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Has project management become too complicated for its own good?

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Project management is governed by methodologies. You may be an adherent of agile, scrum or waterfall ­– but increasingly, many find that projects don’t simply fit one approach, or even a ‘hybrid’ approach.  

Over the past decade, the project profession has grown, enabled by specialist software, training programmes, certifications and qualifications. The project management software market alone is expected to grow from $5.37bn in 2020 to almost $9.81bn by 2026.

Much of this development is indicative of a progressing, maturing industry. When it comes to software, for example, as corporations increase in size and complexity, software can provide an all-inclusive solution to manage, coordinate, benchmark and standardise an entire organisation’s portfolio. Yet, we may be in danger of forgetting simply that people, not methodologies or complex software, are key to the success of a project.

A victim of its own success

A PwC study of over 10,640 projects found that a just 2.5 per cent of companies completed 100 per cent of their projects successfully. The rest either failed to meet some of their original targets or missed the original budget or deadlines. According to IBM, only 40 per cent of projects at the company meet its three key goals: schedule, budget and quality.

Adrian Dooley, Honorary Fellow of APM and founder of Praxis Framework, believes the discipline of project management is the victim of its own success. It grew rapidly in popularity and diversity, spurred on by the digital revolution, which has generated an entire new class of projects. As the discipline grew, this gave way to an acceptance that the field required breaking down into subsets.

“Thus, it seems, we had to split projects into projects and programmes, and approaches into Waterfall and Agile (to name but four of the artificial, mutually exclusive buckets),” he writes in a LinkedIn blog.

More interesting post-mortems

The problem facing the industry is that many project professionals are trying to limit themselves to one bucket of tools and techniques and this is failing them.

In a Forbes article, Steve Andriole says that while companies, especially those with high project failure rates, almost always use project management software, we should avoid the trap of assuming the projects would have succeeded only with better software or better software training.

“These tools are just that, and sometimes all they do is make it easier for project managers to track their failures and prepare more interesting post-mortems,” Andriole says.

He gives similarly short shrift to agile, scrum, DevOps and so on. Methods, tools and techniques can help, but they are not elixirs, he writes. With these abstract solutions, expectations are always set too high toward unachievable goals. In other words, failure is more, not less, likely.

What’s the answer?

Only people can save project management, according to Andriole. “All of our efforts to avoid technology project failures can be simplified if we focus primarily on the humans who plan, fund and execute technology projects.”

He advises that all of the people involved in project management should be vetted according to their previous successful project experience, leadership abilities, soft skills and ability to work in teams. That’s why experienced project managers or members of successful project teams are in such high demand.

Andriole believes project management, particularly in the technology field – though it could equally apply in others – needs to be established as part of an organisation’s culture. Companies need to acknowledge and nurture project management talent, which means more than just having individuals who have a working knowledge of methodologies or specialist software.

Onus on senior management

Good project managers and leaders must possess multiple skills and strengths. Having a good understanding of methodologies and frameworks and knowing when to apply them is just one, along with communication and listening skills, budget management, problem solving, team management and more. It becomes clear that project management talent must be nurtured. Good project leaders must be recognised, valued and enabled to pass these skills onto the leaders of tomorrow.

Harold Kerzner writes at PM Today that achieving project management excellence, or maturity, is more likely with a repetitive process that can be used on each and every project, referred to as the project management methodology.

However, he makes the distinction that people, and not methodologies, manage projects and it is the corporate culture that executes the methodology. This places the onus on senior management within an enterprise to create a corporate culture that supports project management and demonstrates faith in the methodology.

Find out how people and teams deliver successful projects in APM’s Body of Knowledge 7th edition


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