I’ve worked on projects for a diverse range of industries – including government, third sector, and global businesses, and in a recent interview, I was asked if there are any commonalities I came up against.
I think there are more things in common than not; after all, projects are a human enterprise and people are pretty much the same anywhere. I would highlight three main themes.
The Need for Control
Wherever there are projects and project managers, the central concern is always to bring control to a complex and uncertain environment. Project managers have found numerous ways but increasingly, I am seeing a strong desire for the organisation to improve its governance procedures to seize control at a strategic level. This can only be right, ensuring precious and limited resources are properly deployed to build valuable assets for the future.
One of my signature phrases in keynotes, seminars and training is that what project managers crave, above all else, is control. I see the discipline of project management as being about imposing control on a large, unfamiliar, complex and novel environment. This is why all of my training and writing emphasises the need to create control – including my latest book: ‘How to Manage a Great Project‘, in which I the eight simple steps to do just that.
Risks and Mistakes
I also see similar risks and the same mistakes being made across all sectors. The biggest difference here is the lesser ability of the statutory and regulated sectors to hide their mistakes under the carpet. Good example is the sunk cost trap – the implicit political (with a small p) decision to keep going with projects that are no longer viable or just no longer valuable. The fear of losing face dominates the waste of future resources. The private sector can more effectively hide the unwanted assets in the back of a cupboard, and lose the wasted expenditure in large, amorphous budget headings. For all the right reasons, the public sector’s mistakes are subject to greater scrutiny.
Blogger and project manager, Glen Alleman, describes risk management as the way grown-ups manage projects and I agree. Risk management needs to be far more clearly recognised in the project management community as a sophisticated and valuable discipline. This is why I wrote ‘Risk Happens!‘ – to provide a resource for everyday project managers (not just those managing the mega projects that can afford a risk specialist) to learn more about practical day-to-day project risk management tools and techniques.
The Importance of Stakeholders
In all sectors it is stakeholders and stakeholder engagement that need to take centre stage, along with risk management, in a mature project management culture. Too often, project managers are still over-immersed in the technical and programmatic details of their project and then wonder why users, bystanders and even customers don’t like the outcomes.
I am committed to seeing this change, which is why my next book, ‘The Influence Agenda‘ (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2014, will be about project stakeholder engagement. In this, I include sections on creating a stakeholder engagement culture and on ethical stakeholder engagement. At its heart, however, just like in Risk Happens!, I have tried to create a core of practical day-to-day tools and techniques to act as a resource for project managers and project team members who do not have a communications background.