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Feedback from delegates who participated in PRINCE2® courses leads me to believe that synchronisation weaknesses exist in many organisations between top management and project teams. These delegates attend PRINCE2® courses to obtain skills according to the best practice project management method. In many cases, however, the complimentary skills of other participating role players – to fully participate in change – are not developed to similar best practice levels.
Subsequently, returning delegates are unable to fully apply their newly-acquired skills. The five most prevalent omissions that returning PRINCE2® delegates often encounter are –
The inability to find the thread that links their project with a corporate objective;
A diluted level of programme management;
A neglect of the project assurance role, that may indicate a malfunctioning project board;
A lack of software products to simplify the task of the project manager; and
An absence of a centre-of-excellence role – a standards-setting and support role – particularly the provision of an experiential learning environment.
Addressing the concern
Let’s start at the top and work down. The leaders of an organisation steer their ship by setting the direction to be followed. They collectively formulate a strategy which includes the vision as well as the priorities for the organisation to prosper. If the vision remains transparent, is constantly “in-the-face” of employees and motivates every employee, everyone in the organisation should prosper.
Let’s take a brief look at the word strategy:
A strategy (from Greek στρατηγία stratēgia, which translates to "the art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship") is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under uncertain conditions. A strategy is important because the resources available to achieve these goals are usually limited.
The organisation’s senior leadership generally determines the strategy, which describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). A strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve these goals, and mobilising resources to execute these actions. Strategy can either be intended or emerge as a pattern of activity while the organisation adapts to its environment or competition, and typically involves activities such as strategic planning and strategic thinking.
Prof. Henry Mintzberg of the McGill University defines strategy as "a pattern in a stream of decisions" to emphasis the contrast with another view of strategy as planning. On the other hand, Max McKeown argues that "strategy is about shaping the future" and is the human attempt to get to "desirable ends with available means". Dr Vladimir Kvint defines strategy as "a system of finding, formulating, and developing a doctrine that will ensure long-term success if followed faithfully."
Prof. Richard P. Rumelt describes strategy as a type of problem solving. He writes that good strategy has an underlying structure which he calls the kernel. The kernel consists of three parts:
A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge;
A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge; and
Coherent actions which are designed to carry out this guiding policy.
Once an organisation’s senior and top management decide to use best-practice principals to bring about change, there are multiple levels at which new habits should be developed.
At portfolio level, the consolidated investment in change should be planned, prioritised and coordinated. The full impact on resources should be visible so that priorities can be allocated to change endeavours.
At programme level, the focus is on realising benefits through the transition of project deliverables into business-as-usual, as well as on the post-project management of benefits.
A project delivers interim products and a final project product, where after it returns control to the parent programme.
When the three levels above are supported, this is done by what is often referred to as the PMO (Project Management Office) or P3O (Portfolio, Programme and Project support Office). This important role has many responsibilities, of which an important one is nurturing the change environment. Other important responsibilities for this role include ensuring effective project and programme managers, as well as providing a centre of excellence.
A possible training approach
When preparing a broader approach to strengthening the change environment, one should consider a combination of accredited and non-accredited training.
Basic Project Management
Project Management Essentials – a two-day course for beginners and all project stakeholders. This is a non-accredited course.
PRINCE2® Foundation and Practitioner (minimally Foundation) for basic project management skills. This is an accredited course.
Advanced Project Management
APM PM for PRINCE2® Practitioners for further enhancement of project managers.
This is an accredited course.
Senior and Top Management
Programme Management Essentials – a two-day course to gain the essential skills in managing programmes.
Managing Benefit Essentials – a two-day course to gain the essential skills in managing benefits.
P3O Essentials – a two-day course to gain essential skills in managing a support environment.
The last group of courses can be replaced by their equivalent accredited courses, which are five-day Foundation and Practitioner challenges. The Essentials courses can be used as introductory courses for the corresponding accredited courses.
Bringing about change in an organisation should be linked to the corporate strategy and should be the result of a team effort by role players on multiple management levels. The strategic vision should be clearly documented and promoted, and employees should be reminded of their role in achieving corporate goals. All change management levels should understand their roles and be committed to fulfilling these to the best of their abilities. The P3O support office should nurture change standards and continuously mature change disciplines through ongoing improvements.
The synchronisation of top management’s change efforts with the project teams can only be achieved if the will to apply best practice principals is sufficiently strong at multiple management levels. The desire for a coherent, professional style can form part of the organisational culture – this is a most precious asset. An embracing approach can deliver improved results.