There is that famous scene in Monty Python and The Life of Brian where the rebels are demanding action against the oppressive Romans and ask the question ‘What did the Romans ever do for us?’- The answers came back over and over again as the rebels listed the many things that the Romans brought with them … medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health. So, quite a lot!
I sometimes hear of project management and project managers being challenged in much the same way … ‘what has project management done for us (the organisation)?’ The thinking presumably goes that there are projects but if the business keeps doing projects then they become (presumably) less unusual and less risky and therefore they don’t need this elite band of project managers to constantly be ‘on the case’. Or perhaps it I less a matter of thinking and more a matter of memory loss, forgetting what project based business life was like before project management was in place and making a real difference.
There are two ways of looking at this, or answering the challenge. One is to consider what would business life be like without project management in place. Assuming that projects continue to get commissioned then you might hear a few executives mumbling things like:
‘Our stakeholders really love us, so they don’t care if their projects are late and don’t work.’
‘We figure it’s more profitable to have 50% overruns than to spend 15% on project management to prevent them.’
And I am sure you have come across the classic:
‘Project management is too expensive… on top of the all the rest of the project costs’
The real question that needs to be put on the table to answer these challenges is ‘What is the cost of failure of this project?’ balanced by ‘What, therefore, is the value of de-risking that project by investing a relatively small number of days of project management?’
And that is the number one answer to ‘What has project management done for us?’ – Project management has developed a skill and a process and a capability, combined with a level of experience and ingenuity to make that de-risking investment ‘a relatively small number of days’. In other words what project management does is safe-guard project investment in a very attractive and cost-positive way.
But, and this is critical to the persuasiveness of the argument for project management, it is needed to have up to date ‘proof’ of the work that project managers do and the value that they oversee the delivery of.
And this is the second way of answering this challenge, to look at the levels of success that project management achieves.
Reports such as PMI’s Pulse of the Profession™ The High Cost of Low Performance can really help here. Pulse Report 2013
The ‘What did the project managers ever do for us’ syndrome is recognised in the report ‘…this year’s Pulse of the Profession™ finds that organizations undervalue project management and put inadequate focus on talent development. Only about half of respondents (54 percent) say their organizations fully understand the value of project management’.
But is goes on to clearly lay out what sets high-performing organizations apart and that is:
- ‘Strong talent management by investing in project talent and providing consistent training, defined career paths and professional development opportunities.
- Standardization of practices and tools, which leads to a more efficient use of resources and a greater ability to lead and innovate.
- Strategic alignment of their project, program and portfolio management to organizational goals, creating improved maturity and better project outcomes’.
Supporting this argument for project management are some real ‘eye opening’ statistics of project success value delivered by organisations that invest in project management – go check them out for yourself, it makes satisfying reading.
And the PMI Pulse report concludes with a sobering statement ‘Organizations that have poor project success rates may be forced to manage their projects reactively by tightening deadlines and cutting budgets to achieve their intended results’ and this will only mean less projects, less success, less change delivered, and fewer strategic achievements.
Conversely the same conclusion states ‘Investing in strong, effective project management within an organization will increase project performance. Ultimately, high-performing organizations that have strong project management can create efficiencies; improve alignment with organizational strategies…’.
I think that project management has done a great deal for everyone, the Romans knew a thing or two about project management and look at all that they achieved.