Business Management

Ken Scott (Australia) - How Project Teams are Improving Collaboration in Australia

The Australian business culture, in my experience, reflects the entrepreneurial spirit and can-do nature of Australians themselves. That's not to say that Australian organisations aren't serious about getting results - they are. But in terms of organisational structure they tend to be more like US rather than European organisations. That is, they are more open and less hierarchical.

However, I often wonder if that laid back caricature traditionally has been a problem in programme and project management. Until very recently, Australian organisations seemed to experience comparatively high rates of project failure. Have project management teams suffered from a lack of individuals taking ownership and driving things forward? Has collaboration been more about working together than hitting targets? Because let's make no bones about it - it's not always possible to get things done without ruffling a few feathers, particularly when it comes to meeting deadlines and staying within budgets. Often, teams are responsible for delivering projects without the line or department managerial authority that would make it easier to get things done. Instead, they need to be resourceful and persuasive, with the personal authority that encourages others to help them achieve their goals.

First and foremost the project team needs to collaborate effectively. Australian organisations benefit from the fact that many tend to be run on a local basis, so there is not the same differential in terms of geography and language that is often an issue for European businesses. However, Australia is a vast country with clusters of metropolitan areas, so physical proximity can still be a problem for larger organisations. So the easiest way of helping any project team to collaborate effectively is to ensure that everyone is working with the same methodology, approach, tools, language and understanding of the task at hand. And in this respect we are seeing rapid change for the good within Australia.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the Gershon Report in 2009 led the Australian government to adopt PRINCE2® as a de facto standard for project management. The change that started in Canberra soon rippled out to governmental organisations across Australia, then to the private sector. So over the past 18 months, organisations have expended (and continue to expend) a huge amount of energy to try and reduce the rate of project failure. Some are further along the adoption curve than others. For example, in my experience organisations in Queensland see themselves as leading this wave of change. But progress is visible across the board.

When such a large number of organisations adopt one common standard, the process and methodology become completely transferable - as do the people themselves. This has hugely positive knock-on effects on how people - and organisations - are able to work together. Collaboration is improved within and between organisations because everyone understands what success looks like and how that can be achieved. It also means that the ownership of a project can be more easily transferred if a project manager leaves or is promoted. And similarly it is easier to transfer individuals in and out of the project team as and when required. Both enable the organisation to deploy its assets in the most effective and flexible way.

Australia has become really serious about changing how organisations are run, how change is managed and how project teams can collaborate more effectively. Despite being earlier adopters of PRINCE2®, UK and European organisations have not embedded the change in the same way, so we haven't seen comparable improvements in collaboration and project success. That realisation is now dawning in many European boardrooms - and if we are lucky, we will finally see the same enthusiasm and commitment to change.

Ken Scott is CEO at the ILX Group plc. Ken won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year London & South region 2009 award. For more information on the ILX Group, visit their website.


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