What‘s the right training for practical project management – IPMA (GPM) or Prince2®?

// IT Processes and Organisation

When companies want to professionalise their project management, the question often arises which training sessions the employees should attend

Aside of the day-to-day and line business, projects are what is intended to effect any major change in the business processes. Heterogeneous working groups gather around the new task, at times staffed only internally, and at times also jointly with suppliers or consultants. The managers bearing these responsibilities must ask themselves who should be working on the project, which expertise and experience should the prospective team members bring to the table. Project management as skill, as best practice, as framework – which approach is the right one? Wolfgang Plemper who, as Director at noventum consulting is responsible for the project management training portfolio, is on the road with this topic at universities and companies knows different means: Prince2®, IPMA and other approaches.

novum: Mr. Plemper, what is your recommendation regarding the question „IPMA or Prince2®“? Or are there even more alternatives?

Wolfgang Plemper: Yes, there are even more well thought-out and serious points of view regarding the topic of project management. But even in the comparison of these two, the fundamental question can already be discussed well.

novum: What is the fundamental question?

Wolfgang Plemper: Do you want to establish a structured approach at your company or do you want to provide your employees with an individually retrievable toolset for the work in projects?

»If heterogeneous interests collide in the project, a recognised approach is helpful«

novum: Would you mind reflecting on the approaches of IPMA and Prince2® regarding this issue?

Wolfgang Plemper: Let‘s take the IPMA approach. This internationally widely used approach (represented in Germany by the GPM Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement (Society for Project Management)) considers itself as a teaching of project management and does therefore, to a very large extent, cover the individual tasks, basic facts and techniques that the practice of project management can bring along with it. As such, it is not a „method“ in the meaning of an approach, but rather a modular pool of competencies. The latter is striving – to a large extent – for completeness, but in the end, one has to pick the red thread of one‘s own approach oneself.

novum: Is that a disadvantage?

Wolfgang Plemper: No, not in principle. Of course, a lot of project situations are not owed to a systematic approach but are rather complex, individualised, and at times even contradicting common sense. In such cases it is an advantage if all parties involved have mastered the „tools of the trade“ and can apply them based on what the situation requires. In particular for techniques and tools, the IPMA Competence Baseline Version 3.0 (ICB 3.0) is an excellent reference work based on which an approach model can be developed.

novum: Reference books quite often sit around and are barely „readable“. How about IPMA’s ICB 3.0?  

Wolfgang Plemper: In order to be able to „work“ with these works, you will need to have both the will and the ability to work systematically and take care of one or the other transfer into practice yourself.  To use an image: in order to be able to speak a foreign language, you will need a vocabulary and grammar, in order to say something meaningful, you will need some thought. One does not work without the other.

novum: And Prince2® pursues this in a better way?

Wolfgang Plemper: At least Prince2® makes a suggestion how it might work. This approach defines in a lot of detail how a project can be organised specifically. It bindingly specifies who has to do what when in the preparation, execution and conclusion of a project. Here, we are dealing with role descriptions, competency and decision structures. The idealised flow of a project is outlined precisely and in detail. With Prince2®, you have an action plan.

»Knowledge is no substitute for experience – Project management is a challenging task«

novum: That sounds very inviting.

Wolfgang Plemper: Yes, a lot is really excellently thought out and you notice the strong relevance to practice every time you deal with Prince2® insights. What‘s also the case is that a whole lot of projects that we encounter as consultants utilise the Prince2® approach. That is quite helpful for an initial orientation.

novum: Can you name an example?

Wolfgang Plemper: Let‘s take the role of the „Steering Committee“ that plays a very central role in the Prince2® approach. This project management panel is a very intelligent construct that „forces“ the different stakeholders around a table and renders the different parts of the project time and again the topic of a unifying process. The implied logic of this type of project management consists in the recurring push for the achievement of the project‘s objective. That is very results-oriented.

novum: This sounds like a guideline for behaving well. So, nothing can go wrong in the project anymore, then?

Wolfgang Plemper: As if! As long as people work in projects, there is – of course – also space for individual interests, stupidity, intrigues, and other impediments to success. But the fundamental agreement regarding an approach is definitely a huge advantage!

novum: At the bottom line, what training do you recommend when companies want to make their staff fit for day-to-day project business?

»Is it a matter of perspective: PM training for the staff or for the company?«

Wolfgang Plemper: If the staff has very little or no experience in project work, entering into the topic via the compact Prince2® training sessions is a good start. To be able to categorise within the grand scheme of things and to thereby know how things work together in a complex project is very helpful. Even when it is about establishing very general project management structures in the company, Prince2® is the right entry. More time-consuming and more aligned with the qualification of the individual is the IPMA/GPM training model. It starts an intensive immersion into the topic and deepens the knowledge of special techniques and capabilities. For people with project management experience of their own, it is a very valuable immersion that can be of great help especially to future project managers.

novum: What is your very personal experience with the different training offers?

Wolfgang Plemper: I have learned a lot with both of these methods. What both approaches of training are somewhat lacking, in my opinion, is a truly competent leading towards and into the leadership role. Both approaches that we have discussed here clearly cannot deny their origins in the engineering sciences. And those are clearly no human sciences. Engineers think modularly and functionally. But human beings and human interactions follow other inherent patterns. What I would like to say with this is that human experience, sensitivity, pensiveness, and emotional strength should also be among the prerequisite know-how of a good project manager. But that is gained somewhere else.

novum: Thank you very much for the interview!

noventum consulting

Wolfgang Plemper


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