The State of Project Management Annual Report, the largest piece of research of its type in the UK each year is soon to be published. Often reports focus on the negatives, what percentage of projects are late? What do we struggle to do well? What are our main project management challenges? Yes, we have got answers for all those questions but in this article I want to focus on a positive, with some combined pearls of wisdom from the +300 organisations that took part.

One question we asked was; “In your experience what typical techniques or processes, when applied well, have the potential to add the most value in project management?”.

So, top five?

  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Planning (scheduling)
  • Benefits Realisation
  • Change Control
  • Lessons Learned

And what did respondents say were the most difficult to embed?

  • Benefits Realisation
  • Lessons Learned
  • Change Control

Hmm…OK, so we have some strong matches! The things that (if done well!) deliver the most value, also happen to be the techniques or processes that are the most difficult to embed!

Let’s take a look at each of these and consider how well your organisation approaches these. Is there room for improvement?

Benefits Realisation

Are we enjoying the benefits we were sold at the beginning? Do we actually know? Is anyone tracking them? So hopefully your Business Case/Proposal/PID lists the anticipated benefits and these are measurable.

The Project Manager must retain a focus on delivering benefits throughout the project, after all that’s what they are here to achieve, not just completing the project for the sake of it! The regular Project Status Report should highlight whether the project is still on track to deliver benefits; it should be one of the standard RAG KPIs.

Once the project is in the Handover & Close phase we must ensure someone takes ownership of measuring benefits on a timely basis. Benefits are owned by the Sponsor but perhaps a more practical solution is for the PMO that picks up this work on their behalf.

Lessons Learned

Throughout the project the Project Manager and project team should be capturing “Lessons Learned”. What could we do better next time and equally what did we do well that future projects should replicate. I do like the “Lessons Identified” approach…just putting a lesson on a spreadsheet doesn’t mean anyone has learned from it! The project team should focus on identifying lessons and then, again, perhaps the PMO should take these and communicate them more widely ensuring the organisation as a whole LEARNS!

The reality is that once a project is finishing everyone rushes off to their next challenge. We need to capture Lessons and hold them centrally…the PMO again! A key input into new projects would be a review of previous lessons for consideration by the project team. This needs to be part of the standard project start up process.

Change Control

This is a slightly more surprising inclusion in the “difficult” list. It’s a fundamental as it links directly with scope management. The number 1 reason why projects fail is scope creep or lack of scope definition. Write a scoping document and get it approved! Simple.

By the end of the Planning phase we should have defined the scope, the timescale, the costs, benefits, quality standards, and resource need. These define the baselines for the project and what we can compare change against. Any small change may of course be absorbed by the practical Project Manager, but anything that is of a reasonable scale that could make a material difference to time, cost, quality and benefit should be treated through a change control process. The project team should assess the impact of the PROPOSED change and make the consequences clear, allowing an informed decision on whether the proposed change should be approved or rejected. It is normal for the Project Manager to therefore maintain a list of changes, the Change Log.

I do know some clients who mandate the change requester must complete the Change Request Form (often “part 1” of this form). They therefore make the Change Form a little onerous to complete as it acts as a natural filter…you’ll only complete the form if you REALLY want the change! Also let’s be clear who approves the change, typically this is the Sponsor within certain parameters. Larger changes (often those requiring additional funding beyond contingency) might have to go to a higher approval level. These approval levels must be clearly defined and potentially included in the details PID or PPM Methodology documentation.

In summary. Take a look at these 3 topics within your organisation. Can you improve your benefits realisation, lessons learned and change control processes? I bet you can! Keep it practical, simple and invest time in communicating any improvements to stakeholders. It’s one thing to have defined a great process, but it’s a much better thing to have a reasonable process that everyone actually follows. Good luck!