Natasha Larkin, Associate Director and Head of Organisational Development (OD) reflects on her relationship with project management.

I am known in PPL for my mantra ‘OD is everywhere, and everything is OD’. While this is not to be taken literally, there are very few activities that wouldn’t benefit from being looked at through an OD lens from time to time! As we welcome the latest round of new recruits to the PPL team, I have found myself reflecting on the importance of project management in our collective team skillset, and the evolution of my thinking on the subject in the context of OD.

In the early stages of my career, I was highly resistant to anything that looked or sounded like ‘proper’ project management. As someone who doesn’t enjoy structure, I viewed project management largely as a set of tedious tasks and forms that were the remit of other, more organised, people. I did it, grudgingly and minimally, completing Gantt charts and risk logs to be filed away and never looked at again. I sat in meetings, forced to painstakingly review action logs, all the while thinking we were all missing the point and losing sight of the impact we were trying to achieve. Sound familiar?

My breakthrough has come in stages, largely through scoping conversations with clients asking for help with their teams’ approach to project management. When challenged to think about and describe the problems they were looking to solve through project management support or training, I realised that our clients were describing issues that were fundamentally people related. When it comes to effective project management in the complex world of health and care, people aren’t just asking for better Gantt charts (although that can help!). What they want is for project teams to be able to focus their work on the activities that deliver impact. They don’t just want slick highlight reports, they want project teams to communicate better about what’s on track, and where the issues are. They want a shared language that everyone can use to avoid miscommunication and mistakes.

Project tools and structures are enablers for these things, and for me, this is where project management becomes really interesting. These scoping conversations are what led me to come up with the ‘3 Cs‘ of effective project management. ClarityConfidence, and Communication. These principles focus project teams on making sure that project management approaches are both effective and proportionate to the project’s outcomes.

Are we providing clarity?

This could include making sure that everyone on a project is clear about the impact and outcomes you are trying to achieve (rather than just the activities), and the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.

Are we creating confidence in the project?

Ensuring that your project sponsor/SRO and other key stakeholders feel confident that the project is on track, that risks are being managed appropriately, and that you are en route to achieving your outcomes.

Are we communicating effectively?

This might include making sure that everyone has a shared understanding of what needs to happen, when, and knowing that if a project team member is off sick, or leaves the project, there is a record of progress that someone else could step in and pick up with minimal disruption.

This is all underpinned by effective and supportive relationships between project team members and with project stakeholders, with a focus on collaboration and trust.

By supporting teams to focus on the why of project management, rather than the what, you can build a project management culture that is focused on achieving impact through clear and effective communication and relationships, rather than the process of completing activities and tasks. You can then use or develop a project management approach and toolkit to support this culture.

So, you could argue that I was right. Project management, done badly, is a dull process of ineffective administrative tasks, and forms for the sake of forms. Done properly it is an enabler of effective team working and, consequently, the delivery of outcomes and real tangible impact. I’m converted.