Singing the praises of the project manager

Teamwork can boost efficiency and open up career paths, as
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The Independent Online
In today's constantly changing business world, project management is all the rage. With developments happening ever faster, organisations are better able to respond if they have at least some of their staff working in project teams rather than confined to departments or functions.

So goes the thinking. The problem is that few people are properly trained for it.

One company that is trying to do something about this is Computer Management Group, an information technology consultancy with extensive experience of running projects. It has just launched a project management development programme. The idea is to increase the size of projects that managers feel competent to tackle as well as to expand the range of tools and techniques available to them.

The idea stems from the belief of the manager behind the programme, Jim Mackay, that many of the difficulties are the result of a lack of appreciation of the discipline needed. "A lot of senior managers haven't gone through it, so they don't know about it," he says. The concept originated in construction but is now spreading to other industries, particularly IT.

Another factor is the general absence of a career structure. Even at a time of flatter hierarchies there is a perception that prospects are better in traditional functions than in moving from one project to another, no matter how prestigious they might be. CMG is attempting to counter this by establishing a "defined career path as an alternative to line management".

Under the programme, says Mr Mackay, CMG's adviser to large projects, the company is setting up a register of those of its consultants who have already demonstrated competence in the area and wish to continue in it.

The initiative itself is in three parts - training, support and communications.

Training takes a number of forms. The company's existing courses are being examined to see whether they meet the needs of the participants, while workshop training that was previously the preserve of managers is being extended to all those involved in the programme. One-to-one coaching is to be introduced and individuals are encouraged to undertake their own learning through the use of a library.

Mr Mackay sees support as essential, particularly since project managers habitually operate in a continually stressful situation known as the "triple constraint" - that is, they must deliver on time, to budget and to specification. "I believe project management is hard. It needs people with experience and you need support," he says.

The support network aims to ensure that experiences of projects - good as well as bad - are shared and that lessons are learned. Mentors are being selected to encourage the cross-fertilisation of ideas and, most practically, the network is being used to help people working towards obtaining formal qualifications through the Association of Project Managers by pairing them with those who have already attained the standards.

Communication with and between 100 people who are frequently scattered among clients is, the company acknowledges, "a challenge in itself". But a start is being made with a monthly newsletter giving information on new projects.

The aim is that individuals will benefit through the development of their skills while the organisation will gain by having improved control over projects.

"We can help big organisations because we are doing projects all the time and can share our experience," says Mr Mackay.