Removed for telling the truth?

Arras People has published the results of an annual survey it commissioned from on the project management market.

One of the findings, based on the comments of respondents, is that project management practitioners are being removed where they deliver bad news that senior managers do not wish to hear. 

These were among the comments made to Arras:

“I advised that the project would fail within days of taking over. My words were ignored by my manager”.

“Came in late and identified some of the problems. I was not given the opportunity to see through to resolution”.

This finding, that senior managers do not always like hearing the truth on troubled projects and programmes, chimes with what is known about some large schemes, particularly those in the public sector.

Indeed, when senior managers discourage well-informed criticism of a project you know it’s in trouble.

Some examples:

–  Managers at NHS Trusts and at NPfIT suppliers were silenced in their criticism of the national programme by a fear of removal if they spoke the whole truth. That fear seemed to be well grounded when an NPfIT supplier’s representative spoke at an IT conference about the realities of the NPfIT and was removed. I hope that that impressive individual has found a much better job.

–   At a round-table on IT failures, which was organised by Computer Weekly and insurer Hiscox, and held in November 2009, the delegates were in agreement that bad news rarely travels upwards. People working on a project dare not criticize, in case it’s seen as disillusionment.

–  At the Performing Right Society, project staff asked a new IT manager not to tell the board how bad things were on the Performing Right Online Membership System.

That new IT manager knew he had to tell the truth – and the project was cancelled. It had been too ambitious: nobody had understood at the start of the project that the contracts between musicians and publishers, which were to be put on a new database, were in no standardized format. That discovery changed everything.  

–  Computer Weekly wrote several articles on executives at NATS who said they had been ostracized or side-lined for telling the truth about a “NERC” project to build new software for a purpose-built air traffic control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire. 


So it’s surprising, perhaps, that the success rate of projects is a high as 32%, which is a Standish Group figure. Problems can’t be solved if people don’t own up to having them.


Other highlights of the Arras survey of 900 project management professionals in January 2010:

– Recession has hit the project management market, with the majority of professionals fearing redundancies and cuts. In the public sector there was significantly less disruption;Remuneration continued to rise and job cuts were minimal during 2009.

– Over a third of all respondents said they were ‘worse off’ last year and 22% of freelancer experienced decreased rates, with a significant number (11%) experiencing cuts of more than 10%

– Employees fared better than contractors with salary expectations being met.
Despite the widespread doom and gloom, only 8% described their personal situation as ‘gloomy’, 63% described their situation as ‘steady’ and 18% as ‘neutral’

– 84% of project management professionals believe they have a significant role to play in helping the UK economy out of its current difficulties

– The gender pay gap is not closing

More results, as reported by Arras:

Where are the younger PMs?

“For the fourth year running, the numbers of respondents under the age of 34 has declined, in line with the hiring patterns experienced by Arras People. This is partially explained by respondents moving up the career ladder to take on more senior roles, but raises the question: where will the project managers of tomorrow come from?

Project failures

“Project failure has been consistently in the news with many high profile examples demonstrating the huge costs of failure and no apparent improvement in delivery capability.

“Many  research  groups  have  investigated  and  reported  on  the  causes  of  failure, with Standish research suggesting that the number of successful projects is falling: 32% in 2009, down from 35% in 2006.

“Lack of executive support is cited as the biggest single cause ofproject failure. Detailed analysis reveals project initiation is majorpoint of failure with poor requirements, scope creep and expectationsnot being set or managed accounting for 37%. Add to that the lack ofalignment between the project team and the organisation and thisreaches 47%.”

Said John Thorpe, managing director of ArrasPeople, “Based on these figures, maybe we should celebrate a 32%success rate as it may be that most projects are actually setup tofail?”

So who is to blame? The answer is “not me”

“Only 13% of private sector respondents said they were accountable, falling to 6% in the public sector

“13% of private sector respondents said their team was accountable, falling to 8% in the public sector

“62% of private sector respondents said they were not in a position to influence a different outcome, rising to a massive 72% in the public sector.

Project Managers and the environment

“Many projects are justified on the basis of the environmental benefits they will bring -such as reduced energy consumption or recyclability. Many tenders for projects require applicants to demonstrate their environmental credentials.

“The survey shows that the “”greening of projects” is seen by many  PPM  practitioners  as  a  compliance  issue which will  add  complexity,  cost  and time to their programmes and projects.

“Whilst many respondents are making changes to reduce consumption of resources such as paper and petrol there is generally not a clear understanding of what “green” will mean; just 7% indicate that they have a clear understanding regarding “green” project management.

“In terms of the implications beyond simple compliance, 31% of practitioners believe that a market will emerge for ‘greened’ practitioners;  30%  are  undecided whilst  the  remaining  33%  believe  that  practitioners  ‘will just add  it  to  their skill set’. There are still the doubters, but only 4% express the belief that it is just a fad.”

The survey also asked respondents about their personal concerns on “green” issues. The vast majority  was firmly  in  the  “somewhat  concerned”  grouping  that  averaged around  the  50% mark.

“At  the  extremes,  the  “very  concerned”  was also a consistent  cut  across  all groupings  at  26%  of  all  respondents, (although, as you might expect, the “very concerned” group rises to 43% of the charity/NFP sector, where significantly more respondents have “”green”” objectives and claim to have a “very clear” understanding of “green” project management.

“When the “not at all concerned” group were analysed there were two groups that had a much higher level; Males recorded 11% against just 5.5% of females, whilst the 50+ age group  recorded 17.5% against 13.5%  in  the under 34’s and 9.5%  in  the 35  to 49 age group.

Work/Life Balance. Is there a long hours culture in project management?

“Over 28% of respondents claimed to have an unacceptable life balance, and this figure increases markedly for those who work more than 40 hours a week (34%), and more than 48 hours a week (45%).

“Not only that, there is evidence that project managers are working longer. There is a significant increase – over 5% – in the number of public sector workers working more than 48 hours, though this figure at 15% is still lower than the 20% in the private sector.

“This chimes with a recently published report from the TUC which led with the headline that UK workers are giving away £27 billion of unpaid overtime, a figure that has increased significantly since they last checked in 2008. The analysis suggests that this is partly due to the recession, with workers accepting additional hours as part of the package that protects jobs.


Project Management 2010 report – Arras People website

Bad news doesn’t pass up the chain of command – Anatomy of an IT disaster, C-Nomis programme – IT Projects Blog