In the early stages of a project management career, some professionals have a lack of understanding of the link between business strategy and projects, and with this, the acumen to know what business information emanating from the project is useful to extract, interpret and provide to the executives to assist them in decision-making, says professional association Project Management South Africa (PMSA) CEO Taryn van Olden.
PMSA has the responsibility of formalising and conferring professional designations for project managers.
Van Olden says PMSA members are currently undergoing assessment towards these designations that require a review of the competencies associated with project management.
“The assessment process is designed to not only assist the applicant to reflect on their practices, but to identify any gaps that can generally be dealt with through ongoing professional development. These gaps are typically in competences that demonstrate business value.”
She points out that there is also hesitation among project managers to adopt new practices, and to tweak their competency to deliver on the projects’ demand. For PMSA, this is largely addressed through the designations programme which requires designation-holders to undertake ongoing professional development and competency enhancement to maintain their national recognition.
Looking at newer approaches, with agile project management as just one example, Van Olden suggests that these methodologies not be regarded as a threat to the traditional method of project management but as an approach that needs to be understood “to the point that project managers can advise their organisations whether agile project management can bring business value or not”.
Agile project management focuses on continuous improvement, scope flexibility, team input, and delivering essential quality products.
Soft skills, such as communications, are important in project management, as project managers need to promote innovation and creativity within their teams, she adds.
“The assessment instruments we use when evaluating candidates for professional designations are designed to identify the hard and soft skills and competencies that should be expected of project managers at the different levels.”
Van Olden says, while project management skills may be transportable across sectors, seniority in the profession is determined by the complexity of the projects that comprise a practitioner’s experience.
“PMSA confers professional designations such as project managers, senior project managers and professional project managers using complexity as one of the assessment criteria in awarding designations.”
She says competency assessment is a critical service offered by a professional body, and employers of project managers have much to gain by insisting on professional designations when appointing their project managers.
When evaluating the level of complexity a designation candidate has worked with, PMSA refers to the Crawford-Ishikura Factor Tables for evaluating roles – a project management tool which considers seven aspects of project complexity that are also applicable to South African projects.
The seven aspects are project stability; disciplines and methods; the magnitude of legal and social implications; the expected financial impact on the project stakeholders; the strategic importance of the project to organisations; stakeholder cohesion regarding the characteristics of the product; and the number and variety of interfaces between the project and other organisational entities.
Van Olden notes that, in the past, project management was regarded as an ‘accidental profession’, which means that there was no direct route to study project management as a discipline. She states that project practitioners generally started out from a technical role, as engineer, or information technology professional, for example.
“There is sufficient industry demand now for immediate specialisation in project management, with the result that more training and education opportunities exist to facilitate learners to become certified or qualified as project managers.”
Moreover, PMSA chairperson Hareesh Patel says South Africa does not have sufficient and qualified supply chain management personnel in government institutions to manage procurement processes in line with the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act, which aims to advance the transformation agenda through government spending and stop corruption in the supply chain.
Consequently, tenders and requests for quotes are taking long to be adjudicated, which, in turn, affects the time taken to award contracts.
“As a result of inflation, by the time the bidder gets the award, the input costs of materials have escalated, and this results in lower profit margins or losses, prompting contractors to cut corners while doing the work and, ultimately, not meeting the set deadlines and hampering service delivery.”
Van Olden suggests that the slow delivery of South Africa’s 18 Strategic Integrated Projects that fall within the National Infrastructure Plan, which aims to be the embodiment of the National Development Plan and Vision 2030 blueprints, is in part because of an insufficiently skilled human resources.
“In tough economic times like this, the stakes are higher than ever to deliver projects strategically and successfully. We cannot be assigning capital expenditure to projects that are poorly planned and managed.”
The latest Pulse of the Profession study, conducted by global project management professional association, Project Management Institute, researched disruptive technologies and their effects on project management.
Van Olden notes that the study cited disruptive technologies, such as cloud solutions, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, 5G mobile Internet, voice-driven software, three-dimensional printing, advanced robotics, building information modelling, blockchain, large-scale energy storage, gene sequencing and genomics as the drivers of competitive advantage in project management.
“These technologies become compelling to project leaders when they can be beneficial in project management by providing greater efficiency, increasing a team’s productivity and automating tasks. The Pulse of the Profession report reflects the business benefits emerging when these technologies free up time for more important work, improving product and service development, facilitating more strategic contributions, and building stronger connections among team members,” she concludes.