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KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) project management

Why project management is NOT a commodity?

In recent years I have become increasingly concerned that project management is seen by some people as a commodity; it is not. A commodity is something that can be homogenised and everyone knows what he or she is getting when buying that commodity.

The BBC’s Apprentice

In the UK, Lord Sugar’s Apprentice television programme has become very popular and even compulsive viewing for many. And, I count myself in the compulsive viewing category. Every week, one of the contestants volunteers to be the project manager. Like real life projects the successful team is often down to how effective the project manager was.

When the hapless contestant is fired at the end of each week, it is often because he or she has failed dismally as a project manager. On the show everyone must take turns to be a project manager. This does imply, however, that everyone is equally capable of being a good project manager whereas, as the show demonstrates, some people are adept at being the project manager while others flounder hopelessly. This is an example of commoditising project management. Some people are good project managers but some people are not and no amount of PRINCE2 training is going to make it any different. Lord Sugar may find that the person he has fired for being a poor project manager is actually a great sales person and should be kept. The mistake may be allowing the individual to be put into a role that they are incapable of doing.

Project Management at a UK Media Organisation

At a recent media client we were asked to review a number of projects and understand why their project failure rate was so high. Our findings concluded that one of the key reasons of project failure was in the competence of project managers. Some were simply not good at running projects. One of our suggestions was to implement a project management training course and a competence assessment to see who should be allocated to the project manger resource pool. This was not acceptable as, in this large media company, ‘we make programmes and we are all good project managers’. Evidence pointed to the contrary however. Not everyone, even with training is good at:

  • Planning
  • Controlling
  • Organising
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Motivating a team
  • Picking the right team
  • Reacting to unforeseen events, etc

Procurement of Project Managers

A group of people who wish to commoditise the project manager is the Procurement function. They do, however, have a vested interest in doing so; commodities are cheap and they can show their bosses that they have saved money buying cheap project mangers ‘as they are all the same really’. Although they may save money in procuring project managers, the cost to a project of a poorly performing project manager is rarely calculated. Indeed in my experience, the cost to an organisation of a poor project manager will far outweigh the salary or freelance rate saved by procurement.


So next time your organisation is running a project, don’t pick the cheap commodity option; make sure you recognise that project management is a skill and go for the project manager who has the track record of delivering successful projects. He or she may be more expensive but it will probably avoid costly project mistakes and the consequent, ‘you’re fired’ outcome.

David Walton is managing director of project management experts Bestoutcome. His programme management assignments include ecommerce, IT transformational change, customer relationship management (CRM) and large-scale infrastructure implementations. Before founding the company twelve years ago, he spent 11 years as a management consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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About the author

The author - David Walton

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.

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