Should we take more notice of the other side of project management?

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John Cropper is an interesting man with an interesting job, working for an interesting company. Nestled in cosmopolitan East Oxford is Oxfam, where John is a global programme co-Ordinator. Oxfam is a ubiquitous name immediately associated with the battle to eradicate poverty around the world.

Their offices are exactly as I expected them to be, open and airy, gently branded in a nurturing green full of pictures and statements reinforcing their purpose and goals. People mill around in casual dress; its quiet and business like, but more a working community rather than a corporate entity.

You hear people talking about issues of mind boggling scale and significance, about gender inequality and eradicating poverty and war. You feel slightly guilty that what you do is so relatively mundane. We met with John to discuss how we can promote their projects to the wider profession in a meaningful way. Building something is one thing, but building something in a war zone is PR. Their projects are both familiar, yet frighteningly unique. Aware of the challenges of a construction project? What about one where the most influential stakeholder is a witch doctor?

As we talked, something dawned on me. What the traditional project management profession consider the zeitgeist, Oxfam and other aid agencies have been doing for years. Benefits realisation is building sustainable communities, people management is dealing with tribal leaders and politicians, and portfolio management is all about balancing long-term community projects with short term crises.

Sometimes the requirement to do projects in the right way is sacrificed for the need to realise benefits quickly. This is why John has developed PMD Pro1, a project management qualification for development professionals with the aim of delivering their projects even more effectively.

Ive often heard it said that aid projects are not proper projects because they have no end point and that the profession could teach them something about how to do it. But development projects are quality bound. Doing the right project and getting benefit is more important than doing the project technically right and not getting the benefit. While the broader profession fights with the challenges of delivering value from their projects, the development profession are looking at ways of delivering what they do more efficiently. It sounds to me that theres a conversation to be had between the two sides and a lot to be learnt.

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Posted by Scott Walkinshaw on 27th Oct 2010

About the Author
Scott is Head of Marketing and Communications at APM.

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