The Challenge of Projects and Project Management
Of course there's no such thing as an IT-project: it's merely a business project that typically uses IT to enable the change. So projects with IT elements have frequently been categorised by what caused their failure and those have been well-documented [1]. Why is it then, that project managers still struggle?
What sort of skills should a PM have?
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  1. The theoretical and practical emphasis remains on planning, tasks, change and budgetary control alongside an understanding of technical matters. Despite the huge uptake of professional project management certification, alternative (new) development methodologies, improved understanding of technology across the population etc, the success rates of projects that deliver successful business change remains embarrassingly small.
  2. Nowadays organisations also recognise that the softer skills play an equally, if not more, important role in creating empowered teams, managing stakeholders effectively and ensuring the key people are the right people.
  3. Additionally there is a third element that the best project managers have - an uncanny ability to know which tools and techniques to us, when to apply them and who is able to do so effectively. Similarly, these folk are able to almost "sense" problems…so how do we find (or identify) such people?
Project problems in an organisational context
An area that provides insight into the mind of a project manager is the context in which each project takes place. Project Managers should consider (amongst others) when starting work on a project:
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  • the organisational culture itself
  • the strategic aspirations of the organisation
  • the track record of the organisation in project delivery
  • the ability of an organisation to actually apply (not document) lessons learned
The reason for this context is essential to success and will be understood by any PM who has ever worked in more than one style of organisation. In short, a model for project success in, say, a utilities organisation is very unlikely to be the same model that would work in, say, a high-tech VC start-up.

Perfect project management will always remain just out of reach; just as innovation is what mankind has always delivered. But in knowingly striving to reach that target we are, at least, moving on the right direction.
Project problems in business solution context
Project managers should then grasp the next context: that of the nature of the proposed project (problem and solution). An understanding of what a full life-cycle looks like is essential, but also understanding how to design a project with integrity and thereby create a possible platform for success (not failure). An ability to flex by design and not chance confers so much more opportunity on a project to succeed:
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  • the full extent of flexibility available to a project (its levers: cost, schedule, scope, quality, people, risk, benefits)
  • an understanding of the level of complexity in a project and how it is to be managed
  • an understanding of the overall shape of how to articulate the problem and how the solution is to be identified
  • an understanding of the mechanisms of change that will bring about not just the project delivery but the business benefits
And here is the context in which development methodologies (waterfall, agile, evolutionary prototyping etc) reside. Neither PRINCE2™ nor APM™ is a methodology for managing projects any more than a development methodologies is. Any method can only ever be as good as the person who uses it.
Some myths about 'IT' project management
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If you want to see a project delivered successfully, there are a number of urban-myths that need dispelling. Top-class project managers do not need to have:
  • PRINCE2™ or APM™ certification
  • Current technical knowledge of the area with which they are dealing
  • Managed a large team (i.e. >12)
  • An intimate knowledge of our industry
  • A (set of) project management template(s)
  • A politically appropriate style
It is true that some of these things can be good to have, but they are not essential for success. What is essential is the finding the right person with the right skills and experience (not necessarily a collection of certificates).