will give him, or her, the confidence to stick with the plan when the plan is right, change the plan when it is wrong and be prepared to make unpopular decisions when necessary.


Finally, training will ensure every project has established and documented the criteria for success, which can be used to confirm that a project has been successfully delivered.


These are just some of the reasons why project management training is important, whatever methodology your organisation is committed to: PMP, PRINCE2 or APMP. It will help every project manager to develop fully, to be recognised as a professional and to deliver complex projects successfully.

Sep 302011

Perhaps the toughest part of any project is finding and assigning the right project manager. Many organisations promote staff to this role from within the organisation. These people know the company, its ethos and the other staff who are likely to be team members. They are experienced in their current role and looking for a new challenge. What could possibly go wrong? These are the project managers who have acquired this role by default.


The reasons for assigning a project manager role to an individual from within an organisation are sound ones – knowledge of the company, its products and people should by no means be underestimated. But whether that person has the necessary skills to lead a project is not always taken into account and there can be just as many problems with promoting internally as in hiring an unknown, but experienced, person from a different organisation who has specifically chosen this profession.


In fact, does the person interviewing for the role of project manager even know which attributes to look out for in the potential candidates? The skills and attributes required by a truly competent project manager are wide and varied and go far beyond the qualifications they may possess. The attitude, personality and soft skills of the candidate must also be considered but this is often difficult to assess accurately at interview.


So, within an organisation, many project managers still drift into the role or have it thrust upon them because of the growing need within businesses for people to control the work, the budget and the time of the many projects being initiated. These internally promoted project managers tend to come from a purely managerial background or a purely technical background and often lack the skills and competencies required to manage a complex project successfully. So along with the boom in projects has come a boom in the need for training so that these individuals can acquire the necessary skills.


Project management is still a relatively new profession but increasingly, as in established professions such as law or accountancy, professional credentials are available to provide recognition for stages, achievements and milestones on the project management career path.


Many of these relatively recent accreditations recognise (and, indeed, demand) practical experience so they avoid the problems associated with some project management courses where candidates gain a theoretical knowledge of processes and techniques, but lack the practical experience required to fully understand the realities of a real project environment. Because of the considerable effort required to attain these credentials, they are also indicative of a desire to continue within the profession.


The personality traits of an individual are those innate characteristics that are difficult to teach and to learn, yet are key factors in the success of a project. Personal values and motivation also contribute to a project’s success or failure.


Skills, or competencies, on the other hand can be taught and learned – project management, as with many roles, has a basic set of skills required to perform the role effectively, which include attributes such as:


  • ability to lead a team
  • composure
  • motivation
  • conscientiousness
  • management of expectations
  • problem solving



Many of these attributes only come to the fore when an individual is exposed to an opportunity or experience (such as a formal project management course) that enables them to be learnt. Standard definitions of core competencies are published by organisations such as the PMI and their PMP Certification is widely accepted as recognition of professional competence. For those new to project management the APM Introductory Certificate is a good first place to start your training. So project manager by choice or not – perhaps it is innate attributes and opportunities in training and experience that define success, or not.


Jul 262011

Everything learned from previous projects, whether they were successes or failures can teach a project manager important lessons. And individual project managers usually do learn from their own previous experiences, but are these “lessons learned” shared with others within the project team or within the same organisation? If they are shared, do other project managers apply the lessons to their own projects?

If lessons were genuinely learned from past projects then the same mistakes would not be repeated on different projects. Projects within an organisation would then be more consistently delivered on time, within budget and to the customer’s complete satisfaction. Since this is not always the case, it would be safe to surmise that lessons are not really being learned from past projects.

Project environments are often challenging with multi-functional teams that are both culturally and geographically diverse. Budgets are usually tightly constrained and the business is evolving while the project is in progress so requirements frequently change mid-project. As a result corporations are not very effective at communicating across teams, and different departments are not well-integrated – with the result that similar mistakes are often repeated.

Yet there is a financial saving to be made in organisations from not repeating mistakes and the technological infrastructure is readily available to assist the transfer of knowledge across teams and departments. So why are lessons not being learned from projects in order to change this state of affairs?


Many project teams conduct a “lessons learned” review at the end of the project and even store the information in an accessible database. But the problem arises when other people are not encouraged to use this database and when the information is not used to improve project processes. This can be partly because the issues are not well-categorised so difficult to search and typically the database will, over time, include old and irrelevant information creating the view that the whole database is not very useful.

But building a genuinely useful “lessons learned” database that can be used to continually improve project processes involves just a few simple steps:

Recording Lessons Learned

Record both the problem and the solution as well as important project attributes in a single easily accessible database. This makes it easier to identify recurring issues, to update the data and to maintain the accuracy and relevancy of the data.


Ensure that the data are grouped and searchable by key attributes such as project name, type, size, business area, functional area or any other attributes that have meaning for your organisation.


Inform all project teams whenever the database is updated with new information and, more importantly, raise awareness whenever the data has resulted in a change to the organisation’s project processes.

Encourage use of the database

Allow free and informal access to the pool of knowledge and permit comments and feedback. Invite suggestions for process improvement based on the lessons learned data.

Data Review

Periodically review the data to remove out-of-date or redundant data to maintain a high level of confidence in the database. It should always be current and accurate.

Continually Improve Processes

Search for problems that exhibit similar patterns and instigate appropriate process changes such as introducing additional tasks and checks or changing the sequence of certain activities or changing optional tasks to mandatory ones.



Organisations of all sizes that regularly embark on complex projects have a huge amount of knowledge that is not being fully utilised. But by building, maintaining and using a “lessons learned” database, this information can be disseminated and used to improve project processes and prevent the repeated occurrence of similar mistakes. This “lessons learned” approach is supported by major project management methodologies such as PMP, PRINCE2 and APMP and will ultimately lead to more successful projects, and the consequent financial advantage, for relatively little effort.





Jul 112011

A detailed project plan with a realistic schedule and well-defined milestones is vital for project success. Preparing the plan is one thing but it is also necessary to follow the plan – assuming that the plan is a good one.


The most effective project managers understand the importance of a robust project plan with reasonable estimates for each activity. So a considerable amount of time and effort usually goes into preparing the project plan. It requires enough detail so that every task can be assigned to the right person or team and they understand what is expected of them and when. It details dependencies between tasks so that risks can be thoroughly assessed and is one of the fundamental building blocks of a successful project.


But what happens if the plan is fundamentally flawed? Or if requirements change substantially part way through a project and the plan becomes meaningless? In such circumstances it can actually be detrimental to project success to continue to follow the plan. The project manager and the project team need to be flexible and adaptable in their approach to the project plan. Sticking rigidly to what was first specified is simply failing to grasp the realities of most projects.


And if it becomes obvious that the plan is flawed, you need to admit this and modify it to correct the errors. It may be a hard thing to admit but blindly following a plan that you know to be flawed will obviously never lead to a good outcome.


New or inexperienced project managers may be unprepared for the amount of flexibility required in real-life project plans and how many changes are required to the plan during the course of the project but experienced project managers will know that this is typical of most, if not all, complex projects.


Changes within projects can occur for a variety of reasons: essential staff leave, business priorities change, requirements become clearer as the project progresses, the business objective may simply change due to market forces. Changes can be due to internal factors within the organisation or external factors concerning suppliers or providers of outsourced services but whatever the reasons it is through the experience of managing many complex projects that you will learn that change is a normal part of every business and every project.


The best project managers employ project plans as a starting point into which will be built more information and details from team members working on individual tasks, from reassessment of the project’s resources as the project progresses and reviews of the business requirements and ultimate objective. It is, therefore, essential that you know how to monitor the status of projects and resources, and how to obtain meaningful feedback from team members and end-users.


Anyone involved in a project who believes that a project plan can be put in place at the outset of the project and simply followed through to a successful outcome is either inexperienced or has only ever worked on very simple projects.


So it is important to recognise that a failed project is not one that deviates from the project plan or schedule (or even the budget) but one that fails to deliver what the client needs or wants. Altering a plan to deliver what is required is simply one step on the path to delivering a successful project and should always be viewed as such. It is essential that everyone involved in the project is aware from the start that the plan is likely to change over time but it is just as important that the current plan is adhered to. It is a difficult balancing act to convince the stakeholders of the veracity of the plan at the outset whilst preparing them for the fact that it might change. No wonder so many people try to struggle on with an unsuitable plan rather than admit it needs updating but, nevertheless, this is what you must do to be successful.


A project plan will only create a problem if the project manager (or anyone else involved in the project) refuses to alter it to take account of changes that happen during the lifetime of the project. When you consider that many projects have a timeframe of several years it is unrealistic to expect the plan to remain unchanged.

All too often, failing projects become an operation to determine why the project is deviating from the plan and how to get it back on track instead of looking at how the objective could still be reached. This may be difficult to do, particularly when the original plan was part of the justification for the project, but it is not impossible if you concentrate on what the original business objective was. In fact many of the formal project methodologies focus on the business objective as the major factor in successful projects.


Project managers can often learn from previous projects and prepare for the next project by recording the differences between the expected schedule, budget etc and the actual data. Applying lessons learned to the next project will assist in managing the expectations of all those involved and improve the results of each successive project, which is why the most successful project managers are often the most experienced. But, for the less-experienced, there are project management courses on recognised methodologies such as PRINCE2, PMP Certification, and APM PQ that will teach many of the techniques that experienced project managers have had to learn the hard way.



Jun 082011

Managing complex projects in any industry is tough. Achieving success in long-term projects is even tougher. But why is project management such a difficult thing to get right?

Many complex, long-term projects fail to live up to their promises and produce disappointing outcomes on completion. Some of these are well-known for exceeding their budgets or deadlines or both. Take London’s 2012 Olympics Project whose budget of over £9bn is triple the original estimate and whose contingency fund of nearly £3bn was almost entirely earmarked for certain tasks by as early as the first quarter of 2010, over 2 years before the deadline.

APM Project Management covers all the key areas of project management

Not all projects are such high profile ones but there are plenty that exceed their budgets or fail to deliver on their promises just as spectacularly. Project managers often have a poor reputation for delivering what was expected without budget or time over-runs. And one of the industries with the worst record is the technology industry where failures are said to exceed 50% of all projects undertaken.

So organisations make commitments to major projects but cannot always deliver what was expected and, more worryingly, cannot determine how much value they are getting from their investment. Many corporations do not even measure the value added by a project once it has been completed.

Publicly available statistics of project failures vary dramatically in their estimates and do not include confidential data from private corporations so are not an entirely reliable guide. Yet each new project begins with enthusiasm and no expectation of failure but often without having learned lessons from previous projects that might contribute to success this time around.
Even on simple, straightforward projects there are many areas that can cause the sorts of problems that can eventually manifest themselves in failure. Add to the many possible causes of failure any level of complexity and problems can rapidly escalate into disasters. Here are just some of the most common causes of project failure:

1. Poorly defined Project Scope
2. Inadequate Risk Management
3. Failure to identify key assumptions
4. Project managers who lack experience and training
5. No use of formal methods and strategies
6. Lack of effective communication at all levels
7. Key staff leaving the project and/or company
8. Poor management of expectations
9. Ineffective leadership
10. Lack of detailed documentation
11. Failure to track requirements
12. Failure to track progress
13. Lack of detail in the project plans
14. Inaccurate time and effort estimates
15. Cultural differences in global projects

So the causes of project failure are wide and varied. In addition promised resources may not be available when required, executives may fail to grasp the full reasons behind instigating a project or there may be political reasons for continuing with a clearly unviable project.

But how can lessons be learnt from previous project failures?

Of all the different causes of project failure there are 3 that are by far the most important and, if dealt with comprehensively, can be effective in avoiding project failures. These areas are the Scope, Risks and Assumptions. Also important is maintaining the existing skills base within the team and developing new or inexperienced employees through project management training. Professional project management courses in methodologies such as PMP, APMP or PRINCE2 can assist in developing and retaining talented project managers and team members.