Business Management

Dr Ian Clarkson (Global): Clarity in Reducing Limiting Project Risks

Talk to any CEO or senior manager about the projects that are happening within their organization and sooner or later you will see the discussion turning to why the projects are running over time or over budget. Having spent seven years training professionals in best practice I regularly hear about the problems encountered by managers when they are delivering projects within their own organizations. So what more can be done to support them in their search for project success? 

One of the most immediate actions is to ensure that the organization is using a proven project management methodology that delivers the flexibility necessary to cope with changing circumstances.  As a starting point, PRINCE2 is the de facto standard for project management.  It has been tried, tested, proven and refined over many years, based upon the experiences of real-life project managers and, as evidenced by research conducted by the Queensland University of Technology , project managers consider it robust, comprehensive and pragmatic to deliver success. However, the detailed explanations that underpin PRINCE2 sometimes provide a perception that it is too cumbersome and unwieldy when used for smaller projects.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! On larger projects, the adoption of a methodology can become nothing more than a ‘template-driven’ approach, where project information is imparted through the completion of, often large and complex amounts of, documentation – the ‘means to an end’ being made to be justifiable given the potential sums of money involved. For smaller projects, you can’t get away with this approach – but the need to impart project information remains the same. It then becomes a question of ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ and ‘why’. So, for the reasons stated above and coupled with the fact that there is accredited training and support available; PRINCE2 is a good place to start when adopting a methodology.

Once you have your methodology in place, ensure it is used consistently and that you build internal competency in this methodology. As an organization, there is little benefit in adopting a project management methodology that is only used for projects over a certain size, or only when a particular project team is assigned. Your chosen approach for project management must be used across all parts of the organization, across all projects and by all project team members. The strength of these approaches is in its repeatability.

An important part of this is ensuring senior management buy in to your use of a project management methodology such as PRINCE2. Your senior team will be project or program stakeholders as they will have a clear interest in the outcomes and business benefits of projects. It’s critically important that they support the way projects are managed and meet their commitments. Once their support has been gained, it’s much easier to roll out a methodology across the organization.

Broadly speaking there are three steps to consider when undertaking a complex project. First ensure clear governance.  Processes for decision making need to be strongly established, and clear to all members of the project team. This is particularly the case when difficult decisions need to be made – a robust process, effectively applied can make the difference between project failure and delivering benefits.

Second, provide a broader range of skills.  You also need to consider the other skills required by a successful project manager beyond the technical certification. Are they a good communicator? Can they write a clear business case? Can they lead and motivate a team or manage up to a stakeholder? Are they able to remain calm and act professionally in a ‘crisis’ situation? While methodologies such as PRINCE2 will underpin the core skills needed, without the right mix of professional skills in your project team you’re again risking failure. 

Thirdly, think about your whole project and program portfolio.  The risk of project failure can increase in line with the number of projects being run; with a limited amount of resources, the more projects on the go, the greater the likelihood of competition for attention and resources, particularly project management skills and staff.  In these circumstances, senior managers need to be transparent about which projects and/or programs are to be prioritized and why.

It’s my view that achieving project success is as much about organizational culture as having the project management skills. The critical point is that the organization must have a culture that facilitates project management and that there is widespread acceptance and practice of the methodology currently in use within the organization by employees who have the right skills to achieve success.  If everyone shares a common understanding and knows what is expected of them, it helps the organization become more flexible yet robust in its ability to deliver projects more successfully. 

Dr Ian Clarkson is Head of Project and Program Management at QA, the global training company that transforms performance through learning. Ian has delivered national and international training programs across all industry sectors and is an experienced lecturer, author, speaker and consultant. For further information contact 


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