Made to measure
- The reporting system must identify the decision maker. Tools can't help, he says, “if the right management is not in place, or is not committed to changing the company culture.”
For example, in the upcoming Athens Olympic Games, Luciano says, many parties were involved in the rush to meet deadlines, and it was not clear who was making decisions or who should be. The project was behind schedule. Pcubed, which worked on almost 40 programs related to the Olympics, including major construction of stadiums and the Olympic Village, instituted best practices that included time limits on decision-making, project prioritization and reporting tools. Planners now can forecast project completion with 95 percent accuracy, compared to 65 percent when the project started.
Pcubed currently is engaged in “pure” research on project management maturity and overall business success. For example, in the U.S. construction field, the Florida Department of Transportation, Tallahassee, Fla., USA, evaluated road and bridge projects. Its average project overran budgets by $450,000, or 15 percent. They saw project management as a major opportunity for improvement. Pcubed's research shows that small improvements in project management maturity would yield returns exceeding 200 percent.
The best practices at global outsourcing services company EDS Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich., USA, derive from vast data repositories, says Cindy McPherson, program and project management capability manager.
It can be tricky to convey best practices in a multicultural organization. EDS always includes a representative from each geographic region affected in early project conversations, McPherson says, citing potential barriers to programs such as the “not-invented-here” response.
There are cross-cultural differences in employees' “willingness to spend face-to-face time” to discern the subtleties inherent in benchmarking, says Terry Cooke-Davies, managing director and founder of benchmarking specialist Human Systems Ltd., Folkestone, Kent, U.K., with offices on four of the five continents. Americans are at one extreme, with a tendency to want speed, to be able to punch in the numbers and get a swift diagnosis, says Cooke-Davies, while Australians are at the other end. “They are willing to spend high-quality time looking at what's behind the numbers.”
Cooke-Davies emphasizes the importance of understanding the human factors, interpersonal relations, psychology and the actual practices and results. He cites three levels of benchmarking:
- Doing the project right
- Doing the right project
- Ensuring that projects are consistent with the firm's high-level strategic goals.
The Same Boat
Dozens of software packages can help with best practices and benchmarking, but projects don't all work the same way, nor do all divisions of a large firm have the same culture.
Due to variety and complexity of companies' cultures, consultants and industry experts are a good resource. The Internet abounds with business sector and government groups with benchmarking services. One example is the Construction Industry Institute, based in Austin, Texas, USA. With 65 member firms ranging from large global petroleum companies to major contractors in the United States, the Institute offers best practices and benchmarking assistance customized to this niche.
While there's no absence of advice, executives considering these management tools should understand some principles before following it. They must begin with an assessment of company performance. However, some firms compile a less than complete assessment because they fail to set clear baselines and don't ask enough questions. Shelley Gaddie, president of Project Corps, a Seattle, Wash., USA-based business management consulting firm, says, “They track return on investment and revenues instead of asking, for example, ‘How many projects are we doing vs. how many should we be doing, how much money have we spent vs. how much should we have spent, or even, are we doing the right projects?'” PM
Virginia Fairweather, former editor-in-chief of Civil Engineering magazine, is a freelance writer based in Wyckoff, N.J., USA, who often writes about project management, particularly in the construction industry.
PM NETWORK | JANUARY 2004 | WWW.PMI.ORG