A Sustainable Economic Recovery Needs Project Management

Paul Naybour

Project managers have a critical role in the delivery of sustainable growth, that is to say, productivity led growth, rather than growth based on consumer consumption and increased borrowing. Organisations (in both the public and private sector) need confidence before they will commit to new infrastructure, manufacturing facilities and IT systems. This confidence comes from not just an improved economic outlook but also confidence that organisational strategy can be delivered through projects and programmes. Senior managers need to be sure projects will deliver the expected benefits without escalating costs and protracted delays before they will take major investment decisions. In this interview I explored the role of project managers in economic regeneration with senior figures in project management community including Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of Project Management Institute, Dave Gunner, PMP, PfMP, PPM, The PPM Academy, HP Global Project & Program Management, HP Enterprise Services and Will Bentley Programme Controls Director at High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd.

The OECD is forecasting accelerating growth for 2015 and 2016, boosted by lower oil prices and the easing of monetary policy. However they also identify that productivity levels won’t improve without public and private investment in new infrastructure, factories and more efficient ways of working. Given this background, what role do project managers have in supporting sustainable growth as part of the economic recovery?

“I think the mantra of doing more with less is here to stay, both in the public and private sector. Improved efficiency and productivity won’t happen unless organisations recognise that the efficiency they seek is implemented though major projects and programmes. For example, before joining the PMI, I worked in an entrepreneurial environment and it grew from a $400m to a $1bn business. If we had known about project management, at that time, we could have done it much more efficiently by learning from each project. What we used was brute force management not project management.” said Mark

Improved efficiency and productivity won’t happen unless organisations recognise that the efficiency they seek is implemented though major projects and programmes.

From Will’s perspective as the Project Controls Director of HS2 “Project managers play a key role in ensuring their projects are properly defined and set up at the outset with a clear business case that fully supports the investment with benefits that are fully mapped to deliverables. Attracting sustained public and private investment means PMs need to play an ever-increasing role in setting out the benefits of schemes, being clear on the value added and outcomes of a project not just during implementation but for the whole life cycle.”

If project management is so important to the delivery of strategy, why do so many project managers report a lack of senior management support as one of the elements causing poor implementation?

“The PMI Pulse of the Profession® study of Executive Sponsor Engagement shows that fewer than two-thirds of projects and programs have actively engaged executive sponsors. This suggests that organisations are not fully recognising the importance of the role to project success. The study also recognised poor communication between executive sponsors and project managers as affecting sponsors’ ability to effectively perform their role.”

Mark’s view is also supported by research in the UK by the Association for Project Management (APM). They also cite success factors of effective governance; clear structures and responsibilities for decision making; clear reporting lines between project managers and sponsors; capable sponsors; and appropriate behaviour on behalf of those with ultimate responsibility for project delivery.

“There is a clear need for the establishment of professional project and portfolio management offices in large organisations that are aligned to the strategic objective of the organisation and not seen as a support function. Alignment is best achieved through internal sponsors either in their own right or through C-suite sponsorship. PMs have a key role to play through demonstrating more clearly the connectivity between corporate objectives and how projects deliver those objectives,” said Bill.

This seems to reflect the problems faced by many practicing project managers on a daily basis. They feel that the senior managers do not understand and support their project management. What tips would you give project managers faced with this situation and how can they get their message across in the board room?

Mark passionately believes that “the language we use influences the behaviour of others. If project and programme managers are going to work at a strategic level then they need to talk the language of the board room; time to market and not schedule management, return on investment and not cost management, customer satisfaction and not quality management”.

It is also a personal development issue. Dave Gunner thinks that “project management is taken a lot more seriously than it was 15 years ago. It’s now a career path for many individuals and much of this is to do with the evolution of the profession; it now encompasses portfolio management and alignment with strategy. It is now seen as a key competence and ultimately the buck stops with the project manager. The best project managers not only demonstrate technical ability but also leadership and strategic and business management. In time we see them moving into business leadership and sponsorship positions”.

Bill thinks “We have to change the perception that the role of PMs is limited to the role of strategic implementation. At HS2, potentially the largest infrastructure programme ever seen in the UK; effective programme and project management is at the kernel of the organisation, not just for infrastructure delivery but for the creation of a world-class organisation where principles of equality, diversity and inclusivity are essential alongside the need to drive economic growth on a national scale. We have founded the Programme Strategy Directorate (PSD) with representation at Board and Exec Level to oversee the creation of a project management framework and a clear line of responsibility and lineage right through the organisation for all these facets.”

Mark agrees that “we are beginning to see signs of mature organisations taking project, programme and portfolio management more seriously at the senior level, with the most forward-thinking organisations forming clear project management career paths and standardised processes

“More and more we are seeing that those who develop strategy understand the connection to those who are implementing strategy. We did a study with The Economist Intelligence Unit in which 88% of survey respondents say executing strategic initiatives successfully will be ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ for their organisations’ competitiveness over the next three years. Yet, 28% admit that individual projects, which are important to implementation of their strategy, do not obtain the necessary senior-level sponsorship. This is one of the main challenges: Senior executives just do not recognise their role in strategic implementation.”

Mark observes that “every organisation starts with less project and programme maturity” and believes that, “it’s about finding executive support for project management. If you go to one of the more mature organisations such as HP or IBM, it started when they were able to establish clear career paths for project managers, covering the technical, leadership and strategic skills described in the PMI Talent Triangle.”

From HP’s point of view Dave sees “a structured career path for project and programme managers as giving people a unique range of experience because they have to work across many of the functions in an organisation. So for our best project and programme managers, the next step is into general management at a senior level.”

“In summary, you also have to remember that project management is a new discipline, developed only since the 1940s, and so it does not have the recognition of some of the other well-established functions in organisations. However, unlike many of these other functions, it is evolving and adapting to the changing needs of the modern organisation. As a result we should see more executives with project and programme management experience and we can hope that these executives value strategic implementation as highly as they value strategy development” said Mark.







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