Project Prospects: The business management of IT projects

Most of us work on, with, or around projects. It’s the most popular method of getting work done. I’ve been in project management at various levels most of my career, working both in-house for large corporations and as a vendor project manager (PM) on contract. I have consulted to organizations on the subject, and taught it.

I’ve even felt compelled to author books. Yet it remains a discipline where good, consistent results are hard to achieve. Mistakes first made decades ago continue to be made, for rather complex reasons. And in my observation the growth in both project management theory and the certification movement has had little impact, with the Standish Group ‘CHAOS Report 2017’ reporting IT project success rates for larger projects only in the 25-30 per cent range. Here, I’m introducing my new blog series, Project Prospects, which will be published on IT World Canada. Maybe we can raise that success rate just a bit.

We’re all on the same team

In this blog, I will come at the topic from a different angle, primarily by reflecting on hard-won experience gained mostly in the commercial, or contracted environment. There is no doubt this setting accentuates project mistakes and setbacks, and amplifies issues that are commonly tolerated or even ignored in-house. It also highlights the significance of elements essential to the business success of a professional services firm, namely – the need to make a profit, the ultimate satisfaction of the client, and the performance and care of the firm’s resources.

At some point in my career, the penny dropped, and I realized these matters had much in common with business management. Looking around at my fellow PMs, I realized how few of them appreciated that their projects were really profit centres. In fact, many seemed reluctant, almost embarrassed, to raise business issues with their client, thinking that was not the proper role of the PM (which is to work on critical path analysis). Worse, I could find very little in existing PM standards and textbooks, traditional PM training, or even current conference agendas, that came close to addressing the business problems of projects. As my own responsibilities brought me into regular contact with accountants, the CFO, and business unit managers, it became obvious how important it was to consider ourselves on the same team, understand each other’s language, and support our mutual objectives. Regrettably, this did not always happen. My recently published book, ‘Commercial Project Management – A Guide for Selling and Delivering Professional Services’ summarized here is an effort to diagnose these corporate and project problems and put forward solutions that I have seen work.

Project principles for business success

The intent of the blog is to draw on that body of knowledge and explore themes in an informal style that anyone whose success is linked to project performance, as a manager or practitioner, will find accessible. I have called the series Project Prospects because the project is by far the most useful construct for anchoring ideas that aim to improve our collective productivity. And although I won’t be discussing critical path analysis (I promise), there are many techniques in the project world that can be co-opted to business purpose, and vice-versa. I also believe that this information should extend beyond the vendor community because although vendors feel business pressure more directly, our colleagues working in-house are discovering there are corporate expectations to manage their projects using similar disciplines. As we proceed, I hope readers will share their related experiences, questions, and possible disagreements so the prospect is improved. Who knows, you might be motivated to become a project manager, and to do it the right way.

I will conclude with the advice I received from a boss at my old consulting company who had a unique way of emphasizing the three priorities of the professional services firm. He said: “Success in this business is like juggling three balls – the profit, the customers, and the employees. If you drop one, I am not so interested in which one you dropped; just don’t drop any!”

See you in the New Year.



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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Robin Hornby
Robin Hornby
Robin Hornby PMP is President of Tempest Management in Calgary. Robin’s career began in the UK as a systems engineer. He moved to Canada in 1977, and worked in the telecommunications sector before embarking on a 30-year project and delivery management career in the IT professional services business. Robin set up his consulting company in 1997, taught at Mount Royal University for ten years, and is the author of three books. He is a long-time member of PMI, has presented frequently at PMI symposia, ProjectWorld, and at client conferences. Robin now writes, consults, and conducts seminars that focus on aspects of project management he believes are neglected – commercial practice, project business management, and PM leadership to achieve project quality.

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