Thought Leaders

Ian Clarkson: Is Project Management In Your DNA?


Anyone who knows me will confirm that I like a stat! And when it comes to project management there are lots of stats you can find out on, well, just about anything. Most of the time I take them ‘with a pinch of salt’, yet I across one recently that made me take notice.

It was from the “PMI (2020). Ahead of the Curve: Forging a Future-Focused Culture. Pulse of the Professionreport, and it said: “46% of organisations place a high priority on a culture that values project management”!

Blimey! Less than half of organizations (surveyed) do not value a culture of project management. Is anyone else alarmed by this stat? Or do I just need to ‘get out more’?

The reason I am alarmed by it is because project management is more important than ever!

The same report states: “Change is as relentless as it is pervasive – from the impact of technologies like artificial intelligence to the clamour for social accountability to customers’ ever-evolving expectations…Now an essential business asset, change happens through projects”.

So with change being relentless (no-one is disagreeing with this), and with change being delivered through projects it makes complete sense that project management is a vital to an organisation. So, why do such a small percentage of businesses consider a culture of project management as a high priority?

The key here is in the ‘culture of project management’. The stat is not saying less than half of organisations do projects, or do projects badly – it is saying (in my view anyhow) that making project management part of the prevailing business operating model is not a high priority.

So does this make the corollary true – that 54% of organisations treat project management as ad-hoc, or on top of the day-job or of little value? I fear it does.

How can we expect to deliver change effectively and efficiently if project management is not part of the ‘DNA’ of the business? How do we expect to build expertise and experience in project management if is not part of the ‘DNA’ of the business?

So what are the reasons for this statistic? I have my own views based on my experience, and I share them below (let me know if you agree/disagree and/or have any other reasons):

  1. Work is too small to be classified as a project. Is a sales restructure really a project? [Yes]. Is changing a process really a project? [Yes]. Is removing single-use coffee cups really a project? [Yes]. All of these examples are introducing change so by definition it is a project. It is not a question of size – size is important!
  2. Businesses don’t realise they are doing projects. Often drive by the above reason, and/or often driven by the ‘JDI-method’ [Just Do It], if it is change it is still a project. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (William Shakespeare).

    Digital transformation is my ‘soap-box’ here. Digital transformation (DT) is not systems integration – it is a project. Treat it like a project, and run it like a project – it just so happens that the deliverable is digitally orientated. Don’t focus on the tech – focus on the project.

  3. Stuff gets done regardless. Why do we need project management when people get stuff done regardless of how it is done? My argument is “a project is a journey – not a destination”, and projects need to ensure they deliver their journey smoothly.

    Think of portfolio management: organisations don’t have an infinite amount of resources so trade-off decisions need to be made as to where resources are best allocated.

    If our project is leaving ‘destruction in its wake’ due to poor (or no) management then resources may need to be pulled off other projects to keep yours going (if deemed a higher priority). This impacts the organisation overall – and other stuff doesn’t get done.

  4. Organisations fundamentally don’t understand what project management is. “It’s just common sense” is a regular challenge. If it was just common sense, then the following stat from Forbes – 70% of all DT initiatives fail to meet their goals, which equates to $900bn – would not occur, right? I told you I like a stat!
  5. “Our organisation is different”. No it’s not! You will always need to introduce change. You will always need to adjust and adapt to changing conditions. You will always need to cut costs, bring new products to market – you will always need project management. If you think your organisation is different – it’s in denial!

What can be done to improve this 46%? There is no universal solution (sorry about that). Yet what is universal is that project management has to be seen for the value it brings – without organisations seeing this value, they will never know what it can do for them.

They will never build a culture that values project management, and it will never be in their DNA.

And that’s the most alarming fact!

Ian Clarkson
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