Global businesses face a number of serious challenges, ranging from the implementation of a new IT system to a complex change management process, or expansion into a new market. Large projects, worth more than $10m, are twice more likely to be late, over budget and miss critical features than small projects1.

However, all projects and programme initiatives have an element of risk and require trained staff to deliver the best possible outcomes. Delivering effective training on a wide range of project management skills is the challenge facing HR and learning professionals.

Businesses are managing an increasingly mobile and multi-generational workforce that wants flexible access to learning content. Responding to the need for more agile learning while ensuring the entire workforce is suitably trained to deliver the right project outcomes has become key.

Identifying shortfalls

If you understand why projects fail, you can pinpoint targeted learning solutions. However, too often when organisations become aware that they have a problem with project management – perhaps projects are failing to come in on time or on budget or are not delivering the desired business benefits – the response is to put in place generic project management training for a large and generalist population of staff. This response is not only disproportionate but also unhelpful, wasting staff time on training that is likely to comprise of elements they know already or that they simply do not need to know.

ILX’s 3CAT competency assessment tool tracks assessment against the APM’s 27 Competencies for Project Managers – and the process of implementing the tool across a large number of organisations has exposed some widespread project management shortcomings in both cultural and commercial competencies.

There are four primary areas of weaknesses in terms of cultural competencies: (1) governance, (2) stakeholder management, (3) project management skills and (4) risk management. From a commercial point of view, the research uncovered four major factors behind project failure: inability to understand the business case of the project; lack of understanding of earned value management, failure to understand project success criteria, and project team members and managers not having appropriate negotiation skills. Of all these factors, shortcomings in project sponsorship and risk management are perhaps the most significant in causing projects to fail.

Project sponsorship is too often overlooked. It demands that the executive sponsor for that programme should drive the project. Sponsorship provides an effective link between the organisation’s senior executive body and the management of the project.

The sponsor should have a solid understanding of the business case for the project and be prepared to support the project manager to drive it to successful completion. When more than 80 per cent of projects have an executive sponsor, 65 per cent more projects are successful2. Yet, on average, only three in five projects have engaged executive sponsors.

Risk management is also key to success. Risk management is the systematic application of principles, an approach and a process to the tasks of identifying and assessing risks and then planning and implementing risk responses. If risks are managed from the outset it is easier to mitigate them but only 28 percent of organisations always follow best practice when it comes to risk management2.

Meeting expectations

Increasingly the workforce has an expectation of accessing training support on the move, on their mobile devices. Younger digital natives would expect nothing else and there are higher expectations on all employees to drive their own personal development and learning.

Five-day classroom training courses are the exception these days. Employees are used to fitting in self-directed training with work and domestic commitments in the quest for work-life balance. Providing learning when the learner needs it, as part of blended learning that includes some formal classroom training and on-the-job mentorship is key.

Mobile learning addresses many of the challenges faced by businesses in the world of complex project and programme management. As well as providing accessible e-learning, a mobile learning app is a convenient resource for project managers to use to refresh their knowledge six months down the line.

HR professionals can take a number of steps to help facilitate the right kind of mobile training support for frontline project managers:

1. Start with understanding the business goal and align mobile learning outcomes to that.

2. Recognise the performance gaps and where the skills shortages lie. The business goal might be to deliver more projects but the performance shortfall may be risk management skills.

3. Always blend learning delivery and design the right mix of training delivery to respond to the needs of your workforce – if you have lots of young staff or lots of mobile staff, a higher proportion of mobile learning might work for you, whereas more classroom training might work for 9-5 office workers or shop floor staff.

4. Get management buy-in for any change in behaviour that you are expecting to result from a learning intervention.

5. Measure results. A clear understanding of performance gaps can help identify KPIs that demonstrate that you have met your goals. Communicate successes widely to help justify budget for further similar initiatives.

Expectations of project manager performance are becoming ever higher. Project managers are expected to be able to juggle multiple projects at any one time – few have the luxury of just seeing one project through from start to finish in a textbook fashion. Most have to complete several projects simultaneously with less time and budget than is recommended.

There have always been large complex projects but the pressure is now on to be juggling two or three projects at once. Project managers who are more informed and efficient in the methodologies of the routine parts of delivering projects and programmes are better placed to handle some of the unforeseen or more complex challenges. Mobile project management skills training can help plug the skills gap and deliver the desired business benefits.

1 The Standish Group: CHAOS Research Report 2013
2 Project Management Institute 2016 8th Global Project Management Survey http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/learning/pulse-of-the-profession-2016.ashx

Further reading available via Management of Risk Guidance for Practitioners Published by AXELOS and APM Body of Knowledge.





Russell Kenrick is Managing Director at ILX.