Charisa Langeveld talks about how changes in project requirements brought a whole new level of control to projects, but how the industry did not change with it, to be able to embrace this project controls tool.
SA Projects: The changes that rocked the industry
If you work in projects, you know this scenario: The Project Manager says “This Project Planner doesn’t know what he’s doing!”, and the Project Planner says “This Project Manager wouldn’t know a good schedule if it hit him in the face!”. Who is right? The sad reality in the South African Projects Industry, is that both are right. And I’m going to tell you why.
Hi, I’m Charisa Langeveld and I’m talking about projects, project planning and project management. Join me as we take a step back in time.
Not too long ago, let’s say 15, 20 years ago, project planning was a niche in South Africa.
It was only used by those who truly believed it added value. Not everyone used it, and not many knew how to do it. Because this wasn’t a “popular” career, there was no set path to reach this skill. No university degrees, no college degrees, in fact, no formal training whatsoever. It was basically done in the form of mentorship by companies who believed it important and thus invested in it. Project Management, on the other hand, was a rather developed skillset in our country. Clear career paths with set standards and many forms of education and experience could lead you to be a Project Manager. But a Project Manager’s education just brushed over Project Planning. That’s because not every Project Manager was confronted with Project Planning. In fact, only few and far between were ever confronted with it. So it made no sense to go in depth into a topic that only a handful of Project Managers would use.
But then the industry changed. Projects were grossly under delivering. It became necessary to monitor progress throughout the lifecycle of the project, to foresee problems before they arise and if problems did arise, to predict the best way forward to still successfully complete projects. Along with this, contracts became super complex and responsibility and accountability for bad progress became the topic of note. Suddenly, almost every project in the country was contractually required to have project planning.
Now, almost everyone was confronted with it. Almost everyone had to work with a Project Planner and, more importantly, with a schedule. Project Managers who were used to running things the way they want, or maybe the way they felt was right for the project, now feel they have to answer to the Project Planner in the way they run it. Yet, they have not been taught much about Project Planning. Nobody gave them a crash course when the industry changed to say what Project Planning is meant to do for you. Nobody explained how this amazing tool can help a Project Manager to always have a handle on his project. To know when material needs to be ordered, how many people should be working in each area, whether they’re on target or not. Not only were Project Managers not taught what the value of the tool is, but they weren’t even taught how to understand the reporting. So, when the Project Planner says that his Project Manager wouldn’t know a good schedule if it hit him in the face, he would probably be right. How could he? Project Manager’s education, even today, over 15 years after the industry change, still does not include this crucial tool. Nobody is telling them how to use it.
Let’s go back to the day the industry changed, the day it became a contractual requirement. Suddenly, the industry was looking for Project Planners! We’ve established that it wasn’t a popular career, so the skill was scarce, and that made it expensive. Where this was basically an unknown career, everyone suddenly wanted in, because it paid…and it paid well. But there was still no clear career path, no education, no standards for becoming a Project Planner. In addition to that, the industry was not at all familiar with the skillset, how to measure it or even how to identify it. So the only they could think of measuring it, was by way of the software. So that became the requirement for getting the job. So to get in, people would do a course in the software and, in the words of a Project Planner that I spoke to recently, were then “qualified” to be a project planner. So when the Project Manager says that “This Project Planner doesn’t know what he’s doing!”, he’s probably right. How could he? He didn’t even know there was more training to be had, then software training. He couldn’t know that there is more to Project Planning than data inputs.
So now we have a Project Planner who isn’t capable of providing a quality service to help his Project Manager control the project. And a Project Manager, who does not know how to read or use this schedule in the first place. And the result is that these two, instead working together like they are meant to, and being a mean machine in projects, are clashing with each other.
The Project Manager, who doesn’t understand the plan, does not work the plan. This results in the Planner re-planning in order to keep the plan up to date with the Manager’s actions, leaving him no time do actual forecasts and then he doesn’t assist the Project Manager the way it was intended. The Project Manager then follows his own agenda with the Project Planner cleaning up after him rather than making the way.
The Project Planner, who doesn’t know the complexities of Project Planning, gives the Project Manager a plan that is unreliable and incredible, leaving the Project Manager to chase dates he never agreed to, never truly knowing where he is in the project and basically running blind.
Let me paint you a picture of what it could be like, when the knowledge in the industry, starts to match the changes that rocked the industry.
Where the Project Manager understands the schedule, the reporting and the value of the project plan, he makes his Project Planner his right-hand man. Where the Project Planner understands the principles of project planning, he makes his Project Manager his action-man. The combination can have a full view of exactly what happens within a project, what must be done and how exactly things are done and problems can be foreseen and prevented, rather than fighting fires and being on the backfoot all the time.
Together these two can have a handle on the project at all times. Working as a team they can realise great success.