Everyone These Days Is A “Project Manager.” How Do We Know Who's Actually Capable Of Delivering A Project?

Although there are industry bodies, such as The Australian Institute of Project Management and Engineers Australia, which generally govern how project managers should do things, project management remains an unregulated industry.

In addition to these two industry bodies, there are also two main bodies of theory in Australia that project managers tend to use. Firstly, there’s a methodology called “Prince Two” (Projects In Controlled Environments), which is a UK derived methodology. The other is P M B O K (Project Management Body Of Knowledge). Each of these disciplines runs its own race, but they ultimately achieve the same results through a structured process of delivery.

Most project managers aren’t well-versed in either of these two theories. In fact, the majority of project managers have never studied these theories and are not members of the organisations or bodies who are supposed to manage the application of work within the industry. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad project managers. It just means that the industry itself is loose and unregulated, which makes the client’s job of identifying a project manager who will be suitable for their project extremely challenging.

On the plus side, struggling upfront to engage the right project manager should be the only struggle a client has on a project. This is because, once they get the project manager in, the PM can run the whole project.

The reality is that even if it seems as though engaging a project manager is hard, engaging engineers, architects, and builders is significantly harder. Even though they are more heavily regulated, the further down the project path you go, the greater the variability in terms of the right people to engage. So the client’s focus needs to be on getting a good PM on board, in order to delegate the more challenging task of filling these other roles.

Before we work with clients, there are some key things we ask them to consider before making a decision. Firstly, we ask them to think about the culture of the business that the PM works for. We also ask them to ensure the PM has the correct level of experience. Most importantly, though, we ask them to look at the results that an individual PM has achieved for previous clients. Previous performance is absolutely essential in the project management space.

For instance, if you’re a client looking to build a theme park, you’re not going to engage a project manager who has only delivered local council roads—no matter how good their outcomes. It’s important that clients try to match skillsets with the infrastructure solution they think they need. It’s pretty logical. Even so, the number of times we see clients engaging project managers with zero applicable skills to what they’re doing is significant.

Bait And Switch

The reason that this is such a common problem is something called “the bait and switch.” Many project management firms will have a couple of first-rate project managers that most clients will find desirable. The project management companies will use those PMs in their proposal, so that the client thinks they’re getting that particular PM for their project. However, when it comes to signing, the client will sign up the firm—not the person.

Once the firm is engaged, they’ll have a conversation up front with the client to say that their preferred PM is not available, or they’ve had to move to a different project. They will then switch out this highly qualified and very experienced project manager for someone who may not have the right skillset to fulfill the client’s needs.

For this reason, it’s always important that the client specifies that they are engaging a particular project manager, rather than simply engaging the company. From a contractual standpoint, of course they are engaging the company. However, the contract also needs to specify the individuals within the project management company who will be assigned to that project.

This means that, from day one, the company can’t propose different resources. They will be contractually obliged to ensure the project manager used in the proposal is the one used on the project. This matters because the reality is that companies don’t deliver projects—people do.

When you look at very large project management firms, the performance of projects carried out by these companies differs greatly, based on who is running the project. It’s a big challenge. Running projects is not like flipping hamburgers. There’s no set process. It is a highly skilled profession, and so it is crucial that clients engage a highly skilled professional.

Another key point that clients need to be aware of is that companies will often give them a big list of projects that they’ve delivered in the past, which may be suitable to this client’s project. However, it is likely that not all of the individuals who were involved with those projects still work for that company. This means that it’s important clients don’t get sold on company brochures.


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