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Beyond Agile – where is project management in HE heading?

by | Nov 24, 2021 | Strategy & Transformation

You might have noticed that the Halpin team is growing a lot recently. Here we introduce new Consulting Fellow Lee Martin and welcome him to the fold. Joint CEO Susie Hills asked him a few questions about the future of project management – read on to see what he had to say.

Lee: As a Project Lead, I have become accustomed to hearing a range of opinions regarding the pros and cons of various Project Management methodologies.

Whilst I have trained and practised utilising some skills acquired from experience and study of Prince2, various industries have moved into Agile for their project management and software development. This is the world I now inhabit and it can be said that this helps teams to deliver better value to their customers faster and with less re-work. As Agile Delivery Manager on a large ongoing project, I have been able to adapt and improve workflows, reporting, and thereby management of work-streams with my team to ensure focus is on delivery.

Susie: We used to hear a lot about Prince2 and then it was Agile. What are the common features of these methodologies?

The features of Agile, or the ‘Agile Manifesto’, includes focusing on individuals and interactions over processes and tools, which can be favoured to some extent by Prince2; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; working software over comprehensive documentation; and ultimately responding to change over following a plan.

How has project management in higher education evolved over the past few years? What are the principles for success?

There is no doubt that Agile has been used in Project Management to a greater extent in order for change management and system implementations to succeed. I have seen this in action during the pandemic because Covid forced Higher Education to respond very fast to a critical situation, prioritising the needs of students and staff by enabling rule-based mitigation for assessments and exams.

There have been some high-profile examples of big university projects which have gone massively over budget – are there any common features of these cases?

Primarily I think this is due to the underestimation of the complexity of the HE business and its multiple programme offerings. The expectation is that a new system or process will resolve a history of issues that are embedded in organisational culture, and some of these issues are not acknowledged and resolved prior to a project launch.

What are the pros and cons of outsourcing project management?

I believe that there are very good reasons for outsourcing project management to the right team, and that team should always include and consult with key process owners and stakeholders from the organisation. There is a ‘con’ of never acquiring enough knowledge to understand the blockers to successful delivery of a project early enough, but good project management should ensure that risks are clearly defined and managed throughout.

How have you seen project management adapted to during Covid? What can we learn from Covid?

There has been a large shift towards Agile methodologies and sprint driven delivery. Because there has been a need to respond fast to urgent and unplanned requirements, Agile is effective at utilising resources and knowledge as necessary to respond to this. I therefore think that Covid has forced the focus to be on re-evaluation of priorities and fast and effective responses.

Lee Martin is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education strategy and transformation.