Tanner James Blog

Are your Programmes and Projects under the pump with no time for classroom learning?

John Howarth

Workplace learning is a way to learn PPM methods and improve the time available for management

In my previous blog “How to get Beyond Training & Templates” I introduced some of the considerations associated with learning programme and project management methods such as MSP and PRINCE2.  I pointed out that there are many (at least 10) levels of PRINCE2 qualification, and that there are different levels of learning needed, ranging from just having knowledge to professional practice that requires specialised skill and years of experience.

Having a qualification is one thing, but developing the knowledge and experience required to competently perform a role is another.  The challenge is further exacerbated because the modern learner has little or no capacity to attend classroom training that takes them out of the workplace for days at a time.

So what can you do when your programmes and projects are under the pump and the key players have no time for classroom learning?

Well, the answer lies in turning the question round:  move the learning from the classroom to the workplace, and remove the time issues for the key players.

Sounds simple right?  Actually it is simple, but there are a few principles you need to take into account.

Match the learning to suit the different types and levels of learning each role requires

The first thing to consider is what types of role need PPM learning.  This is an over-simplification, but a good start point is to consider four primary roles - the PMO, the project manager, sponsors/executives and others involved in programmes and projects.

PMO staff must have the highest level of competency among their peers.  As I said in my previous blog, I think a high level of learning [“Learning Level 4 – Analysis (using)”] should be the “minimum standard” for all PMO staff who support frameworks – and for the key one or two SES officers directly above them in the hierarchy.  Why?  Because their colleagues must see them as credible, and able to provide sound advice and services that are highly valued.  If they don’t meet this criteria, your PPM approaches are likely to remain as unused “intranet-ware”.  Pick the right PMO people to begin with and then invest in them (in my personal opinion this is why you should choose employees not contractors).

Project Managers also need a high level of competence.  Not just in PPM frameworks, but also in “soft” skills such as leadership and communication.  They need not only to know how to apply their knowledge of frameworks such as PRINCE2, but they need to know how to do so in the context of their project.  This requires considerable understanding of the agency – its structure, core business, key relationships and corporate services etc.  Even a highly skilled and experienced project manager has an enormous amount of learning to do for each project they manage.  For this reason I believe you must design your learning to ensure it is delivered in bite-sized pieces, in a way they can consume it, when they need it.

Sponsors/Executives in Australian Government Programmes and Projects are often SES officers.  Typically they are time poor, have multiple competing priorities and issues to deal with and often come from a policy background with little or no exposure to PPM frameworks.  In my experience PMOs and managers who “tell” SES officers they must do this or must do that have little success.  Executives will only engage – and rightly so – if they see why they need to do so.  Once they have engaged their learning must be delivered in a way that is very specific to their role in a programme or project, and in a time, place and manner that suits them.  That might mean very early or very late, in their office, and one-on-one or in small groups.  And be prepared to postpone – the Minister will always take precedence over your PPM learning session!

Others involved in programmes and projects are often overlooked.  What about project team members who work on the project, not necessarily the core team, but other stakeholders who will be involved such as regional users?  If they don’t understand the part they play or the management language you are using their contribution is likely to be greatly diminished, with a detrimental impact on the project.  You should also consider others outside the project environment but who will be exposed to the disciplines involved in some way – such as Executive Assistants who support sponsors, internal auditors, people in other central support roles such as finance, HR, communications or contracting.  People in these other roles should at least have a basic understanding of the key facts, terms and concepts which will impact them in their job.

Deliver the learning when people need it and are available

People who attend a mainstream course such as a PRINCE2 Foundation often do so without consideration of when they will need to use what they learn.  An individual may be attending because they have been given a project to run; but do they realise that while the knowledge they acquire on the first day will be put to immediate use, most of what they cover on the last day may be of no value for another 18 months?

Surely it is better to consider the likely lifecycle of the programme/project, and time the learning to match.  So for example, managers learn about initiation and the associated themes when they are about to undertake initiation, they learn about stage boundaries when they are about to encounter one, and they learn about project closure near the end of the project.

Availability is also a key consideration for PPM learning.  Agencies who arrange training and individual course participants tell us that sometimes they are unable to undertake training that runs over multiple days – there are a variety of reasons why this might be the case.  It might not be possible to have the whole team “offline” simultaneously, there might be other tasks which cannot wait more then 24 hours, or people might work part time and not be able to attend for consecutive days.  People who work part-time might also have difficulty attending a regular 9am-5pm session, because their working hours and personal commitments are arranged on working a shorter day, e.g 10am-3pm.  You must ensure that your PPM learning is delivered in a way that caters for such participant availability.

Make the learning relevant and practical

Once you have worked out who needs what type of learning, and timed it to match the programme/project lifecycle and participant availability, there is one more principle to observe: make the learning relevant and practical.

Delivering the learning by role is the essential ingredient here.  To make group learning relevant you must ensure that you have the right blend of learners in the room.  There are different ways to approach this, such as all the people from one Division, all the people from one project etc.  What you should try to avoid is having “odd one out”, for example running a session on project initiation where there are 9 highly experienced project managers running complex IT projects, and 1 new policy person who has never managed a project before.

To make the learning practical you must try to the maximum degree to allow participants to discuss and practice application of the learning to their own programmes/projects during and/or immediately after the learning.  For example when it comes to exercises, don’t use case studies based on a fictional scenario that relates to a private sector example, because participants will not identify with the example; instead use the actual programmes/projects on which participants are working as case studies.  This means the exercises undertaken are not simply “practice sessions”, rather they become part of the actual management activities that need to be performed anyway.  When done properly this learning time becomes management time that is spent in the optimal way.  In this way your organisation kills two birds with one stone:  equipping staff with the PPM learning they need, while at the same time undertaking high quality programme/project management activities such as planning that often don’t get the attention they deserve.


If you would like to know more about how to enhance your management maturity by implementing frameworks such as MSP and PRINCE2 in practical ways, please give us a call on 1300-774 623 or drop me a line at

Digital Transformation - War or Peace

John Howarth


Unless you have been hiding under a rock recently, you will be aware that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established on 1st July 2015.  Paul Shetler arrived as the new CEO shortly thereafter.  Just a couple of weeks into his new job and with the agency only officially 28 days old Paul gave a powerful speech at an Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) breakfast event.

Paul delivered a simple and compelling message about digital transformation in the APS:  people are online, the majority of people who try to use online government services face a problem, and therefore the APS must do better.  He went on to say that the opportunity to do so is immense, and that the way to approach things is to put users first, think big but start small, and deliver quickly.  He told the audience that Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

The digital transformation agenda and the messages delivered by Paul in his first speech seem straightforward and logical, and set-out an obvious direction that the APS must take.  Yet when you read commentary on the internet and talk to people in Canberra it is clear there are significant challenges lurking below the surface.


What’s the problem?

Actually, there are several problems.  Let’s consider the main ones.

People.  People do not act because something is straightforward and logical.  They do not do things because they have been told to do them.  People do things based on a complex mix of wants, needs, emotions and perceptions.  Much of the foundation for their decision-making comes from relationships.  Relationships that shape the data and information they notice and consider, the judgements they make, and the opinions they hold.

How we do things around here.  Canberra is a great City.  Of course, it isn’t really a City.  It’s a Country Town.  We all know each other.  We know how Government works, we know how the APS works, and we know how things really work.  Collectively speaking that is.  Individually this is a difficult place to grasp – I’ve lived here 25 years and I think I’m just about beginning to understand what I don’t understand.

Teams.  The modern public service is sufficiently complex that no one individual has the time or expertise to be across all the issues for a particular topic – be it a policy area, technology platform or process matter.  This means that work must be done in teams, and indeed in teams of teams.  Much depends on how teams are structured, and how they think and communicate – both internally and with other teams.

Framing.  What I mean by framing is how people look at the world.  Different people with different backgrounds and experiences will inevitably look at each situation with a different perspective from those around them.


I thought we were talking about digital transformation?

We are.  The point being that digital transformation is not about technology.  Technology is the exciting fun part where it’s easy to paint a picture of a digital future to which we should all rightly aspire.

The toughest challenges faced by the DTO, and all agencies involved in digital transformation, are not about technology.  They are about people, how we do things around here, teams and framing.

If the DTO is to be a successful catalyst for the digital transformation agenda it must build relationships – and many of them.  I don’t mean digital relationships - blogs, feeds etc- useful as they are, I mean real human relationships.  So while I applaud the “Engage” page on the DTO website, I am hoping to see all you DTO-ers drinking gallons of coffee in the far-flung reaches of Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden.

I am hoping there will be high-performing digital transformation teams that arise from coffee-shop conversations.  Teams within teams that are small and large at the same time.  Teams that span agency boundaries.  Teams made from people with different backgrounds and experiences that have established the trust required to underpin common vision, innovation and success.

I am hoping there will be a vigorous debate about how we can have the best of both worlds – the agile, fast-paced can-do digital world, and the more measured, structured, process-conscious and accountable world of the government bureaucracy.

War or peace?

I see a risk here, and the risk I see is that there could be war.  Old versus New, Digital versus Paper, Modern versus Ancient etc.  People could yell at each other about who is right and who is wrong.

I think that would be a shame, because I personally fully subscribe to the need for digital transformation in the APS, and believe that if we get it right Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

I am just one person, with my own wants, needs, emotions and perceptions, who frames things based on my own background and experiences.  But with that caveat, I can say with my hand on my heart that I believe PRINCE2 Agile offers the opportunity for peace.

Let the conversations begin - peacefully!


The 2012 PRINCE2 Manifesto - Free eBook

John Howarth

We have pulled together all the content we have shared about PRINCE2 on our blog this year. For those that are close followers of our work, you’ll notice that we have simply collated some of our blog posts and put it into a handy format.

What that means is we haven’t scrubbed and polished it so that it reads like yet another boring theoretical project management manual. Instead, this eBook pulls together our real-world advice.

The kind of hints and tips we give to people over coffee or on-site while consulting or in the classroom. Practical not pretty.

The articles are designed to answer the most common questions and challenges we see you facing as you use PRINCE2 in the real world. As such, they can be useful conversation starters for how you and your team apply PRINCE2 and how you can get the most out of it.

So feel free to share it as you see fit. If you only want to share one or two articles then head along to our blog where you can then share the individual page.

A big thanks to Dave Bryant, Dave Schrapel, Adrian Booth, Gavan Murphy and Ray Broadbent. They all contributed blogs throughout the year and I am very appreciative that they were willing to share some of their views with you.

A big thanks to myself also as I wrote most of them (modesty has never been one of my strengths).

I hope you find it useful.

Do you have a unique environment with unique challenges? Or have you always been a little unclear about an aspect of PRINCE2? Then simply let me know by leaving a comment below.

I would be happy to write a blog post addressing it for you.

Why do PRINCE2 training?

John Howarth
Why do PRINCE2 training? It’s an obvious question if you are moving to a project or organisation that uses PRINCE2. And it’s obvious what the answer will be if you ask a provider of PRINCE2 training.  

Or is it?

Someone said to you: “you should do the PRINCE2 training”

Let me guess. Something just happened in your working life – you left a job, got a new job, moved to a new area of your organisation etc. You mentioned your changed situation to a friend or colleague and they said to you “you should do the PRINCE2 training”. You are now trying to figure out whether to follow that advice.

I see a lot of people in this situation, so here are some pointers for when you should or shouldn’t contemplate PRINCE2 training.

I want to enhance my professional skills

Perhaps you have been working on projects a while but have never obtained a formal qualification.  Or you are a contractor looking to make your skills more marketable.  Or you are working in a project-based organisation and would like to know more about project management.

Whatever your situation, if your main driver is professional development, my recommendation is:

Yes, do PRINCE2 training.

My organisation uses PRINCE2

PRINCE2 has been widely adopted as a corporate standard, and therefore many people find themselves moving into an organisation which uses the method, either as an employee or a contractor.

People in this situation can find themselves faced with unfamiliar jargon and ways of doing things. This can be particularly unsettling if you are an experienced project manager. You may feel that you are not being as productive as you would like to be or that you are unable to operate to your full potential.

Should you do the PRINCE2 training?  Probably a better question is “what is the best way to find out how this organisation uses PRINCE2 and what is expected of me?”  It might be that everyone is expected to arrange their own PRINCE2 training, but it might be that the organisation has an induction program or similar in place.  That might include for example a briefing from the PMO and an in-house course.

My recommendation is:

Talk to your manager, your Project Executive (Sponsor) or the corporate PMO.  They should be able to let you know what arrangements are in place for PRINCE2 training in your organisation.

I have been given a project to run

Projects are now the accepted way to introduce change into organisations, and as the amount of change increases more and more people are finding themselves being given the task of running a project.

If you are in this situation you might be wondering whether PRINCE2 can help you, or whether you should start with a more general grounding in project management.

My recommendation is:

Do PRINCE2 training, but be realistic in your expectations (see blog – Beyond the Classroom).  In all probability you will need to find someone else in your organisation to provide further assistance post-training.

I want to be certain my project will succeed

I am sorry, I have some bad news: there is nothing that can guarantee project success.  If you have read through this blog so far, and you have most closely identified your need as being aligned to this heading, then I think you must reflect carefully on your need.

What is driving you to focus on success? Do you have a concern that for whatever reason – e.g. scale, complexity, risk, resources etc – your project might fail? Or is the project simply so important that you cannot afford for it to fail?

My recommendation is:

Carefully consider what you are seeking to achieve; although PRINCE2 training might help, there are may other ingredients that contribute towards maximising your chance of project success. PRINCE2 training is not a panacea

If you are undecided about PRINCE2 training

If having read this you are still undecided about undertaking PRINCE2 training, I suggest you do two things:

1. Think about what it is you are seeking from the training – perhaps have a chat to colleagues; and
2. Talk to some PRINCE2 training providers about what they offer – and yes, sometimes their answer should be that they can’t help you!

PRINCE2 Training - Beyond the Classroom

John Howarth

Thousands of people undergo project management training every year in Australia. They sit in a classroom or undertake online learning and attain a qualification. 

If you are one of those people, the interesting question is: what happens when you leave the classroom?

In the beginning

Before looking at what happens after a newly qualified person leaves the classroom, we should look at what happens before they enter the classroom.

The first question to ask is “Why is this person on a project management training course?” 

Here are some of the responses that we often hear:

  • I am a contractor and I will be able to charge more if I am qualified in PRINCE2;
  • I have just been asked to run a project and I know nothing about project management;
  • we have a big government reform to do and the department uses PRINCE2;
  • I did a course years ago and this is a refresher;
  • I will be leaving my job soon and a project management qualification will help me; or
  • my boss sent me.

These are all perfectly reasonable statements, but none are much use to the training provider. Things need to be much clearer if the trainer is to deliver on the expected learning outcomes. My tip here is to remember that the trainee is not the only party involved - the person paying for their training, e.g their employer, and the training provider should all be clear about the expected learning outcomes.

So if you are a trainee, please sit down with your employer and ask them what it is you are expected to be able to do upon completion of the project management training and make sure someone has conveyed this to the training provider.

The myth of the five-day miracle

Person with zero project management experience enters classroom on Monday morning at 9am. Same person exits classroom on Friday afternoon at 5pm fully equipped to run any project. 


No, but that is the myth of the five-day miracle: someone can be turned into a project manager in just five days. I have been involved in project management for over 25 years and I still have plenty to learn. So no-one is going to walk into a classroom with little or no project management knowledge and walk out with nothing else to learn.

What should I be aiming for?

So what is a reasonable goal for, say, a five-day course? That goes back to the question of “Why is this person on a project management training course” and also what experience and knowledge they already have. So the answer must be an individual one. However, there are general outcomes that are common to most project management trainees which can provide a useful starting point, for example:

  • the ability to determine what should, and what shouldn’t, be managed as a project;
  • an understanding of the structure and elements of a specific project management approach (e.g. PRINCE2, PMBOK).
  • an appreciation of the need to tailor the approach to suit the nature and context of a specific project. Note: the trainee is unlikely to be equipped with the ability to do this without assistance;
  • an understanding of the roles involved in managing a project and the responsibilities associated with the role they will personally fulfil; and
  • an action plan for what they will do post-course to translate their learning into the workplace.

This last point is probably the most important. My recommendation is that this is considered before the training course and not during the course - or worst of all, after it. This is where the trainee can look to their employer for support and guidance with such questions as:

  • which project(s) will I be expected to apply the learning to when I return to the workplace?;
  • what will my role be on the project(s)?’;
  • are there specific project management processes and/or deliverables which I am expected to follow/deliver?  Are there any deadlines associated with them?;
  • how much time do you expect me to spend applying my new project management skills?;
  • who will be available to support me if I need assistance?; and
  • what are you hoping will change once I have undertaken my training and start to apply it?

Back in the workplace

Your action plan should form the basis for translating your learning into the workplace, and with the right involvement of your employer before the training, you should be set for success.

To execute your action plan you will need to set aside time for post-course reflection, practice, discussion with others and further learning. Make sure you are disciplined with the use of this time because the old adage applies: “use it or lose it”, which is not something you want to happen with your new project management skills.