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How to change your project management culture - part 1

16 Jul 2018

 How to change your project management culture - part 1

The sad truth is that far too many projects fail. Those that do succeed, that is, those that deliver on time and within budget, have sometimes done so by drastically slashing their scope or quality targets along the way. So organisations are pretty receptive to anything that can improve their project management culture. 

Prince2 fails to bring about cultural change

In the public sector, project failure used to be ascribed to a culture of amateurism, in which general managers without any particular qualifications were asked to take on projects. So under Tony Blair, the Office of Government Commerce put its weight behind Prince2. Private sector companies were also encouraged to use the method, especially if they were bidding for government contracts. The idea was that people would be trained in this professional project methodology and project delivery would improve as a result.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that. Bureaucratic and without much to say about managing project finances, Prince2 has not been the magic pill that government hoped. Instead, in the absence of an academic project management discipline, Prince2 has become a tick in the box for staff development at the annual appraisal. 

PMOs - another attempt at changing project culture?

The dawning realisation that Prince2 wasn’t producing the hoped-for results, was strengthened by several high-profile failures of government projects. So the next attempt to get the organisational culture to embrace projects was the Programme Management Office.

In many branches of local and central government, this has been greeted with enthusiasm. Apart from anything else, it is a neat organisational response, in which projects, always difficult to define, can all be pushed into a box and some hapless manager appointed to oversee the PMO. 

The trouble is that the PMO has all the hallmarks of the failed Prince2 culture. It is essentially an admin and mainstream management function with the word “project” in the title. If the PMO is requesting data, collating it and using it to produce forecasts and reports, it’s not doing anything different from any similar function that is forecasting and reporting non-project work. Effectively, therefore, a PMO may sometimes be simply another non-productive layer of bureaucracy. 

Initial steps in changing the project culture 

When an organisation sets up a project, it is effectively making a statement that it has some work that can’t be managed in the same way as day-to-day business. When it has multiple projects running, it’s effectively saying that many of its activities are not day-to-day business. 

The first step in changing the project culture is to accept that this may now be how the organisation operates and that projects are the predominant mode of doing business. This means that instead of projects being a forgotten afterthought in terms of cultural change, they should be at the centre of it. 

Assess how projects “fit” - or don’t

Unfortunately, the opposite is all too often the case. Structures, attitudes and methods that have been superseded in the rest of the business still persist in the project and programme area. Even the name “Programme Management Office” has an archaic ring to it, when organisations are so much more loosely structured than they were before. 

So the first step in cultural change for projects is to take a look at the relationship between projects and the rest of the organisation, assessing the amount of resources that are being spent on projects, compared to the rest of the operation. 

It’s also essential to take a forward look at how many business activities are going to survive the next wave of automation. 

In the next article, we’ll look at the impact this will have. And we'll also look at the kinds of behaviour and values that can improve project success rates, while ensuring that projects and programmes are aligned with the organisation’s culture.

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