5 Reasons Why Your Project Management Development Program Will Probably Fail

Whilst on a recent trip to the UK an article caught my eye. Headlined ‘CIOs are losing confidence in Agile development methodologies’ it described how over 300 senior IT managers in the US and UK now ‘felt that Agile had become an industry in its own right’. Half of the CIOs went as far as to say that they thought Agile had become an ‘IT fad’.’

My first reaction was to laugh out loud. My second reaction was to feel angry and frustrated. Given that most organisations are at the start of another financial year, I think it’s time to write about what good looks like when it comes to project management development.

According to the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession report in 2015, only 55% of the respondents said that senior managers within their organisation fully understood the value that project management (as a function of leadership) provides.

However, given that in a PMO Benchmark report in 2016, only 33% of the project managers surveyed felt that soft skills (the very things required to become competent leaders) were an important part of their development, I’m not sure they understand the value either.

It’s a clash of senior management ignorance (‘we’re not going to provide the funds to invest in programs proven to work’) and project management arrogance (‘I have a certificate therefore I have all the knowledge I need’), which provides the perfect conditions for continued project failure.

Here are my five reasons why most programs fail:

1. The Silver Bullet Approach – one course to rule them all

In 2015, The Standish Group, in its Chaos Report, stated that ‘Over the last 20 years the project management field has experienced increasing layers of project management processes, tools, governance, compliance and oversight. Yet these activities and products have done nothing to improve project success.’ 

To reiterate: ‘have done nothing to improve project success’.

And yet, when most organisations plan their development for the year ahead and want to get better at delivering projects, ‘quick-fix’ methods are first on the list.

‘Let’s send everyone on an agile course, that will make us more agile!’

‘Let’s send everyone on a PRINCE2 course, that will make us more disciplined!’

‘Let’s send everyone on a PMP course, that will make us more professional!’

No. No. No. At best it will create a common language that people understand and may streamline the way that information is gathered and processed. However, methods alone will not improve your project success rates or the behaviours of the people that use them.

2. No before/after measurement

According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast, organisations worldwide spend $50 billion per year on professional development, but only 37% of leaders describe their development programs as ‘effective’. What’s interesting about this statistic, apart from the very obvious waste of money, is the fact that all too often there’s no definition of what ‘effective’ actually looks like?

Projects, traditionally, are measured on their adherence to time and cost constraints, however this is no measure of project management success. Whilst there may be short term gains of hitting these targets, a more human-centred approach to delivery provides longer term gains in terms of leadership development and cultural evolution.

The ability to be self-aware, lead from the front, create a great environment for teams to do good work and keep their stakeholders satisfied are much more accurate, yet are often contentious, because we lack courage when providing feedback.

Only when you measure what good looks like, can you define what it will take to get there.

3. No personal change

In his 2015 report into public sector project failure, Peter Shergold found that: ‘Too often there remains a focus on compliance rather than performance.’ In other words, ‘are you filling the form in?’, not ‘have your behaviours changed?’.

This for me is the biggest reason why project management development programs fail. A project manager’s job is to build a team, build a plan, then ensure that the team delivers against it. In order to do this, they need to be highly self-aware, seek the help of others, be creative when building a team and delegating work and relentlessly deliver in line with the promises made.

In their research in 2013, Zes and Landis assessed organisations whose employees were self-aware against those who weren’t. They found that ‘… from July 2010 through January 2013 the companies with the greater percentage of self-aware employees consistently outperformed those with a lower percentage. Self-awareness… appears to correlate with overall company financial performance. Companies with the greatest percentage of self-aware employees consistently outperformed those with a lower percentage.’

These leadership choices are critical to the success of personal development programs and are the things that should be measured post-program.

As Woody Allen once said, ‘the only thing standing between me and greatness is me.’ 

4. No follow-on development

In a recent blog, American leadership author Seth Godin talked about ‘the express and the local’. He said that while getting there quicker (see point one) may seem cheaper and more effective, investing in something more expensive that takes longer is actually more productive.

Any project management development program worth its salt doesn’t end when those attending leave the classroom. The learning continues every week of every month. Going back to the Shergold report: ‘In addition to formal professional recognition, the availability of ongoing professional development helps practitioners to continually improve their understanding of their field of expertise.’

Programs that work don’t set and forget. They continually share what good looks like and check-in at regular intervals to ensure that the learning is being applied and good practice evolves with the challenges or opportunities the organisation faces as it progresses through the year.

5. They’re run by people out of touch with today’s learning needs

This one may seem a bit harsh, but having been on the receiving end of a couple of these during my time, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is.

Being a trainer can be tough and requires a special combination of characteristics. Trainers have to have high energy, know their stuff and make it interesting for every single person in the room, regardless of their role, position in the organisation or personality. They have to inspire, motivate, educate and entertain, (yes, entertain) those being developed.

They have to be in touch with what’s current in the world of project management and be prepared to share their ideas on what the future holds. It’s not good enough to just ‘know your material’ anymore and deliver it parrot fashion. It needs to be delivered with conviction in a way that addresses the issues that we face now, so that people can leave that training room ready to make an immediate difference (if they chose to do so).

If the programs that you invest in have all five of these elements you can expect an increase in project success factors, improve the satisfaction of stakeholders, retain good staff, attract new ones and craft a reputation for project management excellence.

If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got. Make the choice to be different this year.

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