Archive for October, 2010

Is the Project Management Profession Relevant for UK Plc?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I’ve recently been nominated for election to the Board of the UK Association for Project Management (APM).  There is a discussion forum on the new APM website where members can ask questions of the candidates (

We were recently asked a very incisive question about the relevence of the profession and the APM in today’s world:

I’m fairly new to the APM and my perception is of an organisation and a profession ready to make a step change in how it demonstrates ‘relevance’ for UK PLC.  Do you share this view and if so, what does that mean needs to happen?

My answer was: No – and Yes.

The APM is already demonstrating real relevance, and has credibility, in its role in developing the knowledge, expertise and competence of practitioners.  The qualifications framework and move towards Chartered/Professional status provide a broad-based approach for developing the skills and expertise that the UK needs – and this is now widely recognised, even in sectors that perhaps don’t have a traditional project management culture.  We are at last demonstrating to a wider audience that effective project management is much more than just process or methodology.

However, the APM also has a more strategic aspect to its mission, which is more about where and how the profession (and the disciplines we espouse) can actually contribute most benefit for, as you put it, UK Plc.

It is this second area, the ‘strategic fit’ of our profession within the wider environment, where I think we perhaps do need to look again at where we are going, and maybe a step change is needed.  The benefits of effective project, programme and portfolio management (PPPM) approaches often aren’t appreciated by senior executives – and recognised change experts are still saying that taking a PPPM approach to organisational change often adds no value.  I’m not sure what the answer to this is, but what needs to happen within the APM initially is a debate about what we are here for and where we should be positioning ourselves to best deliver the public benefit set out in our mission statement.  Are we just about the development of technical and professional skills – i.e. in project management – or are we actually about enabling organisations to deliver effective and beneficial change?

It would be interesting to hear what others think.

Project-Facing or Customer-Facing?

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The phrase ‘becoming a project-facing organisation’ seems to me to be appearing in discussions across the project management community with increasing frequency.   Also, and perhaps associated with this, the focus on the importance of portfolio management has generated a perception in some circles that there should be a structured hierarchy in a project-facing organisation, where a project manager reports to a programme manager, who in turn reports to a more senior portfolio manager.  Why does this worry me?

I suppose the main reason is my uneasiness about the concept that an organisation should be ‘project-facing’.  My experience from both project and operational management has been that organisations need to be customer-facing, and that once we lose our focus on the customer things can begin to go wrong.  For example, few would argue that effective financial control isn’t vital – but what would we think of an organisation that was described as ‘accountancy-facing’?  Yes, there are obviously organisations that need to be project-focussed where projects are the core of the business – construction for instance – but should an organisation whose business is about operational service delivery or process improvement be project-facing?  An argument often made is that we live in a rapidly changing world and that projects are the means of delivering strategy and the changes needed to keep us competitive.  Is this necessarily about making an organisation project-facing and structuring it in a portfolio/programme/project (PPPM) way, or is it really about ensuring organisations have the capability and are agile enough to respond effectively to changing customer needs and environmental influences?   Are we in danger of putting too rigid a framework around what we feel is good PPPM and not taking a wider contextual and ‘systems thinking’ approach to change?  Organisations need to possess the project management skills and capabilities needed to deliver change, and more importantly they need to know how and when to use them.  Isn’t it a key responsibility of our profession to develop the science (or art) of PPPM and Change management in a way that contributes to organisational effectiveness and adds real value for the customers, consumers and shareholders?  To lose our focus on the customer risks a resurgence of the negative aspects of ‘professionalism’ that we’ve sometimes seen in the past in other areas.