Business benefits



One of the main reasons executives are not sold on project management is because they are promise-centric, whereas project managers are product-centric, according to a PMI research project conducted by Janice Thomas, Ph.D., program director of the MBA in project management at Athabasca University, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada.

Projects must deliver business benefits beyond the project deliverables typically identified in the project charter—a project can deliver its stated product, service or result at the right level of quality within allocated time and cost and still be unsuccessful from a business point of view. For example, when I worked for the City of Montreal in 1992, I was tasked with managing the development and delivery of a new IT-based cost control system. The project was delivered on-time and on-budget and was capable of doing more than was requested initially; however, it was a failure because the organizational impact of the deliverable went far beyond the stated project scope, and the organization wasn't prepared.

Unintentionally, my section had prototyped a new way to work (although it is now widely applied), but at the time we failed to estimate the full impact this tool would have on work culture. Project managers then were not expected to take into account organizational implications of a deliverable on job redesign and culture change. But in a more recent example, I was asked to support the implementation of the Airport Operations Programme for the European Air Traffic Management Organization, and one of my stated tasks was to facilitate synergy within the program to deliver benefits expected by its stakeholders.

I helped the project team and its individual members develop plans centered on these stakeholders’ benefits. With more than 25 internal and 30 external stakeholders to take into account, if the project managers had focused only on the end product, they would have completely missed the boat. This program is successful because the energy of the project team was focused on the key deliverables that produced significant benefits.

In its November 2001 English version of A Guidebook for Project and Program Management for Enterprise Innovation (P2M), The Japanese Project Management Professionals Certification Center (PMCC) describes first generation project management as the management of scope with focus on the quality-time-costs triangle; in this form, project management is delivery focused. Second-generation project management has focused on soft processes such as communications management, and PMCC says this has expanded dramatically the areas where project management can be applied, making it more useful in improving organizational competitiveness.

Project managers now are faced with the paradox of delivering clear and product-focused deliverables.

Project managers now are faced with the paradox of delivering clear and product-focused deliverables within set parameters while considering the bigger organizational picture; P2M identifies a third generation of project management which focused on “value creation.” But this vision does not negate delivery-focused project management.

For projects that deliver a well-defined product designed to fit within an organization's culture, a product-centric perspective is valid because the project requires only minimal business awareness beyond quality, cost and time. But when projects must deliver new or innovative products, services or results that have an impact beyond a limited area of the organization, a promise- (or benefit-) centric perspective is required. Project managers must consider a much wider range of business benefits. This means taking into account people issues, learning to weigh stakeholders’ multiple, often conflicting, needs and expectations, while allowing for the power and politics of the organization. Projects and programs of this type can be successful only if managers take a holistic view of the system and get executive support. PM

Michel Thiry, PMP, is the author of Value Management Practice and regularly writes and reviews for the International Journal of Project Management.

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