Project Management Institute

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VOICES ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT

BY ERIC SIMMS, PMP

I can't help but laugh when I read glowing case studies of organizations that are enthusiastic, long-time practitioners of project management. In my decade as a consultant, I've yet to experience such an environment. Most of the companies I've worked with haven't known the first thing about project management.

Some felt that all it does is burden them with useless documentation and processes. Others considered it to be nothing more than hype. One organization sent its mid-level managers to project management training at a local university. They received impressive-looking certificates, which they hung on their office walls—and then the organization went on doing things just as before. Still other companies were downright hostile toward project management—often as a result of a bad experience with a previous project manager.

What do you do if you find yourself in an organization like the ones described?

1. Show people you have their best interests in mind.

If people seem reluctant about a project, do your best to discover why. They typically won't volunteer this information, but if you ask they'll usually be happy to tell you—and may even be willing to work with you.

Acknowledge any project management problems the organization had in the past, then explain how you're going to make sure those issues don't occur again. Think of these as risks and find a way to avoid or mitigate each one.

The goodwill of others cannot be underestimated in projects where you lack formal authority, and you should do everything possible to gain it as soon as you can.

2. Make project management conform to the organization, not the other way around.

Some project managers walk into a company with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) held high above their heads like the prophets of old and expect everyone to submit to its guidelines. It doesn't work. When project managers expect organizations to suddenly alter years of habit simply because they're told to, people can become resentful very quickly.

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» When project managers expect organizations to suddenly alter years of habit simply because they're told to, people can become resentful very quickly.

Though we understand the value of project management, many others do not—nor do they wish to. To them, it's a tool to produce desired results. They care nothing for risk registers or change control boards; they just want their projects completed on time and on budget, with little inconvenience.

Helping people perform project management tasks will do much to make them favorable to your cause. We all know a sponsor is supposed to create a project charter, but what if that person is a busy IT manager who is skeptical of project management and hates writing? One option is to meet with team members and draft a project charter to present to the sponsor. It relieves the pressure on the sponsor—who now isn't stuck starting from scratch—and you get the charter you need.

3. Demystify project management.

Some people see project management as an arcane science of strange terminology and practices. Yet few would dare to openly admit when they don't understand something, particularly in a room full of peers. Whenever I suspect someone at a meeting doesn't fully grasp a project management concept, I take a moment to explain it to everyone. Not only will it go a long way toward demonstrating the benefits of project management, it can help gain buy-in.

I also offer to teach people how to read schedules and network diagrams. This gives them a sense of empowerment because they can understand what's happening without having me interpret the data.

This doesn't just apply to the project team or senior management. On one particularly complicated project, I printed out the network diagram on a plotter printer. As I was taping it to the wall, some passersby gathered and began asking me questions about the project. I briefly described the business case and showed them how to read the diagram. I then explained the concept of milestones, the difference between critical and non-critical paths, and the different types of task dependencies. I left the diagram on the wall after I had finished with it and added a legend to explain the different box colors and shapes.

»Join the discussion on PMI.org/Voices.

Check out the blog for Bill Krebs’ post on making the most of your daily 15-minute meetings. And Neal Shen, CAPM, shares a productivity war story.

Making project information easily available and comprehensible encouraged discussion among employees. For the first time, the project changed from something management had thrust upon them to an endeavor in which they could take ownership and pride.

It's not enough for project managers to know how to run a project. We must understand project management concepts so well that we can unobtrusively integrate them into a company's culture. It's this ability that separates an adequate project manager from a great one. PM

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Eric Simms, PMP, is an IT project manager and senior business analyst at Plan B Government Systems, Washington, D.C., USA. Over the past 10 years, he has managed high-visibility projects across a variety of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, software development, government, broadcast media, manufacturing and agriculture.

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RAISE YOUR VOICE No one knows project management better than you, the practitioners “in the trenches.” So PM Network launched its Voices on Project Management column. Every month, project managers will share ideas, experiences and opinions on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all points in between. If you're interested in contributing, please send your idea to [email protected].

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.

PM NETWORK APRIL 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG
APRIL 2010 PM NETWORK

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