The implementation of project management
W. Stephen Sawle, PMP
Many companies are climbing aboard the “project management bandwagon” with the hopes of cutting costs, eliminating surprises and introducing an element of professionalism into their projects. However, project management requires more than the commitment of upper management and the training of project-level supervisors to be successful. It needs to be assimilated into the corporate culture as an accepted management process. Otherwise, project management can end up being just another business gimmick that looks good on paper but has little actual effect on the company.
This article illustrates how this all-too-common problem can be corrected to fully implement the “spirit” as well as the techniques of project management.
After a number of information systems projects blew up in the face of the IS director at a large Midwestern corporation, a decision was made to implement a more disciplined approach to project management. The 400-programmer department performed numerous application development and maintenance projects every year, but something was wrong with the way the projects were executed. Like most managers in this predicament, the director thought it must be a personnel problem. “We need more training!” was the war cry heard around the IS offices.
A commitment was made to spend many thousands of dollars on a customized project management training program. All IS project managers were required to attend the two-week course spread over four months. To reinforce the commitment, management also installed state-of-the-art project management software on each project manager's computer and added another week's training on the software.
Mary was an experienced IS project manager. She had managed numerous projects but had no formal training in project management. She found the courses interesting and realized that she already followed many of the techniques in one way or another. She just hadn't known the formal names and process steps. For instance, on each project she would divide the scope of work into manageable components without realizing she was developing a work breakdown structure. Mary put the courses into perspective: yet another management technique to apply when necessary (Quality Circles, Management by Objectives—she had been to them all).
So what happened to Mary the day after graduation? Her boss handed her a new “mission critical” project for one of the company's client departments. After a brief description of the needs and due date (ASAP), the manager assigned her two programmers and said she had better get to work—pronto!
Although Mary wanted to use some of her newly learned project management skills, such as developing a project management plan, work breakdown structure, integrated budget and CPM schedule, there simply wasn't time for this “overhead work.” She had to get the programming work under way immediately.
So much for money and time spent on training and software!
What Went Wrong?
First and foremost, the IS director failed to recognize that implementing project management is more than just training personnel in a new management technique and then commanding its use. It is a new business process altogether. Project management requires a commitment to implement a new philosophy as well as new managerial techniques. One approach is to put formal “Project Management Policies and Procedures” in place, then facilitate their use with a network of expert mentors.
Figure 1. Project Management Facilitation
PM Policies and Procedures. In order to implement project management as a business process, management needs to develop formal, written procedures to cover tasks common to any size project: project planning, cost estimating, project controls and reporting, and configuration management, to name a few. If no procedures currently exist, the company is best served by the formation of a team or task force to create the documents. Since all of the procedures are interrelated, a consistent approach is essential to ensure complete documentation of an effective process. The team works with management to design a format that suits the company's needs; conducts interviews with key department heads, supervisors and project managers; writes and edits all drafts; incorporates comments and corrections from staff; and prepares the finished product for approval.
Some procedure examples are:
- Project scope definition and approval documentation
- Authorized budgets and schedules (in work breakdown structure format)
- Team roles and responsibilities
- Change process
- Quality assurance.
- Acceptable estimating processes
- Estimating guidelines
- Accuracy requirements
- Record keeping
- Data resources.
Project Controls and Reporting
- Cost and progress reporting (earned value)
- Schedule updating and reporting
- Report formats, frequency and distribution
- Document filing and control.
- Scope control and management
- Change process
- Drawing and document control
- As-built drawings.
PM Facilitation and Mentoring. After the project management training is over, even the most enlightened project manager will need direction and encouragement in putting those techniques into practice. Facilitation of project management as a process provides project managers with the hands-on instruction not available in training classes. An ongoing mentoring program, using project management expert personnel as “guides,” will provide project managers with the encouragement and confidence to implement the policies, procedures and techniques they just learned. Figure 1 illustrates the project management facilitation process.
After using good project management techniques on a project or two, the tools and techniques should start to become second nature, and mentor/facilitator should no longer be necessary. In fact, the new project manager will probably be ready to take over a mentoring role for the next round of project managers graduating from training.
Let's go back and see how the IS director and his project manager, Mary, are doing with the “mission critical” project.
Mary is now one month into her critical project. The programmers have been busy writing code under Mary's supervision. She also just held her first status meeting with the client organization. Mary expected that the meeting would generate sufficient information for her monthly status report to the IS director. What a surprise she got instead. As she walked the client through the steps taken to date it became painfully apparent that the client's requirements seemed to change before her eyes. The meeting ended with the realization that the month's work was wasted because the client really didn't know what they wanted out of the system in the first place.
Mary realized her mistake. Good project management practices dictate that the first step in executing a project is the development of a detailed scope statement and plan. A key element of this process is the definition of client requirements, description of project deliverables by phase, and detailed accounting of project responsibilities. If she had followed her training she would have been able to produce the original planning document (signed by the client) clearly showing that the client's needs had changed. Even more likely, if sufficient time had been taken at the beginning to define the client's requirements, they probably wouldn't have changed at all! Instead, Mary's project is now more than one month behind schedule and hours over budget without any explanation that makes life easier for Mary. Two weeks of up-front planning may have seemed like “overhead” work initially, but now it is obvious that it would have been time well spent.
If company policies and procedures were in place that required the development of a plan and signed scope statement, Mary could not have skipped that essential first step without incurring the wrath of management. If the company had had a facilitator who was an expert in project management techniques, the facilitator could have been assigned to Mary to help her through this first critical project after training. Again, the problem might have been averted.
An effective project management process cannot be implemented by management edict and employee training alone. The implementation must be accompanied by well-thought-out and well-documented policies and procedures. Implementation must also be supported by on-the-job facilitators who will help newly trained project managers through the first few projects in the new management environment. ■
W. Stephen Sawle, PMP, P. E., and Certified Management Consultant, has 20 years experience in engineering/construction and software development project management. He is president of Consultants to Management, Inc., a Chicago, Ill., firm he founded in 1990.
PM NETWORK • January 1996