Common Misconceptions about the Evolution of Project Management

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In this episode we discuss the common misconceptions about the evolution of Project Management with Liz Doyle, a business change and project management consultant and a director at Casseo.

Liz has over 15 years experience in business change and project management, working for some of the world’s top financial services and software organizations. She specializes in change transformation, project management, and PMO requirements analysis and implementation. In this interview, Liz and the host discuss common misconceptions about the evolution of the PMO and has it really evolved significantly.

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Transcript: Episode 98: Liz Doyle on “Common Misconceptions about the Evolution of Project Management”

Can you perhaps give us some insight into Casseo and your own career background?
Well, I’ll start with Casseo. We are a consultancy firm offering a full range of business change and project delivery services. We specialize in, what I call the core delivery skill set of program and project management, PMO resources and business analysis.

At the moment we are the consultancy network of over 300 plus delivery and change experts and we currently operate nationwide throughout Ireland and London city. Our vision or goal, so to speak, is to be the leading business change and project management consultancy of choice for financial services and blue chip firms throughout Europe.

In terms of my own background, I joined the business just over 2 years ago to take on responsibility for our Dublin and London market and to manage our growth strategy and initiative. We’ve actually almost doubled in size during that time which has been very rewarding for both, myself and my business partner. My business partner is Ed Coonan, the founder of Casseo and managing director.

Prior to joining Casseo, I have been in project management and change with other corporations. I’ve worked with a mix of financial services and software organizations such as Prudential international, Assurance Capita, IFDA and similar. I have to say that I really consider myself very lucky in terms of the calibre of the organizations I’ve worked in over the years and the learning ground they gave me.

With all of that experience and exposure, tell me what you believe are the fundamental traits of being a successful project manager?
Well, that’s an interesting question and I’m sure my response might actually provoke a bit of a mixed view, but I would say I come from the old school view of the project management and what I mean by that is I believe a good PM can manage any project.

So let’s try not to be dismissive of the fact that industry sector knowledge is key and of course, there are different types of projects that are more suited starting PM, depending on their experience, such as a software development PM vs. the regular PM. And obviously that specific experience allows them to hit the ground running quicker but overall they are managing a project which in its simplest form can be described as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create or deliver a unique product or service results, regardless of the subject matter.

I have probably given a very long-winded response but to go back to the original question, I’d summarize the traits of a successful project manager into communication style, leadership competence, and a structured and logical delivery approach. The requirements for a project manager to communicate effectively with the project team, stakeholders and indeed the wider organizations, both in terms of verbal conversations, and reports and documents, just can’t be underestimated but it’s actually the hook of numerous project failures times and times again.

The second one was leadership competence, so project management is in essentially a leadership role. It’s leading a delivery team which can be made up of a host of various skill set and disciplines. In today’s world is more often than not geographically dispersed across numerous location or at least operating with the mix of onshore and offshore teams.

To manage all of that and the visibility of the project within the organization and with its stakeholders requires effective and credible leadership style. In my view, that is a natural ability, something that someone either does or doesn’t have. The last one I mentioned is the structures in a logical delivery approach. Regardless of the delivery methodology being followed, a PM needs to ensure that there’s a clear and documented project outcome, its scope, project timeline has been agreed and documented and once that’s been done that the project is managed accordingly.

That may all again sound very simplistic but is probably the most common reason for project failure across the whole industry, even more so than communication issues. That’s something that hasn’t changed over time, regardless of what new delivery approach and methodology comes into play. So, in my view a good PM won’t progress a project without establishing, agreeing and documenting those core fundamentals.

And they’ll also call us and remedy us if the project, its team, the stakeholders are being off track of those at any point throughout the project life cycle. It can be a very hard thing to call off something particularly on a project is in full flow and pull it back to the basics, but it’s actually sometimes it’s the best thing to do.

Do you believe that the PM has evolved significantly over the last two decades?
Yes and no. I think that the methodologies and the techniques we adopted to deliver projects have certainly evolved significantly if you consider that over the course of the last two decades the list has grown to include PRINCE2, waterfall, lean, agile, etc. They are all the application of different principles, themes, and frameworks to provide structured project delivery but they then have to be adapted and followed by the project team and overall delivery accountability still fit with a project manager.

But while the methodologies and the framework that has certainly involved in progress, I would say that it frustrates me so much that each time a new one is introduced it’s thrown around as the new buzzwords and seen as the new game changer that everybody should be adopting for successful project delivery. Ultimately and as I think we referenced earlier in terms with the key traits required I believe that people deliver projects and a good PM will deliver projects regardless of and in fact sometimes even in spite of the methodology or approach being adopted by an organization. The fact that people, not frameworks or methodologies, deliver projects hasn’t changed significantly over the last two decades.

Do you think that maybe that is more awareness of a project management methodology including all of those that you mentioned rather than an introduction into the new business practice?
Yes, I think that is key that people don’t lose sight of the fact that methodologies and frameworks are indeed just that – that they won’t deliver the project and they are still reliant on people to deliver the projects.

What do you see as the most successful delivery approaches that you see currently in practice across your consultancy business?
To be honest, I might be extremely wary of advocating or recommending one methodology approach over the other, I mean depending on the clients and industry, we come across all of them at various points and throughout different projects. What I am saying is that there is no one-size-fits-all that is the one used for all projects.

It is completely dependent on the organization you’re dealing with, the culture and the type, and complexity of the project that is being delivered. So, everybody’s favorite word at the moment is “agile”. So it’s been consistently discussed in the context of best practice project management methodologies and frameworks I would say over the last few years. They are so many organizations out there that are adopting it because it’s been position by various subject matter experts as the game changer, regularly thrown around as the project management buzzword.

Now, while I certainly wouldn’t argue that agile has been proven to be successful, particularly in software games development, it’s not always the right answer. I go back to the point that it’s just completely dependent on the industry, sometimes the organization and the specific project. I wouldn’t call out or advocate one over the other, to be honest, it’s just not a one-size-fits-all solution.

And what about the combination of approaches?
You’ll find that most regularly organizations are using a hybrid of approaches based on what best works for them.

What are the common misconceptions about project management that you come across?
Well, I mentioned some of them over the course of this conversation, particularly in relation to the misconceptions around methodologies and approaches. What some of the other ones I regularly come across would be the type of person suited to the PM role.

Referencing back to the leadership traits we talked about if it’s not there, it’s not there, it doesn’t matter if it seems like the next logical step, from a career path perspective in an organization or that is the role of the specific individual has decided that they would like to have. If they don’t have leadership credibility, it’s just not going to be the right answer for them in the long run.

What about former qualifications in this business?
That’s something that regularly comes up and I would say, and I have to be careful here because I certainly would not want to be seen to knock qualification at all, it certainly is beneficial and advantageous but it’s not a must.

What I would say is if I’ve given the option of somebody that has a six to eight plus years of successful project management experience that has grown into that project management roles you know through their experience over the years vs. somebody say with the year of experience and the qualification I know where my preference would lay. I would say it is certainly fantastic to have a qualification and a lot of organizations absolutely requires even for entry in project management roles but depending on the individual, depending on the traits they have, and their experience it’s not a must in all circumstances is the point that l would like to make.

Any other misconceptions?
Another one that I’d see comes out quite regularly is that a good PM will be a good portfolio or program manager and the perception that there’s a natural progression from one role to the other or even worse that they are the same role. We don’t actually agree with that, I think they’re quite different roles and someone that is an excellent PM and delivering a project from start to finish won’t necessarily always be suited to managing a change road map of various projects with the number of PM’s reporting to them and managing all of the associated reporting and stakeholder management that is required to deliver on a full change agenda in an organization.

So, they certainly are not the same role, and there is often a mis-perception that you would see people saying “Well I need a PM or program manager.” They are two very distinct roles and then I’m not sure that there is a natural progression from role to the other. Again, it’s so dependent on the individual.

Find out more about Liz Doyle

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn.
Find out more about Casseo here.
Follow Casseo on Twitter.

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