Project Management – Core Business Function or Undervalued Skill?

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Articles

The project management community expends plenty of energy discussing project management methods – arguing over the best approach for a project – the one most likely to ensure success, but often fail to think enough about the wider impact of a project and it’s effect on other projects that may be going on in different parts of the business. Many projects are effectively conducted in silos within large organisations.
The reason for this is that project management is not considered a core function in many organisations (in much the same way as IT is not considered a core function) and yet no business can grow without IT skills and, increasingly, without PM skills.

Too often project management is seen as a one-off cost that has to be borne for individual projects rather than a strategic, organisation-wide function that could reduce inefficiencies and hence costs. Why is this?

Certainly there are 2 factors that contribute to this state of affairs:

  1. The people working in project manager roles
  2. The relative newness of this functional area

Of course project management has been around in business for a long time but it is still relatively under-developed compared to, say, accounting. That under-development is, in fact, one of it’s strengths because it means there is plenty of improvement and growth to be had but it also means that it is changing – just look at how project management methods have developed in the past 15 years – a period over which core accounting methods, for instance, have remained the same. There may be more sophisticated tools for accounting but the basics are unchanged and, indeed, finance is relatively simple compared to project management with it’s myriad variations and the fact that projects are so often breaking new ground.

There are some industries where every project is at the forefront of technology and pushing those boundaries requires an understanding of controlling risk and offsetting it with the potential benefits of the risk taking; something successful project managers are well-versed at.

Yet senior level executives tend to focus more on the marketing, strategy and finance aspects of the business while the abilities of a good project manager are often overlooked.

Who’s to Blame?

It is tempting to blame senior execs for undervaluing project management as a skill, but maybe the “fault” (if there is one) is that project managers do not fight their corner strongly enough. How many project managers do you know who are comfortable standing up in board level meetings and describing why they are so useful to the company, how their skills add value and arguing the case for approaching project management across all functions within the organisation so that all projects complement each other and contribute to the goal of improving profits. Do some project managers secretly under-value themselves?

Of course, the danger to an organisation of undervaluing project managers is that the best will move to other roles to advance their careers leaving less talented people will take on the role.

And yet a good project manager will master the skills of stakeholder management, planning, budgeting, scope management and risk management; will be able to motivate the project team, handle conflict and smooth ruflled feathers. And on top of that will be able to communicate to people at all levels of the project from team members to senior executives,

In fact, many of the skills that make a great leader in any walk of life.

Lack of Emphasis on Project Management

Projects continue to fail entirely or fail to meet their objectives and yet businesses continue to fail to place enough emphasis on the importance of good project management and well-trained, experienced project managers. Often believing they can simply assign someone from a different role to magically become a project manager who can accomplish a successful project.

Those organisations who understand the value of both training and experience do provide the essential training but can fail to see the bigger picture of how all projects contribute to the success of the business. Providing decent training to all PMs is not the whole solution.

Project Management Education

A graduate leaving university with a PM degree is unlikely to have the experience required to successfully run a project and yet companies are seeking more talent like this. One wonders why they are not devoting more time and resources to training people more experienced in the work place and developing talent from within the industry when good project management skills are one of the most important factors in the successful completion of projects.

Making project management a core business function and establishing defined career paths within an organisation for project managers would go a long way to helping minimise risk on projects and so increasing the likelihood of them being more successful.

The Difficulty with Projects

Many projects have multiple variables and risks and are breaking new ground – which is after all what projects, by their very definition, are all about. Few projects are easy – they tend, rather, to be long and/or complex, have a high profile and are often political instruments within an organisation. So right from the start they are risky undertakings.

project management essentials

And yet organisations add to already risky situations by using ill-trained, under-experienced people and often fail to understand the bigger picture of fundamentally why a project is being undertaken and what it’s goal is for the organisation.

An experienced project manager, on the other hand, can take all the available information, unfazed by its uncertainties, risks and ambiguities and produce good time and cost estimates so they can plan accurately for success. They will set milestones, resolve problems, understand and manage complex inter-dependencies, mitigate risks, manage expectations and communicate with people at all levels of the project; all skills that contribute to project success.

Well that’s the theory anyway – what do you think? Do organisations under-value project managers and, if so, how can the industry effect change so that we no longer discuss the high rate of project failures but can applaud the many and varied skills of the best project managers.


Business Analysis in Agile Projects

Business Analysis on “Agile-Type” Projects

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Articles

This week I ‘ave mostly been reading about Business Analysis (for those who remember Paul Whitehouse’s character Jesse from The Fast Show)

And, unlike Jesse’s diet and fashion tips, there is much to say about business analysis in the current project environments that are moving away from traditional waterfall methods towards – if not exactly agile methods – an environment with shorter timescales, quicker deliveries to the client and an iterative approach to meeting project objectives.

As Angela Wick points out in her insightful post on BA Times “Don’t Skip the Analysis When Moving to Shorter Iterations” some people believe that analysis is not required when using shorter iterations (whether that’s under the guise of an agile project or not). But the risks of not doing at least some analysis sometimes mean that the “big picture” is lost because the focus is on individual deliverables rather than the whole project; and the relationships and inter-dependencies between each deliverable can be forgotten.

Certainly, on agile-type projects we do not, and cannot, expend too much time on a full and detailed analysis but that doesn’t mean some analysis is not important – it’s getting the balance right that is essential. And the best way to spot a lack of analysis on a project that is already underway, according to Angela, is if there is a large backlog of defects or “enhancements”.

To locate the source of the analysis problem she suggests looking at all the issues in the backlog and analysing how they are related, then group items that impact the same users and those that relate to the same processes to better understand what is going wrong.

No Business Analysis Means Certain Project Failure

According to Brad Egeland a project without a business analyst (BA) is doomed to fail and here are some of the reasons he cites for why he believes a business analyst is indispensable:

  • The BA communicates with the project client at a technical level to discuss and identify the genuine need and work through requirements so the final solution meets that need.
  • The BA is the technical liaison with the client’s subject matter experts and can ensure that requirements are clear, concise and detailed. In addition they are invaluable during user acceptance testing.
  • The BA provides a link to the project team technical lead to help ensure key requirements get interpreted accurately and that the proper amount of time, planning and attention is given.
  • The BA helps the PM perform well by ensuring that the delivery goes smoothly and the communication with the technical team is handled properly.


It’s Not the Title That is Important


Bonna Choi discusses many of the same points that Brad raises in her article Do we need a Business Analyst on an agile team?. Bonna believes the role of the business analyst is the role most often challenged in an agile project environment but every project needs someone who can help the project team and the business stakeholders develop a shared understand of why a project is being undertaken.

Also teams can make faster decisions with a BA on board because a BA is able to provide the sorts of answers the project team need to make progress. They have an understanding of the technical detail that the client may not necessarily have and are the interface between the client and those doing the project work.

But Bonna doesn’t believe the title Business Analyst really matters, provided there is someone on the team who can deliver this type of work and drive the right common understanding of what is need to make the project succeed.

Salary Trends in Project Management

Salary Trends: Are You Just an Average Project Manager?

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in News

We all like to think of ourselves as successful project managers or maybe you are aspiring to be a successful project manager but the recent 2015 inaugural APM Salary and Market Trends Survey starts with an insight into what the average project manager is.

Somehow that term “average project manager” doesn’t smack of success – of that high-flying PM of our aspirations – but when you look at the statistics from the APM’s survey, perhaps, being average is not a bad place to be.

AMP Salary Survey Average Salaries

The survey revealed that the average project manager:


  • Is in full-time employment within an organisation of 250 or more employees – so a place that is likely to offer good career prospects.
  • Earns on average of £44,167/year – which compares very favourably to the average UK salary of £27,000 according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics. This might not quite reach the giddy heights of average salaries for chief executives (£107,703) or airline pilots (£90,146) but it is certainly on a par with solicitors, accountants, dentists and IT specialists – and remember these are average salaries across the country. The average for programme managers is significantly higher at £57,000.
  • Has a degree and also a professional project management certification such as APMP or PRINCE2. The survey also revealed that those earning up to £60,000 were more likely to have a professional qualification in addition to a degree.

Regional differences


Of course, as you would expect, there are significant regional differences in salaries, most notably in London and the South East where 13% of those surveyed earn more than £80,000. But surprisingly there is a greater percentage of PMs earning over £100,000 in Ireland than in Greater London. The survey data does not specifically state whether that is just Northern Ireland but given that it is a UK survey it seems unlikely it would also include Eire.


Gender Differences


Gender pay inequality has been big news this week because of David Cameron’s idea that the problem can be tackled by auditing firms to check on the relative pay of men and women. Many campaigners believe that the problem is more deep rooted than that but, in any case, according to the APM survey, project management seems to follow the general UK trend of gender pay disparity although it fares better than, for instance, engineering or architecture in attracting and retaining women.


APM Salaries by Gender


Nevertheless, in the project management profession more men, in percentage terms, earn salaries in all brackets above £50,000 with only 1% of female project managers earning over £100,000 compared to 6% of men. And there are more females in all of the lower salary brackets below £50,000 (except, unexpectedly, for salaries under £20,000/year).

These basic statistics, clearly do not show the whole picture and even though the gender pay gap has decreased in recent years it is thought this is more likely to be a result of men’s salaries falling or stagnating rather than women’s salaries rising in line with men’s.

Images Courtesy of the Association for Project Management



Project Management Timeline Infographic

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Default

As this project management timeline infographic from Telegraph Courses shows there are many trends in project management that we should be aware of but one  to watch is cyber security – this is likely to become ever more important and project managers will need to ensure deliverables are secure.


Project Management Timeline – An infographic by the team at Telegraph Courses

Conflict on a Project

How to Deal With Conflict on a Project

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Articles

As a project manager it is your job to deal with conflict on a project when it arises and this can mean having a potentially difficult conversation. You might want to avoid confrontation but you simply can’t so here are some tips to help you deal with those difficult conversations.


When people work together, live together or simply occupy the same space, conflict may arise. Conflict on a project can happen when a person is on the receiving end of behaviour or communication from another person and they do not consider that behaviour or communication to be appropriate or acceptable. You may experience direct conflict i.e. one team member is abrasive to another about a missed project milestone, or indirect i.e. one person is quietly gossiping or arriving late for work every day. But these types of situations will negatively impact your project and the people involved in the project so you need to resolve the issues behind them.

As Fahad Usmani points out on his PM Study Circle blog the consequences of improper conflict resolution are:

  • Low team morale
  • Impact on authority of the project manager
  • More personal clashes
  • Low productivity and efficiency
  • Low quality work

As a project manager, you may know the theory of how to deal with conflict, but the reality is often harder and if there is a major conflict it can be very difficult to deal with because it involves you having one of those difficult conversations. When difficult conversations need to be had, it can be all too easy to avoid them, which in turn results in conflicts, bad behaviour or negative atmospheres remaining as they are, or getting worse.

Mark Hazleton refers to this as the “avoidance approach” where you stay out of the conflict and remain neutral on the issues.  This is employed by individuals that do not have enough invested in the issue to see value in the conflict.  Often used when the conflict is not critical or is perceived to be beyond their capacity to manage and on minor conflicts where team members have already begun to formulate constructive resolutions and the project manager is unlikley to add value.

How to deal with conflict

Do You Avoid Having Difficult Conversations?

It is not unusual to want to avoid having difficult conversations. You might be fantastic at leading and managing your team and getting them to milestones when everything is running smoothly, but when conflict arises you find you avoid dealing with the issue properly. Why is this?

Generally people avoid things because they are scared of something. Fear is not related to reason, it is an emotion so no matter how smart you are, you may still find yourself struggling with fear. The best project managers embrace fear. If you feel fear when it comes to a difficult situation at work, take action – don’t avoid the situation. Your fear is telling you something is wrong and needs fixing, it is not telling you to run away from the situation.


Here are some tips to help you get the best results from difficult conversations:


  • Use Emotional Intelligence – don’t go into the situation with a biased point of view. Use your emotional intelligence and try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, with consideration for how they are feeling and thinking.


  • Listen, Listen, Listen – Strip back your own feelings and really take the time and effort to listen properly to what the other person is saying to you.


  • Ask, Ask, Ask – Ask questions and gain information rather than speaking ‘at’ the other person.


  • Clearly Explain Yourself – If you are asking for a change in behaviour, or for a situation to change, explain your needs, instructions or thoughts clearly.


  • Use Your Body – Use your body to show you are listening and engaging with the other person. Use listening cues like nodding and maintain an open posture so you don’t appear closed off.


  • Stick to the Facts – Where possible try to stick to facts, and don’t dscuss feelings.


  • Compromise – Be willing to compromise to reach an agreeable outcome.


  • Encourage Ego’s And Defensiveness To Be Dropped – Encourage and reward positive behaviour and agreements in order to encourage the other person to ‘open up’.


As a project manager, it is important you are both direct and sensitive when you have a difficult conversation with someone. You must have both in order to succeed. Being direct and insensitive could be upsetting for the other person and may cause them to be defensive and resentful. Being sensitive and indirect could cause the other person to not understand how important your message is.

Dealing with conflict on a project is never easy, but it can be handled successful if you take a little time and effort to learn how to approach it properly. Think you need to improve your conflict resolution skills? As a project manager it is a skill you will always need.



Project Management Education

Do Project Managers Need Technical Knowledge?

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Articles

I have discussed many times before whether project managers need business or technical knowledge, specific to the industry in which they work, in order to successfully manage projects. They could have gained that knowledge either because they performed the business or technical role before becoming a project manager or simply that they have always managed projects in a certain sector. But how necessary is that background knowledge to performing the PM role? Is it vital or a nice-to-have and, maybe more importantly, what do employers think?


There are some organisations where project management is a role performed in addition to, or alongside, another main role. So while a project is being undertaken someone might step into the PM role but return to their “real” job once the project is complete. Clearly in situations such as these the PM will have the relevant business or technical knowledge and that can be an advantage.


Other organisations, usually the larger ones, have project management as a quite distinct role but may still employ permanent project managers from the ranks or from the same industry or business sector. Some organisations have it as a pre-requisite and will not consider candidates with an excellent track-record if they are not from the same or a similar sector.


But is that business or technical knowledge always an advantage or could there be situations where it prevents creative thinking and where it keeps ideas in a narrowly defined space? Where it prevents PMs from seeing the bigger picture because they get involved with the detail, because they understand it, so have an inward looking perspective.


Project managers promoted from technical roles may also have difficulty communicating with stakeholders and senior management from the wider project perspective because they have a bias towards the detail or an affinity with the team members.


This reminds me of something I read about the pitfalls of being a “nice” boss and how it can be difficult to strike the right balance of authority and friendliness if you have been promoted over your peers; another challenge for some project managers.


Fortunately not all employers insist on previous business knowledge for PM roles and there are some companies that value solid project management experience and a fresh perspective above technical skills, but how well that works in practise really depends on the industry of the employer and the previous knowledge of any potential project manager.


Projects are central to the business model of so many different types of organisations now that there is a huge variety of project managers with very different backgrounds. It is hard to see how a project manager with a retail background might fit well into an IT project management role but someone from an engineering background would not find it so difficult. So don’t be afraid to move industry if you have good project management experience and credentials and a background in skills that may not be an exact match but where there are common areas and where you have the advantage of bringing a fresh perspective.

A sustainable economic recovery needs project management

Written by Paul Naybour on . Posted in Default

Project managers have a critical role in the delivery of sustainable growth, that is to say, productivity led growth, rather than growth based on consumer consumption and increased borrowing. Organisations (in both the public and private sector) need confidence before they will commit to new infrastructure, manufacturing facilities and IT systems. This confidence comes from not just an improved economic outlook but also confidence that organisational strategy can be delivered through projects and programmes. Senior managers need to be sure projects will deliver the expected benefits without escalating costs and protracted delays before they will take major investment decisions. In this interview I explored the role of project managers in economic regeneration with senior figures in project management community including Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of Project Management Institute, Dave Gunner, PMP, PfMP, PPM, The PPM Academy, HP Global Project & Program Management, HP Enterprise Services and Will Bentley Programme Controls Director at High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd.

The OECD is forecasting accelerating growth for 2015 and 2016, boosted by lower oil prices and the easing of monetary policy. However they also identify that productivity levels won’t improve without public and private investment in new infrastructure, factories and more efficient ways of working. Given this background, what role do project managers have in supporting sustainable growth as part of the economic recovery?

“I think the mantra of doing more with less is here to stay, both in the public and private sector. Improved efficiency and productivity won’t happen unless organisations recognise that the efficiency they seek is implemented though major projects and programmes. For example, before joining the PMI, I worked in an entrepreneurial environment and it grew from a $400m to a $1bn business. If we had known about project management, at that time, we could have done it much more efficiently by learning from each project. What we used was brute force management not project management.” said Mark

Improved efficiency and productivity won’t happen unless organisations recognise that the efficiency they seek is implemented though major projects and programmes.

From Will’s perspective as the Project Controls Director of HS2 “Project managers play a key role in ensuring their projects are properly defined and set up at the outset with a clear business case that fully supports the investment with benefits that are fully mapped to deliverables. Attracting sustained public and private investment means PMs need to play an ever-increasing role in setting out the benefits of schemes, being clear on the value added and outcomes of a project not just during implementation but for the whole life cycle.”

If project management is so important to the delivery of strategy, why do so many project managers report a lack of senior management support as one of the elements causing poor implementation?

“The PMI Pulse of the Profession® study of Executive Sponsor Engagement shows that fewer than two-thirds of projects and programs have actively engaged executive sponsors. This suggests that organisations are not fully recognising the importance of the role to project success. The study also recognised poor communication between executive sponsors and project managers as affecting sponsors’ ability to effectively perform their role.”

Mark’s view is also supported by research in the UK by the Association for Project Management (APM). They also cite success factors of effective governance; clear structures and responsibilities for decision making; clear reporting lines between project managers and sponsors; capable sponsors; and appropriate behaviour on behalf of those with ultimate responsibility for project delivery.

“There is a clear need for the establishment of professional project and portfolio management offices in large organisations that are aligned to the strategic objective of the organisation and not seen as a support function. Alignment is best achieved through internal sponsors either in their own right or through C-suite sponsorship. PMs have a key role to play through demonstrating more clearly the connectivity between corporate objectives and how projects deliver those objectives,” said Bill.

This seems to reflect the problems faced by many practicing project managers on a daily basis. They feel that the senior managers do not understand and support their project management. What tips would you give project managers faced with this situation and how can they get their message across in the board room?

Mark passionately believes that “the language we use influences the behaviour of others. If project and programme managers are going to work at a strategic level then they need to talk the language of the board room; time to market and not schedule management, return on investment and not cost management, customer satisfaction and not quality management”.

It is also a personal development issue. Dave Gunner thinks that “project management is taken a lot more seriously than it was 15 years ago. It’s now a career path for many individuals and much of this is to do with the evolution of the profession; it now encompasses portfolio management and alignment with strategy. It is now seen as a key competence and ultimately the buck stops with the project manager. The best project managers not only demonstrate technical ability but also leadership and strategic and business management. In time we see them moving into business leadership and sponsorship positions”.

Bill thinks “We have to change the perception that the role of PMs is limited to the role of strategic implementation. At HS2, potentially the largest infrastructure programme ever seen in the UK; effective programme and project management is at the kernel of the organisation, not just for infrastructure delivery but for the creation of a world-class organisation where principles of equality, diversity and inclusivity are essential alongside the need to drive economic growth on a national scale. We have founded the Programme Strategy Directorate (PSD) with representation at Board and Exec Level to oversee the creation of a project management framework and a clear line of responsibility and lineage right through the organisation for all these facets.”

Mark agrees that “we are beginning to see signs of mature organisations taking project, programme and portfolio management more seriously at the senior level, with the most forward-thinking organisations forming clear project management career paths and standardised processes

“More and more we are seeing that those who develop strategy understand the connection to those who are implementing strategy. We did a study with The Economist Intelligence Unit in which 88% of survey respondents say executing strategic initiatives successfully will be ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ for their organisations’ competitiveness over the next three years. Yet, 28% admit that individual projects, which are important to implementation of their strategy, do not obtain the necessary senior-level sponsorship. This is one of the main challenges: Senior executives just do not recognise their role in strategic implementation.”

Mark observes that “every organisation starts with less project and programme maturity” and believes that, “it’s about finding executive support for project management. If you go to one of the more mature organisations such as HP or IBM, it started when they were able to establish clear career paths for project managers, covering the technical, leadership and strategic skills described in the PMI Talent Triangle.”

From HP’s point of view Dave sees “a structured career path for project and programme managers as giving people a unique range of experience because they have to work across many of the functions in an organisation. So for our best project and programme managers, the next step is into general management at a senior level.”

“In summary, you also have to remember that project management is a new discipline, developed only since the 1940s, and so it does not have the recognition of some of the other well-established functions in organisations. However, unlike many of these other functions, it is evolving and adapting to the changing needs of the modern organisation. As a result we should see more executives with project and programme management experience and we can hope that these executives value strategic implementation as highly as they value strategy development” said Mark.


project management courses feedback

How To Use Agile Project Management

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Articles

With rapidly changing business environments companies need to respond quickly, and react positively, to change. Very often the expectations and requirements are unclear at the start of a project and many projects need to evolve and change from the initial concept as they move forwards if they are to deliver what the client wants.
So in this sort of uncertain business landscape how can projects satisfy the client and deliver business benefits but still control costs, schedules and scope?

This is where agile project management comes in; agile is an approach to project management for which there are a number of methodologies such as Scrum and Lean. It is an approach aimed at producing frequent deliverables that can help clarify business needs as a project proceeds so that there is an iterative learning process. It ensures that client expectations will be met because it actively embraces change to meet those expectations.

But an iterative approach is not new and not exclusive to agile project management methods so what else does an agile project have that makes it suitable for evolving needs and active change?

Core Agile Project Management Characteristics

  • Establishing and meeting client requirements uses a frequent iterative process.
  • The planning process is also iterative on a frequent basis i.e. a few weeks.
  • Relationships are built between the clients and stakeholders and the team members delivering the work.
  • Scope is adaptable and can evolve during the project’s life but not without controls in place and only to realise business benefits for the client.
  • The project manager on an agile project, if there even is someone with that title, takes a supervisory role assisting the team in delivering the work by dealing with problems and handling interruptions. The PM may be termed the Scrum Master or Project Facilitator and does make decisions but only as another member of the team.
  • The project team is jointly responsible for decision making and hence for the success or failure of the project.
  • Solid processes and procedures are in place to ensure the project stays on track to deliver benefits and that the team do indeed work as a team since team effort is essential to an agile project’s success.


I haven’t mentioned the “F” word yet – flexibility – don’t confuse being agile with being totally flexible; documentation is still required as are regular reviews and updates to the documentation but agile does not expect huge documents that dot every “i” and cross every “t” before work begins. Equally having a flexible scope is, or should be, quite distinct from scope creep where scope changes in an uncontrolled way even when no business benefits can be demonstrated.

Agile project management focuses on continuous improvement through close collaboration and effective communication between the project team, client and stakeholders; through scope flexibility and plan flexibility, team input, and delivering benefits to the client. So far, perhaps not so very different to any project.

But where agile differs is that it places much more emphasis on the people and those collaborative relationships both within the project team and without, than on formal (some would say rigid) processes without abandoning formal processes altogether. It also emphasises a working deliverable – something tangible for the client – rather than detailed documentation saying what will be delivered but still has good documentation. So it will have a vision statement describing the aims of the project, a list of what is in scope and an outline of the requirements as well as a broad timeframe. And, of course, it responds positively to change rather than trying to stick closely to a plan or set of requirements while still monitoring and controlling that change.


Agile Principles

There are 12 Agile Principles that support project teams in implementing an agile approach, including:

  • Establish a relatively short period of time in which certain work will be completed and delivered; this could be anything from a week to a month and is known as a sprint.
  • The main measure of project progress is a series of working deliverables.
  • Project team and clients should work together every day and communicate face-to-face.
  • Teams are self-organising and comprise of motivated individuals who regularly assess how they could be more effective.


Agile Stages

All projects, whether agile or more traditional, have different stages during their lifecycle and many are common to all project management methodologies. The difference on an agile project is that these phases tend to be shorter and repeated more often. They include standard project phases such as project planning but also agile-specific stages such as:

  • Sprint: A relatively short period of time during which the team creates a working deliverable, although not necessarily a final deliverable. At the start of each sprint the team agree with the client and stakeholders what can be delivered in a certain timeframe and fix the end date.
  • Short Daily Meetings: A brief update on what has been achieved, what will be done that day and any problems that have been encountered.
  • Review Meetings: At the end of each sprint as assessment of what has been achieved, what needs to be modified and how it can be changed.


Of course, there is uncertainty in this method because work is started before the extent of that work is fully understood but by producing staged deliverables quickly the team can respond quickly to the feedback to offset this uncertainty.

Agile methods lead to a more collaborative relationship between the client and the project team; the team tends to become better motivated, and therefore more effective, because they are more involved and understand what they are doing and why. But it’s not just about the team’s motivation and performance; it’s also about their core competencies

There has been increasing acceptance in all industries that an agile method has a role to play in project management but it is not the panacea for all ills. Without some formal structure and control agile projects can meander towards an increasingly unattainable goal; the collaboration and commitment expected of the client for agile projects to work is not always forthcoming, resources are not well-managed and risks not identified.

However, the sheer pace of business in the 21st century requires an adaptable approach to project delivery although excessive costs and serious risks cannot be eliminated any easier with agile project management than they can with a traditional approach.


APMP Exam Answers

More APMP Exam Answers

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Discussion

Q: Explain five difficulties a project manager may experience when working in a matrix organisation and give examples of how these can be overcome?

Difficulties which a project manager may experience in a matrix organisation include:

1. A conflict of priorities with line management.
Staff are naturally more likely to focus on work priorities as defined by their line manager. This could result in a lack of focus and hence progress on project tasks, with a risk that project milestones are not met. The project manager could mitigate this risk by agreeing priorities, decision making and resource requirements with functional line managers upfront and sharing this with staff at the start of the project. If conflicts continue the project manager will need to meet with functional line managers and use their influencing skills to help reach an agreeable resolution.

2. Motivation of the project team.
Project team members in a matrix organisation may become stressed due to the additional workload of managing their project work alongside their day job. This could impact their motivation and have a knock on impact to the successful delivery of the project. The project manager should ensure that all project meetings are purposeful and do not waste valuable time. They could also review workload with the individual to see if additional training could help make tasks more efficient or if additional administrative support could help share the workload burden, budget permitting.

3. Team development.
In a matrix organisation, as staff may join and leave the project team throughout its life cycle, it can be more difficult for the project manager to develop a strong, cohesive and therefore effective and productive project team. The project manager can end up spending more time on resolving personnel issues than project execution. Communication can help alleviate this, in particular creating and sharing an organisational breakdown structure and RACI matrix with staff so that they are clear on both their own and the team’s role, responsibiilities, terms of reference and goals. Taking the team out for a team drink or lunch can help speed up team development too.

4. Limited knowledge regarding resources.
The project manager may not have knowledge or visibility of the available resources and capabilities across the organisation. This may make the task of team selection more difficult. To overcome this the project manager should pro-actively network with functional line managers to help identify potential resources within functional teams.

5. Relationship with Project Sponsor.
The project sponsor may not be the project manager’s functional line manager and therefore they may have little or no previous working relationship. The relationship and trust between the project sponsor and project manager are vital to the success of the project. The project manager should pro-actively invest time and effort in building this relationship and this is best done through regular face to face contact.


Q: Explain the concept of a matrix organisation and describe four advantages of such an approach?

The concept of a matrix organisation refers to the structure whereby employees report directly to their line manager in the first instance i.e. head of finance, marketing but in addition to this, staff members may also work for the project managers as and when the organisation’s current projects require it.

Four advantages of this approach are:

1. An advantage of this type of organisational structure is the skill retention made possible. Usually, say in a project organisation, once the project is completed the project team is no longer needed and so dissolves, thus losing vital skills and knowledge. In a matrix organisation, people and skills are retained even when they may not be working in a project environment.

2. Another benefit of a matrix organisation is the greater utilisation of resources. Whilst a functional organisation may see periods where staff are under utilised, a matrix organisation can clearly see staff availability and can use staff on projects should they become available. This greater flexibility allows more efficient use of resources across the business.

3. A matrix organisation also provides the ability to motivate staff in more challenging ways. In a functional organisation there is a very structured career progression in the specialist functions however this can be slow quite restrictive. In a matrix organisation staff who are periodically used on project work will feel a greater sense of worth and contribution to the business activities as a whole, because of a wide range of opportunities.Some people prefer the structured nature of a functional organisation for career progression; it is less clear what the career path is in a matrix.

4. Project managers have an authority in a matrix organisation. The organisation recognises that the project manager needs to direct others and utilise specialist skills from within different parts of the organisation when required. The organisation can support the project manager in this task and are familiar with the requirements.

APMP exam sample answers

APMP Exam Sample Answers

Written by Michelle Symonds on . Posted in Project Management Discussion

One of the most common topics of discussion on our project management community is candidates wanting feedback about answers they have given to sample questions for the APMP exam. Some of our candidates achieve very high 90% pass rates and one of the factors they attribute to their success rate is being able to work through, and receive feedback on, example questions.
So here are some example questions and possible answers:

Q: Explain five distinct benefits of a project office

Five distinct benefits of a project office are:

1. A benefit of the project office is the administrative support provided to project managers. This frees up the project manager’s time to focus on project delivery and progress. For example the project office can organise meetings, issue agendas and minutes, chase actions, thereby reducing the administrative workload of the project manager.

2. The project office may include experts with specialist knowledge. This is a benefit as it can help build organisational capability in a cost effective way by reducing external training costs. For example the project office can coach, mentor and provide guidance to staff on their areas of expertise, such as project tools like Microsoft Project.

3. A further benefit of the project office is helping ensure consistency of approach across all projects in the organisation. This is important as it increases continuity in project execution and reduces organisational risk. The project office can do this by defining, issuing and ensuring compliance with project standards, procedures and templates across the organisation.

4. The project office can provide a library or repository of project information. This is important as it helps facilitate a culture of continuous improvement and saves valuable time and effort researching information across the organisation. For example, information on estimates and actuals from previous projects can be easily accessed and lessons identified which can be embedded in to future project estimates.

5. The project office has access to information relating to all projects across the organisation. This enables the project office to take a helicopter view and can help to identify links and dependencies between projects. This is important as it facilitates improved project planning and helps reduce unexpected delays and risks in project delivery.

Q: Explain the concept of a matrix organisation and describe four advantages of such an approach.

A matrix organisation is a cross between a functional organisation and a project organisation structure. Staff report to their (functional) line manager on a day to day basis (for example, head of marketing, head of finance) and project managers draw staff resources from across the breadth of the organisation on an as and when basis. Project managers have authority over staff with regards project related responsibilities and tasks.

Four advantages of this approach are:

1. Flexibility and optimisation of staff resources.
Appropriate resources are assigned to the project on an as and when needs basis. Staff are released from the project when no longer required and can be shared across projects, both of which help minimise staff under-utilisation. This approach is particularly useful in smaller organisations which may not be big enough to warrant a dedicated programme management office.

2. Retention of organisational capability.
The functional line management ensures specialist skills are developed. As staff remain in the organisation beyond the life of the project, these specialist skills and knowledge are retained. Staff with project management experience are also retained, creating the opportunity for lessons learnt to be embedded within and across the organisation.

3. Staff motivation.
However, the increased variety of work available in a matrix organisation helps keep staff motivated and challenged. This also provides further opportunities for career development and can help improve staff retention. For example a technical member of staff can get the opportunity to work on projects for a number of different clients and/or sectors.

4. Recognition of project manager authority.
A matrix organisation recognises that project managers need to direct others. It is therefore a familiar concept for project managers to have authority over staff working on project activities. There is therefore potentially less confusion amongst the project team regarding decision making for the project.