Delivering successful projects
It is evident with each passing year that the rate of change in organisations of all types continues to increase. So whilst competence in the core skills needed to manage day to day operations remains critical to on-going business performance, the ability to manage change becomes ever more dominant in determining longer term survival and growth. In the past, the ability to manage change was seen as a special skill set, only needed by ‘project people’; nowadays it is widely recognised that these skills are increasingly part of the ‘day job’ for all concerned.
Essential project management skills
Studies of project performance demonstrate the vital importance of six key elements in determining project success. These can be summarised as:
- Clear goals that are understood and agreed by all the principal stakeholders
- Realistic plans based on sensible assumptions and backed up by good risk management
- Effective organisation involving the right people, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities
- Pro-active controls with processes and procedures that emphasise problem prevention
- Genuine teamwork that promotes partnership and synergy between all participants
- Appropriate leadership that instils vision and promotes unity of purpose among those involved
Whilst these key elements may seem self-evident, the management of many projects often falls short in one or more areas with the result that those projects under-perform and, in the worst cases, completely fail. Successful projects require effective project managers who have mastered the skills needed to ensure that the ‘common sense’ described above is translated into common practice!
Developing effective project managers
For a given project, the development of the key elements identified above depends on the ‘primary management skills’ of everyone involved, but especially those of the project manager. It is convenient to classify these primary management skills into three types:
- thought enabling skills: these skills involve the ability to conceive future goals, identify strategies and plans and select a preferred course of action. Skills such as creative thinking, the synthesis and evaluation of ideas, visualisation and strategic thinking, planning, estimating, risk identification and risk analysis all fall in this domain.
- task executing skills: these skills involve the ability to identify, acquire and assign the resources required, to evaluate progress and to develop team performance. Skills such as organisation design and management, personnel and supplier appraisal, delegation and control of work, performance management and expertise in relevant technical areas all fall in this domain.
- team energising skills: these skills involve the ability to define and communicate a vision, to motivate others to commit to achieving a goal and to work collaboratively to achieve synergy and build team performance. Skills such as listening, motivating, negotiating, coaching, mentoring, communicating, encouraging and empathising all fall in this domain.
The importance of context
Successful project managers adapt the way they exercise the primary management skills depending on the context within which they operate. This in turn requires the ability to understand the management needs
of the project, the broader aspects of the business (e.g. marketing, commercial, financial, health safety and environment (HSE), legal) and the social and business cultures within which the organisation operates.
The 3D+ project management model
The 3D+ project management (3D+PM™) model illustrates the inter-relationships between the six key management elements, the primary management skills and the style/method requirements related to context. Gaining commitment to clear goals, for instance, requires appropriate visualisation skills (blue) to see new possibilities combined with leadership skills (red) to agree priorities and organisational expertise (green) to recognise what is possible with available resources. With regard to context, in a small organisation, an informal style might be more appropriate whilst in a fast moving project environment an ‘agile’ methodology might work best.
The 3D+PM model provides a simple, holistic approach to project management that goes beyond the traditional focus on techniques and procedures and recognises the vital role of interpersonal skills in creating successful outcomes. It also offers a generic model that facilitates the need to adapt to the needs of the project and context involved. In so doing, 3D+PM offers a proven, effective framework for:
- creating a unified corporate approach to project management and relevant skills development
- training those involved in project work and developing their understanding of the full management skill-set they need for their particular role and responsibilities
- appraising and benchmarking project management performance
- identifying strengths and weakness in PM capability and developing a strategy for continuous improvement
3D+PM aligns with the ‘Bodies of Knowledge’ published by professional associations such as the Project Management Institute, the Association for Project Management and the International Project Management Association so can also be used to support personal development for project management accreditation.