Project Management Training Misses the Point

Spencer Holmes describes a new approach to the development of project managers to meets the current challenges of organisations in all sectors

3 key points are:

  1. Projects are changing in their nature
  2. Existing project training is inadequate
  3. Project leadership now has definition

I think we / projects / organisations / societies are on the eve of massive, long lasting change, as a Dad I certainly hope so. I think there will be a “tipping point” of people who’s drive increasingly becomes a conscious search for true, intrinsic value or “meaning”. As this occurs, some of the stuff we’ve been conditioned to chase traditionally will appear increasingly dated and unnecessary. There HAS to be something more…

I certainly believe the next evolution of development for project management is to focus on “leadership” and not management. To get deeper into why people  “bother” and to link performance as much to meaning as to money.

I am, by trade, a project manager and project management trainer / consultant. I am used to developing people’s (and my own) understanding of technical PM tools. On the whole it is easy to teach tools that, on first appearance, look hard. Earned value analysis, critical path analysis, risk evaluation, internal rate of return, analytical problem solving, estimating techniques, resource levelling etc. Once pulled apart and applied, these tend to stick and stay.

How is it then that despite the fact that this sort of training has been around for donkeys’ years, I keep hearing very similar stories about project disaster? (blame the training maybe?)


It seems that, whilst technical training is important, it is maybe the wrong tool to solve modern project problems, or at least an incomplete tool kit. My exposure to off-shoring in the flat World suggests that project challenges are less practical and more political, less mathematical and more multicultural

I have just come off a tour of training that took in Amsterdam, London, Abu Dhabi, Edinburgh and even Coventry! It is striking how similar everyone’s needs are on project management when probed.

It is customary to ask learners what they want from a course, good manners really. Despite the fact I was at each location to run technical planning techniques, everyone was asking for:

“Communicating across a diverse team”
“Getting better requirements
“Managing expectations”
“Managing upwards”
“Dealing with conflict and conflicting objectives”
“Negotiating for more time to think!”
“Dealing with uncomfortable situations”
“Motivating the team”

Regress pretty much any problem in a project and you end up with a behaviour at fault, not a technical tool.  Any time I suggest this to an experienced PM / Programme manager I get a resounding YES!

Are these technical issues? Of course there are tools, techniques and templates to support all these scenarios but the real missing link is the belief, behaviour, confidence and drive of the person you have left in charge of the thing.

So why does the PM world insist on trying to eradicate this emotional epidemic with a technical vaccine? It simply does not make sense and will not, does not work. There does not seem to be any compelling evidence that the zillion classroom hours spent learning Prince 1, 2, or any other methodology has reduced these issues.

Possibly because, in a formal sense there has not, as yet, been a credible attempt to define the specifics of project leadership. As a trainer my experience has been this. I run 6-day courses in a project management “body of knowledge” in order to get people through exams. The last day of which, typically, covers the “people stuff” of which about a fifth merits the heading “project leadership”. No wonder the muscle is meagre.

As we continue to study project problems the results will increasingly illustrate that what business “does” in the training room to improve its project performance ill-fits the causes of the issues.

I probably shouldn’t say this but some of the best projects I have known have been perfectly well conducted with very sparse budgets and not a whiff of methodology. What they have had is committed leaders and highly motivated “resources” or people as they were once known. What they also have is MEANING.


So, my next seven articles are going to describe in detail the outputs of a 7 year long study into the facets required from today’s project manager to succeed at leadership. As a taster I’ll start now by listing the 7 facets of project leadership and, over the series, talk about the relevance of each one.

The facets:
  • Pragmatism,
  • Creativity,
  • Positive Intolerance,
  • Stability,
  • Communication,
  • Motivation,
  • Group Orientation

In the next 7 blogs I’ll explain them, issues that come from a deficit in each and some thoughts about how to develop each…