The Project Management Profession Should Hold Its Head Up High

Paul Naybour

In the wake of the hugely successful 2012 Olympics in the UK let’s hope that the project managers involved get some recognition of their contribution to the success. There can be few projects of this scale that had not only the urgency of a fixed deadline but also the eyes of the world watching and was being carried out during a global economic recession. And yet there can be no doubt that this project was a success in the eyes of the nation and the world.
When a project is viewed as a success in the way that the 2012 Olympics were then the issues that arose during the life of the project such as the budget over-runs and the lack of adequately trained security staff simply cease to matter. In fact, some potential problems became positives such as the presence of the army personnel to deal with security – for anyone with small children the sight of real soldiers was just as exciting as seeing Helen Glover and Heather Stanning win the first Team GB gold medal at Eton Dorney.
There have been many well-documented projects of a similar scale with similar problems to deal with but the fact that they do not always result in project success can make us question whether “project success” is easy to define. Certainly there will be success criteria defined and they may well be achieved but is there also some elusive sense of the perception of success that is much harder to define?
Many projects can be viewed as successful by the client, customer or consumer even when deadlines are missed and budgets exceeded but, equally, many can be viewed as failures when they come in on budget and on time, and meet the defined success criteria.
So how do we recognise project success when we see it?
The delivery of recognisable benefits is a key decider in the outcome of any project even when these benefits may be as abstract as a “feel good factor”. So it is important to recognise these abstract, human concepts that will influence those involved in the project as well as the tangible success criteria that can be easily defined.
It is also important to appreciate the positive aspects of a project instead of always focussing on the problems. This may not be easy to achieve if a project manager becomes accustomed to dealing with endless problems in the detail of complex or high profile project. That is not to say that the ongoing problems experienced throughout a project do not need to be managed and controlled – a project management professional should never be complacent about risks or problems – but they should not be allowed to influence the perception of success or allow the project management profession to be over-critical and fail to acknowledge the positive aspects of a project. This can sometimes be difficult when the project is under close scrutiny as was the 2012 Olympics project but it’s ultimate success should give cause for hope to other projects that are currently underway and experiencing difficulties.
As project management becomes better recognised as a profession and starts to be acknowledged as an essential part of businesses we should learn to be less critical and celebrate all that is good about the profession.

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