Tammy Thompson, postgraduate manager at CITI looks at what lessons IT people can learn from recent high profile projects.

Project management and project managers are yet again facing fierce criticism in the UK as further delays to opening Wembley Stadium become front page news.

Less frequently reported are the real successes, such as Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, that we in the project management community deliver time after time. One reason might be that it is difficult to identify all the dimensions of a successful project, or even just in terms of time, cost and functionality.

It is true to say that the Emirates Stadium project has had its moments, but compared with Wembley they are probably approaching an order of magnitude less in a number of areas.

Interestingly, not all these areas are equal in terms of the impact they make to a project.

he Wembley arch, for example, is certainly a technological challenge, but is it that much of a challenge? However, the public face and the various stakeholder interests are likely to have had a major difference between the two projects.

Put another way, both projects are complex, but the complexity - possibly much of it unnecessarily created - in Wembley far outweighs that in the Emirates Stadium.
This distinction between an initiative being complex and containing complexity is fundamental.

Even the least complex of projects can end up with significant complexity through a cocktail of unclear requirements (particularly with fixed price contracts), lack of senior management buy-in, relatively large number of stakeholders, project managing a contract (rather than contract managing it), unrealistic deadlines, and high public interest.

There are other ingredients we can add into this cocktail, but these are enough to get one's head spinning.

Good project managers know that a complex problem has a complex solution - put another way, if you have a simple solution to a complex problem, you've solved the wrong problem!

They also know that adding complexity provides the best opportunity to fail - how to make a 'Wembley Stadium' from an 'Emirates Stadium'.

Further, they know this is domain independent; a good project manager can successfully run any type of project in any field. As an IT expert, you may feel that there is something different or special about IT projects.

There is not - certainly from a successful project manager's perspective. 

What a number of these projects do have as a characteristic is that they are major projects (not just big), requiring the skills of highly experienced and knowledgeable project managers.

Using a KASE model (knowledge, attitudes & behaviours, skills and experience), we know that experience is the best correlate with good project management, but is not enough in itself.

In major projects, paradoxically, the technical issues should not be the drivers - although often they still tend to be the ones focused on. Softer issues around stakeholder management, in particular, and leadership have far greater relevance to major project success than seemed to be the case a few years ago.

In a nutshell, to develop the level of project manager required to run major projects, the emphasis needs to be on developing changes in attitudes and behaviours, with the associated development of the right soft skills.

CITI's and the National Centre for Project Management's offering on managing major projects can teach you how to mix cocktails, using the ingredients found in successful projects.