I am writing a series of blogs ‘exploding’ some project management myths. The first of these blogs is about the value of investing millions of pounds training project managers in PRINCE2.
We at Bestoutcome were working recently at an oil company where there was a desire to improve the success rate of projects. This was partly due to some high profile project failures in recent years. The IT leadership decided to act and train all project managers PRINCE2. You can, of course, see the logic here. PRINCE2 is the UK Government’s standard project management approach that has been developed by experts.
The logic seems inescapable. Train our project managers in this approach and we will improve our project deliveries and avoid project failures. This logic has been copied in many organisations in the UK. Outside the UK, organisations have trained their staff in PRINCE2 or PMBOK (from PMI).
The question is: has this investment in PRINCE 2 or PMBOK improved project delivery? This is clearly a hard question to answer as there are few benchmarks that we can use to compare project delivery pre-training and post-training.. There has, however, been a lot of publicized project failures in recent years, e.g.: the Digital Media Initiative million project at the BBC which was written off costing £100 million.
In a recent blog by William Foxton (Daily Telegraph) he stated “According to this 2012 report by McKinsey, over half of all large IT projects go wildly over budget. 17 per cent go so badly that they threaten the commissioning company’s existence, and more than 40 per cent of them fail absolutely. In another study, Computer World found that only 6.4 per cent of high budget IT projects succeeded in their own terms”
The full blog by William Foxton can be accessed here: https://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/willardfoxton2/100013999/why-do-all-government-it-projects-seem-to-fail/
I do not think that many people would argue that project delivery has vastly improved in the last 10 years despite a huge amount of money being spent on training project managers in PRINCE2 or being PMP certified (PMI’s certification).
My view is that it is too simplistic a solution to train people on project management processes and expect there to be a direct correlation with improved project delivery. I am not convinced that this investment in PRINCE2 training delivers a good return. I think that this ‘simplistic view’ that PRINCE2 leads to improved project delivery is partly down to the dumbing down of project management as a skill or profession. In some organisations we have worked they consider all employees to be project managers, i.e. it’s a skill that we all have. This is a wrong premise. Not everyone has the skills to be a marketer and not everyone has the skills to be a good project manager
So what is the answer? Firstly, I m not stating that a PRINCE2 course is a waste of time, but on its own a PRINCE2 qualification does not automatically make you a good project manager. To help someone become a good project manager, a better investment would be to develop a mentoring programme to help project managers deliver their projects. This, to me, is the most beneficial way of improving project delivery. A mentor can help a project manager deal with questions or phases of their project that they are currently running. For example, the mentor could coach them in managing difficult stakeholders, highlighting key issues to sponsors, even questioning the business case of the project. The advice or coaching could be in many different areas. The difference between a PRINCE2 course and mentoring is that you are using the mentor’s experience on a real life project. As long as you have the right mentor in place, this is going to improve project delivery in an organisation.
Using external consultants as mentors can be seen as expensive but how expensive is it compared to a failed project? You can also use experienced project managers in your own organisation as mentors. I have seen this done in some organisations and it works well. The one caveat here is that not everyone makes a good coach or mentor. Someone may be a great project manager but be a very poor mentor. Similarly, not every great footballer is a great coach.
First, don’t assume because one person is PRINCE2 or PMP qualified, this makes them a good project manager.
And secondly, mentoring is likely to deliver a better return on investment and improve project delivery than passing an exam.
About the author
David Walton – I am David Walton, Programme, Project and Portfolio Management specialist and director of Bestoutcome here in the UK. We make the PMO tools PM3, PM3time and PM3NHS, the only PMO tools designed by practitioners for practitioners