Archive for May, 2009

Where are the People Skills?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was in a meeting where someone asked the question “why has project management focussed on process and forgotten that it is actually people that deliver projects?”

Is the hypothesis posed by the question true – is it people that deliver projects and has the profession focussed too much on process?   I think it is.  How many times have we been into organisations where everyone has PRINCE2 – yet no idea how to deliver projects in the real world?  Project management job advertisements seem to universally ask for process-based qualifications.  There was even a Programme Director role I saw advertised recently, with responsibility for major capital programmes running into hundreds of millions of pounds, which asked for PRINCE2 accreditation.  I may be missing something, but quite which of the PRINCE processes would have been relevant in such a role escapes me.

Reflecting back on my own career I thought that although I couldn’t necessarily answer why we have focussed on process, I might be able to shed some light on how it has happened.  Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s we did our formal management training, which was largely generic, covering both operations and strategy.  Some of us, in professions such as civil engineering, also studied project management, which seemed to focus on planning, particularly critical path analysis and Gantt charts.  Managers who were considered ‘good’ managers in other disciplines would be given projects to run.  In the late 1980’s early 90’s, with the failure of a number of large projects (particularly in IT), we began to realise that successful project managers needed something more than general management and planning skills.   New tools, techniques and processes were developed, evolving into PRINCE (now PRINCE2) which the project manager could use to supplement a generic management skills base and the developing Body of Knowledge.

In recent years these ‘methodologies’ as they are often called have become the required accreditation for project managers.  The basic skill-set that used to be a prerequisite for any professional management role has somehow been forgotten in project management.  As a profession, and particularly as we move towards chartered status, we need to bring it back.

Surely, if I want to be a good project manager then I need to be a good manager first.  Project managers need specialist skills and knowledge to be effective in their profession – but fundamentally they need to be good managers, and that is really about knowing how to manage people.