Project Management Institute

Leaving the box

The ability to
integrate the various
boxed best practices
usually serves as
the key difference
between profit and
loss. However,

the most progressive
continuously look
further to find the
next opportunity.

by Peter Fretty

When an organization steps outside today's packaged solutions and decides to become a trailblazer, truly monumental results are possible. Unfortunately, breaking routine means implementing change, which most people resist by nature.

Breaking routine encourages a firm's project management to communicate and modify methodology as necessary. “We live in an ideas jungle, and the most important skill a project manager or executive can bring to bear is the ability to sort, categorize and prioritize all of the ideas,” says Craig Courter, COO of Chicago, Ill., USA-based global law firm Baker and McKenzie. “Only then can you implement a change that truly advances your strategy.”


Emanuel D. Errico III of Pembroke Pines, Fla., USA-based STFB Inc. adds that the only way to break out of any routine is to embrace the risk and the challenge of trying something new. “This can only work within an organization if the management genuinely supports and encourages the act of trying new processes in an attempt to increase performance,” Mr. Errico says. “You can get management acceptance by building in metrics to monitor the new processes and get permission to try new methods on smaller trial projects first.”


img Tested methods have proven that by going beyond recognized best practices, it is possible to improve a project team's overall performance.

img Recognizing areas where extreme measures yield success takes determination, dedication and careful management.

img Managers must weigh the rewards with the risks before entering uncharted waters.


img To achieve lasting improvements, find the methods that work within specific project teams or within an organizational structure without deviating too far from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) standards.

Reward System. Instituting a reward system that encourages process improvements has helped Chennai, India-based Covansys India Private Ltd. “Being a Capability Maturity Model (CMM) Level 5 organization, we concentrate on innovative mechanisms to provide better value to our customers,” says Somasundaram Muralidharan, PMP, senior vice president, process development.

Covansys gives awards at both the individual and project team levels. The individual award, called APEX (award for personal productivity excellence) recognizes individual process improvements, and the nominee must present the information in the Six Sigma format of define, measure, analyze, improve and control. “The individual process improvements have been significant in some cases—up to 80 percent productivity improvements,” Dr. Muralidharan says.




Emanuel D. Errico III,
STFB Inc.,
Pembroke Pines, Fla., USA

Four-Point Process. Adolfo Cruz Luthmer, program manager of San José, Costa Rica-based Isthmus, achieves similar results with a four-point process. The first point deals with metrics. “You can't improve what you don't measure,” he says. “If you don't have the right information, you are just another person with an opinion.”

The second aspect is to implement a lessons learned process to allow business teams to get the knowledge from the people in the project for organizational learning and process improvement. Both during and after a project, Mr. Luthmer addresses what has been successful, what the team could handle in a better way in the future and what processes need improvement.

The third component is to utilize a portfolio approach at the organizational level. “If the organization runs several projects, each team must learn from every other,” Mr. Luthmer says. “With many projects, similar problems and needs exist, so a synergy effort should take place. I have changed from the concept of the project management office to a project synergy office with great results.”

Last, using the metrics as a guideline, Mr. Luthmer uses a variable payment process whereas individuals have a base income combined with compensation based on both individual and team performance. “This requires good and stable metrics to succeed, which is not always easy because people do not like to report how they spend their time. This is mainly because some organizations use this data for repression rather than invoking improvement.”

EPMO Approach. At The Regence Group, Portland, Ore., USA, an enterprise project management office (EPMO) serves as a center of excellence.

While serving as the company's continuous improvement and standards office, EPMO establishes a minimum set of standards, creates a certain level of consistency, and intentionally encourages individuals to bring forth their own level of creativity in how they apply the standards.

“We want to manage a portfolio that deploys a diverse skill set so that standards are both applicable and generic,” says Michele Smeller, assistant director of enterprise project management. “It is through this structure that you can quickly learn what does and does not work across the board within an organization. We have recognized that it is important to have both formal and informal mechanisms in place to integrate feedback, while working very closely with the team so that everyone understands each new standard we roll out and so that we can see how each team interprets the standards within their individual environments.”

Jo Anne Long, senior vice president of enterprise project management, adds that firms utilizing the EPMO approach want to be able to balance the art and science of project management. “An EPMO creates and manages a specific set of scientific elements, but the overall goal is to bring more of the artistic skills into the fold,” she says. “We want the minimum standards to serve as a floor while expecting project managers to go beyond to achieve greatness. However, an organization must realize that everything must be tempered by experience. For instance, it is crucial to understand financial objectives before determining what to accomplish on a project level, regardless of team creativity.”

Embracing Creativity. Within a project framework, organizations must look at problems from different perspectives, find creative angles and become aware of otherwise unobvious solutions, says Luda Kopeikina, CEO of Bedford, Mass., USA-based Noventra Corp. She also recommends using unconventional methods to praise the team for success. “Thinking of fun ways to thank team members and reward them for their performance motivates them and breaks the routine.”

Regardless of the methodology, project managers must find individual motivation buttons and press them. “Under pressure to deliver results, we often forget that it's people who are working on getting these results. Each one is unique and each one is driven by personal objectives and goals,” says Ms. Kopeikina, author of The Right Decision Every Time (Prentice Hall, 2005). “Clearly understanding these personal goals and making sure that each person realizes the benefits vis-a-vis these goals of individual participation in the project is a continuous challenge.”

case in point:

freedom of freethinking

For more than a decade, Blue Bell, Pa., USA-based Unisys has been transitioning from a “big iron” computer vendor to a services provider. Understandably, the process involved with each activity including development, sales and application development differs significantly between selling a box and selling a service. As a result, Unisys has made drastic progress in achieving success.

Weston Morris, senior software architect at Unisys, has found true value in empowering a free thinker on project teams. “This is someone who is chartered to try new tools, and changes to the process and who enjoys research on his own,” he says. “Conscious inclusion often results in innovative changes to the process and provides a forum for the freethinker as part of a post mortem near the end of the project or at the end of phases in a large project. It provides a process to identify what innovations were most valuable and which were less so.”


No single model or tool is a perfect fit across all possible engagements, according to Mr. Morris. “Nor is it reasonable for project managers to become adept at every possible model and tool that a customer may have,” he says. “however, focusing on a family of models and tools in two or three leading technologies benefits both us and our customers.” For example, in engagements for java-centric customers based on Unisys 3D-Visible Enterprise model, Unisys will use models from ProForma and IBM-Rational as well as Elementool for issue tracking. For Microsoft Net-centric projects, Microsoft Visual Studio Team System plays the same role in enterprise modeling. That flexibility has enabled Unisys to evolve into a company that generates 80 percent of its revenue from services.

“A good project manager must recognize that it is impossible to rigidly restrict all three sides of the development triangle of time, features and resources,” Mr. Morris says. “Every project is different, but often it is the set of features that is the most flexible. the project manager should have a process to allow for the nearly omnipresent specter of change.”

Mr. Morris also acknowledges that the notion of a freethinker on the project team has its dangers. “A process that invites controlled change through the freethinker results in a balancing act between disruption and innovation,” he says. “The good project manager sees the freethinker as both a catalyst for productive change and a potential source of discord and recognizes when to give more or less latitude.”

Trouble Spots

img Many firms adopt best practices and find a need for change to address consistent areas of concern within the organizational or project management structure. However, to do this effectively, executives must be able to identify or pinpoint problems.

For instance, by using internal process audits, Covansys works to identify the project process areas that need either improvement or change. “Based on the characteristics of the problem, we use the fishbone technique to analyze the impact of the process problem and identify the process improvement options,” Mr. Muralidharan says. “However, before implementing process improvements, we always conduct a cost-benefit analysis.” The fishbone diagram, which is also known as the cause-and-effect diagram or root cause analysis, resembles its namesake. Simplistically, the fishbone method means structured brainstorming; a diagram shows a problem's causes and probable effects.




Jo Anne Long,
Senior Vice President, Enterprise Project Management,
The Regence Group, Portland, Ore., USA

understanding OPM3

➔ To mature—which essentially means coming up with even better practices than those you are using—project managers should take a structured approach. One way to dig your way out of a rut is to understand the three basic elements of knowledge, assessment and improvement in PMI‘s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®). “Knowledge of standards and the project management body of knowledge is essential in continuously improving program, portfolio and project management,” says PMI Standards Manager Dottie Nichols, PMP. There are 586 best practices, and assessment is the only way to determine which best practices or groups of best practices apply to their individual needs, she says.

Young organizations generally start off and build up, putting pieces in place over time. The key is to start doing assessments and put in place a strategy for improvement. Adopting the OPM3 philosophy requires some thought and analysis to understand it and achieve success. “Most of the time we are looking for a quick fix, and maturity by definition implies that improvement comes with time and effort,” Ms. Nichols says. “It takes time to build the general knowledge and then learn about what your organization is capable of so that you can continuously improve and mature.”

Covansys also has experimented with project equilibrium analysis using consolidate issue analysis and consolidated change analysis. “Fortunately, these tools have the ability to help management bring runaway projects under control again,” he says.

As a CMM Level 3 and an ISO 9001-2000 certified company, Ithmus has little difficulty identifying opportunities for improvement and defining key process areas. “Once finding areas that require more effort, it is relatively easy to define a process for continuous improvement by keeping things simple, implementing metrics and making a first measurement of the current state,” Mr. Luthmer says. “With that, you will have a basis to keep following the plan, do, review and act circle.”

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Many times, organizations
that have a first success
with a process improvement
effort become victims of
their own success.

—Adolfo Cruz Luthmer, Program Manager,
Isthmus, San José, Costa Rica

The continuity of a continuous process improvement is probably the hardest part of the effort, according to Mr. Luthmer. “Many times, organizations that have a first success with a process improvement effort become victims of their own success,” he says. “Because there isn't anybody more conservative than a successful revolutionary, you find people that once they improve their process, don't want to change their masterpiece.”

Mr. Errico recommends building a framework that focuses on the “what” and “how” for exploring changes to support continuous improvement through honest feedback. “At the end of each project, all of the key people involved in the process should meet to review the process including what worked and what did not work,” he says. “Throughout this process, the goal is to recognize and review areas that need improvement, examine and review the areas that worked the best and brainstorm ways to correct problems while expanding improvements on new projects. If you repeat this process at the end of every project, it can help continuously refine your project management tactics.”

Danger of the Unknown

Mr. Errico cautions that management should consider deviating from routine only when the goal is to either address a specified problem area or expand a successful method from one area to another. “Change for its own sake is never a good idea; you should have a goal in mind and metrics in place to make sure that your change is working in a measurable way,” he says.

Some of the most effective means of encouraging breakout activity, such as creating controlled conflict, also can pose serious dangers. As a result, invoking such activity requires careful management. “For example, when integrating controlled conflict, the reviewers have to be respected by the team, the feedback has to be given in a constructive way and the discussion should have a strong moderator so that it remains at a constructive level,” Ms. Kopeikina says.

Regardless, such potential dangers should not deter the infusion of innovation. “Successful managers create conflict and use it to their advantage,” Ms. Kopeikina says. “You might consider doing a deep peer-to-peer review when knowledgeable parties within the organization but outside of the project team can listen to your team's progress and provide feedback in a constructive way. You also might consider inviting people from outside of the company—experts in the area of your project—to provide such feedback.” PM


Peter Fretty, a Whitehall, Mich., USA-based freelancer, has appeared in more than 40 trade and consumer magazines, including Advanced Manufacturing, Continental In-Flight, Food Engineering and Industrial Engineer.

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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