Project Management Institute

The price to be paid

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THE BUSINESS OF PROJECTS

BY GARY R. HEERKENS, MBA, CBM, PMP

When it comes to connecting the world of project management to the world of business, some companies just don't get it—and many of them pay a tremendous price.

Here are three examples of damaging practices—still quite prevalent today—among companies that don't fully understand or appreciate the business side of projects:

1. Favoring tactics over strategy. An alarming number of companies devote a tremendous amount of attention to doing the project right and a surprisingly small amount of attention to doing the right projects. Anyone familiar with the legendary cost-influence curve is well aware that its main concept is even more applicable to the issue of project selection versus implementation. There's much more at stake when trying to select the right project opportunities than there is during the actual execution of projects. Even if it's managed flawlessly, a project that doesn't effectively address strategic or operational needs can turn out to be a complete waste of time and money.

2. Pursuing projects on little more than: “Gee, this seems like a good idea!” The true value of a project—economically and strategically—can only be properly established through a careful and thorough evaluation. Time and time again, proposed projects that “seemed like a good idea” turn out to be not so great after all. The main reason is simple: Project investments are almost always more complex and far-reaching than they appear at first glance. Unanticipated risks can also sink a seemingly good idea. In this situation, however, the risks were unanticipated simply because no one took the time to do any meaningful analysis.

3. Setting unrealistic deadlines with no project planning. Known as “time-boxing” or “the imposed deadline syndrome,” this is a particularly damaging practice, yet it has become quite common in today's project management environment. Perhaps I'm showing my age, but in “the old days,” project teams estimated the time required to complete a project based on careful planning. The project's completion date may have been adjusted, but at least there was a basis for that negotiation between project teams and their management. Many senior managers and executives today apparently believe part of their role is to determine the project completion date—without really understanding what's required to get the job done. Although it's true that some projects must satisfy a legitimate “drop-dead” date, I've seen this practice routinely applied to all types of projects. Among the more obvious impacts of this practice are chronically missed deadlines, unfulfilled economic returns, unsatisfied expectations and employee burnout.

Recognizing the Opportunity

All of these scenarios demonstrate that the road to sustainable improvement must be paved by senior management. None of the practices could be changed or discontinued by the typical project manager.

But as a business-savvy project manager, you can play a critical role in trying to bring about positive change. Whenever you observe such damaging practices, bring them to the attention of the appropriate decision-makers. Seek to help them appreciate and understand the price they are paying by not embracing business-based project management. If you're successful, everyone stands to gain. PM

Gary R. Heerkens, MBA, CBM, PMP, president of Management Solutions Group Inc., is a consultant, trainer, speaker and author with 25 years of project management experience. His latest book is The Business-Savvy Project Manager.
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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.

JUNE 2009 PM NETWORK

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