I quite often get asked which project methodology people should learn. The impression I get is that people are looking for either one best way, or the approved house methodology. You need to start learning somewhere, but there isn’t a single right answer. I’ve been involved in over 50 projects in the course of my career, from things that took a few weeks right up to Fire Service Modernisation and Identity Cards which had multi-billion pound business cases and lasted years. I’ve also studied Project Management at postgrad level with the Open University. My experience has made me agnostic to specific methodologies, having used several and studied a number I don’t think that it’s helpful for an organisation to pick one to the exclusion of the others.
Choosing a Project Methodology
All project management methodologies feature tailoring as one of their key principles. This is important because although projects have a lot of common features, they also vary a lot. Even when you are involved in repeating projects, like setting up local offices, there are always variations. It’s more important to focus on the outcomes that we’re trying to deliver, and the assurance that we are delivering those, than to exactly follow a specific methodology or process.
Whether you have decided to become a project delivery professional, or you just want to have a wider set of skills, there are four pieces of advice I’d give you:
- Learn a little of everything before you go for depth.
- Consciously apply what you know, and look for new ways to apply it.
- Never renew a qualification for a specific methodology, the value comes from practice.
- Join a professional body or at least network with others that do similar things.
Learn Multiple Methods
The best way to become a fully rounded project delivery professional is to study and use as many project delivery methods as you can. If you are consciously expanding your experience then you will be growing as a project delivery professional. If you haven’t done any qualifications then I’d suggest trying the awareness level courses. Most are one or two days and they give you a broad understanding of what that particular method is about. On their own they aren’t going to equip you to run projects, but nor would a practitioner course if you don’t have real experience of delivering projects.
Consciously Apply what you Learn
Once you’ve got an idea of the methods then pick the one that seems most suited to the project that you are currently working on. Your project manager or PMO should be able to tell you what core method is being used . While working on that project get yourself on the practitioner course for the method that you are using. This will give you a real understanding as the theory will complement your experience. You’ll also be able to bring things from your learning straight into practice to embed your knowledge.
You should then work on another project that also uses the same methodology. Consciously apply what you’ve learned, but in a way that makes your project easier for everyone. Remember your focus is on making sure that your project is delivered to a high standard so that it realises the benefits in the business case.
Never renew project methodology qualifications
If anyone suggests that you need to renew your course, tell them you need to broaden your skills and learn a different method. If no-one tells you that, then go learn another method anyway. Project method qualifications are quite expensive, and renewing them won’t represent value for money in most cases compared to your initial learning. If you are continually working on projects then you ought to be able to pick up a new method every 3-5 years and use it well. Once you’ve got a few methods behind you then you’ll start to synthesize your own theory of project management, especially as you’ll have worked on a number of projects by then. You’ll know what is common across methods and projects, and you’ll have seen some go wrong, or come close to going wrong. Those mistakes are the best learning opportunities, because they provide real opportunities to reflect on decisions and consequences.
Join a Professional Body
Many government departments have a corporate membership of the Association of Project Managers, and also the Major Projects Association. There are other bodies out there, the Project Manager’s Institute and the British Computer Society (if you do a lot of technology enabled projects – I’m a Member of BCS for this reason).
The professional bodies offer you three things.
- They all host training and development events, and many also run more in depth courses. The APM in particular offers some of the best project delivery training courses that are out there.
- There are recognition schemes, offering graded membership that signal to people in the profession the depth of your expertise. For the higher levels, which you need to apply for, you can earn post-nominal letters that show you are a proper professional. You might have seen people with MAPM, or RPP in their signature blocks. These aren’t about vanity though, it’s a way of showing that you really know about project delivery and that you’ve invested your time and experience in becoming very good at it.
- Networks of other project delivery professionals with whom you can share experience, best practice, bounce ideas off and sometimes even recruit people from.
To some extent we try to replicate 1 & 3 within the government project delivery profession, but our scale and breadth is less than that of a professional organisation that targets all project delivery professionals in the UK. You can also claim back the costs of being a member of a professional body from the department if you are in a role where the body is relevant. So there doesn’t need to be a personal cost to you as an individual.
More on Methods
This is the first of a short series of posts about developing project delivery capability as an individual. There are two other posts on project methodology already written, one on using agile and another on PRINCE2. If you’d like to see any other topics please leave a comment.