Roles, responsibilities, and resources
best practices in managing people
In today’s environment of lean budgets, fast-tracking projects, and an increasing emphasis on total quality, it is critical that project managers understand the key success factors of a successful project completion or system implementation. These success factors are universal and can be applied to almost any project, including systems or process design, development, or implementation. Assembling the right individuals for the project team and managing them appropriately to use their best talents are two of the most important critical success factors. The right individuals understand the details of the project and have insight and experience in accomplishing the required tasks. Managing them appropriately, using empowerment strategies and good communications skills, will ensure that the project team behaves highly effectively, contributing directly to project success. Other success factors include top management commitment, assembling the right executive team, identifying stakeholders, assigning responsibilities, and implementing an effective communications plan.
This paper will explore the importance of good project team management skills toward a successful implementation, with emphasis on the Total Quality Management teachings of Edwards Deming and Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. Projects can be greatly improved by involving and empowering users during the project life cycle and establishing ownership of the system early in the initiation and planning processes.
Project Success Factors
It is critical that a comprehensive requirements statement be created and approved by all stakeholders. A comprehensive education and training plan should also be deployed, as well as a conference room pilot to thoroughly test the new system or process before implementation. The requirements statement can often best be developed by the individuals closest to the process or system being implemented. In many industries, such as manufacturing and supply chain management, workers are often the best resource for designing and implementing new systems and in making decisions regarding functions and features. Such subject matter experts (SMEs) are highly valuable in identifying exact project requirements and in establishing ownership and subsequent user buy-in of the new system or process. SMEs are also valuable in providing secondary training, user acceptance testing, and in driving the project to completion.
Every properly run project begins with a formal kickoff meeting with all participants, vendors, stakeholders, executive owners, and so forth, during which formal roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. This sets participants’ expectations from the start, and acts to educate various participants who may not be familiar with good project management practices with regards to their specific responsibilities throughout the project. One of the most important roles is that of senior management, who must lend their direct, unequivocal support during the duration of the project. Senior management must “walk the talk” and demonstrate to the other participants and stakeholders the importance of the project and their contributions. Senior management often acts as the sponsor of the given project. Significant financial investment may have been allocated and a return on investment expected. Senior management is required to demonstrate continuous support of the project and influence critical decisions should unexpected issues arise or undue risks exist. Experience has shown that projects will not necessarily fail without senior management support, but they may fail to meet all of their stated objectives, may incur greater costs and longer durations, or meet fewer expectations without direct senior sponsorship.
The project kickoff meeting also involves clearly stating and documenting the purpose of the project, as well as the various goals and objectives, as quantitatively as possible. A constructive, goal-oriented culture must be established (often a factor of the corporate culture and not the project team), as well as a clearly defined communication plan. The project manager is responsible for overcoming any adversarial relationships and establishing an atmosphere of trust. Trust is key if project team participants are expected to work together efficiently. Trust also accentuates the quality of communication and data management during the project. An atmosphere of trust encourages participants to disclose potentially negative information when necessary and discourages them from slanting information toward what one might wish to hear rather than succinctly stating the facts.
The quality of the requirements statement can define the quality and outcome of the overall project. Whereas some software development methodologies allow for requirements statements to be developed in parallel with construction and testing, most projects require that a clearly-defined requirements document be created and approved by senior management, often before any funding is allocated. In contractual situations, it is often necessary for the requirements statement to be approved by both senior management and legal counsel before allocation of funds.
The best way to ensure that requirements are as correct and complete as possible is to employ participants who are very close to the end-users of the system once it is deployed. SMEs often have the best understanding of the various problems that need to be solved, understand the details and working relationships of employees and functional components, and very often hold the key to developing and understanding the detailed solution (Deming, 1986, p. 248). Requirements statements driven by such informed SMEs almost always produce the best results in implementation, and provide for fewer scope, budget, and duration changes over the life of the project.
Involving users as SMEs early in the project, during the initiation and planning phases, as well as in authoring any requirements statements, will ensure that business objectives are clearly stated, scope is tightly defined (i.e., what is included, and what is not included in project scope), and that formal budget and schedule estimates are as accurate as possible. An experienced project manager will be able to select knowledgeable participants who show a willingness and initiative to involve themselves and embark on something unique and new. Formal methodologies may be required, as provided by project management office standards, and a resource availability analysis may need to be performed in corporate environments in which resource shortfalls are common. The result will be a clearly defined set of requirements, scope definition, and accurate budget and schedule estimates.
Importance of Stakeholders
Stakeholders are the people involved in or affected by project activities, including executive owners, sponsors, users, customers, vendors, as well as the project team. Everyone affected during the development and implementation, as well as users of the new system or process, are stakeholders. It is important to gain input from as many sources as possible during requirements development, but also during construction, training, and implementation, to ensure a successful outcome.
One other stakeholder that is rarely mentioned but is just as key to the success of the project is the opponent of the project. Opponents rarely wish to participate or be involved on a project. Many opponents go as far as to actively oppose the project by campaigning verbally against it or otherwise bemoaning the project to colleagues and senior management. On one hand, opponents can be viewed as annoyances to be avoided and ignored at all cost, as they often add angst and frustration, preventing any chance of a smooth outcome. On the other hand, opponents may hold information that is key to understanding what problems should be avoided or may have a history of earlier false starts that would be invaluable if they could be shared with the project team in a constructive manner. With this mindset, opponents should be made part of the project team to provide education on what should be avoided or what may have not worked in the past. Their advice can be worked into the requirements statement and would provide a more direct, experience-based approach to problem solving. The resulting requirements statement would then contain input from all facets in the organization, as well as ideas and aspects to avoid. Experience has shown that opponents who are made part of the project team soon become proponents and become instrumental in the project’s success.
One common element of a successful project team is the ability to streamline information processing needed for decision making, communicating progress, and reaching difficult decisions. Decisions must be reached using the best available information, and the project team must then abide by the decision. A consensus is required by all members, whereas a democratic vote may create a rift in the team.
It is important that there be one leader on the project. If there are two or more leaders, which one is actually in charge? There must be one leader that presides over the project team, which includes vendors, consultants, SMEs, and other stakeholders (Deming, 1986, p. 53). Often, a project manager is provided by a consulting firm or vendor that has been hired. The vendor project manager must be subservient to the host or client company’s project manager. A vendor contract is usually employed that stipulates the relationship between the vendor’s project manager and staff, and the client.
Another useful tool is the Responsibility Assignment Matrix, often called a RACI Chart (RACI stands for “Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed”). This chart spells out the roles of all stakeholders, both within and outside the client company, from all participating departments (PMI, 2004, p. 206). The RACI chart also serves as the baseline of the communications plan by stipulating who receives information, how frequently, and at what level of detail. The RACI chart should be established by the end of the planning phase and published in the Project Charter document.
The task of actually managing the people on the project team to produce the desired outcome (on budget, on schedule, high quality) remains one of the most important managerial functions of the project manager. Charts, schedules, budgets, software, classes, or procedures are not enough to adequately manage a project team. There are several important tools that have originated during the past 50 years that remain today some of the best and most important tools in managing people. They are:
- Total Quality Management
- Theory of Constraints
- Critical Chain
- Lean/Six Sigma
- Deming’s Fourteen Points
Total Quality Management
Total Quality Management (TQM) was developed by Joseph Juran and Edwards Deming post World War II and is the original baseline of all quality and personnel management improvement tools used today (Deming, 1986, pp. 49-51). Having its origin in manufacturing, TQM is a business philosophy based on continuous improvement. TQM involves all aspects of the company, including product design, vendor participation, customer service, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and project management. TQM can result in lower costs, faster throughput, and greater customer satisfaction. TQM is also a strategy in which all company operating entities streamline operations, eliminate waste, improve quality, eliminate redundancy, reduce costs, improve overall morale, and promote continuous improvement, in a coordinated fashion.
Although TQM has its origin in manufacturing, the mechanisms of TQM lend themselves directly to management of people and processes. The goals of TQM are to eliminate waste, improve quality, shorten lead times, reduce costs, improve morale, and foster an environment in support of continuous improvement. The effect of TQM on a project team is the modification of human behavior in approaching a task or team dynamic such that all ideas are considered by the team, team members feel open and empowered to make decisions, and obstacles are cleared from their path.
TQM’s main goal is the elimination of waste. Waste is any task or process that does not add value to the overall product or goal. Waste can be identified in project team dynamics in the form of poor communication, developing incomplete requirements, constructing new processes based on poor requirements, inadequately testing new systems, poor user training, and the like. TQM techniques act to identify and remove the wasteful practices and implement only re-engineered, value-added processes. Once non-value-added processes are removed, the stage is set for continuous improvement, in which additional waste can be identified and eliminated. TQM as a management tool was shunned in the 1980s after the failure of a technique called “Quality Circles” (Deming, 1986, p. 146). Quality Circles were well-intentioned process improvement projects that were administered in an ad-hoc fashion without coordination. Hence, a large number of specialized, disparate process improvements occurred without any commonality or strategy. Despite these missteps, TQM provides a wealth of value today for managing project teams and streamlining communications, provided that a common focus or coordinated strategy is employed.
Theory of Constraints
The Theory of Constraints (TOC) took TQM to the next level. TOC was developed by Eli Goldratt, PhD, author of the management book, The Goal (1999, p. ix). Based again on improving manufacturing environments, TOC focused on process flow analysis and streamlined each step to work as a network of engineered sequences. TOC lends itself well to project team dynamics by identifying the weakest link in a process flow (the constraint), highlighting it, eliminating it, and balancing the remaining steps so they work in a coordinated networked fashion. The systems engineering approach to team dynamics and process flows is what separates TOC from TQM.
The TOC technique focuses on the weakest process link (constraint) and acts to eliminate the constraint, thus improving the process (Goldratt, 1999, pp. 5-8). TOC may be described as four major analysis steps, however, this author believes that there should be a fifth step that precedes all of the others and acts as the starting point: understand the goals of the organization. This author suggests that the first step is to understand the goals and objectives of the organization and compare them to the target “as-is” process flow. The company’s goals and objectives serve as a comparison point for systems analysis, and for guiding the changes to be made. The second step (Goldratt’s first step) is therefore identifying the constraints. Typically, constraints can be defined as obstacles that prevent the system from performing closer to its intended rate, cost, or other goals. Knowing what the goals are of the organization is essential for understanding which steps become constraints. Once the constraints have been identified, the third step is to exploit the constraints, that is, to eliminate the constraint by adding resources, removing wasteful steps, providing training, improve processes, and so forth, such that the identified constraint no longer behaves as a constraint, but rather is more in-line with the goals and objectives of the company. The fourth step is to subordinate all other processes around the newly-engineered process, allowing for load balancing in the case of manufacturing or value-added process balancing in the case of process flows and project team dynamics. The fifth step, elevating the constraints, acknowledges that the given process is no longer a constraint, but that the constraint may have shifted to another point in the process flow. The process is repeated again, until all constraints have been removed from the system.
TOC can be applied directly to project team dynamics. A constraint on a project team might be an individual who is disinterested in the project goal or lacks the skills necessary to participate on the project. Another constraint could be identified as poor communication within the team, with stakeholders outside the project team, or incomplete requirements. Still another could be a shortfall of available resources necessary to complete the various tasks on time. All of these examples suboptimize the final result and will require additional cost and/or time to correct. Performing a TOC analysis during the planning phase of the project will help to identify and correct any such deficiencies before work begins.
An offshoot of the Theory of Constraints is another concept developed by Goldratt, called “Critical Chain” (Goldratt, 1997). Not to be confused with critical path, as described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (PMI, 2004, pp. 145-147), Critical Chain is a technique that aids in the development of project plans by scheduling the most constrained resource first. Critical Chain emphasizes resources required rather than task order and rigid scheduling, and takes advantage of resources when available. Traditional scheduling requires that resources be flexible and made available when needed. Critical Chain provides a more realistic approach to resource scheduling in an overloaded environment in which resources are often already over-allocated.
Developed at Motorola in 1987, Six Sigma was designed to provide a more structured and quantitative approach to TQM (Patrick, 2008). The word “Lean” is in fact a replacement of the term “Just in Time” (JIT), and refers to a manufacturing process that has eliminated all possible waste and has been structured to work in a clean, clear, straightforward fashion (APICS, 2008, p. 71). Lean employs the same pull-system lot-size-of-one strategy as JIT, and is now associated with Six Sigma methods. Lean/Six Sigma methods can also be applied to process and project team environments by providing for measurement of process improvement. Using a data-driven approach for analyzing root causes and solving them is a refinement over TQM/JIT. The introduction of metrics is a major contribution of Lean/Six Sigma to project management, providing a means for demonstrable and measurable improvement in calculating returns on investment (ROIs) and other systematic gains. Lean/Six Sigma ties business outputs directly to market requirements, aligns the organization more closely to its market, and delivers quantitative, measurable improvements to the bottom line.
Six Sigma literally means the reduction of product/process defects to less than 3.4 per million. A more graphic display of Six Sigma is the depiction of the ends of a bell-shaped normal distribution beyond –6σ and +6σ (see Exhibit 1). The area under the curve between –6σ and +6σ is exactly 99.9999998%, which represents the range of acceptable quality. The area beyond ±6σ is unacceptable quality and is calculated to be 1.0 – 0.999999998 = 0.000000002, or less than 3.4 defects per million operations.
Exhibit 1 – Six Sigma Quality
Six Sigma focuses on variations resulting from insufficient product design tolerances, inadequate process controls, less than optimum parts and materials, elimination of administrative redundancy and waste from filing, typing, copying, and document preparation.
Total Quality Management and Deming’s 14 Points
Edwards Deming is one of the godfathers of modern quality management. All of the techniques mentioned in this paper are derived from and share a common origin with Deming’s teachings and methods. Deming became noteworthy after World War II by helping to rebuild the Japanese manufacturing economy through the use of newly devised management methods that highlight the importance of the worker over the manager. Deming described the importance of employee empowerment and inclusion of the worker in decision-making in contributing to overall quality (Deming, 1986, p. 23).
Examples of failed system implementations attest to the fact that technology without procedural designs or management direction cannot effectively solve business problems. There are always opportunities to improve the process, service, product, or lower the cost or add value to any given process (the basis of continuous improvement). The major constraint against quality improvement on behalf of the employee is often the lack of management support. Deming was first to realize that “divided responsibility means that no one is responsible,” meaning that if there are two or more project managers in charge, none of them will be able to have final authority over decision-making. Goldratt built upon this thought years later when he developed his Theory of Constraints.
Deming’s Fourteen Points, which lend themselves directly to managing project teams, are as follows:
- Create a constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service—corporate vision provides focus. Here, Deming describes the importance of understanding the overall goals, objectives, and mission of the company.
- Adopt the new philosophy—embrace new challenges and assume a new leadership role. Here, Deming describes the need to change corporate culture and management practices as a precursor to setting the stage for change.
- Cease dependence upon inspection to achieve quality—use SPC, TQM, employee empowerment, work teams. This idea was later built into JIT and Lean manufacturing techniques. Inspection by itself is a non-value-added task, as it creates no value and provides no feedback to the origin of the defect, so the origin continues to create the defect. Here, Deming creates the idea of building quality into the product or process and ensuring the work is good before it proceeds to the next step. If any defects are detected, the process stops and the defect is fixed before the work continues.
- Minimize total cost by working with a single supplier—end the practice of awarding business on lowest price, minimize total overall enterprise costs instead. By minimizing the number of total suppliers, Toyota was able to simplify product designs and reduce overall materials, engineering, and manufacturing costs.
- Improve constantly and forever every process—improving quality and productivity decreases costs—use feedback mechanisms. Here, Deming introduces the concept of continuous improvement, in which the company remains competitive by continuing to eliminate waste and improve quality.
- Institute training on the job—training applies to all levels of the organization. Deming noted the lack of formal training at all levels in firms in the U.S. after World War II, and made sure that adequate education and training become a part of the Japanese culture. In the U.S., training is still often the first item to be cut when budgets are reduced.
- Adopt and institute leadership—leaders remove barriers that prevent people and machines from achieving the optimum. Deming introduced the concept of management being a facilitator rather than a dictator. Goldratt developed this idea further in his Theory of Constraints.
- Drive out fear—a barrier to change; defeat it through communication, culture, and training. This point is the most important idea that affects project management—set a culture in which project team members are not afraid to speak their minds or share their thoughts. It is an effective way for all ideas to be presented, and to prevent skewing or censoring idea generation and compromising problem solving. It is the responsibility of the project manager to set the cultural milieu, demonstrate through actions that barriers to communication and change have been removed, and promote openness, honesty, and trust within the team.
- Break down barriers between staff areas—everyone must work as a team, imperative to modern management. Here, Deming observed that companies, both in the U.S. and Japan, were arranged as stand-alone departments, or “silos,” in which very little communication occurred. Deming recognized an integrated workforce or team as being key to enhancing communications, exchanging ideas, and remaining competitive.
- Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force—setting and enforcing goals without providing necessary tools institutes increasing fear and hurts productivity. Deming noted that proclaiming baseless goals combined with slogans and similar practices acted to demotivate the workforce. Rather, calculated goals based on market research and data should be used to set goals.
- Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force and numerical goals for management—substitute leadership for management by objectives. This is similar to 10 above, but stresses the negative aspects of quotas. In manufacturing, quantities should be based on market demand and not “what was made last time” or other such quotas.
- Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship. Similar to 8 above, Deming warns against singling out individuals, as that may harm a team by alienating its members. For example, if a project team succeeds in completing a project on time and within budget, do not reward only one individual on the team, but rather award the entire team.
- Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone—results of education may not manifest themselves immediately, but it can have far-reaching long-term effects. Deming realized the importance of employee training, which not only promotes doing the job right the first time, but also creates the culture for volunteering ideas and solving problems.
- Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation—transformation is everyone’s job; top-management commitment is required to put everyone to work to accomplish the transformation. Finally, Deming points out that total quality cannot take place in one department or on just one project, but must be embraced by all members of the organization, including top management.
The most important message from Deming’s teachings is that employees should be given the power and authority to solve problems directly related to operations and quality. The line between direct and indirect tasks becomes blurred. Teamwork is essential for making empowerment pay off and entails participation from different departments and disciplines. Management must implement and embrace culture change, respect the new empowerment paradigm, and show consistent support. This author has been practicing Deming’s teachings for over 20 years and has found that project teams, when properly facilitated and coached, create better solutions than any single person on the team could have developed individually. This positively impacts the quality of the project or process being developed, and customer satisfaction is significantly improved.
Why Projects Fail
In today’s world of educated project managers and high-tech workforces, projects can still fail, or at best, be completed but without the quality, features, or capability that had been promised at the start. This author has found that projects can be compromised by any of the following:
- Driven by poorly-managed or inaccurate Requirements and Systems Design—the lack of a complete, detailed requirements document is the first “constraint” that will prevent the project team from developing what is truly required. Several design changes may be needed that will add to cost and prolong the duration.
- Not a closed-loop system—all integrated systems must have inputs that match outputs. If there is a mismatch of inputs and outputs, the system is considered “open-loop” and becomes suboptimized. Closed-loop also refers to policies and procedures that are put in place to provide direction should an unforeseen anomaly occur.
- Inaccurate data throughout the database—just as system requirements are needed for a new system or process design, a requirements document is also needed for any data conversion or input that may be needed.
- Insufficient education and training at all levels—as mentioned previously, inadequate training affects the project team, users, and other stakeholders, and acts as a “constraint” against realizing total system potential.
- Lack of discipline, procedures, and controls—up-to-date policies and procedures must always be in place to provide consistency; a corporate culture must be in place that promotes honoring formal procedures rather than creating and following informal, uncontrolled procedures.
- Unrealistic implementation expectations—accurate communication is very important to ensure that top management and executive owners understand the goals, objectives, costs, and risks of every project.
- Scope creep—this refers to the inclusion of additional requirements without formal acknowledgement, or without the provision of additional budget or duration. Oftentimes, scope must be changed because of overlooked requirements, or because the business model or solution has changed. Good change control processes help minimize the degree of scope creep.
- Inconsistent or lack of top management commitment—if top management fails to support the project, who will provide support or set the example of the importance of the project? Projects always entail change, which must be supported from the corporate level in order for the change to become part of the corporate culture.
- Lack of consistent leadership and focus—all projects should be aligned with corporate goals and objectives in order to be relevant to the organization. A lack of leadership or focus from top management can allow a project to stray from the stated goals and objectives, thus compromising its mission and purpose.
This paper has developed the thesis that the level of success of a project is directly related to how the project team is coached, facilitated, and managed. Best practices for ensuring a successful project include the importance of project plan structure, roles, responsibilities, stakeholders, communications planning, employee empowerment, and ensuring top management commitment. The importance of Total Quality Management, Theory of Constraints, Lean/Six Sigma, and Deming’s Fourteen Points have been stressed as important components for setting corporate culture, facilitating and empowering project teams, removing constraints, and aligning projects toward the corporation’s goals and objectives.
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Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the crisis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Studies.
Goldratt, E. (1997). Critical chain: A business novel. North River Press.
Goldratt, E. (1999). Theory of constraints. North River Press.
Patrick, F. (n.d.). Focused performance. Retrieved March 31, 2008 from www.focusedperformance.com
Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (2004 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
© 2008, Sanford Friedman, CFPIM, CIRM, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Denver, Colorado, USA