I have worked almost exclusively in and for HA Development teams since the early 1980s. In my first 15 years I worked in 5 HAs, progressing from Development Assistant to Group Development Director of a regional HA, delivering lots of projects in the custom and practice manner of Development teams. I must have been quite good at it or I would not have progressed in the way that I did. I certainly thought that I was pretty good at it.
It was only then that I began reading about “formal” project management. It was a revelation, and something of a shock, to discover just how much I didn’t know.
I knew quite a lot about property development, but I began to understand that I just didn’t know much about project management. I hadn’t realised before that they are two completely different areas of knowledge and skill!
It became clear to me that I had been barely administering my projects and very rarely (if ever) managing them. In fact, in most cases, I had not even been the Project Administrator, but had fulfilled the much easier role of technically-aware Client Representative. To the extent that my projects were being managed, it was mostly being done by the Employer’s Agent. But what they were doing fell a long way short of effective management of the scheme, partly because few are trained project managers, but mostly because it wasn’t in their letter of appointment! After all, I (or my staff) were the ones with the job title Project Manager. So, schemes were being delivered, but with much more delay, cost and emotional trauma than was necessary.
Studying and obtaining professional project management qualifications has not only enabled me to be much more efficient and effective in delivering projects, but it has helped me think much more clearly than in the past. This has been the main benefit, I would say. What often seemed somewhat foggy, confusing and uncertain is now very clear.
Partly, of course, this is to do with experience but mostly it comes from having a much clearer understanding of the stages, issues and processes involved in project management from having studied it. I can see through the ‘fog of war’, identify the key issues and focus on them.
It also became obvious very quickly that if projects are set up well, life is much easier “downstream”. Conversely, projects that are poorly setup in their early stages will result in a lot more problems, firefighting and less success. This general idea wasn’t new to me – experience had given me a feeling that this was the case – but what was very helpful was understanding in detail what constitutes “setting up a project well”.
This underlines the point that it is even more important that New Business staff are good project managers than Delivery staff. Fundamentally, the project success or failure is determined by how well it is set up in its early stages. Skilful management of “downstream” activities might ameliorate some built-in project problems, but are are unlikely to be able to overcome them entirely.
I know that some New Business staff think that project management will inhibit their ability to negotiate deals, come up with innovative solutions and be creative. They fear that project management is a bureaucratic straitjacket. This is a fundamental misunderstanding – project managers have to be creative problem-solvers, and these are seen as very positive characteristics and behaviours by the profession. All that PM requires is that the creative problem-solving is directed towards achieving the agreed objectives, not something that results in us doing the wrong type of project. It focuses creativity, it does not stop it.
Learning-through-experience (the usual way Development staff are expected to progress) has some advantages, but is painfully slow compared with studying the subject. The ideal scenario is to be able to do both i.e. study the subject and then develop the practical applications on the projects we manage in the day job.
I wish I had known sooner about the benefits of studying project management. I wish someone had told me about it a decade earlier. I have therefore been running professionally accredited project management training courses ever since, to be that person, highlighting the opportunity to others.
I’m pleased that I found my professional “home” – the APM, the Chartered body for project management in the UK. And, of course, I’m pleased that I obtained my qualifications. Not only does it boost self-confidence (good for the individual), but professionalising Development & Regeneration teams means projects and programmes are delivered more efficiently and effectively, which is good for the organisations, and the people we house.
I hope you are able to join us on our project management courses – both New Business people as well as Delivery people!
Andrew Drury, HATC Ltd.