Following the AIPM National Conference held in Sydney last month, our Managing Director Matt reflects on the state of the Project Management profession.

The 2018 Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) held the National Conference in Sydney this week. There were many great thought provoking presentations from our industry leading practitioners but it was the first key note speakers of day two that caught my attention.

"State of Play: The Australian project management industry" was the topic presented by KPMG's Peter Sexton and the AIPM's own Michael Young. From a recent survey of 7,000 participants the current statistics surrounding project delivery were discussed. Whilst KPMG are going to release the full report and data on international project management day (1st November) the summary findings were alarming to say the least.

Of the participants surveyed:

  • 30% of projects were achieved on-time
  • 32% of projects were delivered on-budget
  • 45% of projects could boast a high stakeholder satisfaction and
  • 47% of projects produced deliverables that met the original business goals

Overall a measely 23% of organisations were able to continuously deliver successful projects.

Once the conference attendees, like myself, had picked their jaws up off the floor approximately 600 smart phones went up in the air to take a photo of the slide deck.

We were all in shock. From KPMG's research we will need some 87 million project managers by 2027 to support the delivery of projects in a growing economy and alarmingly we will only manage to find 1% of those people.

Projects will, in the future, continue to fail and the failure rate it seems is due largely to the level of competency and governance within projects.

Where's the governance?

Of those surveyed only 49% of the organisations researched had an established PMO and from general sentiment the PMO (as a concept) was failing to work.

There was a distinct lack of governance for major projects and it was noted that project sponsors themselves were unable to, in most cases, obtain the necessary support they required to facilitate governance and decision making.

There was a clear indication that the project management profession is suffering from a lack of competency given that the survey showed project managers were:

  • unable to adequately lead change management
  • lacked necessary conflict negotiation skills
  • unable to clearly communicate to teams and stakeholders and
  • lacked skills in dealing with confrontation

I reflected on these sentiments further over the course of day two and couldn't help but draw parallels to what we've experienced over the past few years in support of major projects.

The Swiss Cheese Effect of Failure

From all the research and evidence available, it seems we’re not harnessing the power of past project data to improve our education processes.

We have all the software we need at our fingertips, yet as an industry we lack the ability to properly educate project management professionals based on historical outcomes.

Whilst KPMG's summary covered the need to measure benefits, that doesn't solve the root cause of our problems – training and upskilling. This, from our experience, has been an observation made ever since we started business in 1986.

Competent and empowered project teams, once formed, can adequately manage the key project processes during delivery. But what then?

Suppose we mapped the key issues across a typical Swiss cheese model:

swiss cheese2

By managing a project using trained and competent professionals, the likelihood off failure within a typical design and construction contract is minimised.

Larger contracts are often tasked to deliver within tight timeframes and inevitably there’s an overlap between design and construction. But when construction works commence before design of the whole of the works is substantially complete, the program is riddled with uncertainty.

If time is money, then it’s likely that better schedule management will help project teams avoid budget blowouts.

In Summary...

This year's conference has promoted thought, debate and brought further recognition to the issues facing major projects in the current economy.

We need to be mindful of lessons learned and get access to similar project data sets as early as we can. We must understand the mechanics of complex contracts if we have any hope of improving the status quo.

While it’s exciting to think of the amount of work in front of the Australian economy, it means we need to improve how we train project management practitioners sooner rather than later.

By Matt Betros

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