I used to think, and say vociferously, that if a project fails it’s the fault of the PM – black and white. There wasn’t a case where I allowed for any other commentary.

Not enough people – PM’s fault

Poor sponsor – PM’s fault

Scope creep – PM’s fault

Well I was wrong. There is a time and circumstance when the PM simply cannot be held responsible – and I’m starting to think that suits PM’s quite nicely.

To tell the story I need to go back a step – to the original purpose of projects. To get something done that couldn’t be done in the ordinary work time and resources. A project was extra and important. Project Managers were tasked with making the desired outcome materialise.

It’s hard to accredit for actual performance and so the competency movement came into play and everyone followed down the path of qualifications and measureable competency.

Over the past 20 years this movement has hijacked the conversation and now most people believe that PM is the admin and competency stuff.

The time when failure isn’t the PM’s fault? When the sponsor, client or executive insists on the PM doing the competency stuff and move away from any driving activity. Failure is assured. The only thing a PM can do is quit – but few will as, well, they’re doing what they’re told and therefore only responsible for good records etc.

So there is a time when failure isn’t the PMs fault – and the question is – does anyone care?