In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Adrian Dooley: All Project Management Forms Includes a Degree of Agility


Journalist: Spring  |  Source: PMR  |  Updated:2019.02.11

Introduction to the Interviewee:
Adrian Dooley is the founder and lead author of the Praxis Framework.

Originally a construction project manager, he became involved in the development of project planning software for PC's in the early 1980's. In 1984 he set up a training and consultancy company, The Projects Group, and ran that until its sale in 2008. 

Adrian was a founder member of Project Manager Today Magazine and Project Management Exhibitions Ltd. From 1996 to 2000, he served on the APM Council and during that period he was the Head of Professional Development. He is also a non-executive Director of APM Group Ltd. 

A frequent author and commentator on Project Management, Adrian has published in Professional Engineer, Computer Weekly and The Daily Telegraph amongst others. He has been a regular speaker at conferences such as Best Practice Showcase, the APM Annual Conference and Project Challenge.

In 2011, he was the lead author of the 6th Edition of the APM’s Body of Knowledge and built on that experience to create the Praxis Framework which was launched in 2014. The Praxis Framework seeks to make good practice in project delivery freely available to practitioners around the world. It is now available in seven languages and continues to add more content and tools that support successful project delivery.


About Why Projects Fail

Q1. According to your survey and analysis, what are the top reasons for project failure?

Adrian Dooley: I have monitored surveys on project failure for many years. The really noticeable thing is that the results of these surveys have not changed in over 40 years. They invariably quote factors such as “Poor understanding of requirements” or “Failure to engage with key stakeholders”.

Since the simple project delivery functions of ‘requirements management’ and ‘stakeholder management’ are well established content in the most basic of project management courses, we have to ask ourselves why people learn about these things but do not apply them.

I believe that the top reason for project failure is that people simply do not apply well established good practice. It’s a bit like the problem of obesity in many cultures. We know how to cure it – you just have to eat less and exercise more. But for a variety of cultural reasons people find it very difficult to apply this simple solution.

In project delivery we must develop the habit of doing the simple things well. It takes more time to start but pays dividends in the long run. This is a lesson for senior management: “It’s no good just training your staff, you have to give them the opportunity to apply what they’ve learnt.”

About Project Success Standard
Q2. It has been noted that we should redefine the criteria of project success (not limited to the triangle of time, cost and scope). What’s your attitude towards it?
Adrian Dooley: When Dr. Martin Barnes created the ‘triple constraint’ of time, cost and scope, he was simply taking ideas that have been around for over a century and framing them in project management terms. He did this as a basis for discussing the compromises that have to be made on any project and it still works today because it is straightforward and fundamental.

The world is moving towards a knowledge-based economy. In that environment people are constantly trying to invent ‘new knowledge’ that can either be sold or enhance their reputation. They often do this by reformulating existing knowledge in a ‘better’ way. This usually does no more than dilute the original concept.

For example, as benefits management has gained in popularity, people suggest that benefits should be added to the triangle to make it a square. Then someone else says that risk should be added to make it a pentagon. These additions lose the value of the original concept because of the geometrical properties of triangles versus other shapes.

Instead we should say that benefits are just part of the scope component of the triangle and risk is inherent in all three components. All these potential additions can be accommodated by the original triangle and then the discussions around trade-offs and compromises are still valid.

About Praxis Framework
Q3. You created the Praxis Framework after retirement in 2011. What has motivated you to do so? What are the goals of the Praxis Framework? What are the top reasons for using it for project management?
Adrian Dooley: I was involved in training and consultancy for 25 years. My company ran courses in all the leading guides such as PMBoK® and PRINCE2TM. It struck me that all guides are based on the same fundamental common sense that is derived from practitioners and then packaged and sold back to them. It was also clear to me that there was a framework required for a complete implementation of what I would call ‘Organisational project delivery’ and all the well-known guides only covered part of this framework.

The goals of the Praxis Framework are: firstly to provide a complete, integrated framework for organisational project delivery that covers the four key elements of knowledge, method, competence and capability maturity. Secondly, to offer this in an open, accessible and royalty-free format. We encourage contributions from practitioners so that the framework can expand and evolve. Our key goal is to provide tools that help people apply good practice and address the top reason that I describe as causing project failure.

About Qualities of Project Managers
Q4. In a world where projects are increasingly multi-national and multi-cultural, what do you think are the top qualities of a project manager?
Adrian Dooley: First of all, I would say the list of ‘top qualities’ is context dependent. Many of the qualities required by a project manager on a simple construction project in one country are different to the project manager of a complex, multi-national business change programme. For example, the manager of the simple construction project will not usually need requirements management skills and will probably perform much of the planning themselves. The manager of the multi-national business change programme will have a support office to do all the planning and will need to have great stakeholder management skills that work in a multi-cultural environment.

There are many common qualities that are often simply qualities of any type of good manager such as honesty, ethical behaviour and focusing on relationships. I would place these in any list and then add those that are relevant to the context in which the project manager is working.

About Career
Q5. You were once a construction project manager. What did you learn from that early experience?
Adrian Dooley: The thing about the construction industry is that it does not see project management as a discipline within the industry – it is the industry. Everything in construction is about projects – that’s the way we deliver infrastructure. Everyone’s specialization is something that contributes to the project. That makes the construction industry far less susceptible to the fads and fashions of modern project management.

I suppose the key thing I learnt is that project management is not rocket science – it is primarily and predominantly just common sense.

Q6. You’ve been in this profession of project management for over four decades. What changes about this profession have you observed? As far as you can see, in what direction will project management evolve in the future?
Adrian Dooley: When I first started in training and consultancy, I was greatly helped by my background in construction. These were the very early days of major IT projects and the IT profession was very keen to learn from construction.

However, in contrast to construction, IT and business change see project management as a subset of what they do rather than the driving force in what they do. Given the very different nature of the two industries, this is perfectly reasonable but it creates a very different mindset. The most extreme examples of this are perhaps the #noprojects and #noestimates movements we currently see on social media.

Because technology moves on so quickly, there seems to be a mindset that expects management practices to move equally quickly. As a result, people never get the chance to master and embed good practices because by the time they are halfway there someone has come up with ‘a better idea’.

I hope project management will evolve to become something that is the natural way of delivering change. People will master and apply the basic principles before evaluating whether the latest management fashion will actually add value to the way they deliver change.

The Praxis Framework aims to do this by opening up good practice, removing mystique and emphasising the benefits of doing the simple things well.

About Body of Knowledge
Q7. As the lead author of the 6th Edition of the APM’s Body of Knowledge, what do you think of the necessity of establishing China’s own body of knowledge in PM?
Adrian Dooley: While the fundamentals of delivering projects are the same all over the world, project teams are made up of people and people have different cultures. Most good practice guides have arisen from western culture and while there is much to gain from that in China, I am sure there are ways the framework can, and should, be changed to better suit Chinese cultural norms. This would result in a more focused Chinese PM framework that would be easier for Chinese PMs to adopt as second nature.

This is something I particularly look forward to seeing arise from our work with Professor Ding Ronggui at the Praxis Research Centre in Shandong University. I hope there would be many lessons from Chinese culture that we can interpret for use in the western world. Our ability to do this arises from the fact that Praxis is open and community driven. Hopefully we will be able to replicate this cultural exchange with other nations and industries.

About Leadership
Q8. In the era of VUCA, what kind of leadership style do you recommend? What are your tips on change management?

Adrian Dooley: Most people want change, few are happy implementing it. Over the life cycle of a change initiative, a project manager must have an adaptable leadership style. Sometimes they must be open and accommodating and at other times they must be strong and drive the change through. It is very tempting to try and come up with yet another list of ‘the top ten qualities of a good change manager’ but that would be over-simplification because there are so many different types of change, so many different contexts for that change and so many different people involved.

If pushed, I would say that the top qualities are the ability to understand how people feel about change and seek to address concerns but recognise that you can’t please all the people all the time. Ultimately change is always going to be hard and potentially unacceptable to some people. All that the change manager can do is to be visibly engaged in addressing those concerns and clear in the reasons behind the decisions they make.

About Agile
Q9. You’ve said that linear (waterfall) and agile approaches can be blended in many ways. Would you please elaborate on this topic?
Adrian Dooley: I think it is a mistake to see waterfall and agile as mutually exclusive. All forms of project management have always included a degree of agility. Agility is simply the best way to respond to uncertainty and even the most thoroughly designed projects have a degree of uncertainty. Approaches like Concurrent Engineering were around decades before Agile and take similar approaches.

The problem is that by polarizing the argument we are creating a profession that is ‘either Agile or Waterfall’. This will ultimately be very bad for the profession. PMs will be labelled and only allowed to manage a project that suits their label. We need to develop PMs who understand all the different degrees of agility so that they can apply agile-like techniques where they work and less agile techniques where they are more appropriate – even within the same project.

About Project lifecycle
Q10. Project lifecycle should be extended. Do you agree?
Adrian Dooley: There are many project life cycles. The more traditional ones follow the typical involvement of the project manager, from initial idea to delivery of the objectives. Others follow the asset and go from the initial idea through operation to termination. Contractor life cycles are probably the shortest because the contractor is often given a full design and simply takes it from there to delivery.

We have to recognise that the life cycle looks different to different people.

About PM Certification 
Q11. In the global market, there are a variety of PM certificates available and PM certification seems to be thriving. What’s your comment on PM certification? (useful? necessary?) 
Adrian Dooley: There is much debate, sometimes heated, about PM certification. I believe that most of this is fueled by people who don’t understand what they are or what they are for. This is usually people who believe that a particular certification is a sign of competence when it is really only a sign of knowledge.

Certifications are simply milestones on an individual’s journey from knowing nothing about project management to being fully competent in project management. Each certification needs to be seen for what it is and no more. In that respect, certifications are very useful because they map out the journey.

The problem is recruiters or managers simply think that if someone has been on a two-day course and passed a multiple-choice exam, they are then qualified to manage a large complex project.

About Followership
Q12: Have you paid attention to followership? In your opinion, what kinds of followers will help project success?
Adrian Dooley: Similar to all other aspects of project management, followership is context sensitive. In some environments followers should challenge regularly and constructively – and of course the project manager’s leadership style must accommodate this. There are some environments where followers need to be more accepting of the project objectives and planned means of achieving them.

In general, it would greatly help if followers (team members) were well educated in the principles and processes of project management. This will help them understand why some things should be challenged and others should be accepted. The project manager is simply one part of the project management team and should not be the only one educated in project management. Leader and followers need to work for the common good of the project.

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