Training boosts success rates and retains staff

Increasingly companies are realising that staff with project management skills add real value to a business, as Kathryn Hopkins discovers

Students and employees have long since been told how “to do” finance, marketing and leadership, but rarely how they can deliver positive outcomes, and work to budgets, time constraints and stakeholder expectations.

Until recently, project management had been confined to big infrastructure, IT and consultancy schemes, which can take up to two years to develop, and has not been a subject that is widely taught in universities.

However, all that could change as the demand for project management has increased across the board over the last few years and is now required in most companies, whatever their size.

In its latest global survey on project management, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 97 per cent of respondents believed that it was critical to business performance and organisational success, while 94 per cent said it helped firms grow.

“Previously you would associate project management with big-scale infrastructure and consultancy or IT programmes involving a number of direct workers, consultants and stakeholders. Everything is big and costly, and you need to manage the project so everything comes together at the end,” says Vanessa Robinson, head of human resources (HR) practice development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

“What we’ve seen over the last five years is that, when people are thinking about smaller pieces of work, they are starting to recognise that having those project management skills internally is very useful,” she says.

Companies need to pay much more attention to training because when projects fail, organisations lose money and market share, and become much less likely to execute their strategies

Stephen Taylor, a senior lecturer in HR management at the University of Exeter Business School, says project management is interesting because it is not generally taught in business schools and covered to any great extent in management books.

“There is a general underplaying of its significance and an assumption you can do it without needing to be trained or learn it, and that it is something which comes naturally like parenting, but it doesn’t come naturally to everybody,” he says.

“My view is that project management and project leadership are becoming increasingly important because we are in a much less predictable business environment, and organisations have to be more opportunistic and more agile, and that means taking on shorter-term projects of various kinds rather than the long-term strategic planning we’ve had in the past.”

However, despite all the evidence showing that project management is becoming crucial to firms, a recent report by the Project Management Institute (PMI) found training and development in this area has waned since 2010.

The number of global firms providing training on project management tools and techniques has fallen from 65 per cent in 2010 to 59 per cent in 2012, while fewer than 50 per cent have a process to develop project management competency.

What’s more, only 40 per cent of project managers said there was a defined career path for project management within their organisation and the lower the project manager’s status in a company, the less likely he or she was to say there was a defined career path.

“As such, organisations could risk losing talented yet developing project managers who might feel the need to look for jobs with a more predictable career path,” said the PMI report.

Looking at specific project outcomes among organisations that have a defined career path compared with those that do not, the PMI’s data showed a higher rate of projects completed on time, on budget and meeting goals.

Organisations that had ongoing training for staff on the use of project management tools and techniques also had better project outcomes, according to the report.

The PMI warned companies that they need to pay much more attention to training because when projects fail, organisations lose money and market share, and become much less likely to execute their strategies.

“With stakes this high, projects, programmes and especially the portfolio cannot be left to chance. They need to be managed by skilled, trained professionals in a standardised way throughout an organisation and align with organisational strategy to ensure success,” it cautioned.

The importance of training in the field of project management was further highlighted in PwC’s survey, with 67 per cent of respondents stating that it contributed to business performance. It also warned that the lack of trained project managers was hampering firms’ profits.

“Talent shortages and mismatches are impacting profitability now. One in four CEOs said they were unable to pursue a market opportunity, or have had to cancel or delay a strategic initiative because of talent. One in three is concerned that skills shortages impacted their company’s ability to innovate effectively,” the global accountancy firm said in its report.

“Despite the challenges facing organisations in hiring highly talented people, it is vital to have a project management team that has the right skill-sets, experience and training to enable project success.”