Clients are increasingly relying on proven project techniques such as Prince II and IPMA certification. Nevertheless, many projects end up in a nightmare, as the recent ICT report to the Government shows.
People more important than methods.
Certainly within the Government, certification is a knockout criterion. No project manager who wants to work for the Government can do without it. Then why does it go wrong?
In change processes, emphasis is placed on the human factor in advance. Ultimately, employees must embrace the new working method or technology and get to work with it. In practice, this often turns out to be little. The same can be said for project teams. Project teams are often composed based on their training qualifications. Not least the project or program manager who must be certified. People look much less at leadership qualities.
In his book ‘The road to project success – 2009’ Dr Teun van Aken has substantiated that the qualities of the project manager outweigh his certification. Why then do companies and certainly the Government so stubbornly stick to certification?
Living with uncertainty.
In our current society and especially within the business world, a battle is fought every day to eliminate uncertainty. We discuss continuous management reports, we develop tools for better S&OP and Big Data is collected to still know what the customer wants. All this with the aim to optimally tailor the product and service to the wishes and requirements of the customer and to work as efficiently as possible. Nothing should be left to chance.
Every effort is also being made to eliminate any uncertainty in other aspects of our society. Look at the healthcare sector or social security. Nothing should be left to chance. Everything has to be registered, measured, valued and weighed. Unfortunately, humans continue to throw a spanner in the works as an unstable factor.
Doctors know better than anyone what it is to work with uncertainty. When a patient reports with symptoms that are often vague and difficult to define, the difficult quest for the best treatment or medication begins.
To this end, a physician first gathers all relevant information about the patient, description of the symptoms and consults the literature for similar cases and the treatments used. On the basis of this, a doctor makes a hypothesis. This hypothesis is often the reason for further research in the form of tests, photos or, for example, keyhole surgery.
This treatment includes a prognosis in terms of duration and outcome of the treatment used. But despite the fact that people have an unshakable confidence in their doctor or specialist, that is often not justified. Science is about working with uncertainty within certain limits. The doctor knows this and will continuously assess the course of the disease and test it against the hypothesis he has drawn up. Treatment is adjusted where necessary.
Organizations and their complex change processes are inherently uncertain in outcome. Nevertheless, it is assumed that a change trajectory, caught within a specific methodology, provides a guaranteed outcome. One does not formulate a hypothesis, but a desired result as a result. All desired activities and lead times are backflushed from the result. Roles and responsibilities are assigned and the applied methodology monitors this process. Deviations are not tolerated.
Managing projects in this way, such as Prince II, provides a false sense of security. One can work perfectly according to the methodology, but still end with a failed project. It is the rigidity of the method that affects the project.
A good project or program manager can make the difference there. How does he diagnose the project? he collects all relevant symptoms that the patient [organization] shows. Is there first a hypothesis and possible treatment processes? The change desired by the organization may not be appropriate because the symptoms require completely different treatment.
Organizations and also the Government would do well not specifically to put all kinds of requirements on the table with regard to the project and all kinds of certificates and diplomas that the project manager should have. Due to such requirements and knockout criteria, the organization puts itself at a disadvantage in advance and the chance of failure of the project is increased.
An extensive evaluation of the symptoms [project intake] and the qualities of the project manager in terms of work style, attitude and personal competences, increases the chance of a successful project. In particular, good project initiation largely determines the success of the project, just as a good diagnosis by a doctor is the most likely to recover.
In addition, during the project continuous reflection must be given on the original assignment description [hypothesis]. This means that during the project, changes in approach will arise. Something that makes organizations nervous because of fear of changes in the prognosis. In uncertain circumstances, no guarantee can be given on the outcome, because all factors can never be weighed beforehand and during the project, factors can change, whether or not under the influence of the project. The project manager must therefore be able to work with uncertainty and defend it to the organization. Something that is difficult to achieve with steel methodologies.
The composition of the team is also very important. Their cooperation, commitment and competences are of great importance for the success of the project. Clashing personalities are disastrous, but unfortunately not uncommon in large projects.
The best outcome of any project is if the employees in the organization are involved and were actually responsible for the success of the project. “We did it” from within the organization is the best compliment for any project manager. And that cannot be captured in any method or report.