At a recent meeting with project management colleagues, once again the question arose why so many projects fail. Shortly before, another project was completed, which remained well below the expected margin. Most named classics for failure often include customers, poor communication, under-estimated deadlines, overlooking important details, and inattentive management. And, yes, complexity.

Isn’t it absurd? Projects are carried out with certified project managers who master the magical project management triangle in a virtuoso manner, who are supported by the latest technologies and guided by solid processes – and yet ¾ of all projects fail according to a study by Forrester. Are all these certifications, technologies and processes absurd?

One size fits all – the universal process will fix it

Projects have existed for thousands of years. Whether palaces, bridges or pyramids have been built or operating systems have been programmed: everything had something to do with project management. With the „Manhattan project”, however, project management began to document and develop standards and kept gradually moving into commercial enterprises. First books about project management were written and training / certifications offered. 

Today, there are several institutes that create these standards and certifications. These processes are then used as a framework around the companies own processes but are also often adopted as a complete project management process landscape. There are countless vendors offering technology platforms to help project managers with project plans, resource management, budget control, and more.

I have repeatedly found that the benefits and practicability of ready-made processes or „corporate processes“ that are put on several organizations in the company often go far beyond of what’s really needed. This is where processes, developed in the 1980s for the construction of complex plants in the oil & gas industry, rigorously applied to service projects or the installation of a control cabinet. Or, for projects with a $ 50k budget, two engineering kick-offs followed by a series of reviews that have already burned $ 5k due to participating people. In the first week.

A first step would be to take a close look at the minimum requirements for a universal process and equip it with applications or modules for the different project requirements (location, industry, budget, complexity, etc.). Similar to the automotive industry, where there is a basic platform for a variety of body and trim options, you can also design your processes to fit them and provide the best possible support for the project. The next step is the embedding in the sales, engineering and service process – to avoid the silos within the company.

Nothing works without experience – but possibly without certification

”We are looking for project management experts in their field who are able to master the methods so well that they can coordinate and schedule complex projects in an interdisciplinary and intercultural environment. Whether a project manager bring the knowledge from a certification or experience, is not ultimately crucial.”

Certifications are very popular in the project management world – but are they worth their money? Well, a certification can help you get better respected by colleagues, team members or even hiring managers. In addition, more and more customers request these certifications. With a certification on hand, project managers show that he/she is able to absorb new knowledge and apply it to tasks. It shows competence and inspires confidence in the management.

Experience can only be accumulated over a longer period of time. It is also easier to trust someone with a certification than someone who can only say that he did it himself several times. But experiences can not be collected in a class. They are something that is difficult to practice even with knowledge, without experiencing the effects of a real scenario.

A third and very important role in this area should be given to soft skills: communication skills, assertiveness and goal orientation are required – and far too little attention paid that project managers have these. So if you want to evolve your technical oriented project members to successful project managers, you should focus not only on project management methods (project plans, resource management, budget control, etc.), but also on intercultural competence.

Clearly, there are pros to certifications and there are benefits of on-the-job experience, so try to strike an equal balance between both. However, technical and methodological ”hard skills” are needed to do the job – both which you will gain with certifications and experiencing the effects of a real scenario. ”Soft skills” are needed to achieve the desired results in a people-oriented and customer-centered working environment.

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