April 19, 2015


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Management: Pulse of the Profession 2015

Capturing the Value of Project Management

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has conducted the Pulse of the Profession study since 2006 to provide evidence that implementing strategy successfully is inextricably linked to an organization’s capability to deliver successful projects and programs.

The Report explores the Pulse findings and it demonstrates a clear path forward by focussing on fundamentals of culture, talent and process.

High-performing organizations are demonstrating that adhering to proven project, program, and portfolio management practices reduces risks, cuts costs, and improves success rates of projects and programs. This focus emphasizes the need for all organizations to get back to basics: By embedding a project management mindset in their culture, they will be better able to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

High-performing organizations drive project management and deploy related competencies with a goal of maximizing organizational value. The Pulse study shows that projects within these organizations meet original goals and business intent two-and-a-half times more often than those in low-performing organizations (90 percent vs. 36 percent).

High-performing organizations also waste about 13 times less money than low performers. No increase in the number of high-performing organizations was seen since 2012. This number remains steady at 12 percent.

Project Management Basics

What helps an organization build and sustain its growth capacity and become a high performer?

The Pulse research shows a number of factors contribute to this success, including a focus on what are considered the basics:

  • Fully understanding the value of project management
  • Having actively engaged executive sponsors
  • Aligning projects to strategy
  • Developing and maintaining project management talent
  • Establishing a well-aligned and effective PMO
  • Using standardized project management practices throughout the organization


Foundational practices for high performers

Research shows that high performers are likely to focus on:

  • Greater knowledge transfer effectiveness
  • More rigorous risk management
  • More frequent use of agile/incremental/iterative practices in project management
  • Higher benefits realization maturity.


To read the full report, visit Pulse of the Profession 2015

Please subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting (top right) not to miss future articles.


Infographic: Project Manager Salaries

For existing project managers it’s interesting to compare your salary with industry trends from this research performed by PROJECTMANAGER.COM.

For aspiring project managers this is very important information to understand what you will earn once you embark on this career path.

Important to remember is that your job title, role, location, and project-size all influence your salary.


infographic depicting a salary guide for project managers world-wide
Courtesy of: ProjectManager.com

Communication Challenges for Virtual Project Teams Part 2

Have you ever worked with virtual teams as a project manager? (Click for related articles) From my experience of working with virtual teams who are distributed and working remotely, we have to overcome the communication challenges by using tools like tele-conference facilities, instant messaging and email.

This article is Part 2 of a discussion of research findings about the challenges virtual teams face, communication preferences and recommendations. It is based on an online survey done by Software Advice’s Noel Radley (*) with professionals who regularly work on virtual projects, and who had an opinion on the challenges of virtual projects.

Virtual Team Members’ Preferred Communication Channels

Virtual team's preferred Communication channels


Preferred Communication Tools

The survey confirmed recent reports that email usage has not yet declined to the extent some predicted. To the contrary, 41 percent of virtual team members surveyed selected email as their most preferred communication tool. However, it was also stated as problematic by some (23%) due to long email threads.

After email, phone was selected by 36 percent of those surveyed as their preferred communication channel perhaps due to the benefits of a “real-time” collaboration tool. Surprisingly, tools designed for online collaboration were selected by the fewest respondents. Only 12 percent selected virtual conferencing as a preferred communication channel, and discussion forums and chat rooms were selected by just 10 percent.

Miller recommends instant messaging (or chat) as one of the more effective real-time communication channels for virtual teams. It’s a much better way to collaborate on something that’s in active progress, or to reach a final decision on an issue. It can also be used to link directly to Web pages or relevant documents that may come up in conversation.

When facing virtual workers who prefer traditional communication channels, managers may need to push adoption in order to help bridge the gap between the tools team members are accustomed to and the tools that help them collaborate most effectively.

Communication Channel Preferences by Age

To add further complexity, our findings revealed a shift in communication preference based on age. Generally speaking, the preference for digital mediums (such as email) decreased with age, while the preference for analog communications (namely, phone) increased with age.

Demographics: Communication Channel Preferences by Age

Preferred communication tools by age




Email preferences were greatest among the youngest team members surveyed: nearly half of those aged 25-34 had a top preference for email (46 percent). This preference was slightly less for 35- to 44-year-olds (41 percent), and lower still for 45- to 54-year-olds (36 percent).

The greatest preference for phone was held by team members in the 45-54 age category, at 41 percent, while 34 percent of the 35-44 age bracket and 29 percent of the 25-34 age bracket preferred communicating by phone.

These trends change when it comes to video conferencing and discussion forums and chat. The 35-44 group is less likely to prefer virtual conferencing and more likely to prefer chats and discussion forums than both the older and the younger age groups.

These differences may mean that companies with trans-generational teams run into subtle misunderstandings, as diverse communication preferences result in people not answering the phone or not replying to emails. To keep distributed teams on the same page, Miller recommends a “multifaceted” approach.

Recommended Solutions

In addition to using instant messaging, also consider mailing lists, a project wiki, and a project blog. A conference or face-to-face sessions where active project members are invited to get together is also a good solution. This works well at the beginning and end of projects.

Successful virtual projects, therefore, require more than just selecting the right communication tool for your team to use. Managers and project leaders for remote teams should supplement communication channels with engaging online information, collaborative environments and even perhaps in-person events to ensure that all team members stay in the loop.


Effectively managed communication will be more of a solution than a problem for a variety of issues, such as task management and team members with commitments to multiple projects.

Moreover, a multi-pronged approach, including instant messaging, agile project management tools, blogging and wikis, should be used to engage teams and foster effective communication. When confronting teams with diverse preferences, a comprehensive communication strategy involving a variety of tools and techniques can help solidify team connections, as well as improve project visibility.

According to Miller it’s important to keep enthusiasm and engagement high, and to make sure that team members’ direct managers or sponsors have easy access to meaningful information showing the value of the work and the overall return.

For reference, you can find the full report here:


(*) Software Advice is a company that researches and evaluates project management technology.

Communication Challenges for Virtual Project Teams Part 1

Have you ever worked with virtual teams as a project manager? (Click for related articles) From my experience of working with virtual teams who are distributed and working remotely, we have to overcome the communication challenges by using tools like tele-conference facilities, instant messaging and email.

This article is discussing research findings about the challenges virtual teams face. It is based on an online survey done by Noel Radley of Software Advice (a company that researches and evaluates project management technology) with professionals who regularly work on virtual projects, and who had an opinion on the challenges of virtual projects. It is divided into two parts. Part 1 is about the main challenges virtual teams are faced with and task management as a top threat to effective project communication.

Top challenges

  • Thirty-eight percent of team members said communication was difficult on virtual projects, making it the top-cited challenge.
  • Poor communication regarding task management was perceived as the top threat to project success, selected by 41 percent of team members.
  • Email was a preferred channel for 41 percent of respondents—though 23 percent noted long email threads were a communication pitfall.
  • The lack of the right software or technology was given by 33 percent.
  • A lack of productivity was seen as the biggest threat to project success by 28 percent, since many team members believed those who work remotely are held less accountable.

In addition to communication challenges there are also others based on feedback from Matthew Miller, a project leader at the open source technology company Red Hat who has worked with thousands of contributors on open-source operating system called the Fedora Project.

A deeper challenge of most remote teams is the fact that members are typically “drawn from other teams,” and thus have only partial responsibility to their virtual projects. Miller said that typically there’s more work that needs to be done than time to do it, and often commitments to virtual teams are the easiest to break. In view of the productivity challenge stated above, the issue may simply be that they have other commitments that take priority. Managers may need to consider analyzing the scope of a team’s commitments when assigning tasks or attempting to pinpoint problems.

Virtual Team Members’ Top Project-Communication Problems

Virtual Team Members’ Top Project-Communication Problems

Task Management

When analysing the top communication-related challenges of remote projects it was found that approximately 41 percent of respondents answered that the failure to clearly assign and update tasks, was the top threat to effective project communication.

For 23 percent of respondents, long email threads were the top obstacle to communicating effectively. For others (19 percent), they most experienced trouble scheduling virtual meetings and conference calls. And 16 percent of virtual team members experienced confusion about which communication channel—phone, chat or email—to turn to for which tasks.

Many turn to software solutions for task management. Software Advice found in a recent report that 52 percent of project management software buyers were seeking a task management application.

Although tools are important, Miller emphasized the importance of having established processes in place for your team, like regular group interactions for shared tasks for example.

For reference, you can find the full report here:


Please subscribe (top right) not to miss Part 2 and future articles!

The Professional Project Manager

Project Manager (PM Level 1)

As a follow up from the previous article about project management as a profession, this article will discuss the levels of project managers in more detail.

Project Management South Africa (PMSA) have registered three designations for project managers.

A project manager has earned this designation when fulfilling the full spectrum of responsibilities associated with project management being the core focus in their working environment. A PM will have obtained an appropriate first degree / qualification or accreditation and built up the required years of experience performing the role of project managers taking multiple projects through the life-cycle over the required period of time. Project managers maintain a high ethical standard and a minimum endeavour to comply with the principles of the Code of Conduct.

Awarding Criteria

Knowledge: An industry relevant tertiary qualification or a certification/accreditation plus five years of relevant experience. Practical experience should show skills, experience and commitment. Three years of managing projects of low complexity through full life-cycle. Signs and adheres to the prevailing PMSA Code of Conduct Competence: In the process of developing ability in each competency area.
Commitment Member of a professional body for a minimum period of one year.Engage in activities required to maintain registration and further their professional development and current knowledge


Senior Project Manager (PM Level 2)

A senior project manager earns this designation when they have actively chosen to pursue a career in project management within the field they originally qualified. They will have the technical knowledge associated with their first degree / qualification and related experience. They will have made the professional commitment to obtain one or more, further qualifications, certifications or accreditations related to project management.

A senior project managers will have applied their knowledge to deliver projects through the complete life-cycle on multiple projects of varying complexity for a period of at least 6 years.

Senior project managers will have membership with a relevant professional body to gain knowledge into current trends and best practices and to share their knowledge with peers. They maintain a high ethical standard and comply with the principles of the Code of Conduct.

The awarding criteria

Knowledge: An industry relevant tertiary qualification and any formal short learning in Programme / project management of 120 hours or certification, accreditation in a recognised methodology at the advanced level (PMP, IPMSA and completion of one renewal cycle of such. Practical experience demonstrated ability to practice in a chosen PM methodology. Experience will include 3 years low complexity, and three years moderate complexity taking projects through the complete life cycle. Members of at least one relevant project management association and participation in activities, like presenting.
Signs and adheres to the prevailing PMSA Code of Conduct.
Competence: Developed ability in each competency area.
Commitment Adopted and conform to Code of Ethics of professional body.
Member of a professional body for a minimum period of one year. Engage in activities required to maintain registration and further their professional development and gather required number of points.Engage in activities required to maintain registration and further their professional development and current knowledge.


Professional Project Manager (PM Level 3)

A professional project manager earns this designation when they reached a level of proficiency associated with an expert in the practice of project management.

This designation is awarded based on an individual’s portfolio of evidence as well as peer interviews in which proficiency, namely knowledge, skill, attributes and emotional intelligence, are analysed. It reviews a candidate’s past work in terms of consistent excellence across multiple projects of a required size and complexity, ongoing professional development and contribution to the growth of the discipline.

Awarding criteria

Knowledge: An industry relevant tertiary qualification and a qualification in project management. Practical experience would show a skill level of advanced or expert ability to practice in a chosen PM methodology. Experience would equal ten years in managing moderate to highly complex projects. Membership and active participation in a professional project management association.
Signs and adheres to the prevailing PMSA Code of Conduct.
Competence: Attributes would demonstrate traits required of an expert including emotional intelligence, leadership, decision making and problem solving. Developed expert or advanced ability in each competency area.
Commitment Adopted and conform to Code of Ethics of professional body.
Member of a professional body and made a tangible contribution for a minimum period of one year.
Made a contribution to the Body of Knowledge or future project managers through active engagement, research, sharing of best practices and mentorship.
Engage in activities required to maintain registration and further their professional development and gather required number of points.


What should you do next

If you are based in South Africa, you are encouraged to visit the Designations FAQ.

Once the system is available, you can activate membership and populate your member profile.

Once you understand the designation criteria, you need to upload all relevant documentation. When invited to do so, make an application for the relevant designation.

Welcome to the world of Professional Project Managers!

Project Management as a Professional Designation

The purpose of this article is to look at project management as a profession, the characteristics of a professional, the career path and levels of project managers and how to register it as a designation.

A Profession would have the following elements:

project management as a profession









Source: Project Management South Africa

When we talk about a professional project manager, what does that really mean?

Characteristics of a Professional

In a profession, people would be expected to have certain characteristics. Here are some of those:

  • Advanced education and expertise
  • Membership to professional bodies
  • Implicit adoption of that organisation’s ethics
  • Commitment to continual professional development and learning
  • Sense of responsibility to the wider public
  • Consistent exercise of discretion and judgement

Professionals would have a qualification, an accreditation and/or certification. Let’s look at the definitions to be clear on what each means.

Qualification – A learning outcome as a result of formal tuition. In South Africa it is what is recognised on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) at the different levels.

Accreditation – Recognition provided to a candidate in accordance with the criteria of a specific organisation or institution typically based on a combination of knowledge and demonstrated ability.

Certification – Certification is often needed to work in some trades. It usually means an individual has passed a trade test administered by a recognised authority. Possessing a certificate of completion of a course is typically not the same as being certified.

Registration – A Professional Registration gives a license to operate and to practice within a scope of operation and to take responsibility for the work. It provides authority to perform a certain scope of work without supervision. The registration is typically a statutory requirement.

Designation – In the South African context designation is a job title. It’s the title conferred by the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) recognised professional body that could be statutory or non-statutory, based on certain criteria defined by the professional body.

SAQA aims to work with professional bodies towards:

  • Progressing professions by working with those professional bodies that meet the criteria for recognition and with these bodies, regulate professional designations.
  • This promotes public awareness of these professional designations, inspiring pride in the profession, and sets the scene for public protection by requiring adherence to a code of professional conduct.

By recognising and formalising designations, professional bodies contribute to the development of career paths as well as promoting continuous professional development within the profession.

Project Management Landscape

The South African Department of Higher Education and Training named Project/Programme Management the 5th most scarce skill in South Africa. Project Management South Africa (PMSA) aims to provide a career path framework through qualifications, training, accreditation etc. The following designations have been registered:

  • Project Manager
  • Senior Project Manager
  • Principal Project Manager

Ongoing professional development is also enabled. The following image depicts a typical career path:

PM career path















Please subscribe not to miss the next article in this 2-part series about project management designations.

Social Media and Project Management in South Africa

This week it was my privilege to be interviewed by Jerry Ihejirika, a project management blogger from Nigeria in his new series called “Project Management for Africa”.

According to Jerry I’m one of the most active African Project Managers on Twitter (@virtualpm) and for that reason as well as my passion for project management, he chose me to interview, using Twitter. I thought it was an innovative medium to use to conduct the interview and a good example of the power of social media to promote our profession.

Below is an extract of the interview that I wanted to share with my community too.

When exactly did you venture into project management and what informed your decision?

I’ve been in the project management profession since 1999. I’m an accidental Project Manager, and I love working with teams and the satisfaction of achieving goals.

As someone who is passionate about project management, what’s the best project management advice you’ve ever received?

From both advice and my experiences: “Always be planning, always be communicating, and always build relationships.”

What’s the level of awareness of project management in South Africa?

In South Africa, there is a growing level of awareness and appreciation of project management as a professional designation. We have a Body called SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) which has officially recognised project management as a professional designation with career path. It’s also required by corporate employers for a Project Manager to have a PMP (certified) status, especially when applying for senior roles.

Is there any recognized national PM body in South Africa to help promote and advance Project Management in the country?

Yes, Project Management South Africa, or PMSA, representing project management practitioners across all sectors. They have monthly meetings in major cities, a biennial national conference, national printed magazine; we also have PMI chapters whose members meet monthly.

You’re one of the advocates of social media in project management. Do you think social media has a role to play in project management?

Yes, and for different reasons. Some of the benefits of social media in project management include improved collaboration, cost savings, best practice sharing, and networking.

How do you think social media can be utilized to promote and advance project management in Africa?

Through our project management blogs; sharing of project success stories; creating LinkedIn interest groups; leveraging Twitter, podcasts, videos, Google+, and PM Flashblog initiatives.

How would you rate the level of awareness of project management in Africa?

Project management as a designation will contribute to the development of career paths; and also through promoting continuous professional development. In South Africa, we have a national conference by end September with theme: Growing project management in Africa. (See events page for more details.)

Wow, that’s good, and there’s also a national conference in Nigeria by September tagged “Project Management Development in Nigeria” being organized by ProMaCon.

That’s good for raising the awareness of value of project management in Africa.

What advice would you give to a Project Manager who’s planning on incorporating social media in his/her project management profession?

For use of social media on projects, you need a social strategy that’s specific to your organisation’s business objectives, challenges, and culture. You also need to have an adaptable, step-by-step, ongoing formula to bring social media into projects. You can also use social media to build your professional project management career by having a strategy with tactics to communicate on each social media channel.

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How to Prevent Project Failure with Pre-Mortems

By Bruce Harpham

Project failure is a constant threat. When a project fails on scope, quality or timeliness, the credibility of the project manager is threatened. Delivering the project is the acid test of project manager success. That means we need to understand how to prevent project failure.

project pre-mortemThis article is about one strategy you can use to prevent project failure, pre-mortems. Using the pre-mortem approach is a positive way to harness skepticism and negativity in the work place. Rather than silently enduring complaints from project members, the pre-mortem brings concerns into the open. The pre-mortem also creates a safe space to share project opinions.

Trust is a critical component to a successful pre-mortem session. If your project team has had negative experiences in the past, that fact needs to be taken into account.

The project manager sets the tone for the session. At the beginning of the session, say that challenging ideas are welcome. Otherwise, critical threats to the project’s success may never be discussed. With that context, let’s discuss how to run an effective pre-mortem session.

Run a Pre-Mortem Meeting in Five Steps

Follow these five steps to run your pre-mortem session. If you are new to the process, be patient with yourself. Implementing a new idea can feel uncomfortable at first.

Note that the pre-mortem is designed to be used in the early stages of a project. Applying this practice late in the game is akin to providing a vaccine to a terminal patient: timing matters!

#1 Provide the Project Plan

In order to provide meaningful feedback, your project team and stakeholders need background. Whether you have a fully developed project charter or a short PowerPoint deck, share what you have with the team. For the best results, provide the project document to the team a few days before the pre-mortem meeting.

Tip: For purposes of the pre-mortem, it’s better to keep the project plan brief.

#2 Introduce the Pre-Mortem

In an effective pre-mortem session, each person contributes ONE idea. By asking each person to focus on a single idea, they will be forced to prioritize the most significant challenge to the project. I recommend giving five to ten minutes to consider the question and make a few notes.

Tip: If your team has good experience with brainstorming, then you can build on that point. Pre-mortems and brainstorming both rely on openness to new and challenging ideas.

#3 Record Project Failure Factors

Go around the table and ask each person to share their project failure factors. During the listening stage, focus on listening to the comments. There will be plenty of time to evaluate the comments later. The only reason to make comments during this step is clarify how the failure factor works.

Focus the discussion on major problems that could destroy the project’s chances for success. Here are some examples to consider:

  • Vendor Failure – A vendor fails to keep their commitment to deliver software by an agreed date.
  • Project Sponsor Behavior -The project sponsor departs the firm to retire or take a role at a competitor.
  • Lack of Feedback Failure -Employees refuse to provide useful feedback during testing because they fear process improvement will cut employment.

Tip: Appoint one person to serve as the scribe. Their role is to capture all of the ideas and send out minutes after the meeting. Appointing one person to this task signals the importance of the pre-mortem.

#4 Evaluate Failure Factors

Following the pre-mortem meeting, start the evaluation process. Use two evaluation criteria to measure the failure factors.

Let’s use the example of a delayed delivery from a vendor as an example.

Likelihood: XYZ Vendor has delivered 18 of the past 20 software projects on time. The likelihood of late delivery on the current project is low.

Impact: Failure to receive the software package from XYZ Vendor would cause the project to miss the delivery deadline. The impact rating is high.

Assessment: One of the two criteria is rated as high so this problem requires further attention.

#5 Escalate Most Critical Problems to Project Sponsors

From time to time, it makes sense to seek assistance from the project sponsor. For large contracts with vendors, your sponsor may be the accountable executive for the vendor.

In any case, schedule a short meeting with the project sponsor to discuss the greatest threats to the project. Bring at least two possible solutions to the meeting so the executive has ideas to consider.

About the Author: Bruce Harpham writes on project management training at Project Management Hacks. His professional experience includes leading cost reduction projects at financial institutions. He earned a Master of Information Studies degree at the University of Toronto.