So this is why project management is failing.

Donnie MacNicol posted a link to a great article that goes some way into explaining why leadership development is not working. The article ‘The “Dirty Fish Tank” training model and the modern method for developing leaders’ is by Craig Ross, Angie Paccione and Victoria Roberts.

The article says that you have a fish tank that is yellow and cloudy so, you take out the fish and clean them. The fish are then put back into the same tank. The authors suggest that:

The standard method for developing employees today remains the “Dirty Fish Tank” training model: extracting leaders (or any employee) out of their environment, “cleaning them,” then re-submerging them back into the ecosystem of unchanged practices and policies (the system).

Fish tank dirty…take out the fish & clean them. Then return the fish to the tank. All OK now?

The authors focus on leadership however when I read the article I thought – for leadership read project management. Many of us have seen the impact of the fish tank approach. It is something I have seen practiced for years and argued against without much success.

Now it is all too easy to say it does not work and criticise so let me make some suggestions that will put companies on the right road to ensuring the fish tank is clean! These are some of the approaches that will focus on the tank rather than the person.

  1. Have one overarching project management approach. The approach should be practical and written in a way that anyone can understand it. The approach should enable people; guiding them to successfully deliver projects – with training.
  1. Train the right people. Draw up a list of projects (see next point), identify who fulfils which roles and train them to ensure that everyone is at the same standard. If you want people to receive a certification great however ensure that those you train are actively involved in projects or very soon will be. This training should include project sponsors and steering group members.
  1. Prioritise – have a ‘corporate list of projects’; the projects that must be delivered. Everything else is a lower priority and a nice to have until they replace a priority project. Ensure all resources are switched to priority projects
  2. Project Review/governance – ensure that there is strong project management review alongside project governance in place (Governance refers to the set of policies, regulations, functions, processes, procedures and responsibilities that define the establishment, management and control of projects, programmes and portfolios.)
  3. Have a senior member of staff attend main board meetings giving updates on project progress. Give that person executive authority – within the companies governance processes!

There is more, much more however some of these are positive leaps forward for some companies. So often I have seen the fish tank approach to project management – let’s clean the tank and then clean the fish. If not, and I am sad to say it, it is the status quo – project statistics will continue to show vast investment for a poor return.

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