Recently, whilst reviewing other books and approaches in the area of Project Management I came across some misconceptions about what project management is all about. Namely, that process and qualifications are the be-all and end-all of project management. How do you know if you are doing the right thing in project management?

I started my project management ‘career’ in process consulting so this was very difficult for me to accept, but there seems to be an undue concentration on getting qualifications or using specific techniques – usually at the expense of the real issue – that projects are there to deliver measurable benefits and value to an organisation!

Process Obsession

A concentration on methodologies can make us fail to relate the project to the business, leading to a situation where we are ticking every box on the event/activity critical path, delivering the project on time and within budget – and having no/negative effect on the performance of the business. Now this may be because the business has moved on and the project has not caught up and has ceased to be relevant but this approach is called doing things right.

I remember working with a French food additives company which followed a Product Development strategy. In brief, halfway through a development programme, a competitor launched a new range of products that effectively changed the marketplace but the French company was so obsessed with following the process that it carried on with its projects and launched, a few months later, a new range of products which were…effectively obsolete!

It was a marvellous project – on time, in budget, achieving the original objectives – just that the business was not flexible enough to cope with change and thus it delivered nothing of value.

Budgetary Ring Fencing

So where does this rigidity and obsession with process come from? In my experience, the ring-fencing of project budgets is a major factor in influencing people not to kill off projects half-way through, even though this is what would benefit the company the most.

In cash-strapped times it would take a very brave manager to stick his head above the parapet and admit that actual money could be saved by not doing a certain project because it may be obsolete anyway!

But are you qualified?

Project Management, as a discipline, started off (back in the mists of time) within the engineering department delivering complex projects such as ships, bridges etc. At that time there were full-time project managers developing tools and techniques that are still in play today. IT Managers then picked up the discipline realising that software development had similar complexities to that of engineering projects.

And it’s moved on from there. However today’s Project Manager is most likely not to be full time in the role – they have a day job as well, but they see project management skills as an essential tool for getting things done –no matter what their function. I firmly believe that in the 21st-century project management is a core discipline for all managers.

So what about qualifications then? I got myself PRINCE2 qualified after a client insisted that in order to win a Government tender everyone needed the qualification. Project sponsor at kick-off meeting –“Ah yes. We don’t really follow Prince 2 principles here, but we have to tick certain boxes you know…” A one-off I thought, but no – time and time again the qualification has been great for me personally but not really adhered to by many organisations.

The Fast Track Approach

So reading the tale of woe above what can we conclude? Well, ultimately all PMs need to have an obsession with doing the right thing in project management. They must always relate the project to the needs of the business as their starting point, and constantly check that those needs have not changed during the course of the project. The business need is paramount, not the process of getting there!

It needs to be remembered that budgets, like accounts, are merely a means of assessing resources at any one point in time. People need to be more flexible in their approach to budgeting and again link them to the business need. Easy to say, difficult to do!

Are qualifications valuable? Mostly. I found the Prince2 approach most illuminating and a very good confirmation of (some) skills and practices. It was valuable to me as an individual. Is it valuable to an organisation? The jury is still out on that one!

The end result? A flexible project management method developing you as an individual whilst linking to other business skills – what I call The Fast Track approach to doing the right thing in project management.

About Guest Contributor

Simon Derry BSc (econ), MBA, MCIM is the co-author of the best selling Fast Track to Success – Project Management published by FT Prentice Hall. The Fast Track series contains all the resources you need to get ahead including personal development tips, team audits and a ‘Director’s Toolkit’. Prior to writing books and managing projects Simon has been in the Army (tough), the NHS (very tough) and was customer services manager for Psion – at the time the world’s best hand-held computing company (very, very tough). To rant and rave at him at tell him how wrong he is contact him or have a look at what he talking about at