Design and implementation of a project management methodology: From ad hoc project environment to fully operative PMO in three years
PM Experts Sp. z o. o.
The author shows the process of implementation of mature project management methodology in a 2000+ employee organization. Starting from gathering requirements from the board of directors to finally supporting project managers in implementation of the methodology in all strategic projects and getting involved in the local PMI® chapter. The process lasted for three years and finished with a fully operative project management office (PMO).
The full process of implementation of the project management methodology is a long-term endeavor, leading sometimes from complete project chaos to a stable, predictable project management environment. It takes patience, time, and effort to establish a mature project management culture. And last, but not least, a lot of executive support. Many companies try to follow the path of project management excellence, but most of them only strive to succeed, due to insufficient expertise, a short-term perspective on benefits, bad project habits built over the lifetime of the organization, and unfortunate staff resistance to change.
The following paper presents a proven approach to establishing project management standards used by the author as a senior consultant of project management experts, a consulting company based in Warsaw, Poland. It shows the full process of implementation of a mature project management environment based on PMI® standards in a 2000+ employee high-tech organization in Poland. The process is described from beginning to end, starting at the greenfield and gathering shareholder and board of director requirements, to a hands-on experience in supporting project managers in implementation of the methodology and standards for the most strategic projects of the organization, including new services development, mergers and acquisitions, construction projects, infrastructure projects, and organization process improvements projects.
The whole process lasted for three years and finished with a fully operative PMO reporting directly to the chair of the board of directors.
It all started with a phone call from the director of the strategy and development office. He contacted our company and invited us to a meeting regarding the project management maturity of his organization. He mentioned that, following the recent creation of the strategic plan for the company, they wanted to become more effective in their project management practices. They didn't know where to start, and they needed external expertise in this matter. The idea had the support of the board of directors, and even one of the major shareholders of the organization was strongly interested in the positive outcome of our potential cooperation. This turned out to be fundamental to the later success of the project.
Shortly after the conversation we organized a meeting with the client to find out what the challenge they were facing was and how we could be of help. From the very beginning we observed a high level of commitment from all the important decision makers, starting with the advisory board representatives and board members, and including the head of the strategy and development office. The latter did a very good job of laying a foundation for the discussion and for building understanding among the key stakeholders that, in order to develop fast in their very competitive market, they needed to master their project management function.
When we investigated the reasons for implementing the project management methodology, some very interesting answers that came straight from the advisory board representative, along with many more that we would have expected. He told us that each year they face the same recurring problem. Some initiatives never end; everybody knows they are important for the company; they have support from the board members; but for some reason each year they end up in the same situation. There is always a good reason for something not to be done—such as a formal budgeting process (which might be quite important for an organization generating hundreds of millions of US dollars in revenue) or a standard electronic documents distribution system. Those initiatives seemed to be out of control. Later on, this important stakeholder became an official project sponsor, and we give a lot of credit for the success of our mission to his direct support.
Another important challenge the organization was facing was a lack of information on how many projects they could deliver based on the resources they owned. Was the organization overwhelmed with the number of their projects, or was there still a reserve in resources for new important initiatives?
These very first interactions were crucial for building trust and confidence in our ability to solve the the client's problems. We strongly focused on listening, asking good questions, and building relations based on mutual trust. Early in the process we prepared the stakeholders analysis, and soon we learned who our strongest supporter in this opportunity might be. It was the head of advisory board, who had a very strong position in the environment of the company and a lot of authority among the board members. Our first goal was to build his confidence in us and in the mastery of project management as a solution to the organization's current challenges.
After completing a brief requirements analysis and a successful negotiation with the client, we decided to create a team of two experienced consultants to start. Our client chose to divide the project into three stages:
Stage 1: Maturity assessment—a formal audit of the organization focused on exploring the strengths and weaknesses of their current project management practices. Our assumption was that, since the organization has been one of the leaders at the Polish market, and they were growing fast, their project management approach couldn't be that bad, that there must be a lot of things they were doing effectively.
Stage 2: Methodology development—based on this positive evaluation of the current project management practice and with PMBOK as the global project management standard, we wanted to build a project management methodology that was tailored to the organization and that the client could implement step by step. An initial decision was that we didn't want to give them a ready-to-implement solution but wanted instead to secure a buy-in from the management representatives and get them involved in the building process.
Stage 3: Methodology implementation—based on our previous experience with the project management methodology implementation projects, we convinced the client that this phase of implementation is a crucial element of the whole process, and we would like to be involved in it.
Exhibit 1: Project Management Methodology Implementation Process
Of the three stages of the process, we guaranteed two in the contract; the third stage was an option for the client. At the beginning of the project they were not sure whether they would like to implement the methodology with us or whether they would rather try doing that on their own.
It was a project and to show them how a mature project could be effectively led, we wanted to run this one properly for the client. We knew, that if somewhere along the way we lost the support of the executives, the project would be in trouble. It was also clear to us from the initiation phase of this project that if they decided to implement the methodology without our support, they might lose patience and not reach their goals. So from our site we started with a formal project charter and stakeholder analysis. Risk analysis was another, very important part of the preparation.
The first step was to assess where the organization really was when it came to everyday project management practices. We had already conducted a series of interviews with representatives of their project management environment, including the owner of the organization (to have his buy-in guaranteed from the very beginning), members of the board, top-level management, and people who currently played the role of a project manager in the company.
There is no such thing as a standard approach to project management. When we began asking about the organization's project management practices, some people questioned the very presence of projects in the company. People responsible for marketing and administration responded, “What projects? We don't have any projects here. All we have is work that needs to be done.” Other people were coming back to us with all different comments regarding our potential participation. Some were very happy, waiting for an improvement of the project environment and looking forward to working in the predictable environment. Some took this common opportunity as a threat. They wanted to keep the status-quo and stay in the old, muddy waters with projects beyond the control of their managers. So it was also a kind of political challenge for us to get the most important stakeholders involved and keep their minds open to what was coming.
Our findings show that there is now a common project management approach in the organization. When we began, there was a substantial load of work we recognized as projects, but these were not formal projects, and therefore no one was controlling them; scope was crawling, deadlines were not fixed. There was no common project management toolkit available either. Some people were using tools like MS Project and Open Project by default, but they were not pushing these as standards for the organization, and they had no project management process in which to apply those tools.
We presented these finding in an formal report and a summary presentation for the board of directors. In our documents we highlighted the strengths of the company's project management practice and clearly defined where there was room for improvement. As a result of this phase, we were able to agree on a roadmap for further project management function improvement.
From the very early phases of the project we wanted to ensure that the group of people we were working with knew what mature project management is about. So we decided to start with a workshop on the desired state of the project management. The audience was the major stakeholders of our project:
- The owner of the organization—the head of advisory board
- The CEO;
- The board of directors;
- The functional managers;
- The major project managers.
In total we had a group of 16 people working on a future state of project management. They were cut off from their desks for two days, concentrating their time solely on the project management function, with strong support from the owner of the organization. Step by step we introduced them to best practices in initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closing the project. Each of these process groups was presented from a model in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition (2012) and then compared to the reality of the organization. We conducted a group gap analysis and then worked out the strategies for improvement in those areas.
After gathering requirements during the workshop, we came back to our office and started analysis of what we have found. It took two consultants to 10 working days to prepare a preliminary version of the project management methodology, both a process, and supporting documentation templates. We knew we could use only MS Office documentation, and there was no budget for any project management information system (PMIS) to be implemented right away. So the tactic we used was to take it slow and try to organize project lifecycles based on simple MS Office tools instead of moving from a no-tools environment directly to PMIS.
Methodology included creating two project management processes:
- One for strategic projects—those that have higher risk, higher budgets, more complex, long-term, cross-functional, involving a number of outside providers;.
- One for improvement projects—those that are short-term, low-priority, low-risk, low-budget, mostly done by internal resources.
Methodology 1.0 Fine-Tuning
The methodology for version 1.0 had been sent for evaluation. The evaluation team consisted of our crucial stakeholders, including the owner of the organization who stayed actively involved in the process. This was their first approach to reading and understanding the whole system, so there were a lot of questions and a lot of time spent on the phone building the common understanding of the process. After two weeks and some refinement, we received permission to move forward with the methodology.
Methodology 1.0 Simulation Workshops
After gaining the initial approval of the methodology, we decided to test it in a simulation workshop, where the clients’ representatives were working on the implementation of the methodology for two strategic projects the organization was about to start. A group of 20 people, representing major stakeholders, gathered in a training center outside of the company office. Our goal was to try to deploy the methodology in two real projects that the organization was just about to start. In two days we were supposed to come out with a project charter, a stakeholder analysis, and a project management plan for each of those projects.
The simulation gave the participants an opportunity to do some real planning based on the new process. The idea to simulate real projects that were just about to start proved to be effective. They guaranteed a strong involvement from the participants, and what was more important, allowed two project teams to leave the workshop with almost ready to deploy project management plans.
Methodology 1.0 Approval
Evaluation of the workshop and the effectiveness of the methodology in planning a project led to the formal approval of the methodology. We received a formal sign-up from the project sponsor. Then we were ready to support our client in the methodology implementation. They asked us to wait for the call, and be ready for the next stage.
After an official presentation of the methodology and subtle refinements, the results were officially approved, and the methodology was ready for implementation. But then, as it happens with almost every project, change had occurred. The client decided to implement the methodology without our support. Their strategy and development office consisted of three people. There was a high level of confidence, that from now on they could be self-sufficient in implementing the methodology.
First Approach—We Will Do It on Our Own
One of the major threats to the project materialized. The main stakeholder of the project, the same person who contacted us for the first time three months earlier, decided not to extend their contract with us. It wasn't due to the outcomes of our joint effort. As we found out later, this move had been planned months before and was connected to some of the stakeholder's personal affairs.
So the situation was difficult—our main supporter in the organization was moving out, and there was no one to cover his slot. We knew that the client was in the process of recruiting a new person who would replace him, but we realized that would impact our project negatively in many ways. That new person was coming from a completely different environment, was not involved in the design of the project management methodology process, and was not a natural supporter of this change. Moreover, he was coming to a completely new environment with an ambition to prove that he was experienced and he didn't need any support in making his projects work. And last, but not least, he did not understand the methodology developed by the company, and he would never openly say that. As we found out later, he had no experience with structured, mature project management at all.
Come and See What We Did
After six months we were contacted by the company and asked for a quick audit of the implementation process. They were not happy with the results of the implementation. Basically, things were not moving forward, and the results were not what they expected. It took us a week to go through the organization, look at the projects documents, interview people (including the new director of the strategy and development office), and work out the diagnosis. It looked like most of our efforts had been wasted. Methodology was not implemented, people were tired of trying without any internal support, and the board of directors was pushing for results. We presented our diagnosis to the board of directors, and they asked us if we would be available in a short time to give them a hand in the proper implementation process.
Second Approach—Come and Do It with Us
The presentation of the audit results left no doubt with the board of directors. They were nowhere near where they initially wanted to be in six months. We had to gather again and prepare another implementation plan. The final document was based on an assumption that one of our consultants would be assigned as the board of director's adviser on project management and report directly to the board. This would secure the required formal authority in the implementation process. Additionally, he was assigned a strategic program consisting of 11 projects leading to important, and expected, changes in the organization. Both sides decided to start work immediately. The steps we took are outlined below.
Introduction of a pilot program
The program, consisting of 11 projects of different sizes, was created to be a real pilot of the methodology implementation. We assigned an outsourced program manager whose role was to deliver the program goals and test the project management methodology. To ensure a good start, we chose a program management team consisting of people involved in the project management methodology development process. The CEO personally initiated the program kick-off.
To secure involvement from the project managers, we deployed a motivational system. Once the goals of our projects were achieved, they could request the financial benefits for them and their teams. In many cases finishing projects on time, within budget, and requested level of quality required extra hours, working at home, and going out of the comfort zone people were used to. For many of them it turned out to be worthwhile, and they became natural advocates of the new methodology. We reached a win-win situation when both board of directors were happy with the results of the projects, and the people involved were happy with the recognition given for their extra work.
Support of parallel projects
This was also when the initial steps for creating a project management office (PMO) were taken. Our role was to support a group of project managers to deliver the program goals, but in parallel we were asked to support other project managers who were starting their projects based on the new methodology. The culture of mutual support and open communications started to improve. People were open to change and motivated to achieve project goals.
Simultaneously we started a training program for the group of 20 project managers in the company. It consisted of four, two-day sessions, presenting both the organizational project management methodology, and PMBOK as a standard. In three months’ time we built a skills foundation not only for the implementation of what have been established in the form of a current methodology, but also for improving future standards for the benefit of the company.
Exhibit 2: PM Training Content Supporting Implementation
Refinements in the Methodology
After a year of implementing the methodology, we decided to introduce a few subtle refinements in the processes. Not too many, since the whole system was still very delicate. But we gathered some interesting feedback from our project managers, and we wanted them to feel they could impact the current standard. Based on the interviews and surveys, we prepared a list of refinements. The list was presented to the board of directors with the information on what were the expected benefits of the proposed changes. The board agreed to the proposed direction of the changes, and now it was up to the project managers to introduce them in their projects.
Establishing the PMO
Based on the success of the program we were asked to design and implement a new project management support function in the organization. Our original assignment was only temporary, and the organization wanted to secure long term-project management support. The sponsor of the project insisted, that before we left, we would establish a PMO and recruit and train a future manager of that entity.
PMO in the Organization Structure
An important phase of the PMO establishment is finding the right place for the office in the current organizational structure. We insisted on the PMO reporting directly to the board of directors in order to secure the effectiveness of its mission and direct influence on the projects. Instead of recruiting the manager from the outside, we chose to search for one inside the company. We wanted someone who knew the internal processes of the company, understood the culture, and presented the hands-on experience in implementation of organizational project management methodology.
Due to the limited staffing options we had to choose from for this function, we were clearly presenting value to the board of directors. To start with we had three people involved in the establishment of the PMO. The director of the PMO—this function have been assigned to the representative of our organization, and two project management specialists—team members who have experience in the application of the organizational PM methodology and could serve as a support to future project managers.
The main functions of the PMO included the following:
- Supporting project managers in deploying project management methodology in their projects;
- Project management skills development;
- Project portfolio monitoring;
- Assessing new project initiatives[
- Maintaining an archive of organizational projects lessons learned.
Project Culture Cultivation
Once the project management function was stable and mature, we decided to promote project management as a vehicle for organization improvement. The PMO wanted more people to get involved in projects and by doing so to prove its influence on the development of the organization. Several parallel actions were deployed, including:
- Participation in the annual meeting of the organization
We have been invited to present at the yearly conference of the company. It has been a kind of integration event at which the company presents its achievements in the previous years, and the goals for the upcoming season. Representatives of the organization from all over Poland have been introduced to the project management approach and invited to take advantage of it. They have all taken part in a short, fast- track project management training and have been introduced to PMO staff who were there to advise and answer questions.
- An idea-generating contest
To promote project management internally we decided to run a contest for the best project concepts. We received about 50 suggestions for improving the organization and making it more efficient.
- PMI® local chapter involvement
While implementing the project management methodology in that company, we created a local PMI® chapter and invited representatives of the company to join. The first chapter meeting was held in the biggest conference room in the company. It attracted around 100 participants, and the company itself co-sponsored the event with us. As a result some of the company representatives got involved in the chapter and continued their project management development by becoming active in volunteer positions for the chapter.
Transferring Responsibility to the Inside
After three years of our direct support, the time had come to assign a new PMO director and transfer the responsibility to him or her. The person selected for this post was a current project manager of one of the biggest IT projects in the portfolio—a very dynamic and ambitious person, with good knowledge of PMI® standards and previous experience in big, international companies.
In the first phase of his transition he was working shoulder to shoulder with our consultant and learning the tricks of trade. Then his reporting track was redirected toward one of the members of the board, and he started another phase of the development of the project management culture.
Sometime after our project was finished, the company introduced an upgraded, completely self-made version of the methodology that was supported by the project management information system (PMIS). The company is still developing that process, extending their project portfolio, and firmly strengthening its position in the Polish market.
Our experience from this project shows that one of the most important elements of a successful project management methodology deployment is a strong and consistent support from C-suite stakeholders. Without their involvement in the process, it will be impossible to change the way organization behaves in the long term. Moreover, it is not enough to design the state-of-the-art project management process, the key is to implement it and make sure that the organization is using it, as well as ensure it brings business benefits. In order to overcome people's resistance to change, you need to offer them some benefits for using the new process. You also need to address all the major stakeholders, and the organization as a whole should be exposed to quick wins coming out of the new approach to project management. And last but not least, you have to remember that things take time, and you should not expect revolutions to happen. It is a rather long-lasting evolution pushed from the bottom of the organization with a firm support from the top.
© 2014, Piotr Plewiński, PMP
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA
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