Implementing consistent project management practices in a global marketplace
Changing marketplace dynamics ranging from growing cost pressures to increased project complexities have driven the need for more structured project management approaches within companies. A project management approach including its supporting tools applies to all projects within the organization, therefore the importance of getting it “right” is high. Add on top the complication of creating a methodology that can be applied globally makes this initiative daunting.
So, how can companies deploy consistent project management practices effectively? This paper examines common challenges that are present by highlighting five distinct implementation mechanisms that can be leveraged:
- Promoting visible leadership support
- Embracing change
- Developing the appropriate practices
- Providing a means to an end
- Start small
These high-level mechanisms help answer the challenges of implementing a project management approach in an effective manner keeping in mind the complications of a global footprint.
Introduction – A Changing Marketplace
Many organizations initiate more projects than they have the capacity to deliver. As a result, they typically have too much to do and not enough time or resources to do it. The intended benefits of many projects are frequently not realized, and the desired results are seldom fully achieved.
Several factors make delivering predictable project results difficult:
- Increasing project scale and scope
- Heightened risks and rewards
- Resourcing and geographic complexity
- Maturation of project management tools
- Cost pressures
- Internal quality initiatives
Traditional mechanisms to coordinate and manage large-scale global projects (e.g., tools with limited capabilities, dated processes, or missing checks and balances) are becoming ineffective and lead to duplication of effort, omission of specific activities, or poor alignment and prioritization with business strategy. Having a consistent approach to managing projects within an organization is more important than ever. Organizations may call the details of their approach mandates, leading practices, policies or standards. From the perspective of this discussion, the terms are synonymous. Once a corporation establishes that it wants to undertake a global project management (PM) process initiative, an evaluation of “how” the company will accomplish this goal must be performed.
Undertaking an initiative to implement a standard project management program can be unwieldy without the proper guidance and experience. Complications can arise at multiple points in the project management solution or methodology design and deployment process. This paper evaluates approaches used on projects to address typical traps project teams fall into when they attempt a focused project management initiative. This is typically a result of a team that does not understand what to look out for on their own projects or what minimal steps to apply that are the most effective.
Common Mechanisms to Achieve Your Targeted Results
Although there is a long list of possible mechanisms a project can leverage to drive desirable results from their project management initiative, there are a set of five that consistently rise to the top. These five mechanisms may not all apply to every project, but they should be examined to help avoid typical pitfalls projects encounter in deploying a consistent project management program:
- Promoting visible leadership support
- Embracing change
- Developing the appropriate practices
- Providing a means to an end
- Starting small
Promoting Visible Leadership Support
Projects are sponsored by an organization's leadership and therefore have implied support, but implied support does not necessarily drive compliance or excitement in the initiative. Quite simply, without visible leadership support, you cannot have a reasonable expectation that the company will follow the new project management processes that are being deployed. Standardization projects such as these can also run into significant organizational resistance since they are broad-based and attempt to change what many do not think is broken. They can be seen as additional overhead for projects already under pressure. Therefore, strong, continuing executive sponsorship is critical.
Leadership should be directly involved from the onset of the initiative to:
- Set expectations for the company
- Support requests by the implementation team
- Provide guidance in the development of policies
Having the support and commitment from leadership established upfront helps drive the behavior of the rest of the company throughout the project life cycle. Not only will the company leaders have more confidence in the solution that has been developed, but the organization as a whole will understand the importance of the new program and be more likely to comply as directed.
With simple steps, the implementation team can help drive more visible leadership support leading to an increased level of overall organizational support of the change (see Exhibit 1):
Exhibit 1: Mechanisms to Increase Organizational Support of Change
- Have leadership set the priority of the initiative for the company—The project management leading practices initiative should be one of the highest priority projects since it will drive how other projects will be managed for the organization. This importance needs to be clear to leadership and properly communicated to the rest of the company.
- Have communications to the company come directly from the leadership team or be endorsed by them—Employees are more likely to respond to leadership communications versus project team communications. They understand leadership communications tend to be few in number and are reserved for the more important topics. Therefore, having the project milestone communications come directly from the leaders will increase viewership from the intended audience. To make it easier on leadership, the project team can draft the communications—including the important content points—allowing leadership to adjust the verbiage to fit their communication style. The easier the project team makes the process for the leadership team, the more willing they will be to participate.
- Identify the appropriate stakeholders who can drive and make decisions—Leadership team dynamics are different from company to company. Some prefer to make all of the decisions themselves, while some prefer to defer the decision to high level managers that perform the majority of the day-to-day work. Considerable focus needs to be given to the process of identifying the appropriate stakeholders in the project and knowing their working styles.
- Identify effective modes of communication that consider cultural differences—In a global marketplace, how the messages are communicated from leadership is just as important as the message itself. Even in a single organization, there could be differences in how receptive employees are to different communication vehicles. Sometimes using e-mail distributions is considered the most effective, unless there is a language barrier. In this case, look for opportunities to have either physical or video conference meetings where the participants can ask questions if they are unclear about the message.
- Distinguish local versus global leaders—It is important for local leadership to actively endorse the global leaders. Local organizations/departments may be conditioned to default support to their local managers over global programs. The project team should be cognizant of this circumstance if it is relevant and take the appropriate steps to bring the local supervisors on board as soon as the project is initiated.
Leadership support is fundamental in getting compliance from the organization. However, the implementation of new practices will likely experience resistance. These are common causes of resistance:
- The company being historically effective with existing processes in place and therefore feeling change is unwarranted.
- Policies in place that allow different departments/managers to develop their own processes and “standards.”
- Large scale or company-wide changes failing in the past.
Exhibit 2: Factors of Change Resistance vs. Change Imperatives
In an environment where change is not easily accepted, the project team should take these special steps to help the affected resources see the direct benefits of the changes being recommended:
- Communicate the long-term vision through leadership team—As mentioned in the previous section, having visibility to leadership support is important. To expand on that, understanding leadership's long term vision for the company is also helpful. Implementing a set project management methodology brings a number of benefits to the organization that need to be clearly spelled out:
- Helps project managers see the “big” picture and accelerates work
- Provides a consistent approach and a common language
- Includes deliverable templates and tools
- Incorporates quality and risk management processes, making it easier to improve quality and reduce risk of project deliverables
- Can be used to manage programs as well as projects
This gives the organization context into why implementing consistent project management processes will help the company in the end.
- Involve the appropriate subject matter experts in the development of the new practices—Without proper guidance, project managers establish their own sets of practices they consider ‘standard’ for project management. Those project managers who have been the most effective with or the most vocal about their own practices should be included as subject matter experts for the initiative. Although they may initially be unsupportive of a change, if they see that their opinions are being considered and possibly even leveraged in the final solution, they may end up being the project's biggest supporters. In a global marketplace, identifying global subject matter experts across the organization is beneficial as well. This practice provides insight to situations that may only be experienced in certain parts of the world due to regulatory requirements or cultural practices. Providing an avenue to collaborate globally helps drive acceptance worldwide.
- Establish what it means to be a “successful” project up front—Projects should establish appropriate measures of achievement for the project. “Success” could mean a pilot project has used the policies through an entire project lifecycle or it could mean the company has completed a training certification program. Whatever the factors are for the company, they should be agreed upon by the project's stakeholders and then communicated to the organization. When the desired goals come directly from the stakeholders, they are more readily embraced and the organization can work toward achieving them as a collective entity.
- Provide detailed training to affected employees—Not understanding a change creates an atmosphere of defensiveness. To help drive an environment of partnership, detailed training tailored to the appropriate level is provided to everyone that is impacted. This gives an opportunity for questions or concerns related to the new processes to be raised and addressed efficiently.
- Enforce accountability—Unless people are held accountable to the new processes, resistance to the change tends to persist. A compelling reason to change is missing. Leveraging leadership support and direction, the appropriate mechanisms for enforcing accountability are established. In this area, cultural differences are emphasized since “the carrot” can be interpreted differently globally. In some instances when there is more variability in local regions or offices, it makes sense to allow local leadership drive the techniques for lower levels of accountability.
Developing the Appropriate Practices
How do you define the leading practices for YOUR company? What is effective for one organization does not automatically translate well to another. Due to differing organizational structures, cultures, personnel, industries, and business goals, there is not just one set of leading practices for all companies. Multiple sources of information are consulted to determine what is appropriate in a particular organization. But which sources are applicable and how do projects leverage them effectively?
- Involve the appropriate subject matter experts in the definition process—As mentioned in the previous section, identifying and including a variety of subject matter experts provides you with insight into special circumstances that the core project team may not have experienced. If the resources are identified appropriately, regulatory or operational issues that may differ across countries can be identified and incorporated into the overall project management practice definition. Global workshops (most likely virtual) are an effective mechanism to gather requirements from global subject matter experts.
- Review industry standards—Are there specific industry standards for the particular organization that need to be considered? Certain industries already have set expectations that need to be incorporated into the overall project management process. An example of this scenario is in the application of CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) compliance goals in the government space for software development or the application of Six Sigma tools and strategies for manufacturing projects.
- Review respected sources of leading practices—There are recognized sources of leading practices for project management, including A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition (Project Management Institute, 2013). The PMBOK® Guide provides a set of fundamental practices that can be adapted to a majority of organizations, but keep in mind that it is one of many sources of leading practices an organization should consider. A view into competitors’ policies provides insight into what has worked in a similar environment. Unfortunately, gaining access to competitor information is not typically straightforward. Therefore, soliciting help from outside consultancies provides a third-party view of what can be effective for an organization considering the company's particular structure, culture, and business goals.
Providing the Means to an End
Project management processes appropriately documented do not equate to the consistent understanding or application of those practices on a day-to-day basis. An area that companies tend to miss is the development of a robust toolkit to support the documented practices. The definition of a “complete” toolkit varies, but an effective toolkit should include the elements highlighted in Exhibit 3.
Exhibit 3: An Example of an Effective Project Management Leading Practices Project Toolkit
- Documented detailed processes—The specific process tasks and steps required by the organization are documented in a clear fashion indicating who is responsible, when it is required or optional, and how it is to be performed. Having the stakeholders access the documentation even after the project is formally closed is encouraged. The intent is to have the processes be something the organization lives and breathes on a daily basis. Employees know what the expectations are and they know how to find the documentation if they have questions.
- Supporting tools—Leveraging tools that enable project management processes can help drive the adoption of sound project management processes within an organization. There are numerous tools available for organizations to use and they all have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. Selecting the appropriate tool can help facilitate management consistency throughout the project as well as across projects, but it is important to differentiate between processes and tools. It is less important which tool is deployed, so long as a rigorous process discipline is retained. In fact, the processes should be independent of the tools, so that new and better tools can be used to support established processes. Some basic characteristics to target when selecting a project management tool are included in Exhibit 4.
Exhibit 4: Example Project Management Tool Characteristics to Target
- Detailed training program—The importance of training has been emphasized throughout this discussion. Without the appropriate training as part of the toolkit, the principles intended in the new processes can be missed or misapplied. A simple training approach to apply is to develop training that is role based. The material can be focused on just what the specific audience needs and the change will not be as overwhelming.
- Detailed templates—Templates with detailed instructions and corresponding samples are provided to drive consistency and make the application of the new processes as straightforward as possible. The templates should show which sections are required and which are optional, given specific circumstances. The templates are also updated periodically as the processes evolve or feedback is incorporated.
- Supporting “coaches”—Identify formal “coaches” or subject matter experts for staff to contact with questions on the new project management practices. These resources are considered “super users” and know the processes and tools thoroughly. They should also be easily identifiable by the organization. Sometimes this can be accomplished via flags or markers placed at the “coach's” desk, a website with their contact information displayed or recognition of the role given during organizational meetings.
- Mechanism for accountability—Another consistent message throughout this discussion is the importance of holding the company accountable to the processes that have been developed. A rewards and recognition program is an helpful place to start until the processes become second nature. In some organizations, rewards and recognition may not necessarily work because the use of the “stick” is more effective. In these cases, a clear definition of the disciplinary actions will be communicated. In order to verify compliance, a quality management program/process should be coupled with the overall project management initiative. The quality program will be able to highlight when projects are not following the processes as defined.
Depending on the degree of change involved, the global deployment of common project management practices can be complicated. As illustrated in the previous section, the full project management toolkit could introduce new processes, standards and tools of varying complexity. In a project-oriented organization, this will affect a large percentage of the company. With that in mind, while the enterprise and program management layers are typically staffed by dedicated, full-time project management professionals, project teams often include operational resources that have little project experience. Introducing a full project management methodology in a “big bang” fashion can be overwhelming for inexperienced resources. A better implementation approach is to start small and achieve full deployment in phases.
- Identify critical components to implement first—The entire set of practices does not have to be implemented Day 1. Determine the amount of change the company can easily consume in one phase and break the work in manageable chunks accordingly. The first phase is considered the “baseline.”
- Identify a measured deployment approach—Subsequent phases should be established based on the degree of change required, the amount of training needed, the organization's capacity to absorb change and certain operational realities of introducing change during normal business cycles. Consider the level of maturity across the organization as well. If certain departments or regions/countries are less mature than others, consider waiting until more mature areas have started using the processes and have provided feedback. This way the processes are “proven” before the less experienced resources are introduced to them. Developing a change impact analysis for the company can provide important input into this exercise. Also consider how to integrate the new practices into in-flight projects. Introduce the new processes and/or templates where it makes sense.
- Communicate the approach to the organization announcing when milestones are reached—The detailed deployment approach is communicated to the full organization to set expectations of when the new processes and tools will be deployed. As discussed in previous sections, the communications vehicles used may be different across organizations depending on company culture. Formal kick-offs are encouraged per the deployment plan to showcase leadership support and build excitement in the new program. Organizations can build a global roadshow program to facilitate those kick-offs. As each subsequent phase is initiated, the goals, timing, and requirements of that phase are communicated to affected parties. This approach helps to keep the organization aligned throughout a multiphased implementation.
Changing marketplace dynamics have driven the need for more structured project management approaches within companies. Once a company determines that their organization is a good candidate for a project management leading practices initiative, an analysis must be performed to determine the most effective manner to deploy the solution for that specific organization.
These are some of the key factors a management project of this type will have to achieve maximum sustainable benefits:
- Leadership support is important to achieve the desired results—Have the leadership team consistently visible throughout the project lifecycle, sending out communications and endorsing the solution to be deployed.
- Subject matter expert involvement helps to reduce resistance—Projects will encounter vocal resources in support as well as in opposition of the management initiative. Include both groups (supportive and not supportive) in some capacity on the project. The resources could be formal project team members or they could be subject matter experts that are invited to participate in working design sessions or testing. This promotes a collaborative environment and can lessen opposition. Leverage these resources as organizational change agents.
- There are many sources of information that can be consulted to develop your project management practices—Consult every avenue available to bring together the applicable collection of processes including recognized books like PMBOK® Guide or accepted industry expectations, including CMMI or Six Sigma certification programs.
- Achieving the desired results requires not only well-defined practices, but the appropriate means to enable it—The toolkit can contain a number of components including, but limited to, documented detailed processes, appropriate supporting tools, a broad training program, detailed templates and samples, supporting “coaches” or “super users” and method of accountability.
- Start small if it makes sense—Each organization has a different appetite for change. Creating a change impact analysis for a company is input into the development of the deployment plan, which can include a combination of delivering select components of the solution to selecting different departments or regions of a company for piloting.
Excellent project management is a result of clearly understanding the organization and individual project context. Deployment of standardized processes and tools make things easier, but only if balanced to reflect the variations of each particular organization and individual projects. Leveraging the principles outlined in this document is a good starting point for an organization looking to introduce a project management leading practice initiative. However, this is a complex endeavor for any company, so careful consideration must be given prior to launch. With the proper guidance and support from experienced help, companies of varied sizes can effectively develop and deploy a set of leading project management practices in a large, global organization.
Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (5th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
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©2013 Christine Lyman
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana