The project management profession has experienced dramatic growth over recent years. Yet, formal recognition and practice of project management in organizations has not reached the same levels. Based on conversations with business leaders who attended project management industry conferences over the past two years, it seems virtually every organization today conducts some type of project management activity, whether they recognize it or not. A little more than half of all companies do not have criteria for defining project success, and many do not track the benefits of their projects. Most organizations have chaotic, non-repeatable project management processes: they manage project success more by chance than by directive. And only a small number of all companies actually invest the time and the energy in tracking the accrued benefits of their internal projects over a multi-year period.
When there are disconnects between business strategy, project selection, and project execution, business benefits are primarily driven by functional silos and do not necessarily head in the same direction. When there is limited repeatable capability for selecting and managing projects and reporting project performance, there is no real global understanding of how well an organization is achieving its goals. If there’s not enough follow-through with consistent reporting on tangible business benefits, an organization won’t be able to assess its return on investments.
When different methodologies are used across the company, there is no way of determining how the entire portfolio is really doing. Different methodologies might lead to different sets of answers around success — even though the terminology may be the same. A common methodology allows you to optimize resources across your organization by understanding when a project (or set of projects) will finish, thereby making resources available for other projects. This optimization cannot just happen without a corporate methodology.
Systemizing project management practices, project activities, project reporting and project results is the only way to keep an organization sane through it all. Systemizing offers a method to manage the madness and a sure way to achieve business goals.
Project management has many benefits, but begins with a disciplined approach to the prioritization, selection, and successful delivery of projects that support the organization’s mission and strategy. A project portfolio management process aligns and prioritizes projects with business goals; a project management methodology offers repeatable processes to manage the work. It relies on a set of methods and tools to answer such questions as, “Why, What, How, Who, and When?”
Designing a common project management approach ensures alignment with overall business success, prioritizes projects to meet strategic goals, and focuses resources on business priorities. Organizations work more efficiently through repeatable, predictable practices; standardized practices allow you to learn from past experiences in a simple, predictive way. Systemized practices also allow you to recognize and mitigate project risks easily and produce an audit trail for project activities and accomplishments.
You must take a multi-dimensional approach to designing a common project management method. This includes project management principles, pre-established processes, a common set of tools and techniques, and directionally supportive training. Most EPMO’s are responsible for establishing, promoting, and monitoring all aspects of the common approach, both to evaluate its success and identify improvement opportunities.
There is no “right” way to establish a project management approach. The approach must be developed based upon individual business needs, cultural climate, and dissatisfaction with the status quo. Assessing these elements will determine the “right” approach for your organization and the best way to implement it.
Obviously, not all organizations are seriously ill when they recognize project management is the right remedy. In fact, most organizations should think of project management as a daily vitamin that prevents them from becoming sick. However, the challenge is to evaluate and diagnose “what, why, and where does it hurt?” and to conduct a thorough examination before prescribing the proper treatment. This is why the institution and evolution of project management methodology should be thoughtful. If a project management methodology is injected too quickly, the organization may receive too large a dose.
Methodical systemization requires a multi-year plan focused on project management discipline in its simplest form, and with methodology enhanced according to a focus on the organizational need: not the facility, the theory, or the grandeur of the solution. The plan should aim at the greatest pain first. Be patient with your plan, as it will take three to five years to fully implement a project management methodology.
The exact sequence for establishing a project management model is not important, but establishing the right sequence for your organization is. Project management methodology should not be built for its own sake; it should be gradually designed to solve the problems being experienced. Cultural acceptance is equally vital; without it, the PMO, regardless of model, will fail.
Establishing reliable and predictable experiences through systematic project management application will gain corporate buy-in, particularly when it can also be done while correlating real, measurable results. When designing a project management lifecycle, keep the plan simple so you don’t get lost in the detail. To obtain prompt buy-in and adherence, establish a framework which is familiar in the profession.
Creating a common practice of project management sets universal expectations that can be collectively evaluated for early diagnosis when change is suggested. The EPMO must continuously monitor project managers to ensure adherence to corporate project methodology, and monitor project success and failures through project management tools and constituency feedback. The EPMO is responsible for setting the expectations for project management practice, defining the tools that support the practice, and monitoring the value to the organization through ongoing evaluation of project success.
Introducing new methodology requires uncompromising practice. The EPMO is challenged by having to demand methodology adoption without creating corporate alienation. It is important for the EPMO to place precise requirements to ensure lifecycle practice. It is more important for the EPMO to publicly exhibit the wins associated with the expected standard practice. In other words, everyone who has a role in supporting project management must see visible results from their efforts. Sometimes, simply highlighting the pain is enough to capture attention and obtain buy-in.
What is the easiest way to advocate the benefits of project management? Highlight the current environment and note what projects are not delivering. As soon as project resuscitation is applied through project management practice and tool use, publicize the results in a big and bold way.
This is a sure way to gain acceptance and change behavior. As soon as project stakeholders see tangible results through improved project delivery, they will readily embrace the practice. As project managers gain proficiency in practice they will adopt the methodology as their own, work their own issues, provide their own rigor and become self-motivated. This will then allow the EPMO to back off from the enforcer role and become a service organization.
Build the methodology slowly. It is always easier to add components to the model than it is to subtract them. Methodical construction sets the pace for expectations and allows the PMO to fully evaluate the existing process before making changes or enhancing the current state. This also allows the PMO time to solicit constituency feedback, further strengthening the relationship between the PMO and the business. A PMO that can effectively find ways to identify and gather issues that plague projects will be guaranteed long, successful tenure in any organization. Keeping the plan problem-focused will produce quick wins — another way to acquire and maintain corporate buy-in.
Solutions should be simple and based on project management principles. Concepts such as work breakdown structure, triple constraint, stakeholder management, and best practices manifest themselves in the reality of real-time project concerns. What is the formula for success?
Solution in Response to Problem = Success
And here’s the formula for the opposite of success, just as a cautionary note:
Solution to No Identifiable Problem = Administrative Burden and Overhead
Successful systemization requires global commitment. One of the hallmarks of truly successful organizations: those that continually change and improve how they operate to remain competitive — is the ability to quickly and effectively accomplish priority initiatives that cut across traditional organizational silos.
There are two essential ingredients behind a successful approach to cross-functional project management. The first is the effective collaboration and work of the project sponsors and project managers running the projects. The second is the infrastructure your organization puts in place to support and track their efforts. As organizations continue to change and improve on how it operates, so too will its project management infrastructure and approach.
The roll-out of a project management office and project management methodology should be built using one process for needs assessment and a separate process for practical application. Balance the needs with solutions for success. Concentrate on what matters (the organizational need) in developing the project management discipline as a methodology.
The Use of Tools
Do not confuse the use of project management tools with project management methodology. Successful project management is not about the tools. It is not even about the content of the tools. It is about thinking, acting, and managing the factors that will determine the project’s success. Project management and the discipline of good project management practice have brought significant benefits to many organizations.
Over the past few years, many organizations have turned to enterprise project management software to solve their inability to deliver successful projects. On the surface, this may appear to be a viable solution. The enterprise systems have the ability to produce extensive data regarding project status, risk, and activity. However, in the absence of a solid, dependable project management methodology, the software’s bells and whistles cannot produce project success. Unless an organization has become proficient in such activities as project planning, resource estimation, risk management, and change scope management, the data entered into the enterprise system is flawed. Bad data in means bad data out, regardless of how fancy the tool may be. The key to success is using this simple equation:
Solid Processes + Appropriate Level of Software Functionality = Success
Always evaluate your options against your needs before making a decision. And remember, investing a lot of money in a new enterprise system before mastering some fundamental project management practices will not provide favorable results.
Don’t place too many tools in your toolbox. Create each tool to support a key phase in the project management lifecycle. Some of the tools found in your tool kit should be required for priority projects, while others are available on an optional basis to further support successful project delivery. The tool kit should grow over time, and many tools initially placed in the early tool kit must evolve, based upon project transformation and project team feedback. The idea is to build the tool kit slowly, as too many tools too soon will overwhelm even the most proficient project manager. Limit the number of mandated tools, and require them only when they exhibit verifiable value to the project and the organization: either in project delivery or in project reporting. Too many complicated tools will distract the project manager from what she should be doing. Significant time spent on project administration will cause project manager burnout or lead to missing critical project items.
The most successful tools are those created to address a specific need and likely to last, regardless of project transformation. Tools designed to prevail in spite of project complexity will hold the most value. Develop the tool to eliminate a problem, not to simply support a process. Regardless of the number of tools in your toolbox, all must demonstrate long-term value, in spite of project portfolio evolution. In other words, the simple tools which met the needs when the projects were “simple,” can be many of the same tools to meet the needs of “complex” projects today.
Lisa is the author of “Simple Solutions: How Enterprise Project Management Supported Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s Journey from Near Collapse to #1. This is an excerpt from Lisa’s book, which can be found online at iUniverse, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.