Project Management Discussion – Parallel Project Training Blog | APM Project Management Articles, Information and News from Tue, 14 Mar 2017 16:54:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Apprenticeship Levy Provides Route To Professional Project Management Tue, 31 Jan 2017 19:02:51 +0000 Oh how times change! Young people today can embark on careers in areas that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago. Some roles today, especially in technology and the digital market, didn’t even exist a decade ago. And the world of work is still evolving. Schools are already working to teach and equip young people to…

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Oh how times change! Young people today can embark on careers in areas that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago. Some roles today, especially in technology and the digital market, didn’t even exist a decade ago. And the world of work is still evolving. Schools are already working to teach and equip young people to deal with the possibility that they may take up a career that doesn’t exist now while they are still in full-time education but might exist in the future. So we are increasingly aware that career choices cannot, necessarily, be made at a young age; future career paths are not so easily mapped out in advance as they were in previous generations. In addition to the typical academic subjects, schools and colleges are having to teach skills such as collaboration, teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving that will help young people in any future career whatever that may be.

Yet there is also the continued need for all the traditional careers and job roles, be that as an accountant, a lawyer, engineer, doctor, nurse, plumber, carpenter, clothes designer or actor. All of these professions are still flourishing and haven’t been replaced by the new roles but the choice has just become ever wider. The digital field has perhaps been most affected by the technological advancements of the last two decades and has created many of the positions available.

Many digital jobs are driving our economy despite the fact that they are in their relative infancy.

It is also likely that any job you do now will be very different in another 10 or 20 years’ time so everyone has to be equipped to embrace change. Future jobs may not exist now – after all who’d have thought 20 years ago that you could make a living as a Blogger?

But this is nothing new – technological change has always affected the job landscape historically. Innovation has always resulted in new jobs being created while others are side-lined or disappear altogether. Thankfully, lifelong learning is something which is increasingly supported by both the Government and employers, with new, additional routes introduced to encourage people of all ages to continue with their education to keep ahead of this evolving landscape.

It’s nothing new that young people are increasingly seeking a professional career in either a traditional or indeed a new progressive industry, but there is a growing recognition that a university education is not right for everyone. The formation of University Technical Colleges (UTCs) is one area that has started to tackle the assumption that university is the right place for all young people. Certainly the increasing cost of self-funding a degree course and the resulting, inevitable debt is a factor but that aside, UTCs provide a sound education backed up by strong links with industry bodies and large, well-known employers in many sectors to better prepare young people for the workplace.

However, there are other avenues to an exciting career path that don’t require formal further education and these include apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are no longer seen as a “non-academic” route to a chosen career but rather a path to wider opportunities that can result in degree-level qualifications and higher accreditation such as chartered status.

An Evolving Profession

Amongst all these jobs where apprenticeships can provide the ideal route to a qualification,  there are some which aren’t so new, but which have evolved so rapidly this century that they are very different to how they were some 20 or 30 years ago. One such career is project management, which has been around since the 1960s but it is a role that has become increasingly important in our digital, project-focused business world and is shaping how businesses perform and succeed.

What we are seeing in project management is the growth and development of a new profession.

Yet the role of project manager may not, until now, have been familiar to people just starting out in their careers. However, since the granting of the Royal Charter to the Association for Project Management (APM) in December 2016 this is about to change. It means that there is a new, recognised profession for both young people just starting out and those who have been carrying out the role for some time.

In the 1960s project management was predominantly confined to the aerospace, construction and defence industries. While later that decade there was recognition of the need for professionalism in the role, it wasn’t until the 1980s that there were the first attempts to standardise project management procedures and approaches. In the same decade it first became possible to achieve certifications in project management and while the range and depth of those certifications and credentials has grown, variations of them still exist.

Project management has typically, until now, been the sort of role that many people just drifted in to – less of a definitive career choice than a chance encounter. Many people working in, say, IT, construction or engineering roles have in the past moved into project management at the request of their employer or in order to advance their career. Yet the profession has come a long way since the early pioneers first started to standardise PM processes.

Early versions of project management methodologies and certifications from the Project Management Institute (PMI), Association for Project Management (APM) and PRINCE (originally owned by what is now the OGC  – the UK Office of Government Commerce) started to appear in the late 1980’s and early 1990 but were initially confined to large corporations or government organisations. However, they increasingly spread to other companies who sought to improve their project outcomes and are now in widespread use.

Since those early years the APM has developed a progressive series of qualifications that take the novice project manager through basic training, building skills and knowledge of best practices right through to the Registered Project Professional accreditation which is soon to translate into Chartered Status.

No longer is project management being viewed as an accidental career choice but instead as a professional career of choice. It may not be as well-established as accountancy, say, or engineering but it is certainly now recognised worldwide as a profession with all the discipline and rigour of accountancy or engineering and, moreover, one that offers the qualified professional a whole range of opportunities in huge variety of businesses and industries that work on a project-centric model.

From construction, engineering and IT to banking, tourism and healthcare , these are just a few of the fields that require skilled project managers for a myriad of projects.  The new Apprenticeship Levy will provide employers in these sectors – and their workforce – with the opportunity to gain new skills or enhance the ones they’ve got to prepare them for this increasingly beneficial role.

Making the Project Management Profession an Accessible Career for All


Project management is used across a wide range of businesses and industries if not all businesses and industries. From developing the software that we use, to producing new technology products, from organising international sports events to building roads and bridges, from creating the next generation of energy efficient cars to developing advanced fabrics to survive in extreme climate conditions. There really is no area where project management is not used, whether to produce something entirely new or improve on something that already exists; it is at the heart of business today.

So it’s great news that the hard work and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of project managers is at last being rewarded with Chartered Status. But what of the young people who might benefit from a career in project management and, more importantly, who might excel in this field? And what about those people already working in a project environment but without the requisite academic qualifications to embark on the currently available training programmes?

Where a traditional project manager may have taken a degree in almost any subject and later trained to be a project manager there is now a much more direct route that will develop the skills, attitudes and behaviours required to be a successful project manager in any industry without the need for a degree qualification or a period working in one specific industry. It will teach the best practices that lead to the most successful outcomes and ultimately offer a professional qualification on the same standing as a chartered accountant or chartered engineer.

So just how has this opportunity come about?

The Apprenticeship Levy

The UK government is seeking to boost productivity within UK based companies by investing in human capital: they are committed to developing vocational skills, and to increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeships available to young people. It plans to create an additional 3 million apprenticeships in England by 2020 and the way this will be implemented is through an Apprenticeship Levy to support quality training by employers.

The Apprenticeship Levy comes into force in April 2017 and is charged at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s salary bill if in excess of £3 million. The levy will, therefore, be paid by less than 2% of UK employers but, given the salary bill threshold, the actual amount raised and available to train apprentices will be significant and is expected to reach £6 billion.

Large organisations who will be subject to this levy can offset the amount due by bearing the cost of training apprentices in their organisations. Employers who are committed to training will be able to get back more than they put in by training sufficient numbers of apprentices. So this new levy opens up opportunities for apprenticeship training leading to a project management qualification and ultimately to chartered status.

Embarking on a two year Level 4 Apprentice programme such as that run by Interserve Learning & Employment (ILE) in collaboration with Parallel Project Training will provide career opportunities to young people as an alternative to a degree course and develop their professional skills to help organisations deliver more projects, more successfully.


The Project Management Apprenticeship Programme


The apprenticeship programme aims to build competence through knowledge and practical experience and is directly aligned with the industry standard APM Competence Framework. This means the apprentice will benefit from industry best practices as will the employer with the apprentice putting his or her new competencies into practice in the work place.

The key to a successful apprenticeship programme is for both employer and apprentice to benefit. The employer benefits in a range of areas including the development of rigorous PM practices to help improve the delivery of projects, increased productivity as tasks are done right first time and the introduction of a culture of success within their organisation.

Equally, the apprentice benefits by gaining expert project management knowledge that they can put to practical use and which will lead to professional qualifications and accreditation. They also have the benefit of using the type of flexible, modern training methods such as webinars, podcasts and e-learning for which Parallel Project Training are renowned.

The apprenticeship programme comprises a predominantly remote course of study, although there is a one-day course initiation day and, of course, the exam day at the end. The advantage of this method of study is that it can be done from anywhere in the UK and there is no requirement for frequent attendance at a training centre.

The programme is supported by Interserve Learning & Employment (ILE) through one-to-one mentoring sessions and by the individual’s employer via ongoing progress reviews.

Upon successful completion of the course those with the desire and ability to progress further as a project manager have the option to continue working in a project environment and seeking chartered status following the required number of years’ experience (currently 7 years). Or embark on a further course of study with either the 2-year APM Project Professional Qualification (APM PPQ) or the APM Practitioner Qualification (APM PQ)

The project management apprenticeship programme run by Parallel and ILE is an 18-month programme to establish the foundations of a successful career in project management. It is suitable for young people straight out of school and also for those who already work in a project environment and wish to consolidate their existing knowledge.

Apprentices are taught by project management training experts from Parallel Project Training using a combination of theory and practical experience to develop full competence in the key areas of project management. They use engaging modern training methods such as webinars, podcasts and e-learning. There are also assessments at stages throughout the programme and each apprentice will have a mentor to support them in their learning and career development.

The knowledge, skills and behaviour required of a project manager are listed in the table below:


Knowledge Project governance Different types of organisational structures and responsibilities, functions and project phases on different types of project. How governance can control and manage the successful delivery of projects. The significance of the project management plan (PMP).
  Project stakeholder management Stakeholders: their perspectives, different interests and levels of influence upon project outcomes.
  Project communication Key contexts of a project communication plan, its effectiveness in managing different stakeholders. Factors which can affect communications such as cultural and physical barriers
  Project leadership The vision and values of the project and its links to objectives; the ways in which these can be effectively communicated and reinforced to team members and stakeholders. Leadership styles, qualities and the importance of motivation on team performance. Characteristics of the working environment which encourage and sustain high performance.
  Consolidated planning Purpose and formats for consolidated plans to support overall management, taking account of lessons learnt and how the plans balance fundamental components of scope, schedule, resources, budgets, risks and quality requirements.
  Budgeting and cost control Funding, estimating, overheads; direct costs, indirect costs, fixed costs, variable costs and an overall budget for a project; tracking systems for actual costs, accruals and committed costs; alternative cost breakdowns to provide for graphical representations, and performance management.
  Business case and benefits management Preparation and/or maintenance of business cases, including benefits management.
  Project scope Requirements management, and evaluation of alternative methods to learn from the past to improve delivery. Project scope change control, baseline change management, configuration management
  Project schedule Scheduling and estimating for project activities including how they can be quality assessed. Progress monitoring and metrics to assess work performed against the schedule. Schedule management methods to evaluate and revise activities to improve confidence in delivery.
  Resource management Resource analysis, resource allocation and resource acceptance.
  Project risk and issue management The need for and implementation of a risk management plan. Risk management methods and techniques to identify and prioritise threats or opportunities. Mitigation actions to minimise risk impacts and to optimise benefits by managing opportunities.
  Contract management and procurement The nature of contracts, and their implications for contracting organisations. Procurement processes. Legal and ethical means for managing contracts.
  Project quality Quality management processes, assurance and improvements. Outcomes of a quality management plan, metrics for processes and quality standards.
  Project context The different contexts in which projects can be delivered, including health, safety, and environment management. The interdependencies between project(s), programme(s) and portfolio management. Project phases and key review points, across project life cycles.


Project governance Project monitoring and reporting cycle to track, assess and interpret performance by the application of monitoring techniques to analyse status and manage information.


  Stakeholder and communications management Manage stakeholders, taking account of their levels of influence and particular interests. Manage conflicts and negotiations. Communicate to a variety of different audiences. Contribute to negotiations relating to project objectives.
  Budgeting and cost control Develop and agree project budgets, monitor forecast and actual costs against them and control changes. Support funding submissions. Tracking systems for actual costs, accruals and committed costs; structures for alternative cost breakdowns.
  Business case Contribute to the preparation or maintenance of a business case including achieving required outcomes.


  Scope management Determine, control and manage changes to the scope of a project, including assumptions, dependencies and constraints.
  Consolidated planning Consolidate and document the fundamental components of projects. Monitor progress against the consolidated plan and refine as appropriate, implementing the change control process where relevant.


  Schedule management Prepare and maintain schedules for activities aligned to project delivery.
  Risk and issue management


Identify and monitor project risk or opportunity, plan and implement responses to them, contribute to a risk management plan. Respond to and manage issues within a defined governance structure.
  Contract management and procurement Facilitate a procurement process, contribute to the definition of contractual agreements and contribute to managing a contract.


  Quality management Develop a quality management plan, manage project assurance, and contribute to peer reviews. Utilise an organisation’s continual improvement process including lessons learned.


  Resource management Develop resource management plans for project activities, acquire and manage resources including commitment acceptance, monitor progress against plans.




Collaboration and team work Understands and is effective as part of an integrated team.
  Leadership Communicates direction, and supports the vision for project delivery.
  Effective and appropriate communication Working effectively with and influencing others, taking account of diversity and equality. Influences and facilitates effective team performance.


  Drive for results Demonstrates clear commitment to achieving results, and improving performance.


  Integrity, ethics, compliance and professionalism Promotes the wider public good in all actions, acting in a morally, legally and socially appropriate manner. Promotes and models the highest standards of professional integrity, ethics, trust and continued development.






Take advantage of the levy


The UK government’s new Apprenticeship Levy has provided a marvellous opportunity for anyone to embark on a career in project management – the newest of the chartered professions – that underpins so much of our modern business world. It can ultimately lead to chartered status in a much sought-after profession and provide degree-equivalent qualifications without incurring any of the typically associated student debt.

The project management apprenticeship programme is delivered and supported by two highly experience organisations: Parallel Project Training and Interserve Learning & Employment.

So make your first project task today a commitment to find out more about an apprenticeship in Professional Project Management. Call us now on 0118 321 5030, or visit our project management apprenticeships page on our main website. 

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The Politically Astute Project Manager Thu, 22 Sep 2016 16:24:47 +0000 In this post, we return to the topic of politics in projects. Politics has a bit of a dirty name. It’s associated with false promises, backstabbing, alliances and manipulating others. The worst weakness of Politics is its failure to deliver on its promises. Time and time again we see public politicians or business leaders failing to deliver the…

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Politically Astute Project ManagerIn this post, we return to the topic of politics in projects. Politics has a bit of a dirty name. It’s associated with false promises, backstabbing, alliances and manipulating others. The worst weakness of Politics is its failure to deliver on its promises. Time and time again we see public politicians or business leaders failing to deliver the change they promise. Yet, as project managers everything we do involves change. Be it change in the physical environment (such as building new houses), in the processes and systems organisations use (such as introducing new IT systems) or in the behaviours in a culture (such as improving customer service).

Inevitably people have expectations and views on these planned changes. Some may be advocates, some may be vehemently opposed, some may not have formed an opinion yet. These views and attitudes have a significant impact on the success of a project. Delivering a project in the face of strong opposition is almost impossible, and even the smallest project (such are re-arranging where people sit in an office) can stir up strong emotions.

Delivering a project in the face of strong opposition is almost impossible and even the smallest project (such are re-arranging where people sit in an office) can stir up strong emotions.

The challenges don’t just come from outside the project; often a project brings together different teams or organisations, each with different objectives. These teams can have very diverse cultures and attitudes. For example, a operations team may see change as a threat to the way they currently work or they may be overloaded with day-to-day demands which mean the project is  a distraction from the real work of the department or function. External suppliers too may have very different motives. They may want to maximise short term profits, or they may have over-committed their resources to too many contracts.

These internal and external attitudes and mixed expectations are very powerful forces, which can destroy the collaboration and cooperation needed to deliver a successful project. This is why most people agree that managing people and developing teamwork are the most important part of a successful project.

The Politically Astute Project Manager?

Many people would argue that projects and project managers should ignore politics and focus on getting the job done. They say that project management is a set of processes to produce deliverables that enable change, and the project manager should not get involved in internal or external politics. However, if you ask the same people why projects fail they typically give the following reasons:

  1. The project lacked senior management support.
  2. The project was under-resourced.
  3. The project brief (or design) is not developed early enough.
  4. There were too many uncontrolled changes.
  5. The users didn’t use the products in the way expected (if at all).
  6. The project was not planned properly.
  7. The budget was insufficient to meet the expectations.

Why do these things go wrong with projects?

If senior management are not convinced about the priority of a project, they are reluctant to commit the necessary resources.

If the project fails to inspire users, they don’t engage with the project early.

If functional managers perceive the projects as a low priority, they are reluctant to support the project with sufficient resources or time.

If the senior management in the customer and supplier organisations don’t understand each other’s objectives, they don’t work together, which makes commercial issues more difficult to resolve.

All these issues relate to the degree of support for the project, within the individual and organisations involved. To be successful a politically astute project manager will manage these issues by developing a simple uniting project rationale, working hard to win the support of senior management, building alliances and coalitions with users, functional managers and suppliers and uniting the project team around a common purpose. This does not mean we can forget everything else we have learned about project management we just need to view it from a political perspective.

To be successful a politically astute project manager will manage these issues that by developing a simple uniting project rationale, working hard to win the support of senior management, building alliances and coalitions with users, functional managers and suppliers and uniting the project team around a common purpose.

Effective Governance and Sponsorship

At the start of a project, most teams are keen to get the ball rolling and get going as soon as possible. All too often we don’t take the time to think about the governance and sponsorship arrangements. For many these seem like theoretical and challenging concepts that have little relevance to the reality of project delivery. Then part way through the project, reality strikes and we realise that the project budget and timescales are insufficient to meet the expectations of the users. The expectations for the project often exceeded the resources to deliver or the capacity to change in the organisation. At this stage we really do need the support of senior managers to take some critical decisions, typically these include:

  1. Which parts and elements of this project are vital for the organisation’s strategy and which parts, if any, are optional?
  2. Who is ultimately responsible for the decisions associated with the project, who has authority to prioritise the expected benefits and modify the scope?
  3. Who in senior management will act as an advocate for the project and influence senior stakeholders during the decision-making process?
  4. How important is this project in the overall portfolio? Can we divert resources from other projects or operations to support this project?
  5. Who will ensure that the project team has the right levels of competence and capability to deliver the project?

These are all critical decisions that need to be taken by senior management as part of the governance and sponsorship process.

The Role of Governance in Project Motivation

Have you ever worked on a project in which critical decisions were not taken promptly or even worse change after the fact? Then you will know how demotivating this can be. The motivation of a project team is challenging at the best of times, but when there is a lack of direction or leadership, then motivation suffers.

Governance and sponsorship has a vital role in this decision-making process, but as we can see in figure 1, we have to establish the governance framework early in the project. Most projects start with a reasonable level of motivation; we have either been awarded a contract or funding has been approved and the project we have been working on for months (even years) is suddenly a reality.

Now is the time to establish the governance arrangements, we need to get the project board (or steering group) appointed and taking ownership of the key decisions while things are going well. This is because the good times generally won’t last, it will soon emerge that the project is more complex, challenging and difficult than we envisaged. Unexpected difficulties will arise, resources that we expected may not be available, and the uses may not be clear what they want. There are good reasons why this happens rooted in the fact that we need to minimise the costs, and a competitive bidding process is biased towards the lowest price and our inherent optimism.

At this point, the project team enters the valley of despair, and we have two options; teamwork or the blame game. We can either take some hard decisions and have tough conversations with the users because they may not get everything they imagined or hoped for, in which case the project may be united to achieve a positive result. Alternatively, the team enters a blame game, in which everyone subconsciously accepts that the project will fail and tries to limit the damage to themselves (personally and commercially) by working in their individual interests.

Clearly, teamwork and a successful result is preferred, but these decisions need the support and teamwork from senior management. Compromise will be required from:

  • Users because they may not get their full requirements
  • Funders because the may have to find some more cash
  • The project team because they may need to compromise on the perfect solution
  • Suppliers because they may have to carry some of the pain and inconvenience


Governance and sponsorship are vital here, to re-focus everyone on the benefits and the strategy. Why are we here and what is this project ultimately trying to achieve? What baggage can we jettison to achieve the ultimate goal?

Politically astute project managers spent time establishing this governance and sponsorship framework at the very start of the project, so that the senior management is inculcated in the decisions along the way; otherwise they may get interested just as the project hits the valley of despair and start looking for people to blame.

This is the valley of despair and at this stage we have two options, team working or the blame game.

political project manager

Figure 1 The role of Governance in Project Motivation

Practical Hint’s and Tips on Governance and Sponsorship

A politically astute project manager recognises the criticality of effective governance and sponsorship to project success and will take the following steps:

Names are very important; for example a project board sounds more like an effective decision taking body than a project steering group.

Decide and establish governance arrangements early in the project

At the beginning of the project, the politically astute project manager determines the most appropriate governance arrangements. Names are paramount; for example, a project board sounds like a more effective decision-making body than a project steering group. However, they may need to work within the constraints of the organisation’s framework and naming conventions; with the aim of getting the best possible arrangements.  A politically astute project manager does not leave the governance arrangements to chance, they proactively engage with the governance arrangements of the organisation to make sure the project board has the time to commit to the project, has enough authority to take the necessary decisions and has active communication channels to senior management.

Who Should be on the Project Board

The chair of the project board needs careful consideration. It is often tempting to ask the most senior managers to act as the project sponsor and chair of the project board. However for all but the most mission-critical projects it is unlikely they will have the time necessary to dedicate to the project. So it may be prudent to ask the senior managers to delegates responsibility to a trusted individual who can act on their behalf. Some organisations call this a sponsor’s agent. The are trusted by the senior management to take the necessary actions and consult with senior management when critical decisions are required. A politically astute project manager will always seek to secure the most active sponsor for the project.

Likewise, the politically astute PM will often want input from users and suppliers into the decision taking process and governance. The select users who have the ability and time to understand how the products produced by the project (be it a building, IT system or piece of infrastructure) will be used in the future. This can be difficult if the users also have a day job, especially in organisations operating at capacity or with 24/7 operations with shift patterns or agencies that are building new assets that don’t have an operational team yet. An example of this might be a new school, railway or power station, where the operations staff may not be in post until the end of the project. The politically astute PM goes out of their way to get user input into the project. Options include back-filling operations positions with temporary staff to release the necessary user resources or to establish a shadow operations team for a new asset. This is because they know that operational user knowledge of the project deliverables is vital to a successful project.

Good suppliers with the right competence and attitudes are vital to the success of many projects. The politically astute project manager knows that conflict will occur between the needs of the supplier to make a decent profit and the needs of the project, especially in the depths of the valley of despair. They will establish communication and escalation mechanisms early on so they can address potential issues as and when they arise. They predict the needs of suppliers and stay ahead of potential contractual issues. They will build bridges with the senior management in the supplier organisation, providing an escalation route to resolve contractual issues without recourse to the courts.

Establish Links to Corporate Governance

Project do not happen in isolation, they often involve several organisations, each of which has its own internal politics.  This conflict of internal politics of different organisations presents many challenges for the naïve project manager. The politically astute project manager will have recognised internal politics and set out to use the internal governance arrangements to manage the communications and expectations of the senior management team. They will work with senior managers to establish the reporting requirements and who needs to take what decisions. For example who needs to approve the funding for the project? Who can approve changes? What reports are required by senior management? As you can see in figure 2 below the project board acts as the bridge between the project management team and the senior managers in the organisation.

project goverence

Figure 2 The interface between project and corporate governance

Talk the Language of the C-suite

Political project managers know that when working at an executive level (CEO or COO) they need to operate at a strategic level. Language is very important in the way they communicate. They avoid project management jargon and use language which has meaning to the audience. For example, the time to market; not the project schedule,  return on investment; not costs, return on investment; not benefits. (for more on this see my interview with Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of Project Management Institute.

Planning Strategic Decisions

The political project manager knows that organising project board meetings in response to issues is just impossible. Senior people’s diaries are booked out weeks if not months in advance. Therefore, they plan ahead putting the key meetings in the diaries in advance. They may even provide the project board with a schedule of key decisions they will be required to make during the project, for example they may say to the board “in the January meeting I will expect you to approve the funding” and “in July I will expect you to approve the selection of the contractor“, “at the meeting in August I will be expecting you to decide on which parts of the requirements you are willing to compromise in order to fit within the project constraints” etc. This pre-positions senior managers so that know what is expected, reinforcing their role in the key project decisions and also helps to keep the project on time.

Compelling Business Case

The business case is not just important for the authorisation of the project; it’s also an important way of distilling and communicating the purpose of the project. We all know the story of JFK and the man at NASA cleaning the toilet.

During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

The lesson is: to get the best out of people they need a sense of purpose, it’s not inspiring to go to work to deliver the project to time, cost and quality, but it is inspiring to go to work to improve the education of children, or improving people’s journey to work or providing homes for people with growing families. The political project manager sees developing the business case not as a bureaucratic document, but as a mechanism to build a clear and compelling purpose for the project. Take for example the mission for Crossrail which is the biggest construction project in Europe. It has a simple vision of

Moving London Forward

A simple yet ambitious message unites a highly complex supply chain. For example, the client team of 1,200 people come from nine different employers, and they oversee delivery from twenty principal contractors, each with their own supply chain (total workforce peaks at around 14,000 later this year).  The political project manager knows that to be successful, the business case has to survive the elevator pitch (or even the Dragons Den). They know that benefits expressed in a simple and effective way are highly motivational for the project team and key stakeholders. Muddled, confused or poorly communicated aims leave people lost and unsure why the project is important.

Proactive User Engagement

The political project manager knows that they need to develop and maintain a strong relationship with the users. They also recognise that this might be difficult if users have on-going operational roles to fulfil. Despite this difficulty, they take proactive actions to get the users involved in defining and developing the project requirements and making sure they fit with the long-term operation needs of the user. This is especially important if the users are working different shift patterns, are based in different locations or are overworked keeping the existing systems running at capacity whilst the new are developed. They take proactive actions to engage with users, such as funding temporary staff so that operations staff can find the time to support the project, facilitating user requirements workshops to help users think through how they are going to use the outputs of the product or a shadow operations team for a new asset. Without this engagement, it is always too easy for the users to be disappointed that the project fails to meet all their hopes and dreams for the project. This disappointment can lead to delays accepting the output of the project and an extended handover process, with the associated extra costs and delay.

Collaborative approaches to planning

The political project manager knows that most project delays occur because of interfaces between one team and another. To address this, they pay particular attention to scheduling dependencies between different teams and contractors and they avoid micro-planning activities within a team. They also know that it’s important to get work package leaders involved in planning so that they develop a shared understanding of the cross-functional dependencies. For example pulling the design team, contractor and the client together in a meeting to agree on the key dependencies within the project. They avoid over-complex plans, which become difficult to update and maintain. They let the work package managers plan and manage the day-to-day detail, leaving the political manager free to maintain the overall view of the project dependencies and timescales.

Relay Runner Work Ethic

Ask yourself how much time is wasted on the critical path activities in the slow lane, especially early in the project lifecycle.  The relay runner work ethic describes a culture in which the critical path deliverables are passed on to the next person as soon as possible. As in a relay race, we make sure the next person in the team has a good hold of the baton before we let go. So in a project context, this means confirming that the next person has started work on the critical path before we let go. This can just be a phone call or brief conversation to confirm that the work has been received and understood before we close out the activity.

Simple but Effective Project Controls

Regular and routine project controls provide a good self-discipline for every project but at some stage, they become too complex and bureaucratic to add value. Plan the work; work the plan is one of the oldest and truest phases in project management. But the political project manager knows that they also have to keep it simple stupid. So the more complex a project control system; the less value it adds to the project. The focus on the minimum number of key performance indicators required to get the job done. They challenge every bit of information collected by asking “what decisions will be taken on the basis of this information”. However they are rigours about applying the project control cycle, progress reports no matter how simple must be completed on time, at a regular and planned interval.

Project Control Cycle

Figure 3 Project Control Cycle

Rigours Change Control

Uncontrolled scope change destroys progress and undermines team morale faster than anything else. It causes doubt confusion and uncertainty in the project team. No one is sure what is going on and which is the correct information. The political project managers proactively manage changes with the senior people from the start, establishing effective decision-making processes to consider and review changes from the outset. This might include a change control board, who have the authority and incentives to take decisions. Too often delay in reaching a decision over change will result in increased cost and further delay to the project. Establishing these decision processes early improved the chances of changes being managed in an effective way.

User Engagement in Handover

All too often the users are not involved in planning handover and acceptance early in the process. This can cause real problems if the project has had to adapt to changes and constraints during the project lifecycle. The political project manager goes to extreme lengths to keep the users engaged in the project and especially in the run up to handover. They make sure that they agree to any compromises and use the authority of the sponsor if necessary to take the hard decision. Avoiding user involvement in these key decisions can seem like it may be saving time during delivery, but will cause extended delays during the handover process.

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More APMP Exam Answers Wed, 27 May 2015 10:50:01 +0000 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…

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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.

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APMP Exam Sample Answers Fri, 15 May 2015 10:38:42 +0000 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…

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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.

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