Keeping up: Responding to business challenges

Last week I wrote about the challenges facing project management as a result of evolving business practices. So, how is project management responding to these challenges?

Frankly, I don’t think that we are.

  • 71% of projects fail each year
  • Projects achieve 93% of what they set out to deliver…
  • … and take 84% more time than planned

You have probably seen these statistics, or similar ones, before. These are from the Standish Group’s Chaos report and a UK survey called ‘State of IT Project Management’. Both studies are now a bit out of date, but even if the results are 50% better than when the research was done, the picture is still bleak.

The last great innovation in the way we do projects, in my opinion, was the precedence diagramming method, developed by John Fondahl in the 1960’s. If you use Microsoft Project’s critical path feature, you are using a version of precedence diagramming method. John Fondahl was very influential in developing ways to manage project scheduling for large construction work. He died in September 2008.

While critical path method and precedence diagramming are very useful, they were designed for the construction industry. How many of us are actively involved today in construction projects? Most of us work with office-based projects, looking at technology, process innovation and business change.

There are probably the same amount of construction projects going on today as there were in the 1960’s – there is a huge amount of building work underway in London, for example, in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. But there are an equally large, if not larger, number of other projects that don’t fall into the construction category, especially now a lot of the repetitive and non-core work is off-shored or out-sourced.

So we are using tools that are decades old and not designed for the projects we manage every day. Do you see the problem?

At the APM conference last month I asked the audience if their project management team was equipped to face the changing requirements of 21st business practices.

63% said they weren’t. Only 8% said they were fully prepared to respond to today’s business challenges. If you were part of the 8% and have some ideas to share, then please get in touch!

There are new ways of working and next week I’ll be looking at some of the tools and techniques in use in other areas, and writing about how project management could make use of those.

Missed last week’s article on the business challenges facing project managers? Catch up here.

One Comment

  1. Elizabeth

    I fully agree with you that our thinking is somewhat out of touch with the current situation. My area of expertise is technology projects and in particular the study of why technology projects fail. The following article I think helps demonstrate why our thinking is out of tune with much of our reality. Would love to hear you thoughts.

    What makes technology projects so hard to do? (

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