WOW! they're catching on!
by Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, Contributing Editor
“IN THE NEW ECONOMY, all work is project work.” That's how author Tom Peters subtitled his article “The WOW Project” in the May 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine. He points out that the old ways of doing white-collar work aren't effective, because they are “too slow, too convoluted, too hard to grab hold of. The answer—the only answer—is the project.”
If you are an up-to-date project professional, you might be thinking, “Duh … everybody knows that.”
In fact, everybody doesn't know that! For those of us who have been in the trenches, this trend has been obvious for years. Yet there's a right time for new concepts to crest. In the case of applying project management across organizations, there are strong signs that the river is cresting: the time is nigh for business organizations to utilize project management techniques and philosophy as a way of doing business.
Even the gurus have finally figured out what project managers have known for a long time: projects work!
While Peters isn't a noted expert on project management, he is a widely read author and acclaimed speaker in the general business arena. And he is by no means unaware of the basics of project management—he did Master's program work on PERT-related topics! For years he has mentioned in his writings the importance of using a project tack in carrying out company work. The inevitability of doing corporate work by projects has been written about for years in the somewhat closed literature of project management. The fact that a famous “outsider” has chosen to champion the cause is highly significant, since this will tend to send a wake-up call to business executives that still operate under the old system.
The need for companies to organize themselves project-wise, and to urge their management personnel to get up to speed has long been identified and has been dealt with in articles about modern project management, corporate project management, project-based management, managing organizations by projects, and enterprise project management. All are similar in philosophy. I prefer the enterprise project management label, since I believe the word enterprise best describes what companies do these days.
Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP (email@example.com), is a Fellow of PMI and author of seven books, including Winning in Business With Enterprise Project Management (Amacom, NY, 1998). He is president of Dinsmore Associates, affiliated with Management Consultants International Group, headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Direct comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The enterprise project management concept is based on the principle that prosperity depends on adding value to business, and that value is added by systematically implementing new projects—projects of all types, across the organization. The better those projects are managed, the better—and more prosperous—will be the business.
This change in business philosophy creates a special challenge for executives. As opposed to trying to speed up the chaotic process that prevails in many white-collar circles, in which projects are haphazardly herded along using intuitive techniques, the proposal is to change the way work is performed. That new approach is for executives to manage the organization by projects.
Peters is Partially Right. Peters gives sage advice to striving project managers and walks through what he classifies as the four phases of managing projects: creating projects, selling projects, executing projects and handing off projects. His approach assumes that the difficulties will be monumental and that the organization and its executives will not be responsive to the needs of the project manager.
Get the boss's support, and you've got the go-ahead you need the myth assures us. “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” Peters says, confirming that you can't expect much from the organization's executives. He believes in the groundswell approach—drawing from grassroots support in the organization. And he proposes that project managers should spend much of their time pursuing such support.
From the project manager's standpoint, Peters advice is sound. There's no sense in sitting around waiting for the organization to get its act together. Most organizations are not set up to provide the infrastructure needed to carry out projects. So under those circumstances, it's just as well to assume the support will be minimal. Getting on with project work in spite of lacking support from top management was discussed in detail in the June 1999 Up & Down column.
From a company standpoint, however, there's a great deal to be done. As companies begin to organize themselves into “portfolios of projects,” project managers will find greater convergence between what they are doing and where the company is headed. This calls for alignment of company goals along the direction that projects are taking, and vice versa.
It's the company's responsibility to facilitate the pathway between business planning and project implementation. Although Peters proposes that project managers transform themselves into “superheroes” with powers to leap over organizational barriers and executive incompetence, it's not reasonable to expect that to happen. Companies have to learn to make it easier for people to get their projects done.
Aligning projects along the lines of company strategies calls for plotting a coherent pathway from the declared strategies to the actions being taken by the project teams. Here is what companies need to do to make sure projects are strategically aligned:
Reader Service Number 004
The Starting Point. Company strategies are arrived at through conventional strategic planning, which may include creating or ratifying mission and vision statements and company values, review of economic scenarios, analysis of competitors, overview of strengths and weaknesses, risks and opportunities and ultimately spelling out the organization's strategic objectives. These strategic objectives are the starting point for all projects in an organization that uses enterprise project management principles, whether they be specific strategic undertakings or projects related to product launch, capital expenditures or operations.
General Project Alignment. Once the strategic objectives are identified, successful strategic project alignment depends on carrying out fundamental interfacing between those objectives and the setting peculiar to each project. Activities that are required to bridge the gap from strategic objectives to specific project planning are project sponsorship, prioritization, risk management, organizational balance, and project office support.
Alignment for Different Kinds of Projects. Each major grouping of projects has peculiarities. Strategic projects, for instance, are tightly tied to company mission, vision, values, and objectives, and depend heavily on high-level coordination and influence management to achieve their goals. Product and market-related projects depend on fixing product targets, creating product portfolios, and monitoring market opportunities. Capital expansion projects, on the other hand, involve issues such as logistics, team mobilization and major procurement. Operational projects are dependent on operational goals, scarce resources and multidisciplinary teams.
If companies have put their groundwork in place, then even regular people—not endowed with super powers—can have a chance at getting their projects done. If proper alignment has taken place, then project planning and implementation techniques should take the project on toward completion. During the project life, periodic audits may be required to ensure that each project continues to conform to the organization's strategic goals.
Two Worlds. Traditionally, projects in companies are separated into separate worlds. The first is the “idea-to-kick-off” world. Here the project is composed of a concept, some studies, lots of discussion, and a decision to start. This part of a project's life should be checked against a company's strategic planning. Once the decision is made, the project is pushed out to the functional areas or operating units, who are then supposed to “get the job done.” This pragmatic part is the second world, where formal project management starts to take place. The major challenge in managing organizations by projects is to bridge the gap between the two worlds and to ensure that projects receive enough attention and support from upper management.
There are classic ways—calling for general project alignment—for dealing with the dichotomy of projects. Here is how organizations can prepare themselves for dealing with the challenge:
Sponsoring. The traditional gap-filler between the parent organization and projects in companies is the “project sponsor.” The sponsor is charged with caring for and nurturing a project so that it receives resources and gets political coverage within the organization. Project sponsors act as “guardian angels” both to the project and the project manager in that they oversee and protect them from risk and potential negative impacts.
Prioritizing. To provide maximum impact to the organization, projects need to be ranked using a systemic way for selecting high priorities. The background for this approach stems from the classic strategic planning SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) categories. Based on listings of these strategic factors, the types of projects that should rank high on the company's priorities can be determined.
Managing Risk. Project portfolio management includes the oversight of the accumulated risks of an organization's projects. This means that processes must be in place for identifying, quantifying, developing responses, and controlling risk. And those processes are applied across the board on the company projects.
Scoring a Project's Contribution. A management evaluation technique called the “balanced scorecard” suggests that the health of businesses be sized up from four different angles: financial, client, internal processes, and learning and growth. Assuming that all projects are designed to improve the company's health, then these areas need to be looked at in terms of the contribution each project makes to the company.
Project Office. Growing in popularity is the project office concept. Organizations are setting up groups designed to supply support and internal consulting services to ensure that projects are carried out successfully and in accordance with company strategies.
SINCE “ALL WORK IS PROJECT WORK” in the new economy, both project professionals and companies must adapt to the new scenario. Tom Peters believes that the burden rests with project professionals who must leap over the organization's hurdles and get projects on their way to successful completion. On the other hand, it's time for companies to become more proactive in terms of project management. By building synergy between project professionals and organization policies and support systems, the projects envisioned by Peters can all become part of an entire portfolio of WOW projects.
Reader Service Number 054
August 1999 PM Network