New research: the state of project management

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

Nearly 30% of project managers have seen a cutback in investment or projects as a result of the current economic climate, according to a study done by Josh Nankivel recently.  He asked the readers of what impacts on project management they had seen caused by the economy.

Nearly 20% of respondents said that they had noticed a reduction in quality.  “I have seen project management processes eliminated due to resource reductions or skipped to try and get more done,” said one project manager.  It’s not just quality in project terms: it also relates to people.  The survey showed a downwards slope with companies hiring less experienced staff.  “The search is on for cheaper project management, which results in worse control,” said another.

About a quarter of people noted a reduction in staff, either through making project managers themselves redundant or by a reduction in people available to work on the project.  “It looks like when companies are forced to let some people go that project managers are the first choice,” one anonymous respondent wrote.  “Layoffs usually affect non-eng[ineering] positions first,” added another.  People also commented on the impact this was having on pay for those still in work.  Consulting rates have been lowered as there is more supply than demand and one respondent said that consulting pay was down 10% on this time last year.

Cutbacks and hiring freezes have lead to fewer human resources being available for project teams.  There’s a noticeable clawing back of resources into core positions, and people seconded on to a project  are finding it hard to balance priorities: they have to focus on the day job and therefore have less time to spend on project tasks – making it harder for the project manager.  Lots of people responded that they were having to do more with less.

There is also a greater degree of financial scrutiny of projects, with 11% of people replying that this was more evident.  Or are they just paying more attention now to the boring bits that other people normally do?  There’s a return to having a ‘proper’ business case – something that projects should have always had.  No ROI, no project, however you define ROI.  Unfortunately, over the boom years this was neglected and any good idea was taken forward into a project.  As project managers, we don’t always get a say about whether a project is selected or not: often the business case is a done deal before we come along.  This shift to better financial scrutiny is actually a good thing, and may well result in project managers being involved in the earlier stages of the project.

There are some other bits of good news to pick out of the survey.  If you are looking for contract project management staff they are cheaper and more readily available than before: you can snap up quality, skilled resource at short notice and potentially lower rates.

Eight per cent of respondents hadn’t noticed any impact at all – and these people weren’t geographically in the same environments, they came from India and Australia, as well as North America. “The government projects are still on going,” wrote one respondent from South Africa, “and in our case there is such a skills deficiency in project management that projects are canned not due to funds but due to limited skills.”

An increase in demand for good, skilled project managers was reported by 7% of respondents, with one commentating that this translates as having the PMP certification.  So although training budgets are being cut and you can’t guarantee that your employer will fund your course, if you are already certified or prepared to fund it yourself you may find that it puts you at the front of the queue when it comes to vacancies, especially in North America.  “I have seen smaller companies looking for project managers and I’ve seen an increase in international companies looking for project managers,” said one project manager.  “Of course, it could well be that demand has been in those areas and I just haven’t been paying attention enough to notice it.”

A software sales manager pointed out that s/he had seen more people interested in using project management software. “I’m … a little surprised at the high level of interest (and sales) that have maintained throughout the G[lobal] C[redit] C[runch].”  I think this is a reflection of wanting to use the limited resources available in the best possible way – software and other project management tools are ways to do that.

Although morale generally seems low, things aren’t that bad in project management.  The current economic crisis is a chance for us to do what we do best: deliver results, make a difference and add value to our organisations.

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2 Comments to “New research: the state of project management”

  • Excellent message! Thanks for sharing it. It’s refreshing to hear that the voice of reason prevails among project managers. Things aren’t all bad (nor all good).

    Well managed organizations should be prudent in economic times like the present. A rational approach to evaluating potential projects is a part of that.

    Side by side with that, however, is the recognition that this moment offers a really great opportunity to companies that are in a position to take decisive, bold action.

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