Nowadays many organizations are seriously overwhelmed with project portfolios that have dramatically grown in size, sophistication and the number of resources involved. Just to illustrate this point, recently a CEO of a large financial institution mentioned in a private conversation with me, “It seems only yesterday we had a couple of fifty-thousand dollar projects in our portfolio and today we have ten ongoing endeavors ranging in size from $5 to $20 million. We were not prepared for this”.
How should these organizations adjust their business models? Many companies are attempting deployments of their own project management frameworks to address the issues above. This article is aimed to provide senior executives of such organizations with the key lessons learned by the author stemming from numerous previous projects of similar nature.
Implementing Project Management
How Are We Doing?
Before we venture into the discussion of the finer points of project management implementation, let us analyze the current situation in the industry and assess our ability to handle projects.
According to researchers 19% of the project undertaken in 2008 were complete failures (i.e. cancelled because of significant cost overruns or being late). Forty six percent represented troubled projects (i.e. significantly over budget and/or late but completed nonetheless). And only 35% of projects undertaken were delivered on time and on budget (give or take a couple of percent here and there).
I don’t think anyone would argue that these figures demonstrate that we are a long way from perfection when it comes to selecting, planning and executing our projects.
The Key Steps
Here are some of the lessons learned derived from several successful implementations of project management frameworks performed by Thinktank Consulting at various organizations in Canada, US, Asia and Middle East.
Lesson # 1: Customize Methodology – Never try to impose an “off-the-shelf” project management methodology onto any organization. Instead:
Interview a cross-section of company employees and, if possible customers and suppliers, to obtain the real project-related issues.
Use the “best practices” project management methodology to tailor the solutions proposed to the concerns voices by the people working for the organization
Note: it is very likely that some of the issues voiced will not map directly to the domain of project management. For example, challenges like “most of our projects are of low value to the organization” or “we are constantly taking on way more projects than we are capable of handling” indicate issues with portfolio management (the science of project selection and strategic resource allocation) rather than with project management.
Lesson # 2: Champion Simplicity – Initially try to concentrate on the simplest forms of the methodology. If processes and documents become too complicated people will find creative ways to ignore them!
Lesson # 3: Use Focus Groups – Always use “focus groups” of company employees with at least a basic knowledge of project management to validate the processes and templates you are proposing. This will ensure that they are properly fine-tuned to company realities and you get buy-in.
Lesson # 4: What Is A Project? – Try to determine what constitutes a project and what doesn’t for that particular organization. Establish a threshold to distinguish between “project” and “business as usual”.
Lesson # 5: Educate Stakeholders – Run several one- or two-day company-wide project management seminars. Your mission is not to create several dozen project managers “overnight” but rather to familiarize all of the potential project stakeholders with the key concepts of project management and to spread the PM culture throughout your organization.
Lesson # 6: Be Patient – If a significant resistance to change is encountered (a very likely scenario) try to apply a phased approach. For example, select a group of pilot projects to be run under the new methodology to be followed by all flagship projects, to be followed by all projects.
Lesson # 7: Assign Dedicated Project Managers – Introduce the role of a full-time project manager to the company. Depending on the number of pilot projects the organization will probably require more than one.
Lesson # 8: Communicate – Debrief key stakeholders at every milestone. Presentation software like PowerPoint with charts, graphs and tables is your best friend! In general keep in mind that communications is the key. An intranet webpage dedicated to the new methodology and project-related news, seminars, debriefing lunch-and-learns, short updates during functional department head meetings – any combination of the above-mentioned tools should be used to carry the positive message to your organization.
Lesson # 9: Capture “Before” and “After” Data – Capturing the “before” and after” project related data is essential. Otherwise it would be very difficult to prove to the naysayers (and the executives) that the project performance and results have indeed improved and that the investment has been worth the effort.
Lesson # 10 – Hire a Professional – As self-serving as it sounds, don’t assume this difficult endeavor can be undertaken by internal resources with little or no experience in such projects. Hiring an external knowledgeable and unbiased professional who is capable of interviewing the stakeholders, developing a customized project management methodology and training your employees is probably the most efficient approach to this project.