Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Category Archives: Training

Are conference attendances useful in delivering better projects?

I was at an industry conference at San Diego last week. Aside from the stark difference basking in 26°C, compared to the 6°C that I left behind in Wellington, what struck me most was how projects face the same challenges the world over. Having spoken to my counterparts from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Austria and East Africa, our challenges and constraints in projects are not markedly different.

Are conference attendances useful in delivering better projects

As I was attending various presentations during the week, it was quite a pattern. Most presentations covered what the project did, followed by a demonstration and discussion on technology used to deliver those feature functions. This is in keeping with other similar conferences I have attended over the years. What we most often do not share in these industry forums is what outcomes the customers were looking for, challenges the delivery team faced, tradeoffs the customer had to make because of this, which resulted in the final shape of the project as it was delivered. I found it far more useful to talk to some of the presenters after their talks. I found they were much more relaxed and readily forthcoming with the kind of information I was looking for.

Delivering IT projects are interesting exercises even at the best of times. On my flight I was talking to a company director who was quizzing me on why IT projects fail so often. From his point of view such projects are usually one of the top CAPEX projects in companies that he and fellow directors worry about. He had a valid point. If I had a ready made answer for this, I would be a millionaire. My main goal attending these conferences it to ensure I can minimise having to learn lessons first hand that my peers have learned from making mistakes.

It is a delicate balance however. Having spoken to my peers around the world, it seems that same approaches have worked in some parts of the world and failed miserably in others. Some approaches that we had discounted seems to have flourished elsewhere. It is key therefore just to not look at results on the surface, but also understand the cause of such success or failure. Conference settings are notoriously difficult to delve to that level of detail. I have also found that we are much better at scrutinising things that have not gone well and less aware of what made our projects successful. It seems success makes us complacent.

You have to always remember to not take away half baked ideas as learning. This is where the connections you make in such conferences are gold. If you stay in touch with like minded peers and exchange ideas, this can form a huge source of information and a place to test your ideas before you jump in at the deep end.

How much financial knowledge do Project Managers need?

I attended a training seminar the other day on finance and accounting for non financial managers. It was an interesting training course. If you consider the constraints within which project managers must work to, one is financial. The last time I studied anything remotely close was accounting 101 during the first year of my under graduate degree some 17 years ago.

How much financial knowledge to Project Managers need

The course was run by Victoria University Professional and Executive Development school. Not being a student of accounting and finance, the seminar title seemed like exactly something that I’d be able to use in my project management role. As the course outline was being set out, I realised this was probably the wrong form of accounting for me. The primary focus was on accounting concepts and how to understand company accounts and performance. It appears management accounting is what I should’ve been looking into for making decisions based on numbers.

While I didn’t totally achieve what I wanted to in terms of outcome, it wasn’t a total waste of time either. We focused on importance of cash and return on investment based on various capitalisation models. I had never thought to consider projects, or even business cases along those lines. It is a very useful knowledge to have when considering the straight ROI figures. I will be much wiser to attempts at manipulation along those lines.

This all made me think, how much financial knowledge o you really need to manage projects effectively? Projects are usually incurring expense until such time it is transitioned into the business. Usually project managers will not be responsible for the realisation of he benefits. That means unlike accounting, all the numbers are in one direction. That is why most project managers will be able to get away with limited or no accounting and finance knowledge, as long as te are reasonably good with numbers.

This all changes when the project manger becomes responsible for both generating income and controlling expenses, which is the case in supplier environments. I have a set number of resources that I can utilise for various projects. How I use these resources not only determines success, but also income for my team. In strict sense this is more akin to portfolio management, rather than project management. In this scenario, I found the focus on importance of cashflow and various funding models was very useful.

If you are running a programme that is designed to deliver a financial benefit, I can see a very practical application in terms of analysing if you’re meeting the desired profit targets. Similarly, if your benefits can be quantified in terms of monetary value, then understanding accounting and finance is very useful. However, in general I haven’t found the lack of understanding in this area hasn’t necessarily made life any more difficult, as I am comfortable with numbers in general.

My role involves more than simply managing projects. It also includes forecasting of revenues, participating in the sales process and contributing to strategy among others. I still think understanding management accounting may be very useful. I will probably look to get some more professional development in that area. Again, those in my view are more portfolio management in nature, rather than project management.

What has your experience been? Am I totally off track?

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Which Project Management certification?

Which certification to pursue?..that is a million dollar question which every professional face, at some point in time of their career. This discussion is based on which certifications one should pursue, after making a concrete decision to tread the project management route. Within project management, we have two major schools;

  • The agile project management
  • Traditional project management

Both are valuable, and complementary.  Which one will give you the fastest return on investment depends on;

  • The industry to which you belong to
  • The industry where you want to spend your future
  • The country where you will be working

The globally well known certifications for project managers

If you are from the information technology domain, it is better to with any one of the…

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Is there any value in classroom style training?

I was talking to some of my peers about our experiences in undertaking various project management related certifications. Some of us had classroom based training; others had done it through e-learning courses. I thought it is useful sharing some of that. In the main, the discussion is relevant is relevant not only for project management, but any industry certification.

Classroom style learning allows you to concentrate for a good amount of time on a single goal – completing the certification. This is especially useful if you are very busy. The fact that you are out of the office for the week, or at least good part of it, there is likely to be less disruption from daily work. However, if you are an escalation point, you must hope things go reasonably well at work.

I have seen people hauled off from the middle of the training course to attend to urgent matters. For some people it is simply not possible to commit to a solid week out of the office at certain times. Or is it true? These same people take holidays at different times of the year. They manage to organise that successfully. Is it a matter of planning better and taking the course at the right time? The course may not be offered when you can afford to spend solid time.

Classroom trainers are usually very good at pointing out obvious mistakes people make in the exams and give you hints about reading particular styles of questions that help you pass easily. That however can come at the cost of good learning in some situations. I find some trainers focus very little on discussion of the particular topic and solely focus on how you would pass the exam. While this can be helpful in you have another acronym at the end of your name, your professional development will suffer because of not understanding the content as well.

The best thing about classroom based training is the interaction you can have with your peers. If you get a trainer that is good in facilitating discussion that is the best form of learning you can have. This does not preclude the trainer from giving you some specific hints about passing the exam. However, on occasions you end up with career trainers with little industry experience and unwilling to engage in any meaningful dialogue. That can be a disappointing experience. There is also the risk of one or two of the attendees hijacking the course by trying to show how knowledgeable they are.

Dedicating a week is fine if you are single. If you have a family, especially little children, they do expect a bit of interaction from you. Generally the courses are packed and expect you to do up to 4 hours of personal learning every night. If you think you will make up the time later in the evening, think if you will have any brain cells left for the content the next day. Costs can also be a factor. As an example, a PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner classroom based training costs around $3500 in New Zealand. An e-learning pack from the same provider costs around half of that at around $2000.

The challenge with e-learning I have seen is the discipline of putting the time regularly to get to a stage where you have understood the content and are ready to sit the exam. If you end up having gaps between your study times will mean you forget many things you had learnt, due to lack of continuity. You do not have the ability to bounce ideas off others and validate your learning. I know of people who have purchased e-learning material but have never got round to sitting the exam in time. You can always try just purchasing the text, studying yourself and sitting the exam when ready.

I prefer the classroom style primarily because you get the opportunity to bounce ideas with others. This type of learning is easier to internalise and will give you a higher chance of success. You also get to sit the exam while things are freshest in your memory. What is your experience of training? Happy to hear contrary views.

Major Image Credit: Rebus Training Ltd.

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