Taming the IT jungle


Jean Louis

is vice president and CIO of technology
and information systems
for The Nature Conservancy, a
leading global conservation
organization based in Arlington,
Virginia, USA.


At The Nature Conservancy, project management is the tool that keeps us focused. It gives us a connectivity and accountability that could not be otherwise achieved when you operate 450 offices in 32 countries.

It hasn't always been this way. Five years ago, The Nature Conservancy was struggling with scope creep and a lack of project prioritization or oversight. To gain control of our project processes, we needed to implement project management methods throughout the organization. And that began with education. In 2003, we started requiring every employee to complete a project management training program and we expected project managers to achieve their Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification within two years.

We then created a project management office (PMO) and a governance committee, because one cannot succeed without the other. It is the PMO's responsibility to oversee the entire project portfolio, which includes everything from protecting coral reefs and fundraising, to implementing new human resources systems, to communicating with the executive team about what we are working on and what progress is being made. The governance committee acts as a filter, identifying those projects with the greatest priority and allocating resources accordingly.

Through these two bodies, we were able to clearly show the executive team that the project portfolio was lopsided, and not enough resources were being focused on key strategic objectives around conservation. With that information in hand, we received leadership support to redesign our resource-allocation process over four business groups: infrastructure, revenue generation, administration and conservation. We then backed the projects that best aligned with the organization's current goals with more resources. In the most significant result of this process, we raised our investment in conservation projects from $200,000 in 2006 to $3 million in 2007, and dramatically lessened investment in lower-priority administrative projects.

We've also added two additional phases to our project management process to assess and manage the value of a project. At the beginning of a project, its benefits are identified and translated into a quantifiable sum of value. And at the end of each project, an ongoing maintenance phase ensures the project continues to add value—and that the project is eliminated when that value recedes. Using this process, for example, we realized the value of our portal server had diminished, so we implemented its retirement in conjunction with a new project to develop a more sophisticated virtual private network software. Adopting the maintenance phase means we can more quickly cut or reduce those projects or tools that lack value to the organization. Doing so results in a reduction of bottom-line costs.

Admittedly, the road to project management is difficult, and those who don't believe in it will be quick to let it go when the first challenges arise, but I urge those on the path to keep going. You must believe in project management to make it work. Once you see the difference between a project that uses project management methodology and one that does not, you will begin to reap the benefits that project management brings to an organization. PM