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The answer – none! A sound methodology alone does not a great project manager make.

It’s true, being a good project manager starts with the fundamentals of having a robust methodology in place, but even with that there are other crucial elements such as appropriate systems and experienced people that are required to support the methodology. Without them the project can fail spectacularly. It should be said though that a good methodology is the right place to start.

Over the years, as project management has matured and developed in its complexity, a number of methodologies have been developed to help assure project success.

So what is a ‘project methodology’?

A project methodology is essentially a ‘road map’ or ‘recipe’ to follow to ensure all the right processes are in place to achieve project outcomes. A project methodology enables project managers to organise, manage and control projects so that they have the greatest chance of delivering the right outcomes, on time and within budget.

Methodologies ensure the approach to project management within organisations is consistent. The aim is to ensure results can be repeated across projects. It’s just like following a recipe which improves the chance of the food tasting the same each time. However, having the cookbook is not all that is required. Would you expect the same food from a recipe followed by a high school cooking class as you would from a master chef?

How Do I know if it’s a Good Methodology?

There are a number of common project management methodologies in use as well as many thousands of derivatives that have been based on these. You may find that your organisation has adapted a commercially available methodology to fit your organisation’s peculiar needs.

The best way to choose a project management methodology is to see whether it has been tried and tested on successful real-life projects.

Federal and state governments around Australia rely heavily on PRINCE2 ™. This is not surprising as PRINCE2 ™ is the most commonly used project management methodology around the world.

‘PRINCE’ is an acronym for ‘Projects In Controlled Environments’ and was first developed in 1989 by the UK government to standardise its approach to IT project management in Government. Over time, the methodology was refined (PRINCE2 ™) and is now recognised as a good practice approach for all types of projects. PRINCE2 ™ now incorporates the needs and experiences of project managers from around the world. (UK Office of Government Commerce [viewed 10 Nov 08])

Another commonly used approach to project management is the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). People commonly call PMBOK a methodology – this is misunderstood. PMBOK is more a collection of knowledge and guidelines about project management whereas PRINCE2 ™ provides a process for implementing the knowledge in practice.

Many public and private sector organisations have developed their own methodologies which are sometimes derived from PRINCE2 TM or PMBOK and tailored according to the experience of people in the organisation. These vary immensely in their quality and suitability for the organisations in which they are used.

A Methodology to Fit the Organisation

Ultimately the objective of implementing any new process is to effect cultural and organisation change. This will not be achieved unless there is organisational fit.

In essence, an organisation needs to look internally to establish whether a proposed project methodology is a good fit. While the project management methodology is crucial to implementing a new program or a project it is only one element and must be approached together with analysis of organisation’s structure, information flow, and management control systems. This will enable assessment of whether the methodology is suitable to the existing environment.

The introduction of project management does not, in itself, ensure success. It is important to put effort into making sure the various components of project management are appropriately implemented for the task at hand rather than adopt a “one size fits all” approach.

What a Methodology Doesn’t Give You

A methodology is only as good as the person or team implementing it.

A good example of where PM methodologies fall down regards Risk Management. Risks have the potential to bring undone even the most meticulously planned project. PRINCE2 ™ stages indicate when risk management should be applied in a project. However, it does not explain what risk management is and why it is required. Nor does it provide guidance as to how to undertake a risk assessment nor advise on what needs to be done to mitigate certain risks. This comes only from experience and specialist training in Risk Management.

A methodology also does provide the individuals skills required to implement it.

Being certified in a methodology (like PRINCE2 ™) generally indicates that you have passed an exam demonstrating your knowledge of project processes. There are many individuals certified in project management methodologies who have limited experience managing projects or delivering successful project outcomes.

It is not uncommon for a Government organisation to “implement a methodology” which might mean producing an assortment of project management templates and then rigorously enforcing their use. This is often done according to a set of defined standards, regardless of their relevance or applicability to the scope or scale of a particular project.

It takes experience and knowledge to identify when the type, scope and scale of a project require some adaptation in management methods for success.

It is for this reason that many people have a negative opinion of methodologies like PRINCE2 ™. This is sometimes unfair as organisations often fail to implement all of the essential elements of PRINCE2 ™ resulting in what is commonly called a ‘PINO Project’ – Prince in Name Only.

So What is the Secret to Great Project Management

It’s likely that without a robust methodology to follow, the project results will at best be inconsistent – subject to innumerable external influences altering delivery. At worst, without a good methodology – a project will more-than-likely simply fail to deliver.

PM Methodologies are critical, however, having a methodology is not the total solution, nor does it guarantee an outcome. Like any solution to a business problem, you need to consider management systems, processes and people.

A PM methodology assists with some of the processes but you need to have the right sytems in place to support project implementation and people with the right blend of skills, knowledge, experience and influence to bring a project home.

Michael Young, MD of Transformed

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