You are probably as familiar with the statistics of failing projects as I am. According to the Project Management Institute only 52 per cent of projects are delivered on time and 69 per cent meet their goals and business intent. The numbers vary by industry and region. They also report that organisations are losing an average of $97 million for every $1 billion spent on projects due to lack of focus on people, processes and outcomes. That is in spite of more tools and techniques being available that help us keep track of the many moving parts of a project. In the UK the statistics don’t look much brighter. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority reports that less than half of their projects had a green or amber/green rating upon delivery.
What is going on? Why do so many projects continue to fail and what can we do about it? One of the answers relate to an increased level of complexity of projects and the environments in which they are undertaken. Many factors contribute to this growing complexity – for example, social and technological change, growing global interdependency, increasing numbers of stakeholders and the need to communicate and coordinate cross-culturally. As the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) writes in its report, ‘it is clear that the situation has to be addressed radically and comprehensively. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got – and there are too many examples that prove what we’ve always got isn’t good enough’.
According to further research from the industry, over 80 per cent of high-performing organisations report that the most important acquired skills for project managers to successfully manage complex projects are leadership skills. Traditional dimensions of project management such as cost, schedule and performance are necessary but insufficient. The world is changing at a rapid pace, and the need for leaders is greater than ever before. We need leaders who can deal with ambiguity, take ownership of the vision, foster collaboration, gain buy-in and motivate the team to achieve the expected outcomes. Thinking and behaving with a traditional project management mindset of control and compliance is not serving us. It is limiting our opportunities and it is contributing to project failure. Given the right environment, the right mindset and the right support, I believe that all project managers have the potential to be great leaders. Being a leader is not something that is limited to chief executives of a large company. Anyone can be a leader within his or her field. Leadership is not a result of the job title you hold but of the attitudes and behaviours you possess.
Your ambition and willingness to grow as a project manager and leader is highly appreciated. The industry needs more people who can navigate the different types of complexity, who want to learn from past mistakes and who have a real desire to develop and become great leaders and ambassadors for better ways of doing projects. Imagine what a difference that would make. Imagine if all project managers and their teams were working towards a common goal of continuous improvement and experiential learning – and if they shared the same enthusiasm and understanding of how to go about delivering the best possible products with the least amount of resources. That would be a dream come true. But dreams and dream teams come about only when someone takes the lead and has the vision and insight to show the way.
This story originally appeared in the Spring issue of Project journal. Download the latest digital issue now.
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