Project Management Institute

True colors


Creating a collaborative environment begins with EMPOWERING THE INDIVIDUAL and establishing an effective project management or program management office.


at first blush, collaboration sounds easy enough. Yet there's an art and a science to getting people to work together smoothly. It all begins with trust and the dissemination of authority throughout the enterprise, says David Oates, London, U.K.-based vice president of international sales at Primavera Systems Inc., a project management software and services firm.

“Collaboration makes everybody feel accountable and empowered,” Mr. Oates says. “Nobody feels isolated. You can't force someone to be 100 percent accountable. People have to choose, and that comes with building a culture of trust.“The trouble with collaboration comes early on, he says, when organizations isolate project managers. “Project management has been around a long time and historically, it's been run in a vacuum.” A host of other business and corporate functions contribute to an enterprise's inability to leverage information. A comprehensive worldwide survey of IT leaders conducted by Primavera in 2004 showed that nearly 75 percent of them were unable to accurately forecast demand. Other respondents reported they couldn't maintain best practices consistently or get accurate performance outcomes. Nearly 60 percent said they weren't able to leverage their workforce for better results.


Collaboration requires an environment of trust and transparent information sharing.

The project management office or program management office must act interdependently with business units.

A project management office or program management office serves as a central clearinghouse for governance and support.

Enterprise portfolio management applications support collaborative environments in project-driven organizations.

Much of the problem boils down to a failure to share information, make it visible and empower individuals in the organization, Mr. Oates says. When project manager operate in a vacuum without the input or involvement of corporate management or key staff, the project often only looks good on paper. “There's no visibility into what other projects might be underway or how one delay might impact another, for example,” he says.

Enterprises can solve this problem by fostering a collaborative environment in and around the project management office. Mr. Oates identified the following common characteristics of collaborative environments:

  • Trust: Good leadership, including corporate goals with clearly defined business processes, initiates trust
  • Equality: Objective measures are made of each project request
  • Absence of Blame: Open cultures and systems help ease the blame predisposition
  • Right Software Tools: Proper tracking and documentation of projects build historical records and warehouses of relevant data.

No Set Structure

For collaboration to occur, information must flow in both directions—between upper and lower level management, not just from the top-down.There's no one set way to structure a collaborative environment, Mr. Oates says. Nevertheless, organizations with decentralized, flat hierarchies tend to do better at collaborating, because individuals are much closer to the decisions that need to be made, he says.

Companies also have taken cues from the dot-com startups that began in the last half of the 1990s, Mr. Oates says. “The open culture in those organizations has been adopted by some of the biggest corporations to allow total access (to higher management) among employees. It's now across industry.”

Mr. Oates advises enterprises with deficient collaboration to begin with a particular project. “Start the process on a smaller scale and allow the culture of trust to build across the organization,” he says. For example, technology consulting group Gartner, Stamford, Conn., USA, identifies “innate collaborators,” those who naturally share their ideas. “By focusing support on these innate collaborators, you can start to realize innovative ideas and plant the seeds for cultural change,” Mr. Oates says.

As for structuring a collaborative project management or program management office, there is no typical, prescribed structure, but everyone must assume some responsibility and participate as a team.

How are We Doing?

Feedback and assistance naturally grow within a collaborative environment. Team members often need an outlet for constructive criticism and to ask for help. “My view is there's no stigma attached to asking for help. If you were in a life raft, lost at sea, and someone came past in a row boat, you'd ask for help,” Mr. Oates says. “That should be no different at work.”

For example, project managers at Henry Ford Health System find it easier to stay fully apprised of progress these days. Jack Garrison, PMP, manager of the program management office (PMO), realigned the company's corporate IT program management office. He also introduced new collaborative tools at the Detroit, Mich., USA-based health services firm. Henry Ford operates three major hospitals, 25 health care facilities and employs 15,000. Since the reorganization two years ago, Henry Ford Health no longer experiences disparate project management processes between major vendors (software and hardware companies) and some 290 on-site consultants.

Instead, the corporate IT program management office relies on a core team of a dozen staffers who steward projects across 35 to 50 project managers.Those managers then report to several portfolio managers that work for the external partners. “Their direction is guided by IT leadership, which is made up of our two outsourced IT partners and Henry Ford Health System,” Mr. Garrison says. While the project managers don't report to the project management office, the office provides valuable coaching, consulting and guidance to project and portfolio managers. “The PMO has brought us more harmony and fidelity. Before implementation, each vendor had project management practices that didn't operate in sync.”

As a result of this structure, the corporate IT program management office has led several successful, large initiatives that support collaboration. Notably, it developed a project life cycle (PLC), a road map with artifact templates, processes and gateways to guide project managers. The PLC was created using a stewardship style, Mr. Garrison says, by soliciting best practices among all project managers. “Using this approach, we were able to publish it as a de facto standard without getting the resistance often found from mandated standards.”

In addition to the PLC, the corporate IT team selected, designed and implemented Microsoft's enterprise portfolio management (EPM) software. Since implementing the system in April 2004, IT team members have experienced a higher level of collaboration. They attribute this to the enhanced visibility into project processes and planning. “Issues, status reports, meetings and other team communication needs are all handled here,” Mr. Garrison says, adding that the online tool also has been a source of pride among team members. “The tool has springboarded collaboration in many ways. For example, team members propose meeting agendas, as they own the responsibility for getting the tasks completed and finding resolutions to their problems. The meetings are all conducted online and virtually from multiple locations.”

In the spirit of collaboration, Mr. Garrison's area also developed a project management awareness program. Knowledge-sharing “bring your own lunch” sessions, held twice a month, feature external experts. The popularity of the program has spread from project managers to other business areas.

Tech Giant Collaborates

Collaboration is thriving at Hewlett-Packard Co. Don Kingsberry, director of Hewlett-Packard's internal global program management office in Houston, Texas, USA, says the company's merger with Compaq in 2002 illustrates collaboration's command. The consolidation and integration of large-scale computer systems didn't dwarf the integration of human resources applications, he says. The merger entailed moving human resources to a common platform to reduce costs, servers and services.

Mr. Kingsberry says the merger actually has accelerated success rates. Project duration has been reduced by 39 percent, he says, and internal project success rates on major undertakings has increased by 20 percent, yielding success rates of more than 90 percent. “Collaboration is part of that,” he says.

HP allows business-side counterparts to execute against the company's rigorous project management practices. The program management office exists as a corporate function with a small staff that relies on a large, collaborative network of PMO teams.

“Large” is the operative word, considering some 4,000 project managers work on internal projects throughout Hewlett-Packard. “The project managers report to their respective groups,” Mr. Kingsberry says. “We have an extended team of PMO managers that direct these project managers. There's a mini-PMO in each of our four business groups: personal systems; imaging and printers; technology solutions; and storage and servers, which makes for about 50 PMO teams and 50 PMO managers across the company.”

These teams and managers are thus free to execute within their own group, as guided by the company's project management methodology, backed by profuse training. “We use Primavera as a common enterprise system to give us visibility and allow global teams to collaborate on the project. Our methodology is stored in the database,” Mr. Kingsberry says. The company's proprietary methodology draws on a range of best practices, and its project management principles consist of 16 key guidelines. “We want the soldier to know how to operate when there's no leader there,” he says.

Given that Hewlett-Packard's eponymous founders are known for mainstreaming Management by Objectives with its focus on goals, Mr. Kingsberry says the corporate culture is conducive to collaboration. This is especially true when the lens is widened to collective goals of a project. “It's the quality of the people you work with and the trust and power you vest in these folks to go do the work. That's always been here.”

Driving Teams

Like his corporate counterparts, Mr. Oates is an evangelist for using technology to support collaboration. He says EPM and other project management systems breed the sharing of data in efficient, structured ways. “The concept of collaboration itself doesn't require technology, but in the project-driven organization, the right software tools are necessary to facilitate effective collaboration.”

In a truly collaborative environment, where people work in teams, robust EPM systems offer a deluxe toolbox to get projects done right, Mr. Oates says. He notes such tools help project management and program management offices to deploy best practices in:

  • ■ Project deliverables management
  • ■ Knowledge management
  • ■ Methodology management
  • ■ Process deployment
  • ■ Stage-gate approval.

As both Hewlett-Packard Henry Ford Health System show, when used effectively, these comprehensive tools help build a culture of trust by providing:

  • ■ Issue and risk visibility
  • ■ Historical record of issue resolution
  • ■ Natural access to data
  • ■ Input from the entire team
  • ■ Process flow for change control
  • ■ Deliverables management.

"It's not collaboration or project management to fix the problem. It's a combination of good collaboration, good best practices and good project management frameworks,” Mr. Oates says. “When you put these three things together, you will get good structured reporting, good metrics and so forth.”

That spirit of collaboration flows through to everyone. “If the project is successfully delivered, everyone is celebrated,” Mr. Oates says. “If the project fails, everyone has failed.” PM

Marcia Jedd is a Minneapolis, Minn., USA-based supply chain and business writer.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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