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3 Challenges for Project Success

Piers McLeish

Piers McLeish

Last week I shared an infographic from The Access Group. In this article, guest contributor Piers McLeish explains more about the data behind the headlines.

Following a recent survey we looked at areas for improvement, where a lack of visibility over data is causing problems as well as the most important features and factors key stakeholders should look for, in both new business software and vendors. Based on the findings from the research we also outlined 5 project lessons for 2014.

Throughout the survey there are three main focuses that challenge the success of project based organisations.

1. 62% of project based organisations identified ‘capturing time/costs against projects’ is their biggest challenge.

If you’re struggling to capture time and produce costs against projects, you’re not alone. 62% of organisations questioned admit to the same struggle, and could benefit from re-evaluating their integrated project management software.

2. 55% of project based organisations admit ‘paper based approvals’ were stifling processes.

If you’re currently passing around manual information to approve projects, expenses, proposals, this is the second most common issue. Over half of participants surveyed agree that paper based approval processes are detrimental to their project processes, admitting that they are creating an admin burden.

3. 45% of project based organisations agree that ‘re-keying of data’ is a further challenge.

The third highest statistic faced by project based organisations is that the re-keying of data proves to be a challenge, creating unnecessary tasks which could otherwise be consolidated through automation.

The above statistics highlight that project based challenges are not un-common. But what is uncommon is the awareness and knowledge of how to tackle these problems. Not only can confronting these problems be beneficial for efficiency and financial reasons, but also project hand-overs. By reducing these challenges, the ownership transfer of projects can become seamless with features such as visibility of data, reports and documents. Time keeping can be automated and managed with integrated project software.

Integrated project software can not only streamline processes throughout projects, but also incorporate a centralised hub for all data to be accessed. This makes the handling and sharing of data a much more manageable task as opposed to spreadsheet printouts, invoices and reports.

If you’re finding cost capture difficult or time consuming, finding that paper based process are flooding your desk, or the re-keying of data has become an integral process of your project management, it may be wise to have a consultant review your processes and recommend the next best action to take for guaranteed ROI and improved efficiencies.

Only 30% of businesses surveyed are likely to review their project processes and software in the next 12 months. Should you be getting a head-start?


About the author

Piers McLeish is the director of consulting services, responsible for all pre-sales and pre-contract scoping and business analysis work, mostly involving larger clients and implementations. Prior to Access, Piers worked with well-known names such as MBNA International Bank and Accenture.




What women think men think about us

Last week I wrote about some research from the Project Management Journal by Charlotte Neuhauser, PMP. It looked at the leadership behaviours valued by women and how frequently we apply them.

Neuhauser’s research also asked female project managers to report on how they thought they were perceived by men. Here’s what her study had to say.

Women say: Men don’t think women are weaker project managers

I’m glad we believe men have the sense to think that women are adequate as project managers, as we don’t apparently believe that about ourselves. As I reported last week, 75% of women surveyed believed that women think women are weaker project managers than men. How can we believe we are worse than men but at the same time think men see us as equals? I don’t get it, and I’m sure it’s not a compliment to male intelligence. It could either be interpreted as men being too stupid to recognise our faults, or as women being too harsh on each other.

Women say: Men don’t take women seriously

59% of survey respondents believed that female project managers are not taken seriously by men. I don’t think that this is a statistic limited to the project management community. I expect it applies to professional women in a range of careers.

However, the figure was much lower than I was expecting, which is great. I would have liked to see the breakdown of results by age, as I have a feeling that the younger you are, the less men are likely to take you seriously at work.

Women say: Women are less committed than men

The question asked here was a long one. Female project managers “have less organisational commitment and professional capability than their male counterparts”. This had the strongest, clearest response from the women surveyed, with a massive 95% of them agreeing or strongly agreeing with this.

There’s no rationale given for this in the research, so here are some reasons why I think women believe this about themselves:

  • We are more committed to our families than our employers
  • We see men working while other women take parental leave for family emergencies
  • We don’t define ourselves by our jobs, so this translates to “not being committed”
  • We don’t see women being promoted as often as men, which leads to “having less professional capability”
  • Perhaps men are better at covering up their faults at work and don’t beat themselves up about them so much.

But in reality, who knows why the women surveyed thought that men were more committed and professionally better than they were? Maybe they had all gone out for team manicures while the men stayed in the office and slaved away. Maybe the women surveyed genuinely were pretty rubbish at their jobs, working in teams with over-performing male colleagues.

PMJ research

61 women were asked to respond to these questions: this is what they said

Neuhauser says:

The sample of this study had a stronger belief that they are weaker project managers than they believe men perceive them to be. Comparing that response with the perception of this group that women have less commitment and professional capability than men seems to point out a reinforcement with their self-perception of less competence… It is perplexing why female project managers view other female project managers as weaker than their male counterparts and yet do not perceive males viewing females as weaker.

In short, I would conclude, the research study didn’t turn up anything useful or conclusive and further research should be done to find out if there really is anything to this.

What do you think – is it worth doing more research into this subject or not?

Read the research: Neuhauser, C. 2007. Project Management Leadership Behaviours and Frequency of Use by Female Project Managers in Project Management Journal, 38(1), pp21-31.


How female project managers lead

How female project managers leadWhile I was researching my book, Customer-Centric Project Management, I came across a piece of research in the Project Management Journal about women’s leadership skills. ‘Project Management Leadership Behaviours and Frequency of Use by Female Project Managers’ by Charlotte Neuhauser, PMP, looks at what women think are the most important leadership characteristics and then whether or not they use them.

Most important leadership behaviours for project managers

The important behaviour types for project managers are (from most important to least important):

  • Influence
  • Inspirational motivation
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Managerial skills
  • Individualised consideration (treating project team members as individuals, not ‘resources’)
  • Attributed charisma
  • Contingent reward (i.e. clarifying goals and benefits for project team members)

These apply to both male and female project managers.

The study found that the more important women felt the behaviour was, the less frequently they said they displayed it. Looking at the mean response scores, no behaviour was used ‘Almost Always’. Either the women in the study really aren’t that good at project management or they were judging themselves very harshly.

Most used behaviour by female project managers

The study broke down these behaviour types and assessed the most and least used actions by female project managers. The 5 most commonly seen behaviours were:

  1. Recommends promotions for exceptional performance
  2. Recommends pay increases or bonuses for exceptional performance
  3. Delegates authority for decisions to team members
  4. Gets ideas accepted by superiors
  5. People are proud to be associated with them

The 5 things women did most infrequently were:

  1. Earns respect of others through demonstrating competence by personal task performance
  2. Inspires others by setting an example of courage, dedication and self-sacrifice
  3. Uses time efficiently
  4. Negotiates with colleagues, suppliers and clients (note that this is just about any negotiating, not negotiating effectively)
  5. Offers encouragement, advice and assistance when team members need help

Seriously, who are these women? They are happy to delegate, but not to offer help to their team. Their supervisors say their ideas are great, but they don’t negotiate. People are happy to work with them but they are disorganised time wasters who don’t complete their own tasks competently.

Was there ever a better argument for knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and being honest about your capabilities? This is Imposter Syndrome in action.

The researcher draws some parallels to other studies but does not comment on the disparities in the results. They are, after all, perceptions. I can perceive that I, or other women, are no good at driving, but it doesn’t make it factually true. (Actually, in my case, it does.)

After reading the research, I strongly believe that the 61 women surveyed were judging themselves too harshly. A whopping 75% of them agreed that women think women are weaker project managers than men! If we don’t believe in ourselves, who will?

Next week I’ll be writing about the final part of the research, where women were asked to comment on how they thought they were perceived by men. Trust me, it’s enlightening!


Read the research: Neuhauser, C. 2007. Project Management Leadership Behaviours and Frequency of Use by Female Project Managers in Project Management Journal, 38(1), pp21-31.


Research shows women don’t want management jobs

WomanIntellect’s Women in IT Forum and womenintechnology.co.uk recently released the results of their survey about women working in the technology profession.

The survey shows that although 8% of women have reached director-level roles, up 3% on 2007, many women are not interested in pursuing pure management roles and want to remain doing hands on, technical jobs. In the IT project management field this equates to women wanting to stick with being project managers and not aspiring to lead a PMO or move into portfolio management.

Groups like the APM’s Women in Project Management SIG exist to support and promote women in project management. Informally, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management does the same. Are we wrong in trying to encourage more women into senior roles? Maybe the reason why we don’t get directorships is because we don’t want them.

I don’t believe this is true. I am sure there are many men happy doing technical, hands on, non-managerial roles as well. Why shouldn’t that type of work appeal to women too? Not everyone wants the stress and people-management responsibilities that come with being a senior manager.

Mixed support for developing women’s careers

Some women, the ones who do want a management career, need to know that the workplace supports their advancement.

However, the statistics don’t completely support that. Over 60% of respondents in the Intellect/WiT survey have more than 10 years of experience but only 26% have reached senior management level. Many of the others reported feeling that they are being passed over for promotion in favour of male colleagues. Over a third of respondents said they had left their last position due to a lack of internal promotion.

Fortunately, thing looks a bit better when it comes to the work/life balance options on offer. Eighty percent of companies offer remote working options, with 71% of survey respondents taking up this option. This seems a lot to me, but as the survey focused on IT professionals it could be that technology companies and IT departments are more forward-thinking when it comes to the kit and the policies to work from home.

Being a woman is not (very) detrimental to your career

Nearly two thirds of respondents agree that being a woman has not been detrimental to their career in technology. Flip that statistic round, and it means that two in five women believe that being a woman has hampered them in some way.

The survey doesn’t expound on exactly how, but here are some of the findings from that section:

  • 47% believe that to get ahead in a tech career, you have to act like a man (whatever that means)
  • 75% believe that technology employers have a long hours culture
  • 84% believe that more should be done to encourage women back to work after maternity leave.

The important thing is that whether you want to move into management or not, all women should feel that their IT project management careers are supported by the company, and that whatever options they want are open to them. What are your experiences of project management career development? Let us know in the comments.


Is project management training really effective?

There’s a whole industry around project management training. Job adverts declare that you have to be PMP certified or a PRINCE2 Practitioner. But does training actually make a difference to how you do your job?

Training can make you about 26% more effective, according to research by PM Solutions.

Only 28% of organisations bother to measure whether business results improve as a result of training, but these organisations see improvements across 8 measures:

  • Stakeholder satisfaction: 29% improvement
  • Schedule performance: 27% improvement
  • Project failures: 26% reduction
  • Quality: 25% improvement
  • Budget performance: 25% improvement
  • Requirements performance: 25% improvement
  • Productivity: 24% improvement
  • Time to market: 24% improvement (I don’t know how this is different from schedule performance).

Conclusive, right? Wrong

Of course, we can’t tell from the research whether the companies that don’t measure business results still see an improvement. Perhaps they do, but they don’t record it and can’t attribute it directly to training. Their project managers may still be performing better as a result of attending training.

The PM Solutions research doesn’t dig in to how businesses actually measure the improvement in business results. How do you attribute the fact that someone has attended a PRINCE2 course to the fact that they are now producing a result that is 25% more ‘quality’ than last week? This assumes that companies have robust measures in place already to track performance of these business metrics.

And in my experience, they don’t.

Let’s just guess if our training was effective

New research by ESI also casts doubt on the ability of companies to accurately record how useful training really is. Their study (which asked about 10 times as many people as the PM Solutions study) shows that 60% of respondents say that the main method they use for working out if training was effective is anecdotal feedback or guessing.

Guessing? Well, that really justifies my investment in training.

How can we make project management training more effective?

PM Solutions reports that instructor-led classroom training is the most effective method of training.

This was rated effective or very effective by about 70% of respondents. Instructor-led virtual learning, self-directed e-learning and technology-delivered training were all only rated as moderately effective.

“All the best preparation and training experience in the world can flounder if there is no follow-through at the workplace.” ESI research

The ESI study says that the top three strategies for ensuring what students learned on the course is transferred to the workplace are:

  • Providing students with the time, resources and responsibility to apply their new learning
  • Showing that their manager supports their studies
  • Taking a course where the instruction approach simulates the actual work environment.

It also concludes that post-learning tools are important to help transfer the knowledge the workplace after the course. These include post-course discussions with their manager, on-the-job aids, informal support such as social networks or online forums, communities of practice and coaching.

So, to make project management training as effective as possible, it should be:

  • Instructor-led classroom training with training material tailored to your project management processes and methods
  • Supported by your line manager
  • Followed up with on-the-job opportunities to practice what you have learned and discuss it with others.

My company doesn’t do that! What should I do?

First, be grateful that you have the opportunity to do training at all. Many firms are cutting back.

Second, if your company won’t provide that kind of support to help transfer your learning to the workplace, why not do it yourself? You will be the one who benefits ultimately. Making sure you assimilate what you have learned will make you a better project manager, and the better you are, the more career opportunities will be open to you.


  • Prepare properly for your course. Take along examples of your project management templates and processes and ask the instructor how the concepts relate to your work environment.
  • Schedule follow-up discussions with your manager when you are back.
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunity the course presents: could you stay in touch with any of the other students for peer-to-peer coaching sessions?
  • Ask the instructor what support materials are available, or what online groups they would recommend. Then join them.

Project management training is an essential part of being a better project manager, but it is hard to quantify how effective it really is to a company, as these two studies show. Rather than rely on your company to help you assimilate the knowledge, take responsibility yourself for making it as effective as possible for you. The company will see the benefits if you deliver them.

What’s your experience of coming back to your job after a course? Have you been asked to demonstrate improvements?


Over 75% of you feel that social media tools provide the opportunity to improve the way you manage projects, according to this year’s Social Media in a Project Environment survey.

The 2011 results show how project managers around the world are using social media tools to manage projects and lead teams. There was lots of interest in the uses of social media for project teams during the last two years (for example, my book, the Virtual Working Summit and Bas de Baar’s work, especially his presentation at the PMI EMEA Congress in Amsterdam).  This year shows that interest and experience of using social media tools at work is continuing.

Here are some of the trends:

Trend results

Comparing the 2010 and 2011 survey results

Many senior managers still fail to see the benefits that social media tools used professionally at work can bring. However, many workplaces are becoming more aware of the importance of tailoring communication channels to how the recipient wants to receive information. We need to tailor the way we communicate with project team members to ensure we are easy to work with, and that we work in ways that make sense to them.

Podcasts are not used enough for learning

One of the most interesting results for me was that podcasts and video podcasts are among the least used tools. When I started working in healthcare I listened to healthcare podcasts on my commute to work. They helped me quickly learn the jargon of my new sector and feel less of an idiot when people in meetings used words that were unfamiliar. There are lots of good project management podcasts, some of which, like The PDUCast, contribute to maintaining your professional credentials (this is an affiliate link).

I strongly recommend that if you don’t listen to podcasts for professional development, that you find some you like and start doing so. If you are responsible for coaching and mentoring project teams consider using them as low-cost, vehicles for training material.

Over 40% use tools unofficially

Social Media in a Project Environment 2011 survey

The scariest statistic from the survey was that 42% of people said that they are not officially sanctioned to use social media tools at work, but they do so anyway, an increase of 4% from last year.

IT managers and PMO teams need to wake up to the idea that employees are finding ways to use social media tools at work whether they have been officially sanctioned or not. Software installed outside of the official channels could be a security risk, it probably isn’t backed up and there is no visibility of it should the company need to provide information for audits or Data Protection Act subject access requests. If you are part of the 42% please talk to your IT team! If you don’t feel you can, please get in touch. I’m really interested in learning more about the reasons behind this result.

Get the full version of the survey results here.


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