Where there

Project management (PM) is notorious for its failure rates. According to the 2001 Standish Extreme Chaos Report, 45 to 65 per cent of projects go over budget and overdue.

Organizations looking to outrun these rather bleak odds need to get executives on board with projects management, as executive support is one of the key factors in successful projects, according to the same report.

But most executives think project management is someone else’s problem unless a crisis brings it crashing into their horizon, said Janice Thomas, the program director at the MBA program in project management at the Centre for Innovative Management at Athabasca University in Redwood Meadows, Alta.

“Project management was never on the executives’ radar screens until something happened in their organization…that put it there,” said Thomas, who was presenting the findings of a study on project management conducted by Athabasca University and the University of Calgary at a seminar held in Toronto recently.

“The trigger for executives to become interested in project management was some sort of crisis,” she said. “Before that, it wasn’t that executives didn’t think that project management wasn’t important for the organization, but it wasn’t important to them. It wasn’t their job.”

The study polled CIO Canada readers, members of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) and the Project Management Institute among others to look at the state of project management today and to explore ways in which project managers could garner that all-important executive support.

Only 25 per cent of the 1,867 respondents -made up of project personnel, consultants or executives – agreed that projects came in on time and on budget, Thomas said. And only 44 per cent said they had adequate funding support from their organization.

Of the 381 executives surveyed, only 46 per cent agreed that projects are usually aligned with strategic plans. This presents some “serious issues,” Thomas said. “Who is going to align the projects (with business strategy) if not the executives?”

There is some good news for Canadians at least. In general, Canada did better than the U.S. on almost all 10 questions that respondents were asked. These included questions about whether projects met specifications, whether there was realistic expectation about projects and whether there’s a resistance to project management within their organizations.

The one area in which Canada did worse than the U.S. and the rest of the world was in adequate funding for PM. Only 41 per cent of Canadians agreed they had adequate funding, while 46 per cent of those in the U.S. and 56 per cent of those in the rest of the world felt this was true.

In terms of industry breakdown, the telecom industry fared best of the six industry groups polled. And the government almost consistently had the response rates with the lowest value when compared with the consulting, IT, telecom, manufacturing and processing, and construction and engineering sectors, Thomas said.

But the survey was done before the current economic downturn, which has hit the telecom industry hard, Thomas said. And the government is a latecomer to the project management field, which might explain its poor showing, she said.

Thomas was surprised to find that internal project personnel were better at selling PM to executives than consultants.

“We figured consultants are selling project management for a living – they must be good at it. Once we figure out what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it, we can help people within organizations do it better and be more successful. And what we find from the data is this is actually reversed. More people within organizations report being successful,” she said.

Of those who reported being successful at selling PM, 60 per cent were over 40 years old, 65 per cent had at least one university degree, 61 per cent belonged to a project management association and only 22 per cent held a professional PM certification.

Those who said they were successful at PM said they framed it as a way to meet both corporate and project objectives. They also involved more people, who tended to tie PM to company goals, Thomas said.

Those who were successful also avoided using emotional terms and the language of crisis, she said.

“What we found was that the successful mangers used crisis as the trigger to gain the executives’ interest and get their attention, but then you use very positive language and future opportunity kind of language rather than crisis kind of language, like ‘We’re losing $6 million, we have to use project management.’ That doesn’t work.”

Finally, those looking to better their odds of completing a project on time and on budget need to recognize project management as a business process, not solely a project management process, Thomas said.