There’s no tomorrow (without projects)

It’s shocking to people just getting it. And scary. And urgent.

The future is bleak for many organisations.

Realisation is dawning.

Organisational targets and goals are met by only two things:

  1. what we do and offer today, and
  2. what we do and offer tomorrow.

Today’s results come from operations, from what organisations do now. From sales made, products built, services offered, regulations met, policy implemented, and stakeholders managed.

Tomorrow’s results come from the projects we’re working on and the ones we’re planning. Sure the outcome of the project will be delivered through operations but the project is what makes that possible.

With realisation comes a sinking feeling. We focus on getting operations right. We have measurements and improvements and work towards slick and robust operations.

But projects? Heck, we don’t even really know what’s going on and where? We expect they’ll run late and over budget. We get coloured reports and interpretive updates but we’re not sure we really know what’s going on.

We’re not game to ask the hard questions – if we know what the hard questions are. Our project people take on an air of superiority and we feel a bit less than when our questions are met with, well we’re not sure. We are told things and it’s ok at the time but later we wonder whether in fact we know any more.

Research* tells us for most organisations the percentage of the overall budget allocated to projects is around 40%. This figure is rising as the pace of change speeds up. Yesterday’s services and products won’t cut it tomorrow.

For most organisations (with the possible exception of governments where the citizens have no choice but to use whatever level of service is provided) there really is no tomorrow without projects.

Why then are projects the poor cousins to operations? Why do organisations act on a belief project people are commodities? Why do organisations go for the cheapest project leaders? Why are project people ‘bought’ from bulk providers?

Why do organisations put their future in the hands of people without the skills and capability to run cross enterprise projects? Why?

It’s because until now they haven’t understood the importance of those projects.

They haven’t understood making projects happen is a higher order skill set. They haven’t understood project leaders are the last category to go cheap on. They haven’t understood project administration (which is what most project managers do) does not result in projected outcomes. They haven’t understood a short course, even followed with accreditation by an industry body, does not guarantee a wanted outcome.

They haven’t understood that getting the wanted outcome is a higher order skill.

But some are realising now. Tomorrow’s true leaders, the successful people of tomorrow get this and are changing the way things are done. There are two key trends:

  1. Growing project delivery capability in-house in parallel with growing capability in the verticals of operations (sales, marketing, finance, product development, etc.)
  2. Recruiting (even for short periods) people who can and do make the right things happen. People who can come in, read the organisation, lead to success and replace themselves with capable people from inside.

The key is acknowledging that projects are key to tomorrow and delivering them is more than a commodity player can deliver.

There is hope for tomorrow, but only for those organisations with people who understand and act on the real place of projects and building the right people to lead them.

Please share stories of organisations you know, where those at the top – get it and act on it. Let’s spread the word.

*Research conducted by RNC Global Projects and published as a paper at the Conference of the Association of Global Management Studies, Said Business School, Oxford, UK, 2014.