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The National Trust has always recognised the importance of professional project management for their complex and unique projects but now intends to build on their previous successes to further develop and improve project management within their organisation. They have recently sought an external training provider in order to combine external project management best-practises with the internal project management framework already in place at the National Trust and develop an even more consistent and professional approach across the organisation.
Founded at the end of the 19th century, the National Trust is Europe's largest conservation organisation and works to preserve land and buildings of outstanding beauty or historical interest across the UK. Around half of its 300 properties are accredited museums, in recognition of its high standards of curatorship and conservation, and its historical properties house over one million objects of special interest or importance.
As a registered charity the Trust is completely dependent on the generosity of its 4 million members and supporters in order to continue and expand its important work. So a cost-effective solution to project management training was paramount, but also important was that the training provider understood the unique culture of the National Trust.
Parallel Project Training deliver a wide range of training courses using a variety of methods and media including e-learning, podcasts, workshops, traditional classroom-based courses and master classes. Underlying their very practical methods of training is a serious approach to professionalism within project management. Their trainers are all practising project managers who can draw on their real-life project experiences to bring alive their training sessions and enable them to appreciate the unique challenges and constraints that project managers face in organisations like the National Trust.
Parallel are working closely with the Trust to help them articulate their requirements in order to deliver training to meet their very specific needs and ultimately deliver measurable benefits to the organisation. Using highly collaborative techniques they are developing training that is both relevant and engaging, that is allied to the objectives and culture of the National Trust and is appropriate for the different areas of expertise of those involved in delivering projects.
The National Trust selected Parallel Project Training to deliver their programme of learning and development for a number of reasons including their ability to tailor the programme to the Trust's specific needs and work with them to incorporate their existing project management framework into the training sessions. Other reasons included the credibility of the Parallel trainers, their previous experience working with the charitable sector, and the strong cultural fit between the two organisations.
It is refreshing that the National Trust's existing project management framework focuses much less on bureaucracy but more on providing support to get the job done professionally and successfully. In aiming for value-for-money solutions the Trust is driven by the desire, not to cut costs, but to be able to invest in more conservation and more projects of social value in line with the reasons it was originally founded in 1895.
They want better value-for-money when delivering projects purely to enable them to achieve more with the same budget.
The National Trust spend around £300-£400m on projects over a 3-year cycle, with individual projects ranging from a couple of months in length and costing a few thousand pounds right up to projects costing tens of millions of pounds and spanning 10 years. The huge breadth of projects span landscape conservation, habitat restoration, conservation of historic buildings and the upkeep of the 1,000s of cottages, homes and farms that the Trust rent and lease out. Many of these projects involve volunteers and even whole communities. As well as these unique types of project, and the more typical IT and marketing projects that would be expected in an organisation of this size, the Trust also manage a number of renewable energy projects involving hydro-power schemes, photo-voltaic arrays and biomass boilers, many in sensitive environments.
The Trust currently employs a small team of permanent, full-time project managers, some of whom have professional APMP or Prince2 qualifications, but many other people, such as building surveyors and conservators, are involved in managing projects as an extension to their main role. In fact, there are very few aspects of the organisation that are not supplemented by project work and very few staff at the Trust who do not get involved in projects to some degree.
So as part of the new training programme, a series of courses is being developed by Parallel Project Training for those involved in project delivery at all skill levels. Parallel will very much target the practical aspects of managing projects and the focus of the training will be on developing individuals to be more able to deliver projects successfully rather than on passing exams. However, some of the National Trust's project management professionals will be aiming to achieve the APM RPP (Registered Project Professional) in recognition of their previous experience and qualifications, and their commitment to continuous professional development. The flexible solution offered by Parallel will accommodate the objectives of those with the motivation and expertise to obtain these internationally recognised credentials.
Mike Hudson, Head of Project Support at the National Trust, who is leading the programme, commented
"The bespoke training programme being delivered by Parallel Project Training is being designed to help our project managers to deliver more, to a consistently higher standard, more easily. It is important to us that the trainers use relevant examples and case studies, and that they reinforce the templates and processes from our existing project management framework. The underlying APM methodologies, with their emphasis on behavioural and contextual competencies and accreditations that reflect a serious commitment to project management as a recognised profession, complement the Trust's own approach to project management."
Understanding the culture of the National Trust, with its diverse range of responsibilities and projects was a fundamental requirement of any training provider as was an understanding of the particular challenges and constraints project manager’s face when delivering project within the National Trust. A significant number of the Trust's projects involve buildings with listed status or are undertaken in areas with national nature designations. Increasingly many projects also engage visitors in the project work as it is being carried out.
John Bolton, Programmes Director at Parallel Project Training, commented
"We recognised the need for a bespoke solution to meet the specific requirements of the National Trust because of their own well-developed project management processes and also because of the unique challenges and constraints they face. We are devising a tiered training programme aimed at individuals with different levels of experience and responsibility. With cost-effectiveness in mind, we will train internal staff to deliver some parts of the training programme, where this provides the best value for money for the Trust. E-learning, classroom-based courses and master classes will all be used to deliver the tailored solution with highly realistic and engaging case studies based around the Trust's existing project management framework; the aim being to turn the principles of project management into practical skills and behaviours."