Spring 2015 volunteers' forum

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Posted by APM on 7th May 2015

The Glasgow volunteers’ forum took place from 20th – 22nd March, and was attended by 70 enthusiastic volunteers from the UK and Hong Kong. This was the first opportunity for the volunteers to meet APM’s new chief executive Sara Drake.

Board Chair Steve Wake told the forum about insights into various issues and opportunities outlining the ongoing work of the Board. He described the structural changes that had been necessary to transform APM as part of an overall reformist agenda the fruits of which will begin to manifest themselves in the coming months. 

SIG and Branch structure
This led into a discussion amongst the volunteers about SIG and branch steering and co-ordination – how can this be improved? This was the subject of a lively debate and a common theme from the group discussion was around the effectiveness of the current system. There was a proposal circulated before the conference around amalgamation of the SIG and branch structures into perhaps a Volunteers' Steering Group. A lot of 'flip chart' comments were gathered together to provide good feedback for consideration.

Research project updates
Ben Pinches, from the Oxford Chapter of Thames Valley Branch reported on the key topic of stakeholder engagement, the output of which will be published on the APM website shortly. The aim of the focus group is to create a ‘work pack’ aimed at helping new project managers understand the significance of good stakeholder engagement and offering possible solutions to issues. Whilst there is nothing new in terms of power / influence matrices etc. what is new was the linking of benefits to stakeholders through the plan.

There was also emphasis on success as a criteria linked to benefits through the stakeholders. This provides another dimension to stakeholder consultation rather than just managing the nuisance factors, it concentrates on the positive project promotion linked to tangible data (benefits) and intangible (influence / power). We look forward to seeing outputs on the APM website. 

Judy Payne reported on the Knowledge SIG research project which was launched to understand how well knowledge is handled in project organisations. A survey was commissioned amongst companies and APM members (225 responders) and the headline survey results are:

  • most individuals understand that knowledge is deeper than information, and that knowledge can't be managed using a simple 'capture and disseminate' approach
  • in a third of organisations, the approach to KM (knowledge management) doesn’t reflect this understanding of knowledge
  • what organisations actually do to manage knowledge is often quite different from what they say their approach is – for various reasons. The most common reason is confusion between ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’
  • very few organisations have a working definition of KM or a single name for KM
  • lots of evidence of different practices in different parts of organisations - often because KM is left to individual teams to implement
  • many respondents commented that their lessons learned processes don’t work. And we didn’t even ask them
  • KM maturity varies a lot. A few organisations are excellent at KM, some are self-acknowledged beginners and others are in between.  

Whilst this is interesting there was no advice on what organisations could do to address some key issues.   There was information presented at the volunteers' forum about the levels of maturity and indicators of knowledge maturity in a textbook sense which can be applied to organisations. The recommendations were around starting a benchmarking club and update the Body of Knowledge

Stephen Jones reported on the research project being conducted in by the Planning, Monitoring & Control SIG entitled Project EVE. This is looking at the question “Does Principal Agent Theory provide an explanation for different levels of project success?”  

Research data has been gathered from four projects in two different sectors and has led to the following summary of positive / negative comments:

  • positive – asymmetry of data “with the key success criteria there is [the opportunity of] having one version of the truth”
  • positive – opportunistic behaviour “probably the key is having the right behaviours and attitudes. You know if you want engagement with second tier [i.e. 'agent's agents] and first tier [i.e. the agents themselves] we’re not gathering data to beat them up with we’re gathering data and analysing the data and providing valued outputs to the benefit of everybody and that was the environment that we created with the second tier”
  • positive - goals “very passionate about two things, 1) ensuring that our contractors are financially successful  - 2) paying them what they are due and on time” 
  • negative – asymmetry of data “we requested the information but the information has not come back”
  • negative – Opportunistic behaviour “the costs, there were a lot of additional [items]– I was surprised by the number of out of scope changes that there have been"
  • positive - Goals  “the programme;  its changed quite a bit as we’ve gone through and we’ve actually struggled to agree a programme with them”

This research is interesting from a Governance point of view as it is trying to capture the essence of decision making in a commercial environment. The clinical analysis should be made available to senior management on both sides of the client / contactor equation to see what drivers (and indeed behaviours) are driving decisions that become binding in long term contractual relations in the project environment. The research is continuing and the aim is to publish a white paper to the APM community.

Open forum – “what I would like to see …”
The opportunity was given in this session to volunteers to deliver short presentations on their burning issues or good ideas.

Alison Aderyn of the South Wales and West of England Branch provided one of the best presentations of the forum on diversity and how APM should be more inclusive.

Share your management experience, was the message from Merv Wyeth, of the Programme Management SIG. He was promoting the idea from North America, where companies provide one days “free labour” to voluntary or charitable organisations. He was suggesting that APM should promote the idea amongst its Corporate members as well as an APM badged event thorough its members. This is a very laudable and worthwhile proposal.Unfortunately it was a shame that the discussion bogged down in the forum through members' concern around liability. However it did get further airtime in the Good Practice Caf (see later).

There was an impassioned plea from Eleri Evans of the People SIG for a new, modern definition for project management, programme management, portfolio management – that reflects current thinking. This was linked to the 2020 Strategy. The kernel of the argument is these should be looked at thorough a different lens. The current cost / time / quality triangle with scope at its centre  should be revised to delivery plan / people / methods with benefits at the centre. As can be imagined, this aroused some serious debate and it certainly is worthy of more thought and reflection.

The day concluded with a Good Practice Caf. Volunteers moved between tables at the sound of the bell. Many of the topics were in fact matters arising from the day’s discussion. Notes were scribbled on the table-cloth for further consideration by APM and the SIG and Branch steering groups – the outcomes will be disseminated via Projectplace to volunteer community, in due course.

In the breaks between sessions there was a good opportunity to discuss and meet other volunteers. I had a lengthy discussion about the project environment in Africa with a fellow APM Volunteer who is part of the organising committee for the Oxford Africa conference in May, the weblink for which can be found here.

The conference, to be hosted at Sad Business School, is going to feature discussions about the international strategies of multi-national companies, the embedment of African business and society in the global context as well as the transformation of infrastructure and agriculture.

In the project “space” there is a lot of concern in Africa around PM competency. So much so that the President of Ghana (who is presiding the conference) is making this a key issue for him. There is mounting concern that although the money from China is welcome, they bring their own teams to lead the developments. There is a very strong desire to grow their own people into project roles, and are looking around for levels of competency models. This has been raised with the APM.

Andrew Spiers
Governance SIG committee member


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