Developing a support infrastructure for project managers
Stating the Case
Many different types of companies have among their formal, or informal, position titles, individuals who act as, or carry job or position titles of, Project Managers (PMs). These are the people who lead the efforts to “deliver the goods” for your company.
Now sometimes your projects are not even called projects. Sometimes you are delivering to internal customers; sometimes you deliver to external customers. Often you do not even have the formal title of PM, but you know that there is a “go to” person who has the ultimate responsibility to make sure the work gets done and the project gets delivered. These are the people we are concerned with in this paper.
Have you thought about the responsibilities of your PMs? Have you considered the stresses and pressures that they have to deal with? How you thought about just how important your PMs are to your company?
Maybe your company is like mine and you have hundreds of PMs scattered around the world. These people are providing project management services to a wide variety of both internal and external clients. They are your company to your customers. You need them to be able to represent the best and brightest that you have to offer. They will leave a lasting impression; and it better be a good one! Maybe you do not have hundreds of these folks. Maybe all your projects are internal. The landscape is a bit different, but the issues we will address here are very similar.
Here is another issue you may not have considered. If your PMs spend most of their time away from your offices at client locations, how do you keep them connected to the Mother Ship? It might be weeks or months before they have the opportunity to visit their own offices. If, like my company, you have PMs who work as telecommuters, the situation is even more extreme.
The size of your company; the number of PMs; the formality of the Project Management Career Path (do you even have one?); your ability to reach out and connect with your PMs will vary, but this is always true: Your PMs are out there on the front lines. They represent your organization to your clients, and they are there to deliver results. You have an investment in them that you do not want to put at risk, and you need to make sure the infrastructure is there to ensure their, and your, success.
What Kind of Infrastructure Are We Talking About?
The nature of the infrastructure we are talking about depends on a number of factors. Obviously the size of your company and the number of PMs you have will make a big difference. If you have just a few PMs you will need to take a different approach than an organization with hundreds or thousand of PMs. The type of projects your organization works and manages will make a difference too. If you a responsible for a group of PMs who work on internal projects at your corporate offices or company sites around the country, this might lead you to one approach. If your PMs are scattered to the four winds, mostly working at remote client locations, and seldom spending time at your facilities, then perhaps another set of choices would be best.
In this paper we will look at some of the options and choices that are available. We will present some best practices, tools and techniques and discuss how they might be used. Then, with this list of options to work with, you can tailor the infrastructure that works best for you. You can pick and choose, within the constraints you have to deal with, and create an environment that conforms to those constrains (PMs know all about constraints) and at the same time, provides a support structure, sense of community, and connection to your company that allows your PMs to be successful.
First, let's look at some of the goals we might want to achieve:
• Treat Project Management as a career choice, and not an accident.
• Make sure PMs have the tools and skills they need to succeed, even if they do not carry the title.
• Keep your PMs connected to your company (community); avoid the “Stockholm Syndrome.”
• Have a way to measure and reward, or as needed, improve performance.
Each organization's particular needs and goals may be different. What we want to try to do, is provide you with a set of ideas, tools, and techniques in each area that you can apply, as appropriate, to your particular situation. We want to give you a way to customize your support structure to address the needs of your environment. So, let's begin.
Project Management—A Career Choice, Not an Accident!
As you talk to people in your company who perform the role of PM, take the time to ask them a few questions:
• “I know you're working as a PM, but is this your formal position?”
• “Have you had any formal project management training?” (More about training later.)
Many times, the answers you hear might be something like: “Well, I'm really the senior technical person on the project, but we needed some project management support and I guess I'm it.”
This is not at all unusual. Particularly in smaller companies with internal projects, or in some larger companies that deliver their services to external clients in small engagements. Project Management is treated as an afterthought. Somewhat like documentation, but that is another paper in itself! Clearly, this is not the best of all possible worlds. Whenever you as a technical contributor to take on the additional responsibilities of project management, even if you don't call it that, you are accepting additional burdens. You are probably doing things that are outside you comfort zone, things that you are not trained to do.
Have you thought about the things we expect from our PMs? For example:
• Acts as the liaison between you and customer
• Facilitates the project team (no matter how small) process
• Delivering to the triple constraint
• Coping with project risk
• Providing team leadership.
I'm sure you can add more items to the list. Take a look at any text on project management and read through the lists of roles and responsibilities and skill requirements for PMs. It is a long and daunting list.
Now, ask yourself if it's fair or reasonable to expect someone to play this role without the appropriate training and support to help ensure success. You already know what the answer should be! Of course it's not fair or reasonable. So, let's list some things you can do to help.
1. Make Project Management a valued career path in your organization.
Even if all your work is internal to you company, anytime you have an activity that is unique, has defined deliverables, a set of customer expectations, and a defined finish date (of course, that might get redefined several times in the life of the activity) you have a project. Face up to the reality of situation. You have projects and you should have Project Managers to manage them successfully.
Just as you probably have formal job descriptions and career development paths for your technical and administrative staff (and if you don't, well, now is a good time to think about that), develop these for your PMs as well. This will do several things for you. It sets a tone in the company that says; we take project management seriously and value its contribution to our success. It gives you tool for recruiting PMs from the outside. Good PMs are hard to find and given the choice between joining an organization that clearly values PMs and one where it appears to be an afterthought, I know which I would choose. It gives your current staff the opportunity to make choices. Do I want to continue in my current field, or, now that I've gotten a taste of performing the project management role, would I like to pursue this as a career. If I do, I can do it here. Selling project management capabilities and value to your clients can set you a step above your competition.
2. So, you are serious about Project Management. What else do you need to do?
Now that we have established Project Management as a career path, even if it's only for one PM in your company, what do you do next? There are several things that come to mind.
Think about what you do, or should be doing, for your other career employees and apply that to your PMs. Do you sponsor professional society memberships for your staff? You should! Sponsor your PMs for membership in the Project Management Institute (PMI®). PMI is internationally recognized in the PM community. Membership in PMI and corporate involvement in PMI tells people that you really do understand the value of project management. It will enhance the status of your project managers in your company, and if you compete for business with customers who recognize the true value of project management your involvement in PMI will give you a competitive advantage.
Your involvement with PMI provides you with another benefit. PMI sponsors a project management certification program—the Project Management Professional (PMP®). Today, your company might sponsor people for their CPA certification, PE certification, Microsoft certification, Oracle, SAP or others.
These certifications have real value for you and your employees. They are internationally recognized, they are rigorous, you need to know your stuff to obtain them; you need to continue to work and study to keep them. Obtaining your PMP is no easy task. PMs who have realized this goal are recognized as among the best at what they do.
So, consider making time and training available to your PMs to obtain their PMP certification. It's a small investment for your company; probably tax deductible—and it will provide a great ROI. We'll talk more about training in a few minutes.
Every Professional Needs the Tools and Skills to Succeed
Talking about PMP certification is a nice lead into a discussion of tools, skills, and the training needed to acquire and support them.
One of the first tools you might be tempted to use for project management is Microsoft Project (MS Project). Actually, there are a number of project management software packages out there, so you can substitute the name of the package of your choice for MS Project, and the ideas will still apply.
MS Project is a very powerful tool to help the PM succeed, but (and there's always a “but”) the PM needs training to use MS Project to its best advantage, and to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the tool. One very important lesson that PMs need to learn quickly is that a tool is just a tool. It does not manage your project for you; you do that and the tool helps.
If you have selected a tool(s) for your PMs, check with the vendor to see if they provide formal training. Microsoft has authorized training centers around the country that provide hands-on training at various levels for MS Project. Other vendors provide training for their tools so take advantage of it. If you are going to invest in a tool, invest in the knowledge that makes that tool valuable to you.
Besides tool training, what else should we consider? The choices are nearly unlimited. Check with your local university or business school. They might have a formal degree program in project management. You could pursue a degree, or just take courses to add to your formal education.
This should be obvious, but I'll say it anyway: look on the web. From the PMI web site, to All PM, to Tech Republic, to Information Week, the list of sites that provide valuable information and knowledge to PMs goes on and on. The time you spend searching for project management related sites will be well worth it.
Speaking of PMI, if you did join, then you have several training resources available to you. There are local PMI chapters that probably hold regular meetings where topics of interest and education are presented by members and vendors or consultants. Some of these people are trying to sell you something. It could be their products or their services, but the local chapters make sure there is educational value in the presentations that they sponsor. Consider attending annual PMI conferences, like this one. The opportunity to attend discussions and presentations, to participate in classes, and to roam the expo halls is more than worth the price of admission. The ProjectWorld conferences are held around the United States and you might want to consider them as well.
There are a number of professional training organizations that you might be interested in. Take a look at the list of certified training organizations on the PMI website. These companies have both national and local presence and can provide training aligned to the PMBOK®, assistance in training for your PMP certification examination, or specialized training courses customized to meet your specific needs. I've taken both classroom training and web-based training and found both of them valuable depending on my needs and the nature of the material. ESI International provides a broad range of training and development courses all over the U. S. in public sessions that address general project management skills and also support the PMP certification process.
There are numerous publications and periodicals available to you as well. PM Network from the Project Management Institute, Projects@Work from IMark publications, Project Magazine, Project Management Net from the U. K. There are also many technical and general purpose business periodicals that also address project management topics and can serve as rich resources for training and education of PMs. Publications like Harvard Business Review often feature articles on project management. More technical periodicals like Information Week, and eWeek often have articles that address project management tools, or real world project management “lessons learned” articles.
I have focused on the world of information systems because that is what I am most familiar with. Whatever your industry, there are publications and periodicals, and probably professional organizations that can help bring project management experience and learnings that relate directly to your work, into focus for your PMs. Work with your PMs to find these resources. This is part of building the supporting infrastructure.
Keeping your Project Managers Connected to Your Company (Community)
“Stockholm Syndrome”—“In 1973, four Swedes held in a bank vault for six days during a robbery became attached to their captors, a phenomenon dubbed the Stockholm Syndrome. According to psychologists, the abused bond to their abusers as a means to endure violence.”
Well, maybe the use of the term Stockholm Syndrome is a little over the top, but think about it for a minute. You send your PMs out to work with and perhaps at client sites. They may be there for weeks or months at a time with little access or contact to their home base (your company, their community). They are often involved in challenging, difficult projects. They work hard and long with their clients to achieve targets and milestones. Often the abuse (not abuse in the usual negative sense, but the depredations that the unrelenting project demands bring) leads to the development of strong teams and relations among team members.
You want some of this to happen. It's important to the success of your project that the PM, the project team and the client team share the burden, and the goals of the project. This shared effort helps lead to success. But, it's important that your PM, and other team members from your company, always remember whom they work for. They need to be connected to you, the “Mother Ship,” as they work with the client to complete the project. You need to make sure this happens for all your employees, but we are focused on your PMs in this paper. So, let's discuss a few ideas that might help here.
Do you have more than a handful of PMs and Projects?
Consider the idea of establishing the Project Management Office (PMO). You can use a PMO organization to achieve a number of valuable goals:
• Give your PMs a community to belong
• Provide mentors to new and developing PMs
• Act as the home base for your PMs—somewhere to return to
• Provide guidelines and standards for all aspects of project management
• Establish training programs, performance standards (more about this later), and requirements for various positions along the PM career path
• Provide support and extra firepower when things get tough
• Manage the project management activities of your company.
I'm sure you can think of more uses for a PMO. There is a great deal of information available in the project management literature about the establishment and value of a PMO. For any company, regardless of the type of business you're in, with a sufficient large project portfolio, having an effective PMO is a best practice. It can be a big piece of the community for Project Managers that you need to develop.
You have a good number of PMs and they either spend most of their time at client locations, and/or they are distributed at various locations around the country, or around the world?
Find a champion, maybe your PMO manager, and establish a Project Management Special Interest Group (PM-SIG). For a very small investment, you can develop a community of interest around project management. You'll find that PMs are very much self-starters. Get the SIG going and it kind of runs itself.
My own company has established SIGs for all its professions, and I have the pleasure of managing the PM-SIG. For us, it is a mailing list with several hundred members across our services and products businesses. We produce a quarterly, or more often newsletter; we host monthly meetings that are attended by PMs from around the world. Sound expensive? Well, not really. We use email, websites, and file shares for scheduling, information sharing, and announcements. We use conference call facilities for presentations. We use collaboration products like Microsoft NetMeeting for presentation. Our content comes, mostly, from the group members. They share their experiences with projects. What worked, what, did not. Project management tool and services vendors are always happy to come and speak to the group about their products and services.
Project managers use the group as a forum to get assistance with their active projects. They can air their concerns and problems with their peers and get help, support and assistance. PMs in the field know that a group of their cousins, waiting to help, are just a phone call or email away.
You might be out there, but you're never alone!
But, I just have a couple of PMs, or all my PMs work here, on internal projects at our home office.
In this situation, the pressures that can lead to a loss of community are not as strong. However, don't think that means you don't have to do anything!
Make sure you show the same respect to your PMs that you do to all your other professionals. This means more than just giving them a nice title, or having a career path in your HR manual. For example, when you develop a proposal to deliver services to an internal or external client; or when you sale force is out selling and perhaps committing to a client engagement; do you have PM involvement in developing the cost and schedule estimates, and resource requirements for the engagement? After all, you are going to expect the PM to deliver to these constrains. There is a very strong negative message that you send to the PM if you don't invite him or her into the project until after the commitment has been made.
If you want to build and maintain community, then treat each member of the community with respect. You have expectations of them and they have them of you. Meet or exceed those expectations and you won't lose your PMs to the enemy. As we discussed before, like any highly trained and skilled team member, the cost of replacing, versus retaining, a strong project manager is very high. With a little common sense effort you can avoid that cost.
How to Measure, Reward, or as Needed, Improve Project Manager Performance?
Measuring project manager performance has several aspects. Your company should already have a standard, objective process to measure employee performance. Naturally, the measurement of PM performance will be a part of this process. Develop goals and objectives. Reach mutual agreement on expectations. Provide the necessary tool and support to succeed. Measure the results. There is nothing really new here, but, for project managers, you can do this on a project-by-project basis to build a baseline for overall performance measurement. And doing this on an individual project basis also gives you a set of tools and measurements to help avoid getting too deeply into trouble.
Assuming you have had your PM involved in establishing cost, schedule, and resource requirements for each project, then you have the perfect basis for assessing PM performance on an ongoing basis. Build time into every project for status reporting. If you have established a PMO they can work this with the individual PMs. If not, than make sure that status reporting with quantifiable measures (Earned Value for example) are part of the culture of your PM community. Use status reporting and regular communications with your PMs as a support tool, not an opportunity for punishment.
Establish an expectation in your PM community that the projects that need support and assistance will receive it. The PMs who come looking for help will get the help they need. We are all in this together: “…a band of brothers.”
Establish a performance-based compensation system and make sure that the PMs, and all the core project staff on a project know that there is a reward structure in place that recognizes outstanding performance. Establish it, advertise it, and pay it out. You'll make money on it; trust me.
Have a PM who is not performing up to your expectations? Sit down and talk. Find out what the issues are. Decide if they can remedied (usually they can). Then invest the time, the effort, the community support, and fix the problem.
Sometimes projects “go south” in spite of the best efforts by the best PMs you have. Understand this reality and be ready to bring the support of the community to bear to solve the problem and move on. You'll have more (a larger number of) successful projects and you'll have a community of project managers there for you and their cousins ready to get to the finish line.
This discussion of project manager support has ranged over a number of topics.
• Why should you care?
• What's this stuff about community and infrastructure?
• Maybe my organization is too small to worry about this—Never true.
• I guess I do care, but what can I do about it?
• The value of education, training, and certification.
• The role of the PMO in your PM community.
• The value of a Project Management Special Interest Group (PM-SIG).
• The need for, and value of, performance measurement for project managers.
• The costs and benefits of a reward system for project management performance.
The list could be longer. Think about and adjust to meet your own needs. The ideas discussed here can be implemented very flexibly. Pick and choose among them. Use what meets your needs and works for you. As your needs change, add, delete, and change the community infrastructure.
Always remember, project management should not be an after thought. Done well, project management pays for itself in dollars, performance, client satisfaction, repeat business, the list goes on.
Make the commitment. Invest the time, the effort, and yes, the money. Build the community and support it. Believe me, you'll be pleased with the results, and your project managers will be one of your greatest resources.
GOAL/QPC. 1995. The Team Memory Jogger. GOAL/QPC and Oriel Incorporated, USA.
Kerzner, Harold, PhD. 1998. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. 6th Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Thornburg, Gina K. 2001. Office Call. Projects@Work, October: pp. 18–21
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA