Building Project Management Capability & Maturity

Building Project Management Capability and Maturity must be a priority for any organisation involved in delivering multiple projects and programmes. Having mature project management will have a direct impact on an organisations capability to consistently delivery successful projects and programmes. The alternative leads to projects going over budget and failing to deliver on promises made. For some organisations, these project failures can have a devastating impact on the success of the entire business. It can lead to products and services being late to market, other projects being cancelled or postponed due to tied in resources, and problems due to poor quality outputs.

Many organisations take the decision to adopt ‘best practice’ project management principles in order to improve their project management capabilities. In the UK and many other countries around the globe, this usually means Prince2 – ‘Projects in a Controlled Environment’. Prince2 was developed in the UK by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and launched in 1996. It is used in many countries throughout the world both in the public and private sectors as the standard for project management best practice. It is comparable to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) as often used in the USA and elsewhere.

Although PRINCE2 sets out a framework for how individual projects should be managed, it doesn’t address how an organisation should be set up to use it. This takes a great deal of planning and time. In fact, the implementation of methodologies such as Prince2 within an organisation is a project in its own right and needs to be run as such. Some might even argue that the implementation of Prince 2 requires a Programme of work to implement it successfully. When Prince2 has been implemented correctly it has been embedded into the organisation in such a way that all projects are managed in the same way, taking into consideration the size and purpose of the individual project. A test of this would be a measure of the ease at which employees could move between projects without incurring prolonged period of acclimatisation. When the methodology has been embedded properly within the organisation, you would see the same repeatable processes and techniques used by all projects. When these processes are being continuously reviewed and improved this is called a mature process. The Prince2 Maturity Model (P2MM) defines such a scenario and allows organisations to gauge, by assessment their own level of maturity as well as identifying where improvements need to be made. The Prince2 Maturity Model should be the aspiration of all organisations seeking to implement a new Prince2 methodology or to improve an existing methodology.

Of course, the Prince Maturity Model was developed because so many organisations were failing to grasp the concept that Prince2 implementation affects the whole organisation and the way they manage projects. This basic fact is often overlooked by organisations that mistakenly believe Prince2 training is all that is required to achieve success in project management. If you train your workforce they become better at their job right? As logic goes, it looks a sound approach and is why many organisations have embarked on Prince training as a means to ensure that projects are properly managed. Of course, no one is suggesting that Prince2 training is a bad thing; but it is only one aspect of improving the success of projects within the organisation. Successful project management requires a three-strand approach: Knowledge, Expertise and an Embedded Methodology.

Knowledge refers to Prince2 training and certification. In many ways this is the easy bit. You pay your money and your project managers get trained.  Of course for the individuals it’s not really easy at all but you get the point. The projects managers return with an understanding about the project management methodology to play their part in the Prince2 organisation. However, whilst having an understanding of the Prince2 methodology and project management in general will be a big step forward, to become an excellent project manager requires the second strand; experience.

It mustn’t be overlooked that project management is first and foremost a management discipline. Project Managers are managers first and project managers second. This may feel unpalatable for many but it is true. The best project managers are not the ones who have the most project management qualifications but the ones with the most management experience; not necessarily in project management but in management per se. If you think about it, project management shares many of the generic management disciplines such as setting objectives, motivating staff, planning events, leading teams, enforcing ways of working, communication, negotiation, reporting, monitoring and control. Experience in these disciplines is far more important and hard to obtain that passing a Prince2 examination. I don’t say this to denigrate the Prince2 methodology or the training that is provided, which is usually excellent. I say this because if organisations wish to build a strong project management capability within their organisations, they can’t rely on rookie project managers with little or no prior exposure and experience in management. They can’t teach you experience, you have to acquire it over a period and usually by making mistakes. The lessons for organisations aiming to increase project management capability, is to ensure a mix of experience as well as qualifications.

The third and in many ways the most overlooked strand to building project management capability is that the Prince2 methodology (or any methodology for that matter) must be embedded within the organisation. I remember turning up at a large Local Authority in the UK to carry out an assessment of a failing project and to recommend a recovery plan. The Local Authority went to great lengths to explain to me that they were ‘a Prince2 House’. They had trained 13 of their project managers in Prince2 and told me that all of their projects were run according to Prince2. As I spoke to the project managers and interviewed various other stakeholders it became clear that the organisation was Prince 2 in name only. It had no repeatable Prince2 systems and processes into which the project managers could engage. I would expect to have seen a centre of excellence or programme office issuing templates, guidance documents, route maps, lifecycle models, tools, quality procedures etc. but found none. Instead, each project manager had designed their own way of working, together with their own document formats, planning methods etc. In short, there were no commonly understood processes, techniques and components, as one would expect from the Prince2 methodology. Further more, Prince2 training had not been extended beyond the project managers and therefore, key roles such as Senior User were simply not being fulfilled adequately. Attempts to set up project boards were hampered by stakeholder confusion about their role. As a result, they either didn’t attend project boards or sent a deputy without the appropriate decision making authority; which defeats the entire purpose.

To conclude then, if you want to enable your organisation to deliver successful projects and programmes, by all means select a good methodology or life cycle model. However, don’t rely entirely in training alone. Experience and cultural acceptance of the chosen methodology is just as important. Why not set up a project specifically aimed at implementing your chosen methodology. What better way to implement your new methodology throughout the organisation?

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