Change projects require a more effective approach - Business Works
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Change projects require a more effective approach

Hannah Warren, Senior Consultant, Moorhouse Knowledge of a business is often mistaken for capability and nowhere is this more prevalent than with project and programme management (PPM). When an organisation advertises externally for an experienced project manager the relevant key skills highlighted include diplomacy, milestone planning, budget tracking, change control analysis and risk management.

The same can rarely be said for internal selection. Time and again qualities such as time with the company, seniority and leadership ability determine who is asked to take on short-term project management. The result is that too often many people in large organisations find themselves managing a project simply because theyíve been with the company a number of years and are deemed to have enough experience of 'the way we do things'. When it is a business-critical project with significant spend or high expectations, you need appropriately-skilled people to lead it. Otherwise the danger is that intervention to prevent costs or timing spiralling out of control simply does not happen to avoid rocking the boat with senior management.

Research Moorhouse undertook earlier this year among board members at FTSE 250, multinational and public sector organisations, or those reporting into them, showed that over 40% of respondents are not confident that the people who do the day-to-day running of the project are capable of making key decisions. Over 32% of respondents said the one factor that would make them more confident in their organisationís ability to meet the challenges of change was better skilled staff. In addition, only half of senior directors or executives working on £10m+ change or transformation projects claim a better than 70% success rate with these initiatives. Only 7% judge them to be fully successful. Clearly, something needs to change.

A central cause of project failure is that the capability that forms a successful project manager is either not taken into consideration in the first place, or learned and lost. A long-serving senior manager in a Group Finance function may be asked to run a cost transformation project for a year and despite starting with only an initial idea of how benefits should be tracked or risks managed could learn over time to do so successfully, but their delay in understanding translates into significantly delayed benefits realisation. Once the project is completed they are dispatched back to their business as usual job and their valuable skills are lost when someone else is picked to lead the next big finance change project.

Restrictions on headcount in many companies have only served to exacerbate this situation. The solution is straightforward: senior leaders need to re-evaluate what makes a successful project manager and form an internal community to nurture these skills in those who typically would not be picked, but whom may have the potential to develop into good project managers.

This could include those based in a different function of the business, to that experiencing the change, younger employees with a hunger for responsibility, those blocked from taking relevant qualifications due to their business-as-usual role, or part-time workers. This would allow people with the necessary desire and raw talent for project management to have their skills nurtured and developed from early on in their careers. Such a pool would provide role models to begin and continue an internal company trend to encourage employees from all walks of life to develop a project management specialism alongside their day-to-day work. This would undoubtedly save organisations money in the long run by making the best of human capital already present within the company and increase organisational health by providing the opportunity for people to focus on what they are good at and enjoy.

It is common knowledge that change projects, such as outsourcing, are quickly becoming more complex and therefore require more specialist knowledge. Organisations need to prepare for the next big change piece and invest the time in building their programme and project management (PPM) capability 'bottom-up', encouraging existing staff with the basis of talent to up-skill as part of a focused community. Learning PRINCE2 [project management] concepts does not make a project manager, neither does length of time in the business - times have moved on and itís time for organisations to do the same.

Hannah Warren is Senior Consultant at Moorhouse - for further information, please visit:

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