Program and project failures are about culture and accountability, not certifications

rocks-graduation-diploma_Pixabay-1449488_1920One of my heretical views is that at the highest level of PM maturity, the project managers cease to be the drivers of organizational project activity, because line managers all get the idea that you’re suppose to deliver something in return for receiving funding.  Sure, there’ll be some super-PMs for bet-the-company projects, and there’ll be a PMO-type function to coordinate things (mostly portfolio-style), but they won’t need to be the process or template police, and they certainly won’t need to be assigned to projects just to keep them moving.

You can’t get more domain-expert than Donna Fitzgerald. Her post, supported as it is with the volumes of evidence that Gartner has access to, suggests that maybe this idea is becoming mainstream.

More specialist staff simply hides management failures. The solution for ineffective leaders and managers is pink slips, not specialist staff assistants. Leave it to the Washington excuse-generating machine to come up with more bureaucracy to fix the problem of failures in creating a new career field for program managers.

Anyway, we already have a personnel series for program management: 0340, Program Manager. In DOD at least, it takes many weeks of training and years of experience to get to Level III of this field.  That doesn’t necessarily make you a good program manager, because you also have to have a level of people skills that you simply can’t pick up in a class, but it does mean you have no excuse for not understanding the procedural and the basic analytics the job requires.

Much the same has been said, for the same reasons, of the PMP certification that is fast becoming a standard for all sorts of jobs many of which have only a passing resemblance to project management. The idea isn’t to get people who will be be good at that job, that’s unrealistic.

I think what they’re struggling for is people who have demonstrated some level of ability to learn stuff and some understanding of the idea that if I give you money, you owe me something in return.  It’s a shame that we’ve degenerated to this: those attributes ought to be table stakes for anyone above entry-level in any white-collar role.

And as we all know, book learning only takes you so far.

This post by Jessica Hall echoes the challenges that PMs find in real-world organizations.  Some of those frustrations stem from not understanding the context in which projects operate: more often than not, your project simply isn’t priority A-1.  The offered solutions are a little optimistic: the truth is, any organization that’s exhibiting these problems is simply not culturally prepared for even the limited structure of the first step in formal project management.

One PM isn’t going to change that.  Even a bunch of Program Management Specialists aren’t going to change that.  You have to back into it by giving people what they want, in a manner that moves them forward to the objective you are looking for.

Let It Simmer: How to Make Project, Portfolio and Program Management Stick in a a Skeptical Organization” describes how you can start building a culture of accountability and results without tearing the place apart.



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